Review: JBL LSR305 5” Two-Way Powered Studio Monitor | iLounge

Review

Review: JBL LSR305 5” Two-Way Powered Studio Monitor

B+
Recommended

Company: JBL

Model: LSR305

Price: $150 (each)

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Guido Gabriele

We have reviewed several of JBL's speakers and headphones over the years. Many have touted the "JBL House Sound," but we've never really talked about what that means. Though JBL's current product line includes some interesting consumer lifestyle products, the company's history is in pro audio — chances are that the last movie theater or concert venue you visited used JBL speakers or, at least, many of the songs in your library were mixed using JBL speakers. One of the most important products in JBL's pro audio lineup, the entry-level LSR305, has become more than just a studio monitor — it's become a go-to recommendation for new audiophiles looking for their first set of high-quality speakers. We think they've earned their reputation as one of the best value-for-dollar speakers available.

The LSR305 is a studio monitor, which means that it’s intended to be used in a studio as a reference for mixing and mastering. Many audiophiles use these in home hi-fi and home theater applications, however, because they are usually tuned for a balanced sound, and they offers a chance to “hear what the engineer heard” — possibly, with what the musician intended. The LSR305 are active monitors — each has its own built-in amplifier, which has its pros and cons. On the downside, the LSR305 will require a separate volume control (a “preamp”) and each speaker will need its own power plug. The benefit, however, is that each speaker is perfectly matched to its 41-watt amplifier (power, impedance, sensitivity, and crossover) and can be bi-amped within the cabinet — a complete package.  Each speaker weighs about 10 lbs, and is fairly large at 11.75 in x 7.28 in x 9.88 in, and features a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter and a 5-inch midrange driver in a rear-ported cabinet.  Only a 4-foot power cable is included in the box. Though there are no fancy materials here, and the LSR305’s cabinet is far from “seamless”, but the LSR305 feels substantial and solid. Perhaps the sole annoyance — for home users, anyway — is the LSR305’s always-on white LED; that one you’ll have to solve on your own with a bit of electrical tape.

On the rear of the LSR305, we find a host of useful features. The LSR305 can accept either 1/4-inch TRS input or, for professional applications or longer cable runs, a balanced XLR input. Most home audio sources will have RCA audio outputs, but it’s easy enough to find RCA to TRS adapter cables. Input sensitivity can be selected at -10 dBV (for home audio equipment) or +4 dBu (for connections to more powerful pro audio sources). The LSR305’s high frequency and low frequency output can be independently adjusted +/-2 dB, which can be useful to fine-tune them for rooms that aren’t acoustically ideal. Finally, the volume knob offers 20 indexed positions — we recommend experimenting with this to find a maximum that gives you sufficient headroom to play the LSR305 loud, but not so high as to be amplifying your source’s noise floor to audible levels (if you hear hiss, back it off 2 steps). Some hiss is inescapable with the LSR305 — any Google search about these speakers will reveal many users trying to make them run silently, but their Class-D amplifiers have an inescapable noise floor. In practice, though, the hiss is not audible unless you’re sitting within about 6 inches of the tweeter. 

The standout feature of the LSR305, however, is on its baffle. Looking a bit like a speaker melted in a microwave, the plastic surrounding the LSR305’s tweeter is JBL’s proprietary Image Control Waveguide, which is inherited from its much higher-priced pro audio speakers. Speakers without waveguides usually must be placed carefully, aimed at the “sweet spot” where the listener sits, with tweeters at ear-level; moving out of the sweet spot can result in an audible change in balance between the speakers, losing detail and imaging. JBL’s Image Control Waveguide is designed to solve those problems, keeping the stereo image consistent all around the room. In our testing, it performed extremely well, with no noticeable distortion vertically or laterally — it seems like there’s a good reason why JBL uses these on even their most expensive studio speakers.

We think the LSR305 is a great option for music, but they can also be a good first home theater upgrade — any TV with a variable-volume RCA output can be used directly with the LSR305. They offer adequate volume for small to medium-sized rooms, and their generous sweet spot make them compatible with oddly-shaped rooms. However, though the LSR305 performs well with low-end — especially when placed with sufficient distance from a back wall for the rear port to breathe — there’s only so much that can be expected out of a five-inch driver. With a frequency response range of 43 Hz to 24,000 Hz, pairing them with a subwoofer can really make them feel complete. The LSR305 remains an excellent value, but some may find that the lower-extending LSR308 is a better all-around performer — we suspect that the LSR305 are more often recommended over the 308 because of their price, not their performance. As studio monitors, the LSR305 are intended to sound accurate, and we think that’s mostly true. If anything, we might have heard them sound slightly forward in the midrange, but that could be due to the limited deep low-end response.

We are very happy with the LSR305’s performance, especially at this price. Though they perform best in the obvious near-field setup, we found that LSR305s also work well in a wide range of settings, including home theater. We learned to live with the slight hiss, since it’s only audible at very close range, and the best feature about these speakers is how their waveguides allow you to move around without sacrificing sound quality. These are a safe choice for your first pair of “good” speakers, not only because they sound good, but also because simply setting them up (rear panel settings, trim, volume, preamp) will gain you some audio gear savvy that will be useful in future upgrades. The JBL LSR305 have earned recommendations from many experienced audiophiles, and now they’ve earned ours.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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