Review: JBL and M-Audio—Superb Studio Monitors for $500/Pair

M-Audio’s BX8 Carbons arrived as I reviewed JBL’s 3 Series LSR308s, both priced at $249 street. Here’s my take on both.
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JBL 3 Series LSR308 Studio Monitors and LSR310S Subwoofer

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In January 2013, JBL Professional unveiled its large reference studio monitor—the M2—to intrigued pro audio types at the Winter NAMM Show. In private listening sessions, the M2 certainly was impressive to me, due to a number of new JBL technologies,one of which—its patented “Image Control” waveguide—provided truly superb imaging plus flat and even frequency response across a wide listening area, creating a very pleasing, smooth listening experience.

On the opposite end of the price spectrum, JBL soon after unveiled its 3 Series of powered nearfield studio monitors with a very familiar-looking waveguide for its soft dome tweeter—one that, to my eyes, was clearly influenced by the successful M2’s “Image Control.” I wondered, would the 3 Series be anything like its large and pricey ancestor, especially considering the largest 3 Series monitor, the LSR308, costs well over $9,000 less than the M2?

Three months ago, I received a pair of LSR308 monitors ($249 street, each) and their accompanying subwoofer, the powered LSR310S ($399 street), for review. And what I discovered over the next few weeks was surprising.

JBL’s 3 Series powered monitors are available in two sizes: the aforementioned LSR308 with an eight-inch woofer and the LSR305 ($149 street, each) with a five-inch woofer (a 41W/41W Class D bi-amped design). The LSR308 features bi-amped Class D power (56W/56W for LF/HF, respectively), a 37 Hz-24 kHz frequency range, 112 dB SPL (C-weighted) maximum SPL, and a ported design. Inputs include XLR and quarter-inch TRS with switchable +4dBu/-10dBV input sensitivity, and the cabinet weighs in at a comparably light 19 lbs. Rear panel adjustments include three-position LF and HF Trim parameters, each with -2dB, O, and +2dB settings. The front of the speaker is made of attractive polypropylene while the rear-ported cabinet is constructed with a lighter weight MDF.

The LSR310S is a down-firing powered subwoofer featuring a heavy-duty 10-inch driver, 200W of Class D amplification, and a low frequency range of 27 Hz with a maximum SPL of 113 dB. It features a compact design (less than 18” x 15” x 16” and 35 lbs. in weight), the patented rectangular “Slip Stream” double-flared front panel port “for accurate bass response at low playback levels,” and JBL’s proprietary XLF Extended Low Frequency—a 10dB boost at 60Hz engaged via switch; XLF is essentially a custom frequency response to simulate club/large PA playback, especially helpful in modern-leaning music productions.

Overall, 3 Series build quality is impressive and attractive even if a bit spartan, yet refined. In a business overly aware of brand names, these monitors also have the value-added benefit of being “JBL”—a name associated with professional studio monitors for decades.

The LSR308 pair satisfied my low-end needs by themselves in most applications. Yet, while I don’t typically use a sub during production, the LSR310S came in handy, like when listening to an ultra-low frequency sound source in a mix—a bass “drop” for emphasis. The sub allowed me to accurately gauge where these extreme low-end elements sat in the mix. But largely, I didn’t notice the sub, and that’s to its credit; the transition between the low-end from the LSR308 pair and LSR310S was seamless. I expect that the sub would be more crucial/useful when paired with the smaller LSR305s, or when working less in pop/rock and more in music ranging from EDM to even orchestral/chamber music.

I’ve auditioned many solid nearfield studio monitors over the past 15 years, most in the eight-inch woofer category, used within my own workspace. That said, the 3 Series truly impressed me. I could use them as my main monitors indefinitely.

Knowing their low price points before starting this review, I was suspecting to hear things I wouldn’t like, based on its composition (of largely materials such as MDF, plastics and low-cost Class D amplifiers). But I discovered that the design trumps materials. To me, the Image Control waveguide obviously makes the LSR308 a low-cost marvel of detailed imaging and controlled frequency response across horizontal and vertical planes, as the tweeter itself seems to be a rather common soft dome. The fact that a recordist can own a pair of large JBL near-fields, clearly borne from M2 R&D and this good sounding, for under $500 per pair makes the LSR308 perhaps the best bargain available in powered studio monitors today.

M-Audio BX8 Carbon Powered Studio Monitors

M-Audio’s BX8 Carbon studio monitors arrived while I was reviewing another eight-inch woofered, powered pair of studio monitors, JBL’s 3 Series LSR308 studio monitors—also priced at $249 street, each (see above). I’ll start off by saying that either of these competing products are solid choices for discriminating recordists, though different enough in both specifications and performance to represent two decidedly different experiences.

The BX8 Carbon is a two-way powered monitor featuring an eight-inch Kevlar woofer and one-inch silk dome tweeter with a 38 Hz to 22 kHz frequency response; a BX5 Carbon model with five-inch woofer is available, too ($149 each, street). Rather than Class D, the BX8 Carbon is powered by Class A/B amplification with 70 W and 60 W power ratings for its low- and high-frequency drivers, respectively, thus weighing in at a comparably weighty 26.4 lbs. On the rear panel, inputs include balanced XLR and balanced/unbalanced quarter-inch TRS and an acoustic space switch, compensating for placement near walls and corners. Cabinetry is made of vinyl-laminated MDF with, for a lack of a better word, muscular front panel gray-on-black styling.

I used the BX8 Carbon pair alongside LSR308 pair during the latter half of the review period, routing through the Dangerous Source Monitoring Controller (reviewed in full, below). I also matched the pair with the LSR310S subwoofer, utilizing the speakers both with and without sub-frequency support.

The BX8 Carbon monitors impressed me right off the bat. Over the past few years, I had noticed a markedly notable increase in apparent quality and features within the M-Audio studio monitoring lines, and the BX8 Carbon is proof of the company’s dedication to this affordable segment of the market. Like the LSR 308, the BX8 Carbon performed beyond what you would assume for the price point. Bottom end is nicely full and smooth, yet with notable “punch” response; as with the LSR 308, I didn’t rely on the subwoofer that much. To my ears, it reminded me of a “tighter” KRK Rokit 8 ($249 street, each) with the detailed, open, and more “imaging-friendly” top end of the KRK VXT8 ($599 street, each)—the eight-inch powered monitor I had depended on for nearly a decade. As such, I find the BX8 a true bargain and worth serious consideration for those shopping in that “Kevlar woofer” category of powered studio monitors.