JBL might now be part of the Harman Group, which is itself now part of Samsung, but the heritage behind that name has not been lost. The company, founded in Northridge, California back in 1946 by James Bullogh Lansing, put its initials to many classic designs, one of which was the 4310. The 4312SE is the re-embodiment of that late 1960s, early-1970s classic, announced last year to mark JBL’s 70th anniversary.
However, JBL’s 4310 was distinctly studio-orientated design. In fact, that’s industrial grade understatement: the 4310 practically invented the near-field monitor (prior to the 4310, studio monitoring were all ‘soffit’ or ‘in-wall’ designs, and even if the BBC can also lay claim to producing free-standing near-field monitoring options, their loudspeakers were hard to find outside of a BBC studio for years), and its next-generation design – the 4311 – was so popular in the studio, it begat one of JBL’s most successful domestic models of the era, the L100 series.
The list of recordings that were fed through 4310 and 4311 loudspeakers is considerable: think everything recorded on the West Coast from Surrealistic Pillow to Tusk (and beyond), plus virtually every studio starting up or undergoing a refit from about 1974 onwards. The ubiquity of the 4310/4311 lasted until the end of the decade, when the more ‘lo-fi’ aesthetic of Punk and New Wave saw engineers mastering on tiny Auratone 5C Sound Cubes and then in the 1980s studios almost universally adopted the Yamaha NS‑10 as their desktop near-field monitor of choice. In no small respect, the performance and character of those near-field monitors helped shape the sound of recordings made at that time. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that many recordings universally praised for their sound quality came out of California in the 1970s and ‘almost’ all of them were mixed and mastered using a pair of 4310s or 4311s. Just sayin’.
Looking at the JBL 4312SE with 21st Century eyes, it’s hard to think of them as near-field monitors, because we have become so used to that term being applied to far smaller designs than this. A front-ported three-way cabinet wide enough to accommodate a 12” (300mm) bass unit is – by today’s Sonos-driven standards, at least – a large standmount, which usually implies a long(ish) throw across a good sized room, but it’s also worth trying the design in its near-field placement; possibly wider than usual, and with the listening position less than 1.5m from the front baffles.
The loudspeaker itself is a three-way bass-reflex design, with a 25mm magnesium/aluminium alloy dome tweeter (with waveguide), a polymer-coated paper cone midrange unit, and a new 300mm ‘Aqua-Plas’ coated paper cone bass driver. However, these numbers seem wrong: the JBL 4312SE being so resolutely American and 1970s in approach that the metric system could be viewed as political correctness gone mad, and as a result those drivers are 1”, 5”, and 12” respectively. Metres, schmetres! The (revised) crossover points are set at 640Hz and 5kHz, and with a nominal six-Ohm impedance and a 90dB sensitivity, practically anything will drive these loudspeakers. Also with a recommended amplifier power rating at 200W, the only way you will damage these loudspeakers through normal use is not through normal use: you are trying to use them as a PA system in a room that actually requires a PA system or are planning to go deaf in the next couple of weeks (remember that back in the day, these were the monitors of choice for bands like The Who). There are treble and midrange trim controls on the front panel (as the professional versions had back in the day, although the L100 series were more ‘purist’ in approach).
This is a pro loudspeaker for the domestic collector. They are finished in black woodgrain, with a black cloth grille and a large white JBL logo on the side. Aside from the 70th Anniversary flash on the front panel and a pair of modern multiway connectors on the rear, it could be a mint condition loudspeaker built 45 years ago. They need no run-in to speak of and sound best in a room that is either treated or heavily furnished (preferably in lots of velour, with at least two lava lamps and lots of shades of burnt orange and brown).