Major league monitor
Last month’s review re-born
For speaker manufacturers JBL, fibreboard is out and oriented strands are in. Ian Masterson finds out whether the JBL MR825s are as friendly to the crowd as they are to the environment
The need for all-purpose, great-sounding, budget-orientated PA systems has never been greater. No matter how unusual your performing talents are, you still need to sound good.
The big-league players in the portable PA market are constantly refining their product range and introducing new lines; at the moment, the industry is responding to demands for small enclosures that put out serious bass, while retaining a pure performance characteristic. Enter the MR825 system, just one set of mobile loudspeaker enclosures in a large family of tried'n'tested JBL products.
JBL put a lot of R&D effort into designing their speaker enclosures - be they the contoured polymer shells of the Control 5 studio series, or the smooth curves of the larger M-Series live cabinets. The MR825s carry on this tradition, being constructed in a sort of trapezoid shape.
Basically, the large baffle area allows optimum bass projection, while the narrower back of the cabinet reduces the space these units take up in the boot of your car. Overall size works out at something like 667 x 495 x 332 mm, with a weight of around 26 kg; no, they're not light, but they're damn solid. The material used to build the cabinets is referred to in the spec as 'orientated strand board'; a stronger derivative of the chipboard family. As usual, there are tough plastic corners, and tough felt-like sides.
The drivers themselves are protected by a resilient steel mesh grille, securely fixed with four shock-absorbing screws. The only part of this unit that's in any danger from transit damage is the plastic nameplate on the front - I can see this snapping off in a matter of days. Perhaps JBL should look into moulding their logo into the grille itself?
Connections are provided on well-recessed ¼" jacks for an input signal and chained output to a further cabinet; you'll find this facility on most JBL enclosures. I'm really not sure about the choice of ¼" jacks as the connectors though; the bigger M-Series units feature Neutrik Speakons, a much more resilient and refined way of hooking speaker leads up. Sure, they're a bit more expensive, but that reliability factor is worth paying for. The ¼" jacks aren't of the locking variety either - even XLRs would have been more welcome here. To my mind, this is the only potentially serious flaw in an otherwise excellent product.
Being two-way, the MR825s carry both a 15" bass driver and a pure titanium diaphragm hi-radial tweeter, crossing over at 1.5kHz. This combination provides the enclosures with a frequency range of 60Hz to 20kHz, power handling (continuous pink noise) of 250 watts, sensitivity of 101dB (1W, 1m) and an impedance of 8 ohms.
Interestingly, JBL also provide a switch on the back panel which attenuates or boosts the HF output of the system according to the size of room you're in. You can select a boost of +2dB for a large hall, a cut of -2dB for a small room, or a 'flat' response for medium-sized venues. With a nominal enclosure dispersion of 100 degrees horizontally and 80 degrees vertically, you can rest assured that this switch has a pronounced effect.
I initially tested the MR825s in a medium-sized room with a fairly bright acoustic, driven by a C-Audio ST-600 stereo amplifier (400 watts a side into 8 ohms). I was confident that this amp would give me a reasonably neutral sound, while allowing the MR825s plenty of 'room to manoeuvre'. Source material was taken from DAT, vocal mics and CD, and was predominantly dance-based.
The results? I have to say that I was extremely impressed. Having used a pair of large M-Series cabs for my own mobile work, I was expecting something of a comedown, considering these units are much cheaper and much smaller. But my fears were unfounded. That's not to say that these units are in the same league as their bigger brothers - no-one would expect that - but they're amazingly close.
The most striking thing is the purity of the mid- and high-frequency response; if you want sparkling cymbals and smooth-but-bright vocals with plenty of 'space', these units are well worth listening to. Electric guitars are treated with similar respect - but there is a theory that American-manufactured PA systems are geared towards this anyway. The HF cut/boost switch makes a considerable difference, depending on the room you're in; it's best to experiment, as small acoustic variations yield even greater variations in results.
The lower end of things is equally impressive, considering these enclosures are constructed around a 15" woofer. At higher volumes, the MR825s produced a tight, well-defined bass that doesn't sink into muddiness or start overwhelming the treble response. At lower levels, you definitely notice a sharp tail-off towards the cutoff point of 60Hz; while these cabinets do produce a respectable amount of bass signal, they're still no substitute for a carefully matched subwoofer/crossover/fullrange system.
But all in all, as standalone, portable sound reinforcement goes, the MR825s are top notch enclosures - despite the niggles over connection sockets. I can only recommend you audition these cabinets as soon as possible.
Price: £645 inc VAT (each)
More from: Harman Audio, (Contact Details)
Review by Ian Masterson
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