Vintage style is very hip, but is this wireless speaker system from JBL bang on trend or a step too far? Lee Dunkley checks it out
Looking a little bit like a piece of furniture you might find back in a seventies living room housing a radiogram, JBL’s Authentics L16 is anything but old school. The design of this one-box audio system is actually based on the company’s Century L100 bookshelf loudspeaker and utilises foam grilles similar to those found on the popular seventies model, giving the L16 a retro feel that is very much on trend today.
Measuring over 800mm wide, the walnut-veneered unit is a thoroughly modern one-box audio system with more wireless connectivity options than you can shake a smartphone at, including AirPlay for iTunes and iOS, DLNA for Android and Windows devices and Bluetooth – although there’s no mention of the aptX codec. As well as extensive wireless options including Near Field Communication (NFC), the L16 also has two USB inputs beneath the removable top plate for charging devices – sadly wireless charging isn’t available on European models for Qi-compatible devices. Wired sources are catered for via digital optical socket as well as a set of stereo RCAs that offer selectable input sensitivity between line-level or MM and MC phono inputs, allowing it to play signals direct from a turntable.
It is a solidly built unit with an excellent finish. Hidden behind the wraparound detachable foam speaker grilles there are three speaker drivers per side – 1in tweeter, 2in midrange and a 5.25in bass driver – making the L16 a stereo three-way design. Each speaker is driven by a dedicated 50W (claimed) power amplifier. Bass reflex ports are found underneath the unit surrounded by a substantial metal housing – this is one of the reasons for the L16’s considerable weight, no doubt – as well as the aforementioned socketry for wired input connections. It’s a clumsy arrangement given that you have to connect wired sources underneath the cabinet – rear panel connectivity would have been a much more elegant and practical solution. Wireless setup is a simple process of linking the L16 to your wi-fi network or pairing with your Bluetooth or AirPlay device.
Appy and you know it
System functions are mainly taken control of by JBL’s music player app – available as a free download – as well as providing assess to your networked music library. Two dials are neatly inset at either side of the top face of the cabinet to enable source input selection and adjustment of the volume without the need to reach for your smart device. Additional controls can be found on the app for tweaking the bass, mid and high tone settings. There’s also Harman Clari-Fi technology that claims to improve the sound of compressed music files by analysing and enhancing the audio signal.
The L16 has a wide and chunky cabinet for a one-box speaker system, but even so the drive units – and most importantly the tweeters – are less than 1m apart, so you’re not going to get a wide spread soundstage to approach anything like that of stereo hi-fi standards. What you do get is a very big sound that easily goes loud and is capable of filling a medium-to-large sized room, but it’s not a sound that manages to break away from the confines of the cabinet.
Playing That’s Alright by Laura Mvula Live With Metropole Orkest streamed over AirPlay, the L16 opens with a pleasing tone and keeps pace with the track’s energetic rhythm. As the orchestra builds behind the vocalist, the JBL shows off impressive capabilities, producing a warm and rich sound with the complex arrangement that’s not entirely authentic, but is easy on the ear. As the track builds, however, the JBL shows its weakness and instrument placement feels cramped and lacking a sense of space around instruments that sees them lost in a congested mix of sounds and difficult to pick out.
Treble is in good measure, but it’s not the last word in detail, and the L16 has a relaxed nature that’s easy to listen to and masks poorer quality material. Bass is full and surprisingly extended for the size of the cabinets, but it is a little augmented at the factory settings, and requires some tweaking of the tone controls to achieve a more balanced and even sound across the frequency range.
The L16 handles a wide variety of wireless sources and is capable of playing material streamed at all kinds of quality levels up to 24/96. Its styling and sonic signature is a little yesteryear and soft for my tastes, but it’s ultimately the narrow soundstage and high price that score against it.
LIKE: Versatile wireless connectivity; goes loud and makes music fun
DISLIKE: Retro style may not appeal to all; poorly located sockets for wired sources; high price
WE SAY: A fun one-box audio system with a classic style of its own
PRODUCT JBL Authentics L16
TYPE Wireless streaming speaker system
DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 818 x 294 x 369mm
• Three-way bass reflex stereo speaker system
• 2x USB (charging only); optical digital input
• Switchable line-in; MM and MC input
• AirPlay; Bluetooth; DLNA wireless
DISTRIBUTOR Harman Consumer UK
TELEPHONE 01707 278100
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