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This review first appeared in the December 2013 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read it in its original Polish version here. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own articles, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or JBL. - Ed

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition
Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory Shilabe & Kansui
Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III Signature with Regenerator power supply
Power amplifier: Soulution 710
Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom
Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic + Acoustic Revive custom speaker stand
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 600Ω vintage, HifiMan HE6
Interconnects: CD/preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp/power amp Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo
Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cables (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
Power strip: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate
Stand: Base IV custom under all components
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under CD player, Audio Revive RAF-48 platform under CD player and preamplifier, Pro Audio Bono PAB SE platform under Leben CS300 XS
Review component retail in Poland: 44'900/pr

I spent nearly six years
working as sound engineer in the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre of Krakow. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this rather short period of my life would so much influence my thinking and turn out to be so enriching. Even a dozen years later I still draw on these experiences. Above a powerful analog Soundcraft mixing board in the sound control room, there hung seemingly perfectly normal three-way American Altec/Lansing speakers. The theatre stage and auditorium were equipped with speakers from the same manufacturer as well as by JBL for the side towers. While the latter looked normal again—hornloaded tweeters but otherwise classic cabinets—the main speakers were unlike anything else used at the time.

Western Electric Mirrophonic Sound System, an oldie but powerful loudspeaker showcased at the High End 2013 in Munich

They were powerful twin enclosure designs. The subwoofer unit sported four 30cm woofers in a sealed enclosure, the other unit was equipped with a midrange driver loaded into a massive horn over a meter long and a tweeter loaded into an only slightly smaller horn. What's more, the stage monitors used 36cm drivers with a centrally placed horn tweeter. Such designs were unique then when most PA systems were based on small integrated units like those from JBL. As it happens, Altec/Lansing and JBL share common history.

Company founder James Bullough Lansing was born James Martini on January 14th 1902 in Macoupin County (Millwood Township) of Illinois. From a young age he showed an interest in DIY and radios. Little did he know then that his life would become so associated with transducers that for many his initials would forever be synonymous with speakers. It all started in 1930 when Western Electric created a department to provide support and design of speakers and electronics for movie theaters. This was the beginning of Electrical Research Products Incorporated (ERPI). By 1938 WE sold its shares in this department. A year later they were bought out by a group of their own engineers. Those gave it a new name, Altec Service Company (Altec as in 'all technical'). The company did well but to grow needed production facilities to manufacture its own products. For this purpose it purchased Lansing Manufacturing Co. in 1941 when that was on the verge of bankruptcy. Now they changed their name to Altec Lansing. After a short time they were awarded a government contract for the development of magnetic detectors for U.S. submarines. The research in that field resulted in the Alnico V magnet material that would also find use in loudspeakers.

JBL Paragon

After his mother's death in 1924, James Martini moved to Salt Lake City. There he founded Lansing Manufacturing Company to produce car speakers. To continue expansion, his company then moved to New York by 1927. October 6th of the same year saw the premier of The Jazz Singer. It was the first ever feature-length Warner Brothers movie with sound. It became a tremendous success. Now the history of high-quality loudspeakers began in earnest. Since existing PA systems were rather primitive, MGM decided to do something about it. Douglas Shearer, chief sound engineer at Metro Goldwyn-Mayer, contacted James Lansing. Between 1933 and 1935 they co-developed basic design ideas for hornloaded speakers which would become the industry standard. In 1936 Lansing and Sharer’s sound system received an award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Everything went smoothly until military manoeuvres in 1939 killed Ken Decker in an accident. This businessman had reliably dealt with Lansing Manufacturing's financial matters. An attempt to find a replacement failed. By 1941 the company found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. What helped it survive was the acquisition of its shares by Altec Service Company.

Jim Lansing became vice president of the new company Altec Lansing. In those years he developed the A-4 theatre system which for many years was the cinema standard. Unaccustomed to working under someone else's leadership, he left Altec Lansing when his five-year contract expired in 1946. On October 1st of the same year he started a new company, Lansing Sound Inc. Its principals were James B. Lansing, Chauncey Snow and Chester L. Noble. Since the name Lansing was commonly identified with the former company, Altec Lansing's lawyers objected to it being used by the new outfit. It was finally agreed that the new company change its name to James B. Lansing Sound Inc. or JBL for short. Although its first designs were very promising, the company soon headed for financial disaster. James Martini may have been a brilliant engineer and designer but he was a lousy businessman. Devastated by rising debts, he committed suicide as a result of depression on September 24th, 1949.