Over the past decade, many studio monitors have included some method for adjusting the equalization of the loudspeaker to taste, typically in the form of DIP switches. So it was no surprise to find such switches on the back of the JBL LSR4328P monitors. What did lift an eyebrow was discovering that an analyzing processor had been built into each enclosure, along with an Ethernet port and a calibration mic input. That signaled that networked self-calibrating systems have finally reached the project studio world at an affordable price. Calibrating speaker systems that use built-in processors could be the next wave in studio-monitor design and a very welcome development in the industry.
The LSR4328P shares acoustic design elements of JBL's lauded LSR6328P studio monitor introduced a few years back. Although it's not intended to replace the latter, the LSR4328P is part of the new LSR4300 series, which blends elements found in the LSR6300 series with the next generation of JBL's Room Mode Correction (RMC) technology and Harman's new HiQnet protocol for networking speakers in a system. In addition, JBL offers an accessory kit that includes a wireless remote and microphone to tweak your setup and PC- and Mac-compatible LSR4300 Control Center software, which performs several exclusive functions. Those aren't simply bells and whistles; they are features that work to establish an accurate sound image in a variety of environments. While JBL may be anthropomorphizing the system a bit by calling it a “self-aware monitoring system,” the company isn't far off.
IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN…
The LSR4328P is taller and narrower than its more rotund LSR6328P relative — about a foot and a half high and less than a foot wide. It's a rear-ported speaker, featuring an 8-inch polymer-coated paper fiber woofer with a self-shielded neodymium magnet structure and a 1-inch silk-dome tweeter that is recessed into the cabinet to form an elliptical waveguide. Power handling lists at 150W for the low frequencies and 70W for the highs. Handles built into the side help to move the 32-pound beast. There are also four threaded mounting points on the base of the monitor for an OmniMount-type bracket. JBL advises against laying the speakers down on their sides because it will compromise the image as well as inhibit proper calibration.
The first things you'll probably notice on the front are the meter display and speaker-function controls below the woofer of each monitor. The display serves as a status indicator as well as a readout for levels. The function buttons serve to power up the monitors, solo each speaker, enter into calibration mode, activate and access EQ settings, select input modes and step up or down through settings (+/-). If you want the backlit buttons or meters to be brighter or to shut off, press the +/- buttons simultaneously a few times to get to the desired setting. Once calibrated, it's nice to have the option to not see the meters.
The rear panel features XLR and ¼-inch TRS analog inputs, as well as AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital inputs. You can select which inputs are active via the front panel and hook up both digital options along with one analog to monitor as many as three separate sources. (For a visual reference, there's an Active Input section that lights up LEDs corresponding to the arriving signal.) All incoming analog signals pass through 24-bit/96kHz A/D converters, and the digital inputs support sampling rates from 96 kHz down to 32 kHz. Input sensitivity is switchable between -10 dBV and +4 dBu.
To perform Room Mode Correction, an ⅛-inch jack is supplied for the RMC calibration microphone. HiQnet connectors interconnect multiple speakers in a system, which can be controlled from a speaker's front panel using the wireless remote or the LSR4300 Control Center software. A USB (Type 1) port links the speaker directly to a computer to access the fine-control features available in the software.
Finally, eight DIP switches identify the speaker in the system, whether it's the left, right, center, left surround, right surround, center surround, left extra or right extra. While these switches don't perform any EQ functions, they are critical for properly networking a stereo or multichannel system. You also restore factory settings for the monitors via a DIP-switch procedure, a very useful feature if you need to return to factory settings during any troubleshooting.
While ramping up may take about 15 minutes, the LSR4328Ps merit the prep time to get the most out of them. Once positioned in the room, you link the monitors between the HiQnet ports of each speaker with the provided Cat5 cable, set the DIP switch to ID the speaker as either left or right (in a stereo setup) and connect all necessary audio cables. Pressing the Input button on the front of either speaker toggles between signal sources. The +/- buttons on either monitor set the initial volume; any adjustments made to one will automatically be reflected in the other.
Fresh out of the box and powered up, the RMC button on the speaker front glows red, indicating that no room correction has been performed. To calibrate the system, plug the calibration mic into the back of the left speaker and place it on a stand within the sweet spot of your listening zone. Next, press the RMC button on either monitor and stand back as the speakers perform several low-to-high-frequency signal sweeps, alternating between the left and right speaker, with the meters scrolling in a left-to-right pattern. You may feel your building levitate during this surreal experience, but once that operation is complete, you can A/B the flat and EQ'd sound image to determine what changes were made.
That description does no justice to the gleefully absurd experience of watching a speaker system calibrate itself. Does that mean that a room with a crappy acoustic signature is suddenly devoid of its anomalies? Nope. The speakers perform a room analysis and apply EQ curves to compensate for the build-up in frequencies — principally low and low-mid frequencies — that can greatly affect the image. The good news is that this actually works, and noticeably so. Also, if you use the Control Center software, you get a readout of which frequencies were attenuated in each speaker, their bandwidth (Q) and the amount of gain reduction. Granted, these are EQ adjustments made by this specific monitoring system and not a true room analysis. Nevertheless, it's cool.
The Control Center software opens a number of fine-control features you can't achieve either through the front panel or with the remote. It works with PC (Windows 2000 and XP) and Mac (OS 10.3 and later) after a quick download from JBL's Website. The interface provides a graphic representation of the monitoring setup, allowing you to tweak individual speakers and make global changes. It's easy to work with the click-grab knob and button controls.
The software saves and uploads complete configurations for all speakers in a system. It also performs independent mutes and solos, overall system mutes and system-wide trim control in 0.25dB increments (from -10 dB to +3 dB), as well as creates custom EQ presets that can be stored within the speakers' CPU or on a computer. Without the software, you'd be limited to the six preset locations on the speakers, but Control Center can archive numerous EQ setups on a hard drive and recall them as needed.
One key feature enables changing the LF and HF corner frequencies, which are set in the monitors themselves at 500 Hz for LF and 2 kHz for HF. The software can extend that range from 20 Hz to 1 kHz for LF and 1 kHz to 20 kHz for HF.
All changes from the software automatically upload into the speaker system's memory buffer and are immediately active. Settings also remain active even after the speakers are powered down. They will, however, disappear if you call up another preset without backing up the current settings. Another bonus is being able to store and recall system volume settings that produce a desired sound-pressure level. That is a visual reference you can create with the aid of pink noise generator and a sound-pressure level meter (which you can find for about $30 to $40). Playing pink noise through the LSR4328Ps, press the + button on the remote until the meters flicker amber (about -10 dB). Note the amount on the sound-pressure level meter, and you'll have a visual reference that correlates to the sound-pressure level in the mix position. Once stored in your computer, you can instantly recall various sound-pressure level environments for a given mix.
Before performing the RMC operation, the LSR4328Ps provided a tight, unadorned image in the near field with present, accurate bass; clear mid-range definition; and highs that were crisp but never brittle. Once I calibrated them with the RMC, I noticed much-improved definition in the low mids and generally a better sense of separation in the image. There was less muddiness or smearing of frequencies, and I was able trust my mixes that much more, especially after listening to it on my car system or a cheaper home setup. I loved listening to any type of music — noise pop, soft instrumentals, orchestral arrangements, in-your-face percussion and so on. These monitors never buckled under much sound-pressure level abuse even after being left powered on forever.
With a frequency response listed at 50 Hz to 20 kHz and ± 1.5 dB, the LSR4328Ps offer an excellent full-range option without the low-frequency extension or higher sound-pressure level handling that you'd find — and pay for — in the LSR6328P. This is not in any way a liability. In fact, there was relatively little difference in the performance between the LSR4328P and its big brother — something that actually was quite surprising. Both offer the caliber of sound that has garnered JBL much praise over the years.
There are a ton of monitors to choose from today, but with the LSR4328Ps, JBL has raised the bar on the industry, essentially daring other manufacturers to step up and offer musicians and engineers inexpensive, powerful, intelligent monitoring systems of this quality and price. Any takers?
LSR4328P > $1,699
Pros: Built-in analyzer. Room Mode Correction. Inexpensive. Includes LSR4300 Accessory Kit. LSR-based architecture.
Cons: Could be addictive.