Monday, September 23, 2019

The JBL L100s | Lefsetz Letter

I thought the tweeter was broken. When I got the Thiels I retired them. The foam had long ago fallen off the scrims, along with the logos, I wondered whether to fix them or to toss them. Then again, they’d probably cost as much to fix as to buy new ones. But when I moved, I found one of the cables was broken. It had a gold end, the high-priced cords I’d purchased back in ’99, when I got my new amp, I wondered…were the JBLs really in working order?

I brought the cables back to the place I bought them. The owner said they hadn’t used that kind of connector in years, he sent me up the street to the video installer, who said he couldn’t fix it, to just strip the wires and go straight in, that I needed a box from Niles Audio for about a hundred, that would allow me to switch between the JBLs and the Thiels.

So I e-mailed the guru, Michael Fremer, asked him what I should do.

Michael said to buy an old ADCOM GFS-6 on eBay, I could pick one up for twenty bucks.

That seemed too cheap for me. So I started to investigate.

You’ve got to know I don’t buy on impulse, I’ve had too much buyer’s remorse. I’ve got to do research, and oftentimes you can get the best for the same price, and I’m totally into the best. I mean if I’m listening to music??

So I’m going through all the listings, and I find a GFS-3. Which allows only three speakers instead of six, didn’t I want that one? Michael said yes, he hadn’t seen one for sale, but I had, they were fewer in number and more expensive. Huh? And I’ve only used eBay a couple of times, and one time I had a bad experience. What was advertised was not what I got, and the seller wasn’t eager to refund my money. But then I checked my PayPal account and saw I had over $100 from readers gifting me, and I decided to bite the bullet. But did I want the unreturnable one or the cheaper, returnable one? Well, I was only risking fifty bucks, but…they both said the ADCOM had been tested and worked, but if I couldn’t return it… But the guy selling the unreturnable one sold more stereo gear, so I decided to take the risk.

And I get so many packages, to tell you the truth I don’t always open them up the day they arrive, Friday was hellacious, I never even got on the computer, I kept up on my phone, but my fake address I use for purchases, etc., is not on it, it wasn’t until late last night that I saw the e-mail that the ADCOM arrived, that it was in that box that I thought was records.

So today I broke it open. The ADCOM appeared almost brand new!

But now I had to set it up.

This used to be a thrill, part of the moving process, getting your stereo hooked up, but now with computer speakers, especially my Genelecs, I saw no reason to hurry, and, after all, I needed the ADCOM box since my NAD only allows the connection of one pair of speakers (don’t worry, it’s not a cheap one, cost nearly a thousand bucks twenty years ago, the weekend JFK, Jr. died, my old Sansui crapped out, actually it burned up, and one thing’s for sure, I want no clipping, I never want to run out of power, I can turn the NAD up to about 2 before it’s too loud).

So I pulled those expensive cables out of the plastic bag I’d put them in and…

They wouldn’t connect to the ADCOM. So I decided to strip the wires, and that’s when I realized I’d have to do this to two sets, i.e. four connectors, and each wire had two stiff wires and I decided to forgo it, to just use the heavy zip wire I had attached to the Thiels. (I know you’re not supposed to use this, sue me.)

But then I wondered if I had enough. And I remembered I’d thrown out about fifty feet in the move. Now if this were still the seventies I’d just run down to the stereo shop and…now there aren’t any stereo shops left. And I didn’t want to waste any time. So I split the cable and had to strip two ends and while I was plugging them in, I realized the cables on the other side might not be long enough. And I’m wondering why I’m doing this anyway. Everybody else just pays somebody. But I used to like this. And I could always do it. But now I’m stripping wires and I find…the left channel cables are just long enough, I mean barely, so I connect them.

Then came the turntable. The EAT. My Panasonic SL1300 has a speed problem. I paid just over two hundred thirty bucks for it back in ’76, I’m sure it’ll cost me at least that much to fix it today, if I can find someone to fix it.

But the ground wire of the EAT had come out of its housing. So I had to strip that one and reattach it too. And I’m reliving stuff I haven’t thought about in eons… Like the fact there’s no turntable input on the NAD. Oh, I’d purchased the phono preamplifier, but where did I plug it in again? That’s right, AUX. As for Tuner and Tape inputs… I saved my top of the line Yamaha tuner and Nakamichi tape deck, but am I ever gonna use them again? And the belts on the Nakamichi have probably stretched anyway.

But I plug in all the wires and then I need power.

I broke out the surge protector I bought with my Mac Plus back in ’86, I’d used up the newer ones, and plugged in these stereo units and…I pushed the button on the NAD…AND IT LIT UP! Ah, the feeling of success.

Now I needed a source. I ran into the house, I had the reissue of Gregg Allman’s “Laid Back” on both vinyl and CD. I dropped the CD on the post, added the weight, pushed in the drawer and…

Nothing happened.

I forgot you have to push go, i.e. play, that’s how long it’s been since I’ve used the Sony XA20ES. And then…WOW!

If you’re really old, if you bought your speakers before the Beatles broke through, you had ARs. And, after that, you bought KLHs. And then came the glorious Advents, $119 a piece, better than anything at that price point, which was not cheap, and superior to speakers much more expensive.

But they were not JBL L100s. The JBLs were $333 apiece. They were out of my price range. But Tony said he’d gotten the salesman at Pacific Stereo down to $450 Friday night, and hadn’t even purchased them, that’s Tony, he’s more into the hunt than the kill. This was positively astounding to me. Most people paid nearly list price. If I could buy them that cheap…

We went back to Pacific Stereo. The salesman was a bit wary, after Tony had ground him and not bought, but I told him if the deal was right I’d buy.

Took hours, but we got him down to $470, that was as low as he’d go. And I went for it, I was thrilled. I was gonna buy this Sony receiver, but the guy said the sound wouldn’t match the JBLs, they were bright and so was the Sony. The Sony would be great for the Advents, but with the JBLs I’d need either Luxman or Sansui. LUXMAN? That stuff was expensive! Oh, they had a unit in my price range, but it only had 30 watts per channel, no way I was gonna buy that, I need to play it LOUD!

As for Sansui, wasn’t that a second-rate brand?

Not according to the salesman. They had high end units. I needed this integrated amp for $750, it had 110 watts of fat power. He came down to about $650, and I knew there was no way, so we went on the hunt, I ended up buying the Sansui AU11000 for $520 at University Stereo, I had to wait a week for them to get it, I was champing at the bit, with my speakers and no amplifier. I’d wanted a tuner, but for excellence, I decided to wait, ergo the Yamaha CT1010 a year later. And I brought the Sansui home and plugged the system in and…


Now today there are rich people with stereos costing tens of thousands of dollars and shops that cater to them, but for those in the less than five figure price range, closer to a few thousand, there’s nowhere to go. People will pay a lot for headphones, but not component stereo. And I just heard what they’re missing.

I broke out “Laid Back,” remembered how to break the shrinkwrap and turned on those JBLs and…


Oh, you remember it, or maybe you don’t, it was for Maxell, with the listener’s hair blown back, the speakers were…

JBL L100s.

Suddenly there was a thumping bass, I was checking the balance, and then the right speaker went completely dead. Oh, come on, all this work, I could have just plugged in the Thiels and forgotten about it.

So I had to troubleshoot.

That’s when I found an unplugged wire at the back of the NAD, and when I reconnected it…WHEW!

This is why I can’t live in an apartment, a condo, my dream was always to buy a farm so big I could turn on the stereo in the house and hear it playing loud while I was riding my tractor out in the fields.

Now I’m not talking the bass of today’s records, made to shake the earth even at low volume. I’m talking the bottom of rock and roll, from the rhythm section straight to your gut.

Now “Laid Back” was seen as a bit of a disappointment back when it was released. This was just after the breakthrough of “Brothers and Sisters.” Yes, Duane had been dead for years, “Fillmore East” was two years before, but the hoi polloi didn’t catch on until they heard “Ramblin’ Man” on AM radio, not everybody had an FM unit in their car yet. And, “Laid Back” wasn’t quite as good as what came before. I mean could you improve on the original, definitive “Midnight Rider” on “Idlewild South”? Then again, Gregg’s version of “These Days” did more for Jackson Browne’s career than any of his own efforts, who was this young dude so advanced beyond his years?

And yes, the bass on the JBLs made me smile. But it was the strings that made me sing. That’s right, real strings, with a good enough stereo you used to think they were playing inside the speaker cabinets. And the piano on “Please Call Home”…that’s why Chuck Leavell plays with the Stones, he’s the secret weapon.

So I fired up the vinyl to compare, suddenly Gregg Allman was alive again! This was the sound of the seventies, on the speakers of the seventies.

I’m in heaven.


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