Review: JBL L42ms

Retro-chic table speaker

JBL strikes the nostalgic chords with the elegant L42ms on-board system in true 70s style. However, the tuning screws could use some adjustment.

Published 2024-04-02 - 8:00 am
JBL L42ms
John Hvidlykke

In recent years, JBL has been getting back to its roots – and they’re still digging. Since the JBL L100 Classic really kicked off the nostalgia, JBL has launched dozens of new models in retro designs. Often with “Classic” or “Authentics” woven into the name to emphasise that we have returned to the original virtues. Some are reimagined modernisations of classic speakers from the 70s, while others are completely new designs.

The JBL L42ms belongs to the category of old-style, brand new products. The letters “ms” reveal that we’re not just dealing with a speaker, but a complete music system. The L42ms is not only active and wireless, but has networking and streaming capabilities built in. Simply plug it in, control it with your mobile phone or the included remote control and the music will play.

Nostalgia down to the smallest detail. Of course, the cones on the woofers are the right eggshell white colour. (Photo: JBL)

The speaker or system is a wide and low unit in real walnut veneer that could look like an exceptionally nice soundbar. The front is covered in black quadrex foam, just like the real L100 speakers from back in the day. The curved front is evocative of the JBL Paragon. If you’re old – or geeky – enough to recognise it.

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Behind the front grille you’ll find two four-inch midwoofers drivers, of course with cones in the correct eggshell white shade, and two aluminium dome tweeters.

The four drivers are powered by a total amplifier power of 200 watts. 75 watts for each woofer and 25 watts for each of the tweeters. Electronic crossover at 5 kHz.

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The JBL L42ms is available in walnut finish and black. (Photo: JBL)

On the back of the cabinet you’ll find two bass reflex ports and a selection of inputs and outputs. On the analogue side, there is an RCA line input and a 3.5 minijack input. On the digital input side, there’s HDMI (ARC) for audio from the TV. There is neither optical nor coaxial digital input. Which is something most people will never even notice. There is also a USB-A port and an Ethernet port for wired networking. A subwoofer output makes it possible to supplement the output capabilities in the low range. A small slider can adjust the frequency response of the bass by 3 dB to correct for placement close to a wall.

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Immature app

The JBL L42ms is controlled with the JBL Premium Audio app, which is also used for network setup. It’s not the app that first appears when you search for JBL, but when you type in the full name, you’ll find it.

Setup is fairly seamless and you’re presented with a list of audio and music sources, including Qobuz, Amazon Music and lo-fi service Spotify. Tidal is not immediately visible, but the JBL L42ms supports Tidal Connect, so you can access the speaker via Tidal’s own app. USB playback is also on the menu in the app, but it was unable to read any of the USB media and external hard drives I plugged into the port. This may be a feature that hasn’t been implemented yet or has been cancelled from the list.

Overall, the app seems a little crude. It doesn’t offer any sound customisation options, the screen inexplicably goes black, the speaker’s firmware can’t be updated, and you can’t adjust the volume during playback via the Tidal app. The JBL app has version number 0.0.550, which may explain a lot.

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The sound of the JBL L42ms

The placement of the JBL L42ms is almost self-explanatory: On a coffee table it takes up too much space, and placing it on a stand would be ridiculous. It’s made to sit on a sideboard. Here, however, it also looks great.

But we’re not an interior design media.

Sonically, the JBL L42ms does a lot of things really well. But also some in a less convincing way.

The sound image projected through the square quadrex foam is pleasant, clear and present. Just as you would imagine from a speaker that looks so damn retro-charming.

We start with the acoustic jazz classic I’m Confessin from Jazz at the Pawnshop. The mood is good here, and the vibraphone and saxophone are alive in the living room. The tester begins to cast critical glances at the large system in the living room …

Roger Waters’ Three Wishes is reproduced impressively and reveals that JBL must have worked some magic with the stereo image. The recording itself is heavily phase-manipulated, and the 60-centimetre wide speaker manages to evoke the feeling that the spirit of the bottle comes right into the living room.

The MTV unplugged recording of the Eagles’ Hotel California is actually quite good, but the congas lack a bit of body.

Dynamic deficit

With 75 watts for each woofer and 25 watts for each tweeter, there should be no shortage of power in the JBL L42ms. However, the power output doesn’t immediately translate into excess.

At low volume, the L42ms sounds engaged and vibrant. And voices are reproduced beautifully and cleanly. But you don’t have to turn it up very much before the dynamic limitations become apparent. Worst in the bass range, where the deepest tones are conspicuous by their absence. But if the music is just a little complex, it feels as if an invisible hand is turning the volume up and down in reverse time with the music. In any case, the instruments are reproduced at very different levels.

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Disturbed-udgaven af The Sound of Silence er en god stress-test. Og her dumper L42ms. Så snart orkesterbackingen sætter ind, drukner sang og akustisk guitar i kompression og almindelig forvirring.

Competition

Two four-inch drivers are not the way to go for concert sound pressure, and we’re dealing with a tabletop system. But the L42ms seems to give up before the battle has even begun. According to the manual, the speaker can deliver a maximum sound pressure level of 102 dB. And we didn’t even come close to that while listening.

JBL definitely has bigger speakers, both passive and active, that will do the job. And we’re dealing with a compact on-board system. But we’ve heard this done so much better for less money. A very obvious choice is the Pinell Supersound 901, which on paper has less power, but has a much more dynamic and physical reproduction.

JBL also faces competition from itself in the form of the JBL Authentics 500, which at a lower price has a more powerful reproduction, but is also more coarse-grained.

The only digital input is HDMI. And it’s probably the only one you’ll ever need. (Photo: JBL)

Finally, the Naim Mu-so 2 is still one of the best we’ve heard. And since we tested it five years ago, it’s dropped in price so much that it now retails for the same price as the L42ms.

Conclusion

The JBL L42ms is a stylishly designed speaker/music system with a basically pleasant sound and the features most people would want from an all-in-one system for the living room or family room. JBL can provide background music and will also dramatically improve the sound on a flat screen TV. However, I have to admit that I was expecting a more dynamic sound and a little more bottom-end punch from JBL. The control app seems unfinished and has only the most basic functions. There are no sound adjustments, but it can be used to select a music source and control playback. More or less.

Karakter
JBL L42ms
Premium

We think

Design and finish are realised down to the smallest detail. A complete system that fulfils most people's needs. Great voice reproduction and stereo perspective. Bass reproduction and dynamics disappoint. The price is too high. You can find more refined sound for much less money.

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Nostalgia in a convenient package

Speak no evil

We thought they were more expensive

They sound as good as they look

Wireless retro speaker

True portable home cinema

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