A second set of ears is always a good idea when mixing your music. A second set of speakers is also a smart idea. Given that most people these days are listening to music on phones, computers and small portable devices using the device’s speakers or ear buds, it makes sense to have a comparable sized set of monitors to A/B your music for differences in sound, presentation and separation. Back in the ‘60s this was a common practice for recording engineers who mixed and referenced a band’s latest radio single (oftentimes in mono!) and then listened on consumer stereo speakers for real-life user experience.
The newly released JBL One Series 104 reference monitors will handle this particular part of your recording studio setup and a whole lot more. Make no mistake, these are not speakers that will ‘just suffice.’ They are small enough to fit into a tight desktop space yet still deliver a powerful and excellent sound. The One Series will ably serve as your main speakers for podcasting, casual listening and recording needs. Mixing engineers will do well with the One Series in their setup as a second set of reference speakers. Best of all, the price on these is astonishingly affordable at $129 for the pair. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better value in this price range.
The manufacturer’s specs tout a clean, integrated 60-watt Class D amplification that distributes 30 watts per speaker. The One Series speakers can be driven to 104db SPL (peak), without distortion. One speaker serves as the master, with front-panel volume control and a headphone jack, which automatically mutes the speakers, providing isolation in one simple step. The main speaker powers the second one. Dual ¼” balanced and single 1/8” unbalanced TRS inputs accommodate a wide range of sources, from mp3 players phones to CD players and cassette decks.
I paired the 104’s with my 2018 15” space gray Macbook Pro and connected the speakers through a space gray OWC Thunderbolt dock. The speaker’s oval design and dark color really complement the computer and dock, giving my recording setup a nice, attractive and visually appealing modern vibe. The oval design and flat bottom does mean that they can only be positioned vertically and not tilted or horizontally.
These are not low-end Bluetooth speakers by any stretch of the imagination. They’re much more sophisticated than any other desktop monitor I have ever used. The speakers offer a nice, wide dispersion of sound, and pack quite a punch, with tight bass response and a nice clear high-end. The clarity of the reverb, delays and other effects in new tracks I’m working on is pretty impressive. The sweet spot imaging and balance while sitting in front of the computer is warm and natural. As a test, I also listened on YouTube to a finished track I produced for an artist and it sounded like an accurate reference of how it sounded on my board when I originally mixed the track, with every instrument positioned properly in the mix.
If I were looking for a wish list for these speakers it would be that they did offer a wireless, Bluetooth connectivity, while keeping the quality level. Perhaps that is the next round of updates for JBL. The included speaker cables are similar to speaker wire from home stereo component systems of the ‘80s and ‘90s. But truth be told, they are solid enough and the speakers don’t require much size to power them. And you do have the option of connecting your own ¼” cables. The power button is on the back of the master speaker, which can be a minor inconvenience when sitting in front of your computer, but not a deal breaker.
A trusted name in the musical gear world goes a long way, and JBL has long been one of the leaders in sound reinforcement, speakers and PA systems. Technological advances in speaker technology, amp efficiency and cabinet design have made micro size gear more commonplace in a musician’s world, and at a better quality level. A solid set of small speakers like the JBL 104 desktop monitors give a realistic reference of how most people listen to music today and will make a good investment for a songwriter working on new material.
– Master and extension speaker sold as one set
– Coaxial 4.5-inch (118 mm) contoured LF driver with integrated.75-inch (19 mm) soft-dome HF driver
– Contoured low-frequency port
– Integrated 60-watt Class D power amplifier; 30 watts distributed to each speaker
– Acoustically optimized for desktop placement
– Three sets of inputs allow connection with professional equipment, personal music players and consumer-level devices
-Master monitor includes electronics for the extension monitor, minimizing wiring and clutter
– Front-panel volume control
– Front-panel headphone jack with speaker mute feature
– Integrated power supply