The classic JBL L100 speakers from the ’70s are back, and they sound better than ever

jbl l100

These 50-year-old JBL L100 speakers look as retro as ever, and thanks to contemporary innovation, they sound even better

The most famous loudspeaker of the 1970s was JBL’s L100, thanks to its widespread popularity and unique foam grille made up of hundreds of tiny cubes. Testament to that reputation is the iconic Maxell tape ad featuring a long-haired, martini-drinking hipster in a Corbusier chair being blown backward by the JBL component. You got to love it. After all, it was made by the same company behind the world-class Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills.

Even today, the L100 remains the company’s best-selling speaker. While not inexpensive at the time (a pair cost $758 in 1971), it was the preferred choice of well-heeled rock-n-rollers, musicians and engineers who wanted a compact monitor that could shake the house. It was also a favourite of architects and design-conscious music lovers. Its orange and blue egg-crate grills – JBL’s signature colours – were the ideal complement to its contemporary interior.

Out of production since 1978, the originals are collector’s items, thanks to their retro look and robust build quality, although the treble and woolly bass are no match for today’s best monitors.

Recognising the appeal of a thoroughly modern version, the JBL L100 Classic, priced at $5,417 per pair, is back. With its retro good looks retained and technology reengineered, it’s been updated with almost 50 years of acoustic advancements (analog and digital), including three all-new drivers. The genuine walnut veneer enclosures feel right at home with any Eames furniture, and the new Quadrex foam grille, available in burnt orange, dark blue or black, is made with plastic for greater acoustic transparency and improved durability. They also come with optional stands to elevate and angle them for optimal performance.