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JBL S38 Brief Impression (1 Viewer)

Jeff PB

Mar 26, 2002
After hearing so many good things, I brought home a pair of these from BB to test drive. I wanted to see how the sound from these speakers compared to my JBL L5s. This is not an apples to apples comparison by any means, as the L5s are tower speakers with four drivers and listed for about $500 each 10 years ago. The L5s, like the SS series, contain titanium tweeters but of a different design.

My impression of the build quality of the S38s was good. I gave them a few hours of break-in before any critical listening (I know that is not enough time for break-in, but like I said, I just wanted to get some initial impressions).

I thought the speaker performed well, and maintained its character and balance quite well as I added volume. The highs were good, near in quality to the L5s, but perhaps more metalic sounding. The bass was also quite good. Whoever said these SS speakers lack bass I doubt if they had a system with ample power and/or good speaker wire.

During this brief test, in my opinion the problems with the S38s were in two areas. First the midrange was lacking or just very thin. This was most noticable on vocals or guitar work (like SRV Texas Flood). Second, the damping or some other factor was just not quick enough for my tastes or in comparison to the L5s. There seemed to be a higher level of just background noise with the S38s. Kind of like I brought BB home with me. The combination of these two issues made the comparison to the L5 like night and day. My good old L5s kicked butt as well they should over a speaker that sells for this much less, and to be fair, not totally broken in.

So I satisfied my curiosity with these and will be returning them later in the week. I know a longer break-in would probably benefit these speakers, but I am not that sure the issues I experienced would improve that much with break-in (perhaps the damping, but not sweetness or presence of the midrange).

All thing considered I believe these are very good speakers for the money and most likely will benefit from a longer break-in. However I have my doubts these could satisfy audiophile level tastes under the best of cirumstances.

Just my two cents.

Chris Tsutsui

Feb 1, 2002
Sorry to hear the S38 didn't appeal to your needs. I never got a chance to hear them brand new since they were used for 3 months before I bought them.
I admit the highs sound a bit metallic when I'm close to the speaker, but it does seem to dissipate as you find the "sweet spot" listening area. Afterall the titanium tweeter and elliptical horn are designed to produce the highs that way. At least it sounds better than their kaladex tweeters.
The midrange was one of my favorite qualities of the S38. Maybe 4 hours wasn't enough for the mid range because of the extra stiff surround material.
I know you've decided on returning them, but have you considered breaking them for around 48 hours? If I recall correctly, JBL stated it can take as long as 3 months for nominal performance. If you break them in you'll be doing the next buyers a favor. :)
So have you decided on another brand yet?

Jeff PB

Mar 26, 2002
At this point I am planning on staying with my current setup. I had been thinking of swapping down, so to speak, as I could have made some good money selling my old stuff on eBay, and come out ahead based on what you can get the SSIIs for on the net. And the S36s would have been convenient as surrounds up on the wall. But I will not settle for less than the sound quality I currently have and I do believe that would have been the case.

I agree the speakers likely need more burn-in, in part because of what it took the amp to drive them. I noticed after testing my amp was hotter than normal. The conclusion I reached was the amp may have been working harder on the stiff materials until they loosened up a bit, if that makes any sense?

I wish there was an easy way to get 48 hours of burn-in on the speakers, but I just don't have the paitience to accomplish that quickly (nor do my neighbors).

I think part of the issue to my ears may be the crossover and that I suspect will not change. I would enjoy hearing a broken in pair on a good system.

However most of the reviews you read, are these done with fully broken in speakers? I would think out-of-the box performance is of some value in judging the ultimate character of the speaker. Well, I may be off-base in that regard, so just take my impressions with a grain of salt if you think it was an unfair audition.

Jeremy Little

Supporting Actor
Jun 9, 2001
After using my pair for a whole year, I can say that they have changed A LOT. It seemed to take around 100 hrs before I noticed BIG changes in the midrange. Even those were subtle. I don't know what to say, I love these speakers and am sad to hear they didn't work out for you.


Senior HTF Member
Feb 15, 2001
Could you convince Best Buy to let you take home the floor demo pair for an audition? I think that would be a more fair review/judgement of the capabilities of a pair of speakers. I've built a pair from a kit, and the sound changed continuously through the first couple of weeks (I was only playing them for a few hours a day, no CD player on repeat while I'm at work).

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