JBL Turns 60

JBL has been influential in all aspects of the audio business from its beginning, 60 years ago. JBL stays at the top of its game through constant technological advancements in materials and manufacturing methods, and by building close relationships with installers to serve the needs of the industry.

Mark Gander, who joined JBL in 1976 as a transducer engineer designing loudspeakers, and who is now vice president of marketing, summed up the real key to JBL's longevity. "A lot of the basics stay the same, the materials or techniques get improved upon or adapted." He also attributes the company's solidarity to its approach to customers. "It's always been a solution-based approach and a customer-focused approach."

JBL's history dates back to the 1920s, when James B. Lansing, whose monogram led to the JBL brand, started building loudspeakers. Lansing was involved in the first broad applications of electrical sound production and reproduction. In the 1920s, the motion picture industry decided to make the movies talk, and created a team based in Los Angeles to create the first standard for cinema loudspeakers. Getting audio tracks of motion pictures out to an audience was the first broad application of electro acoustic and electrical sound reproduction.
Lansing was instrumental in creating large woofers and large compression drivers that were very efficient, which were capable of what, in the 1930s, was high power handling. Throughout the '30s and '40s, and with the initial establishment of the JBL company, Lansing broadened the application of those components to installations in schools, auditoriums and stadiums, and it eventually evolved into taking those high-quality components and growing the high fidelity industry, and what became the CEDIA market, the home theater and home installation market.

JBL's approach to clients has always been to find the solution that fits the customer. "It's understanding that each type of customer has a unique set of needs and applications. They all need to get their message out in some way, but there are different specific needs," noted Gander. In partnership with contractor and consultant customers, JBL can identify and fulfill industry needs. Although its approach to customers has remained essentially the same, as well as the types of products offer, JBL's products themselves have become much more sophisticated in terms of the materials and electronics. "The execution has changed. The basic elements of having signal processing electronics, amplification and electro acoustic transducers are still all using the same fundamental transduction methodologies-particularly the electro acoustics-but with a deeper understanding of ways to provide much more coherent and coordinated directivity control and pattern control," explained Gander.

As a manufacturer, JBL puts priority on keeping in touch with the latest materials. JBL was the first to employ titanium as a diaphragm material, and were the first to adapt the use of titanium for high frequency tweeter and compression driver diaphragms.
JBL has always been at the cutting edge of transducers. Lansing, in the early years of JBL, in the 1940s, was the first to use the Almico magnet material, which was a brand new, high-energy magnet material. He was the first to commercialize a large voice coil diameter. Later, in the 1950s, JBL was the first to use a 4-inch diameter dome compression driver. Present day innovations include vented gap cooling, that allows loudspeakers to handle very high power and still be efficient, and JBL's newest loudspeakers, which features lightweight neodymium magnet material, and employs differential drive-two voice coils and two magnetic gaps driving a single cone loudspeaker.

Following in founder James B. Lansing footsteps, the JBL team created a new cinema standard in the 1980s, and again in the early 2000s. JBL engineers have received Academy of Motion Pictures Technical Awards for establishing new standards in the 1980s. One new development eliminated horn-loaded low frequency by using direct radiator low frequency, which has flatter, smoother, lower distortion response using a newer generation of high frequency horns for better consistency and response. Again in 2002, the engineers from JBL were awarded another Technical Academy Award for the next generation of developments in three-way cinema loudspeakers that improved on horn coverage and pattern control.

JBL Client From The Beginning
Ford Audio Video has been a JBL dealer since it started in 1973. The Ford company has grown significantly over the past decades, completing up to 400 jobs a year. The relationship with JBL began even before Ford Audio Video started. In 1970, Jim Ford, now president of Ford Audio Video, was a recording engineer using JBL studio monitors. "JBL produced speakers that were lower distortion and more linear," recalled Jim Ford. "Therefore, for recording studio use, they were more accurate."

In 1975, a year after Claire Ford joined her husband in the company she traveled to North Ridge, CA, with Jim to visit JBL and became the first JBL certified re-cone specialist. Claire was now manufacturer certified to replace any removable component of a loudspeaker, giving Ford Audio Video an additional edge in the market. "On that trip I met Don Thiele and that was when they were starting to use the Thiele-Small parameters to design their enclosures, which was pretty well cutting edge. And it was during that period when they were just introducing their bi-radial horns, which was a big advancement," Jim Ford recalls. Later that year, Ford Audio Video did one of their earliest permanent installations jobs: The Lloyd Nobel Arena at the University of Oklahoma.
Ford Audio Video has more recently done two large installs using JBL equipment, The Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas, NV, and its largest install to date, the Denver International Airport.