JBL CM102 Active Speaker System Review
Author:Soomal
Source:eng.soomal.com

Rate:09.00/9
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CM102 is a JBL's new product, but it does not seem like a JBL product, because it just has an ordinary appearance. It adopts wood cabinet rather than plastic, which are widely adopted by other JBL speakers. It is sold at 999 - 1299 RMB (about $150-200), we bought one for test.

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Each CM102 cabinet size is 243x243x190mm, which is similar to most common 4-inch speakers. The cabinet is made of 10mm-thick MDF, medium density fibreboard, with PVC cover. The front baffle is also made of MDF, and covered by a plastic front panel with hot melt fixed.

CM102 uses 20mm silk dome tweeters and 4-inch aluminum cone mid-woofer. The woofers adopts symmetric magnet-circuits; and JD.com also mentioned aluminum square wire voice coils. Why aluminum wire? Because the thermal resistance coefficient of aluminum is smoother than copper, easier to show a relatively stable state at different power. And why it is square voice coil?

And why it is square voice coil? Square voice coil has a relatively higher space utilization. That is to say, square voice coils are able to provide higher electromagnetic conversion efficiency at same space occupied.

The crossover filters in CM102 is neither active nor digital, it is still passive, for the CM102 is using the oldest connector.

During our tearing down, we did not find the crossover filters, only a capacitor, which is acting as a crossover filter, in series with the tweeter. As a 199-USD product, this crossover filter design is too simple to perform well in treble. In our opinion, the crossover filter design is the key to what the speaker sounds like.

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CM102 uses TLV320AIC3254, which is a CODEC chip with MiniDSP integrated, for line in. Except analog to digital converting, this chip is also able to process digital signal. We consider that the treble and bass controlling are based on DSP processing.

The AMPs in CM102 are TPS3118, providing 30W x 2 8 Ω without heat sink on a dual layer PCB, while the power put in is 35 W. This power is not large, but enough for a bookshelf speaker system. On the mainboard, we found a chip that cannot find public information, we suppose it could be USB DSP. The mainboard is installed in a separate wall, but we still found that the cabinet leaks.

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A USB port is on the rear panel of CM102 for a USB disk inserted in and playing. However, this function is not that useful because CM102 is too simple to switch tracks. CM102 does not provide remote control, but it is easy to control. The key operation buttons are placed on the front panel. Long press the power button is switching working and standby mode, short press is to switch line in, USB, Bluetooth. Different input states are represented by lights of different colors.

After discussing about the hardware, let's talk about the promoting. Two Q & As are presented on JD.com.

  • One is Too light to be Hi-Fi and Even Monitor?
    Most monitor speaker systems are analog circuit with large power consuming and heating, so a large radiator for cooling is needed on the back. However, heavy is not the reason of Hi-Fi. Actually, digital signal is able to providing high quality sound with a thin body, and you will get a speaker system with lower cost.

This paragraph has lots problems. First, Hi-Fi and even Monitor is wrong in logic. Hi-Fi is Hi-Fi, and Monitor is Monitor, monitor is just a parallel concept, not a higher one. JBL marked CM102 as a Monitor Speaker system, but we had never seen a capacitor-crossover-filter monitor speaker system. Second, the weight. CM102 weights 4.25 kg, but the reason why it is so light is not the cooler, but its thin cabinet. It has just a 10mm cabinet, while we searched other 2 speaker systems with similar indicators, each weights 6.4 kg and 5.6 kg. For a speaker system at this size, over 12mm is adequate. Weight is not the key factor to sound performance, but if it is too light, it won't be good. This Q & A cannot even persuade JBL themselves.

By conventional, we would find some similar products for comparison. However, we cannot find any products we have to compare. If considering the price, the Edifier S1000 or HiVi M200 are muuuuuuuuuuuuch better than CM102 in all aspects. If considering the size, Edifier R1600 TIII, which is nearly half price of CM102, also wins in all aspects, just not that much. CM102 is a disaster.

Bass: CM102 does not have an ideal bass. To gain the bass volume, CM102 will sacrifice details. If turn down bass a little, the texture will be a little better. However, the bass resolution is not good. Not enough bass controlling, lacking enough strength, speed and density, and sounds blurring. Restricted by size, a 4-inch speaker system is not able to be compared with large-sized speaker systems. But this performance is even not good among 4-inch speaker systems.

Mid-Range: No surprise, CM102's mid-range is not ideal, too. A single capacitor is not enough for crossover filter. The mid-range sounds depression, thin and dropping-back; and the voice sounds far away from us. This performance reminds us of the speakers that only adopts simple passive crossover filter with capacitor years ago. With active and digital crossover filter technology and new-designed power splitter, the overall performance of speaker systems is becoming better. When we teardown the CM102 and find it is still using the simplest crossover technology, we consider this product will sound good.

Treble Treble is the best frequency of CM102. Compared with bass and mid-range, the treble has a higher resolution, modest bright sound, more detailed and less rough. However, this is also not among the best of 4-inch speaker systems. CM102 is able to perform instruments' overtone and details, but fundamental tones are located in mid-range, so CM102 is not good for solos.

The overall performance of CM102 is not ideal, no matter in price or in size. It sounds like only a 300 RMB (Less than 50 USD) speaker with blurring and weak bass, thin and depression mid-range, chaos layering and small stereo imaging. We had reviewed some JBL products, and give those products positive comments. However, this CM102 seems not a JBL product, for it is simple in appearance and sound. We cannot even find this product on JBL official website, and its information in English is just a few. It seems like a China Mainland special model.

Too tedious in material, cutting costs where shouldn't cut, disappointing design, and disappointing sound. Even we consider an international famous brand can have a higher premium price, but a misleading publicity is unacceptable. Soomal give JBL CM102 active speakers Not Recommend Rating.

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