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JBL One Series 104 review: Superb sound in a small package

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £129

JBL’s One Series 104 prove that good sound can indeed come in a small package - just a shame there isn’t a bit more bass


  • Tight, detailed sound
  • Compact design


  • Lacking in bass
  • Slight hiss at higher volume levels

Small speakers are always fighting against physics. Big sound and deep bass means moving a lot of air, and that’s one area where size really does matter. JBL’s One Series 104 aren’t designed to fill a room with chest-thumping sound, however. These compact speakers are designed to sit either side of a laptop or computer monitor and provide an accurate, tightly defined sound for sensible money – so do they deliver the goods?

JBL One Series 104 review: What you need to know

The One Series 104 are powered desktop speakers. Inside their plastic, lozenge-shaped cabinets there’s a single 4.5in concentric driver in each speaker – that’s a midrange woofer with a 0.75in tweeter mounted in its centre, in case you’re wondering – and each is powered by 30W of Class D amplification.

Although they’re small, they’re not small enough to be battery-powered. They need a single mains cable attached the master speaker. There’s no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity, either, so you’ll have to connect cables to one of three analogue inputs.

JBL One Series 104 review: Price and competition

There’s a lot of competition vying for your cash at around the £100 mark but we’ve not encountered many speakers like the 104. If you care about sonic accuracy but are really pressed for space, they’re a fine choice. If portability is key, however, they’re probably not for you – if it’s more for adding go-anywhere oomph to music and movies, then a beefy bluetooth speaker is a better bet. Go check out our guide, here.

If you have the budget and desk space to accommodate larger studio monitors, though, then you’ll eke more wallop from your wallet with a pair of JBL LSR305P MkII. These retail for around £129 per individual speaker but often drop to around £100 each in sales. The sheer scale and quality of sound is far and beyond that of the dainty little 104. The LSR305P MkII’s fantastically even frequency response stretches right down into the deep bass registers, and they go far louder. They’re a steal at the price – and bear in mind that their bigger brothers, the 306P and 308P, are often available at a hefty discount too.

JBL One Series 104 review: Features and design

The One Series 104 are something of a half-way house between compact PC speakers and proper hi-fi models: they’re not teeny tiny but they are positively dainty compared with most bookshelf speakers. They measure 247mm high, 153mm wide and 124mm deep and weigh under 4kg for the pair. Pleasingly compact is probably a pretty fair description but you’re not going to want to carry them around too often.

All the inputs and controls are located on the left-hand master speaker and this also houses the 30W Class D stereo amplifier. Spring-clip terminals deliver power to the slave speaker via the included 2m speaker cable and there are two pairs of audio inputs at the rear located above the power switch: one pair of balanced TRS and one pair of unbalanced RCA. There’s also a 3.5mm analogue input at the front alongside a 3.5mm headphone output and a small rotary volume control.

It’s good to see balanced connections have made the cut. With a compatible audio interface, balanced cables can help to banish hum and similar cable-borne audio nasties. Just don’t be tempted to use unbalanced cables or devices with the balanced input: the result is much reduced maximum volume, as the sensitivity of the two inputs is different.

There is one irksome design flaw, however. For some reason, JBL has mounted the unbalanced RCA inputs flush with the speaker’s rear, and this means that all but the cheapest RCA cables I had lying around just didn’t fit. If the cable in question has a plastic flange over the outside ring of the connector, like many decent ones do, then it’s impossible to insert it all the way in.

JBL One Series 104 review: Sound quality

In truth, the JBL 104 really couldn’t have arrived at a worse time: they had to make their case alongside their much larger siblings the JBL LSR305P MkII (around £240) and Q Acoustics’ astonishingly good Concept 300 (£2,999). Yet, despite the vast gulf in size and price between the three speakers, the 104 certainly didn’t disgrace themselves in our listening tests – quite the opposite, in fact.

But let’s get the negative comments out of the way first: these are not speakers for bass-heads. The 104’s tiny dimensions mean the frequency response tails off rapidly under around 80Hz, so deep basslines and hefty kickdrums almost completely disappear. Adding a small subwoofer would help here: they integrated well with my pair of subwoofers, so it’s a good option if you’re limited for desk space and can’t accommodate a larger pair of speakers.

Above that, though, the frequency response is pretty well balanced for the money. There’s a noticeable boost to the treble frequencies around 5Khz and 10Khz which means they can sound overly bright with some recordings, but the overall balance errs towards neutral. There’s enough punch to do justice to most types of music, voices sound natural and clear and the slight kick in the upper treble often helped to dig out details from recordings rather than cause undue harshness.

The concentric drivers definitely seem to do their bit in other regards, too. There’s a good sense of depth and spaciousness and instruments are positioned precisely between the speakers. The driver design means the sweet spot (the position where you hear the ideal stereo image) is pretty large, too, so you can move your head around a little without the stereo image suddenly collapsing to one speaker, or the sound changing in character.

These speakers work best when you’re listening right up close, though. Indeed, I much preferred their sound when they were about a metre apart, toed-in to my seating position and I was only around 60cm away from them. In this arrangement, it almost felt like I was wearing a pair of (good) headphones.

A further benefit of keeping them nearby is that you don’t have to thrash the JBLs’ amplifier as hard. Crank the volume control too far and they can start to sound a little rough and ragged – and you’ll more readily notice the slight hiss of the Class D amplification coming through the tweeter, too. Still, neither issue is worth worrying about. These are small, relatively inexpensive speakers after all.

JBL One Series 104 review: Verdict

JBL clearly has the know-how to make great speakers – both large and small, spectacularly expensive and, in this case, surprisingly affordable – and this is another fine demonstration of the company’s talents. If you’re looking for a pint-sized pair of good-sounding speakers for sensible money, then the JBL One Series 104 are a solid choice.

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