The LSA T-3 Turntable

Those of you that know Underwood Wally of Underwood HiFi, know he’s the king of spotting great value and performance. You might have seen this interesting table at the last Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.

Now shipping, this table was originally going to retail for $3,795, bundled with a great suite of accessories: coolio (and massive) record clamp, high quality set of interconnects, along with a well thought out ground wire, dust cover, and cork mat. They’ve even included a digital scale and protractor. Such a great way to roll – you can pull it out of the box, set it up and start spinning records, now.

But, as they say in the movies, “wait, there’s more.” In this case much more. For a limited time, Underwood HiFi is selling this table for $3,499, bundled with a SoundSmith Aida 2 cartridge installed by Peter Madnick to perfection. A quick check with our Analog Magik suite revealed it’s set up well right from the factory. The cart alone is two grand! And this table is drop dead gorgeous too. The curved plinth is said to help control resonance, and it is a major design statement as well.

This has to be one of the biggest analog deals going. Initial listening proves it to be more than good enough, we can enthusiastically recommend this one! But to be fair, we need to give you a more detailed analysis, and go over the fine points.

Whether this is your first table (if so, bravo for making this kind of commitment on your first go) or you’re a vinyl lover with a $500-$1500 table that is really getting into it and wants to make a big move forward, this combination is rocking.

Here’s the site, if you’d like to get out the Visa card!

REVIEW: The JBL L-100 Classic

In the 70s and throughout the 80s, the JBL L-100 was a very successful loudspeaker. Having a production run from 1970 to the mid-80s, the L-100 sold in more significant numbers than any other model, and perhaps one of the greatest selling speakers in audio history.

For those squealing about the $4,000/pair cost, a quick look at a currency calculator reveals that the $546 it took to buy a pair of L-100s in 1970 is worth about $3,700 in 2019. By comparison, a brand new Camaro (V8 sport coupe, not a Z28) back in 1970 was about $3,100, and a new Camaro goes out the door, moderately appointed (but still with a V8) is about $45,000. Clearly, JBL has done a better job of keeping pace with inflation. However, to be fair, a 1970 Camaro in great shape will fetch 50 to 100 thousand dollars at auction. A clean pair of L-100 originals about $1,500.

Considering what three to four thousand dollars buys in a pair of speakers these days, the new JBL will not be everyone’s cup of, but the value they do bring to the table is unmistakable. There are definitely more audiophile-y speakers out there, but to this writer, loudspeakers are like buying a painting. Some prefer the French impressionists, while others like Andy Warhol, and yet others like something else.

If you want more resolution and a broader sound field, think about a pair of comparably priced MartinLogans, or Magnepans. If you’d like a midrange that does a better job with the human voice, think about some Harbeths, Grahams, or ProAcs. We all know that there are tons of choices, and $4k/pair is an excellent speaker budget. You should be able to find something you love with four thousand bucks in your pocket.

Just as one person would rather peel out with a nearly 600 horsepower Dodge Challenger than get a wimpy four-cylinder Porsche Cayman S that is only about 300 horsepower (but goes around corners way better), it’s easy to see the attraction. Fun can be delivered within different paradigms and still be fun.

Comparing to the originals

It’s incredibly easy to let a romanticized past get the better of you. And as a boomer to all of you in younger generations, laugh now. Winter gets longer and more treacherous the older you get. It happens. But we try not to play it that way.

With a pair of mint originals at hand to make a direct comparison, it underlines even further what great speakers the new Classics are. The originals still have an unmistakable cool factor, and there are several updated crossover kits on that market that are claimed to make the originals otherworldly, but that has to be another day. One can only tweak so much.

Unlike today’s reimagined muscle cars paying fairly close visual homage to their 70s counterparts, the L100 classic looks incredibly close, whether the grilles are on or off. The pulp cone midrange driver (albeit updated) and woofer (same) are still in place, though today’s 12-inch woofer now sports a rubber cone surround, where the original featured a pleated paper surround. The paper coned tweeter in the original is now replaced by a titanium dome, which incidentally, JBL has done an excellent job at taming.

Best of all, the sculpted foam grille remains. When I sold these speakers back in the late 70s, everyone knew that grille. Whether on purpose or by accident back then, this was part of what made the L-100 an icon. And this charm remains. Foam choices are orange, blue, and brown.

My originals are orange, so it felt like a great idea to get more subdued brown ones this time. Fortunately, your JBL dealer can supply the other colors for $249 a pair, so I foresee some blue ones in my future. (Ed. note: since this was originally published earlier this year in our 100th anniversary issue, I have acquired a blue set, thanks to staffer, Tom Casselli, who now has the orange. Hmmm.)

While many snooty late 70s/early 80s audiophiles dismissed the L100 of the day, it was a much better speaker than many gave it credit for. Unfortunately, most mass-market retailers sold em with a crappy Kenwood receiver (or something else equally dreadful) that didn’t have the current drive to tame the woofer, or the refinement to get a decent top-end response. I always seemed to remember that connecting my pair up to a Conrad Johnson MV50 was pretty rocking, but again, that memory thing.

This time though, I was right. Hooking the original JBL’s up to the PrimaLuna EVO400 monoblocks with a full complement of EL34 tubes is indeed glorious, and in fact, even better than I remember.

Out with the old, in with the new

The L-100 Classics were far and away the hit of the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audiofest, even if they were hooked up to an awfully dry sounding Levinson amplifier. As part of the same conglomo, I’m sure they had to use that sterile, boring Levinson amp, but they should have pulled out a freshly re-capped Marantz 2275, or god forbid, a McIntosh MC275. Sometimes you have to cross party lines to reach the desired result. But I heard enough to get the essence.

Earlier this year, getting a pair of these for review proved nearly impossible. Getting someone at Harman to even pick up the telephone is almost impossible. So, kudos for making this review possible go to Mr. Steve Rowell at Audio Classics for putting this together. I rarely buy a piece of gear before the investigation even begins, but I knew I wanted to get old with a pair of these. Staff member Jessica Sieracki took the vintage ones off my hands after, so onward and upward.

Like several other speakers with a metal dome tweeter, the L-100 is slightly bright out of the box. This went away after about 50 hours of play and is gone entirely by 100 hours. The midrange and tweeter level controls are much more useful than they are on the originals and come in handy fine-tuning to your destination amplifier, cable, and room choice. My living room is a bit livelier than in the main listening room, so a nudge of the tweeter control in the counterclockwise direction is both handy and welcome.

How do they compare?

Now that these speakers have been out for just over a year, the internet abounds with multiple opinions, many centering around the L-100 classic, not being an “audiophile speaker.” It is, and it isn’t. If by audiophile speaker, you mean hyper-detailed, with pinpoint imaging, and pretty much no bass to speak of, then the L-100 classic speaker is not an audiophile speaker.

While attending a demonstration of another manufacturer, the fellow running the show said that when making a speaker, you can go for accuracy, or you can go for something more fun. Clearly, the JBL engineers went for the latter, as these are without question one of the most fun pairs of speakers I’ve ever used.

Like the originals, these are genuinely a garbage in/garbage out speaker. Pair them with  low quality, low-resolution equipment , and they will reveal what is behind them. Mate them to great electronics, and they stand up very well indeed.

The L-100s go deep. A comparable pair of mini-monitors from across the pond sound absolutely wimpy in comparison at first blush. But a side by side comparison with a pair of Harbeth Compact 7s reveals the Brit monitors to be cleaner and less cloudy through the mid-band – you can’t argue with the BBC. Think of the Harbeths as a cool white color rendition and the JBL’s a warm white rendition. I own both, I enjoy both, but if you have to choose one, it’s probably going to be down to your ultimate preferences.

The L-100s definitely go way down deep, but the character of the bass rendered is slightly warm. If you’re listening to classic rock or jazz, this is probably going to be pretty pleasant. Those of you on a quest for the absolute sound, whatever that is, will probably go elsewhere. Much like the originals, plopping a Joni Mitchell record on the turntable and easing back in the couch with the L100 Classics is one of life’s great pleasures. Especially with a good tube amp. I’d highly suggest the PrimaLuna, an MC275 or a VAC amp as my first choices.

The JBLs paint a fairly big sonic picture, but it’s more diffuse. While it expands slightly beyond the speaker boundaries, it’s not all-encompassing the way a pair of panel speakers or a perfectly optimized pair of Falcon LS3/5as can. They don’t entirely disappear in the room all the way, but that’s ok.

One other forgotten aspect is the ability to play at a reasonably convincing level. When the other speakers have long run out of dynamic capability, the L-100 Classics still have plenty of headroom left. Oddly, while they are slightly grainy in comparison to a few other speakers, this does not increase at higher levels. I’d venture to guess that some of the insight gained in studio monitor and sound reinforcement has trickled down to these speakers. If you want a pair of real rock and roll speakers, these will do quite nicely.

At the end of the day, the JBL L-100 Classics remind me a lot of that great American amplifier, the McIntosh MC275. It’s not the last word in any of the standard audiophile qualifiers, but I dare you to have a bad day listening to one. The same goes for the L-100 Classics. I dare you to have a bad time listening to your favorite music, no matter what generation it’s from when you’re rocking a pair of L-100 Classics.

And that’s their charm. Considering I’ve had a pair of the originals in one form or another for the last 40 years, the chance that these will be with me till the end is high. Want a good deal? Show up at the estate sale in 2055. I’m sure our kids will sell em to you cheap.

Classic ride, classic speaks. What’s NOT to love?


Friend and occasional TONE contributor Andy “Ammo” Schneider has been doing something incredibly creative with his spare time, combining a love for music, art, and high end audio.

You may have seen “Ammo” on the stage at Coachella, or selling audio gear at AV San Francisco in a past life, or roaming the streets of Seattle, where he now calls home.

An incredibly multifaceted individual, he’s combined his highly tuned visual skills and music love with an environmentally friendly and affordable approach to audio gear. He’s been wrapping, painting, and grinding secondhand, inexpensive gear to create one – off pieces of audio art.

We chat a lot on Facebook, so I’ve been following his progress. He had a few minutes to give me some more specifics into the how and why (or as they say in art school, “explain your process”) and talk about some of his friends/customers than now have a unique way to listen to music.

TONE: How did you come up with this idea, that is obviously way off the beaten path for audio?

Ammo: I started doing this in San Francisco years ago when I was between jobs, just to stay busy and sane. Though I have a decent 9-5’er now, I’ve got a bit more time since musicians like myself aren’t on the road touring. I’ve always loved collecting audio and am on Craigslist all the time. Friends are always asking me for help wading through the audio jungle, but it must look cool.  I’m always the one that friends call when they are looking for a system. Regardless of what I’m doing, I’ll always drop everything and start searching to find them something.
I think if you can make hifi look interesting, it’s a lot easier to step beyond an Apple or Google device to play and enjoy music more. Once it gets into the house, it’s like a Trojan Horse! I’m particularly proud to say that I have as many female customers as male, which having worked in audio retail, is not usually the case.

TONE: Agreed. Visual appeal is something many manufacturers overlook, or some of the ones that pay close attention to aesthetics, build gear that is out of reach for more casual buyers.

Ammo: I’m definitely building these for people my age and younger, a lot of my followers on Instagram (you can find him here: @ammodrums under the “ammoflage” Highlights). I’m always trying to make something interesting and personal. Every single piece is a one off, done by me, by hand.

TONE: What do you look for in donor gear?

Ammo:  I try to keep it reasonable. I love stuff in the $25 – $100/per box range, as that makes it much more accessible for the end users. I love tackling new speakers whenever I can, though personally I love Andrew Jones’ earlier work with Pioneer. For a while you could get those for $50 a pair new!  I’m watching for stuff that’s easy to modify visually.

Athena speakers are great for the price, and the ones I’m always looking for since you can do some interesting contrast stuff with the different removable fascia pieces. I like some of the smaller Polk Audio models too.

It’s also interesting to note that used gear in Portland is way more expensive than Seattle or San Francisco. I suspect it’s because the gear stayed with families a lot longer, and how painfully hip Portlanders are with collecting vintage kit.

TONE: What was one of your biggest challenges?

Ammo:  My favorite challenges are when someone sends me a picture of their living room and lets me take it from there, carte blanche. My least favorite challenge was an old Denon amp that was the ugliest thing. I sanded everything off, telling the buyer to just remember the button and knob functions from a picture.

TONE: Yeah, I saw that one! Liked that, as well as those vintage A/D/S speakers that got the same treatment!

Ammo: It’s a creative outlet, and a way to get people to understand and enjoy their music in a new, fun way – ironically by focusing on how their stereo looks rather than sounds.

TONE: What else goes into the project?

Ammo: Art supplies. Lots of art supplies. I’m stocking up on art supplies just to keep up! I’m not really making a profit, but am staying even. If someone decides to pay me a decent price, I’ll gift another system to someone who can’t afford investing in a decent rig. Kinda like Toms for speakers, only without a business model. My audience isn’t necessarily the standard audio store customers either. But it is helping to bring more people to music – that’s way better than binging on Netflix all day!

TONE:  Can you tell us more about the colors and the rest of your process?

Ammo: I primer the cabinets, and then work with a wide range of mostly Indian and Thai hand-made craft papers. I stick it down with an adhesive compound – the paper is very delicate. This kind of negates scaling to a wider audience. But who knows?

TONE:  Do you go more for subtle or statement pieces?

Ammo: One goal is to make the pieces look as far away from original as possible. I look for interesting patterns, ranging from organic to psychedelic.

TONE: Do you take input from the recipients of your creations?

Ammo:  All the time. I work with my friends to see the color pallete of their living space. I always get interesting vibes and inspirations. I did one pair of speakers to match a friend’s shoes, because he told me he would be putting his favorite pair of shoes on one of the speakers.

TONE: Better than the cat, eh?

Ammo:  Hahahah. Hey I’d color-match someone’s cat if someone asked!

TONE: This is certainly a great way to introduce people to hifi.

Ammo:  I think so, and it’s awesome to hear from clients how much more time they’re spending listening to music, which is amazing. I’m not really trying to be a product evangelist, and most of this gear is mass market to be sure, but it still sounds way better than an Alexa, or Sonos all in one.

TONE: And that’s still a major step forward, for all.

Ammo: Agreed!

So, if you’re looking for something way more interesting than an Alexa, drop Andy “Ammo” a note on Facebook, Instagram, or email directly at [email protected]. These are some incredible creations.