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JBL Speakers 60 Years In The Making

By David Richards | Wednesday | 25/09/2013

JBL is one of those brands that just keeps evolving, you only have to attend a major rock concert or watch the Oscars to get an earful of what JBL is good at, sound and lots of it.

From their new JBL Flip wireless audio speaker for consumers to their Pro range of speakers which musicians swear by JBL is one of those audio Companies that love to innovate. Sometimes it works out with the release of a leading edge product on other occasions it has resulted in a trip back to the drawing boards.

The Founder of JBL was James Bullough Lansing who has been described as an obsessed and possibly manic-depressive genius, in fact several founders of leading edge Hi Fi Companies fit the same profile for the simple reason that they are always looking for the next big thing in sound and often won't give up when things go pear shaped.

Click to enlarge

Lansing invented practically everything he could - even his own name.

Right now sound Companies like JBL and Harman Kardon are working on a new generation of wireless audio products that eliminate the need for cables they are also having to invest in technology that links their audio products seamlessly with content delivered via a tablet, smartphone or PC.

Today's world of audio is very much a blend of technology and audio finesse its where content has to be matched up with high quality output.

Consumers want brands with a proven pedigree in delivering great sound as well as the functionality that wireless audio technology and streaming content is delivering consumers today.

Lansing first set up a speaker Company in 1927 in Salt Lake City called Lansing Manufacturing Soon thereafter, he found a businessman named Ken Decker to run the financial and marketing side of the business, and Lansing settled in to concentrate on technology.

His timing was perfect because shortly after he set up his Company Warner Brothers premiered the first talking feature film, The Jazz Singer. The film was such a sensation that every studio in Hollywood suddenly demanded sound equipment for their sound stages and for the networks of cinemas that they owned.

Douglas Shearer, the chief sound engineer at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. MGM, Hollywood's biggest and studio, specialized in lavish films in particular musicals.

Shearer was told that the guy to develop the speakers was Jim Lansing. From 1933 through 1935, Shearer and Lansing developed a system of horn-shaped speakers to improve cinema sound.

Then disaster struck, Decker was killed doing military service and without Decker's talent for business, Lansing Manufacturing suffered.

In December of 1941, Altec bought Lansing Manufacturing for a reported $50,000 (about $730,000 in 2009 dollars).

Lansing soon developed speakers for cinemas. His first components were virtual copies - right down to the model names - of the speakers that he had created at Altec Lansing.

Lansing was a brilliant engineer with an eye for innovative designs and materials, but he was a poor businessman. His company lost money and by late 1949 was about $20,000 (roughly $180,000 in 2009 dollars) in debt.

Lansing had always suffered from bouts of depression. On September 24, 1949, apparently upset over the decline of his beloved business, the founder of JBL took his own life.

Despite his death his vision and passion for great sound was kept alive.

Lansing had had a $10,000 life insurance policy, one third of which went to his wife and the remaining two thirds to the company. Using the company's share, about $60,000 in 2009 dollars, corporate treasurer William Thomas began to pull the firm out of debt.

Thomas signed contracts for JBL to design new components for cinema audio manufacturers Ampex and Westrex.

The early 1950s saw the birth of high-quality consumer audio. The phrase "hi-fi" (high fidelity) became common vocabulary.

Thomas hired industrial designer William Hartsfield, who produced a loudspeaker named, naturally, the Hartsfield. The speaker was a hit, and JBL was suddenly a power player in home audio.

In the early 1960s, JBL worked with Capitol Records (home of the Beatles and the Beach Boys) to develop monitors for recording studios.

JBL, Meet Harman

Sidney Harman was the founder (with Bernard Kardon) of the audio company Harman Kardon. In 1969 William Thomas sold him JBL. JBL now belonged to Harman International Industries.

Under Harman, JBL grew into something close to what it is today: an audio maker that takes its expertise in theatrical and recording-studio sound systems and applies it to the home.

Click to enlarge

In addition to using its existing technology, JBL spent the 1970s and 1980s developing new bursts of innovation. In the middle 1970s, for instance, JBL engineers developed Symmetrical Field GeometryT, a speaker assembly that reduces sonic distortion. A few years later, the company's engineers created Bi-Radial? horn technology, which improves sonic performance over a range of frequencies.

Today both JBL and Harman Kardon have a reputation for making great audio products.

They've been setting new trends in fashion by partnering with sportswear company Roxy for a line of colourful headphones. They've been devising speakers and players for new streaming and different sources of entertainment such as high-definition television, Blu-ray Disc technology and Apple's latest iPod and iPhone models. And they've been keeping an eye on every other new opportunity coming down the road such as 4K sound.

Here are some of the great JBL products being sold in Australia today.


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