JBL’s Eon range has had a major makeover, with all-new cabinet and amplifier designs, and the addition of Bluetooth remote DSP control.
I’ve owned and operated a few different models of JBL portable speakers over the years and I’ve always been happy with their performance, reliability and value for money. The one — and probably only — JBL product I’ve never been tempted by was the Eon range, mainly because the ergonomics of the cabinet didn’t work for my own requirements. Despite lacking my personal patronage, however, the various Eon models have been a solid success for JBL since their introduction, and I’ve probably come across more of them in my travels than any other portable powered speaker. The new Eon 600 series is an entirely new design, and I’m delighted that the latest products to bear the name have a more straight-sided appearance that reflects and complements other current JBL portable speakers. I borrowed a pair of the new Eon 612 speakers and spent a bit of time getting to know them — but first, here’s a quick rundown of the model range and the main features.
The Eon 600 product line-up currently consists of three self-powered, two-way speakers in 10-, 12- and 15-inch woofer formats, all incorporating Bluetooth technology to allow remote wireless control of various DSP parameters using an Android or iOS app. The amplifiers used in all the models have the same output power rating, courtesy of a new Class-D amplifier stage capable of delivering 350W and 150W (continuous) to the LF and HF drivers, respectively. The overall power package is described, quite correctly, as capable of producing 1000W of peak power, however the more meaningful figure is the acoustic output rating of 126dB SPL, which I’d guess is a real measurement rather than a calculated theoretical figure (although the specification sheet doesn’t confirm this). The HF and LF drivers are all JBL units, with the 2414H-1 one-inch compression driver being used as the HF transducer in all three versions.
The two larger models — the Eon 612 and Eon 615 — are fitted with a special LF waveguide with an asymmetrical shaped opening that partly covers the face of the woofer and is designed to provide control and consistent dispersion of lower frequencies, so that the LF/MF/HF balance is maintained throughout the nominal coverage angle. My understanding is that this waveguide particularly affects and improves the pattern of frequencies at the upper end of the woofer’s range, in particular the range just below the crossover point, where larger (12- and 15-inch) units tend to become ‘beamy’ with consequent coverage issues.
The speakers are housed in moulded polypropylene cabinets with an attractive black finish and integral steel full-face grille, and incorporate generously proportioned and comfortable handles on top, bottom and both sides — even the smallest model, the 610, has handles on all four sides. The enclosures are designed to allow the Eons to work as floor monitors as well as main PA speakers, and have an angled surface on either side, so they can be set up with the HF waveguide to the left or the right. Rubber feet are recessed into the bottom of the cabinet and are designed to dock with shaped recesses on the top surface for easy and secure stacking during storage or transport.
Additional rubber feet are moulded into the side handles, for when the speaker is used on its side. They work well, and not only cushion the unit against handling shock but are effective at stopping ‘monitor slide’. The handles are well placed and well-designed, making it easy to lift, carry and position the speakers — even getting them up on stands or poles is straightforward, and I found that the top/bottom handles were placed exactly right for me and my arms. They have a small clamp screw to keep them in place once mounted, but it’s a shame that there is no option to mount them at a downward firing angle, which is something I tend to favour in most small venues. I very much like the inclusion of a black, acoustically transparent cloth behind the steel grille; this adds to the overall classy appearance and provides extra protection from liquids, debris, insects and the like.
The new Eons are pretty light and easy to handle, weighing in at 11.8, 15 and 17.7 kg for the 10-, 12- and 15-inch variants respectively.
My first thoughts about the Eon 612s was how light and good-looking they were (lifting the things out of their shipping cartons is the first test, and these almost floated up!). The traditional square JBL logo is still there on the front grille, but it’s now black instead of the trademark orange and looks the better for it, in my view. The overall appearance is simple, black and very much ‘pro’ (you know what I mean), and although the new Eons don’t have the distinctive external styling of earlier models, I think they look much better. The steel grille covers the whole front area and is neatly recessed and securely fastened, with no rattles or creaks. I’ve already mentioned the excellent handles and I make no apology for praising them again — after all they are the part of the speaker that you come into intimate physical contact with on every gig, and good, easy handling can do much to extend and maintain the honeymoon period of nice new speakers!
The other interactive area is the control panel, which on the Eon 612s is neat, clear and easy to figure out even for an infrequent or inexperienced user. There are two identical inputs, fitted with combi XLR/jack sockets — I think these should be made compulsory as they are so useful and make ‘wrong lead’ situations no more than a painful memory. Having said that, I’d have liked to have seen see a pair of RCA phono inputs on one of the channels, as these are really useful for connecting media players, domestic and A/V equipment, and even keyboards with only headphone outputs. Anyway, the two inputs have individual rotary attenuators and mic/line sensitivity switches so that incoming levels can be adjusted, and the mixer section has an overall master volume control. A ‘thru’ output on balanced XLR is provided (I don’t think they’ve invented a male XLR/jack ‘combi’ yet, have they?) for linking to other speakers or systems, but this is a raw 50/50 mix of the two inputs, and is not affected by the settings of the two input level controls. This is no problem at all if only one input is being used, for example in a floor monitor application, but if the first speaker is being used as a mixer for a small-scale performance then a linked speaker will reproduce the original sources 50/50 rather than follow the first speaker’s mix settings.
Some speakers give you variable EQ controls, some give you switched presets, and the Eon 600s give you both, via their wireless-controlled DSP access. Using the hardware alone, various factory presets are available by repeatedly pressing the EQ select button; these are pretty self-explanatory and the four options are ‘main’, ‘monitor’, ‘sub’ and ‘speech’. The first two and the last are as obvious as they sound, and ‘sub’ of course means ‘for use with a subwoofer’ (rather than ‘act as a subwoofer’). The EQ parameters can be adjusted using the wireless app, and the settings can be saved and recalled either from the app or from a panel button labelled ‘EQ+’, which toggles between the factory default and the last settings set using the wireless app — very useful if the app isn’t available because someone forgot to bring the tablet.
More engineers and casual users are getting used to wireless control of live-sound systems, and JBL have provided an app for Android and iOS which enables remote access to the EQ settings within the Eon 600 speakers. Although the app can only control one speaker at a time, it can discover and display icons for up to four, and exact settings can be copied between them. The controls available are master speaker volume, high and low shelving, three parametric filters (with control over centre frequency, gain and Q), and the ability to save and recall user presets (the factory presets can also be recalled from the app if required). If this sounds like just what you’ve been waiting for, have a look at http://jblpro.com/www/products/portable-market/eon600-series and check out the Software link — and of course there are online JBL videos and additional pages of information.
As a first test I like to listen to speakers in a familiar space (my workshop studio) and with familiar recorded material. The studio space happened to be clear for a couple of days, so I set up three sets of portable powered speakers (including the Eons) and fed them from different mixer buses so I could switch quickly between them. The ‘other’ speakers were both well-known quality brands which I use regularly and like a lot! I spent a while listening to my own speakers to get used to the music and the room, and then switched to the Eon 612s. Used on their own, without additional subwoofers, the word that came straight to mind was ‘crisp’, and that impression stayed with me as I switched between the three rigs. The Eons were very clean-sounding, the top end having enough bite without being harsh, and the low end was rounded and smooth without sounding hyped — just a pleasing balance at low-to-moderate volume. What I liked best about the ‘indoor’ sound was the high mid-range, which blended very well into the higher frequencies and resulted in a well-balanced sound which was easy to listen to. At higher volumes the mids stayed strong, and the programme remained clear and well focused. When I eventually had to back the Eons off it was because of sheer volume in the listening space, and despite their relatively conservative SPL rating, these speakers are capable of delivering a considerable wallop — considerable enough for most small-to-medium indoor venues I’d say. The monitor EQ preset also works very well, taking out just enough bottom end to keep the muddiness away when the speaker is used landscape-wise on the floor. When used as such, the speaker sits firmly on its built-in rubber feet, and although it’s easier to kick over than a dedicated ground-hugging wedge, it’s stable enough for anything I’m likely to encounter.
I took the Eons to two outdoor events, and also used them for a couple of band rehearsals, by substituting them for my studio PA speakers. They are very easy to handle, and setting up is a breeze from both an audio and a physical point of view. Under most circumstances these are definitely one-person boxes, and as such, I’m sure they will find favour with mobile performers and jobbing sound companies. To avoid damaging them I transported the 612s in their shipping boxes; these are really strong (my JBL VRX932 cartons have done two friends’ house moves now), and if you were saving up for ‘proper’ JBL covers they’d do the job for quite a long time. As an aside, the JBL covers are available in two versions, one of which is a ‘live jacket’ which affords weather protection and stays in place when the speaker is in use.
In the rehearsal room the Eons were used for vocals and keyboards, and they did a very nice job. One session was a lot louder than the other, and the users were impressed with the sound delivery, especially that vocal crispness which I mentioned earlier. The keyboard player noted that the lower piano notes sounded tight and powerful without any booming or honking: he used the expression ‘a bit hi-fi’, which summed it up quite well.
I set up the Eons at a modest-sized outdoor gig just so I could hear them in the open air, as I particularly wanted to check out the coverage. After running them at varying volume levels with speech and recorded material I agree with the designers’ claim that coverage is even; the LF waveguide arrangement does seem to help control the mid-range, to the extent that, when walking across the speaker’s field of fire, you hear a surprisingly consistent balance within the programme material, and I didn’t notice any dips in balance in the overlap corridor between the left and right speakers. Whether this was due to the waveguide design I don’t know, but I was very happy with the results. (I did thinking about trying to remove the LF waveguide to see what difference it would make, but that would have to be a job for another day!)
Almost all smaller outdoor venues are compromised by reflections from nearby buildings, vehicles and so on, but within a reasonable distance from the speakers and with careful positioning the Eons should deliver great intelligibility and even coverage, and would therefore be particularly effective for front fills and voice-only or audio-visual work. Returning to the published SPL figures for a moment, the makers are not claiming that the Eon speakers are the most powerful boxes on the planet but yes, they play loud, and for me it’s all about usable volume, which gets the intended audio across to the intended audience — and the Eon 612s accomplished this very nicely indeed. I think these could be very versatile powered speakers, capable of main PA duties or of being very effective floor monitors.
At the second outdoor event (one of those multi-band town festival affairs) I used one of the Eon 612s as an upstage drum monitor, which was a bit of a revelation. It performed absolutely brilliantly in this role, not only letting the vocals cut right through the on-stage sound but also pumping out lots of bass where necessary and keeping the drumming fraternity happy all day — which is of course what we all strive to do.
Back at the studio I set up the 612s one last time, but this time I hooked them up above a pair of SRX718 subs to see how they’d do as mid/high units. As I didn’t have much time I just used my existing SRX/VRX rig crossover settings on the DriveRack, which has a flat response for the mids and high end. I wished I had tried this out in the open air, because the Eons seemed to love working with subs, and the rig sounded much more powerful than I’d expected.
I do of course like most of the live gear that I get to try out, especially powered speakers, but for me, the final and most important question always has to be ‘Would I buy them?’ In this case I can definitely see a place for at least one pair of Eon 612s in my inventory — especially now that I like the look of them!
Not many of the Eon’s competitors have Bluetooth capability, but similar-format active speakers include the Yamaha DXR and DBR12, RCF ART 712, DB Technologies’ Opera series and the HK Audio Pro range.