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JBL One Series 104-BT review: The perfect desktop speakers?

Sasha Muller
14 Jun 2021
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
155
inc VAT

JBL updates One Series 104 with Bluetooth, and the result is one of our favourite compact desktop speakers ever

Pros 
Enjoyable sound
Compact dimensions
You can listen to all inputs simultaneously
Cons 
Treble is a tad unruly
Bass is lacking
White paint comes off too easily
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JBL’s original One Series 104 speakers performed a seemingly simple feat: they produced good sound from relatively small boxes and managed to do it without costing the earth. Now JBL has gone one better by adding Bluetooth to the equation and, while that sounds like a positively tiny upgrade, that small change has had a big impact.

JBL 104 BT review: What do you get for the money?

Just like their predecessors, the JBL 104 BT are compact powered stereo speakers. Each speaker measures 247mm high, 153mm wide and 127mm deep and the pair weigh a modest 3.79kg. You can take your pick of matte black or matte white finishes, too.

You can connect them to a laptop or PC sound card – or indeed any device with an analogue audio output of some kind – and the newly added Bluetooth connectivity lets you stream audio from any mobile device you have to hand. Conveniently, there’s both a 3.5mm auxiliary input and 3.5mm headphone output on the front of one speaker, and the headphone output automatically mutes the speakers when it’s in use.

Like most powered speakers below £200, the JBL 104-BT use a master and slave arrangement. This means that one speaker, the master, houses the analogue inputs, controls and the 60W Class D amplifier (that’s 30 watts per channel), and this pipes sound to the other speaker via a single speaker cable.

Setup couldn’t be easier: plug the master speaker into a nearby mains socket, connect the various inputs to your devices, then run the supplied speaker cable over to the slave speaker. Done.

The new, and really rather brilliant, feature here is that you can now toggle between each input, or select All and monitor every input at once. This means, for instance, that you can listen to music via Bluetooth while still hearing notifications and receiving video or voice calls via the other analogue inputs. In practice, this is really very useful.

Another slightly unusual aspect to the 104-BT’s design is the speaker drivers. These are coaxial drivers, so called because the 4.5in woofer in each speaker has a 0.75in tweeter mounted in its centre. The benefit of this is that the treble and bass frequencies combine more cleanly, and this allows you to move around at your desk without the sound quality changing dramatically in tone.

JBL 104 BT review: How is the sound quality?

If you’ve heard the previous models, then you know exactly what to expect – nothing’s changed in sound quality terms. Place them nearby on a desk, and the 104-BT go loud and sound seriously punchy and crisp. Make no mistake, they’re more powerful than you might reasonably expect given their dainty dimensions.

They also create a pleasingly deep, wide soundstage where instruments float between the speakers. Let me be clear: this is not the absolute last word in clarity, but the JBL’s really are very listenable for the money. After hooking them up, I spent a long time listening to the JBLs without even considering going back to my full-sized active monitors, and given that they cost around five times the price, that’s some compliment.

Another impressive aspect of the JBL’s performance is that they sound just as good via wired as they do via wireless Bluetooth connections. You don’t get any support for AptX, AptX HD or LDAC streaming, but you’re unlikely to miss it – I compared lossless audio files played from a computer via the JBL’s balanced analogue inputs versus the same tracks streamed from Spotify, and didn’t notice any major differences. Both sounded perfectly listenable to my ears.

JBL 104-BT review: What don’t we like?

JBL refers to both the 104-BT and the previous 104 models as “compact reference monitors”, but this claim is a tad overblown in my opinion. To earn that kind of accolade, they’d need a ruler-flat frequency response, and that’s something they simply don’t provide.

Bass begins to disappear rapidly below 100Hz, as you’d expect for such a small speaker, but it’s the high frequencies that are a little unruly. Once you get above 6kHz, noticeable peaks and troughs in the response mean that some tracks can sound super-detailed and others can sound a bit harsh. If accuracy is important to you, you’ll need to use a software equaliser to balance the high end.

You may also wish to dial down your expectations if you’re expecting the 104-BT to rock the party in larger rooms. These are, after all, small speakers, so there’s a limit to how loud they’ll go before the sound quality begins to suffer. That said, if they’re a foot or two from your ears, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be comfortable listening at top volume. JBL claims that the little 104-BT will manage a continuous volume of 89db and hit peaks of 102db when listening from a metre away. Given that sustained exposure to sounds above 85db is capable of damaging your hearing, that’s plenty loud enough for nearfield listening.

The final moan concerns the matte finish on the white models – durability is an issue. I noticed a small speck of what I thought to be dirt, gently rubbed it with a finger, and then more dirt appeared. I fetched a clean, damp cloth thinking that my grubby fingers were at fault, and then realised that the paint was actually coming off as I rubbed. I don’t recall having any similar issues with the previous black 104 models, so can only assume it’s an issue with the white version.

JBL 104-BT review: Should you buy them?

If you need small, desktop speakers that sound great and have oodles of connectivity, then the JBL One Series 104-BT can’t be beaten. Yes, you can get bigger, better sound from physically bigger active monitors, but the JBL 104-BT are a fine compromise.

Despite a relatively tiny footprint, these dainty speakers sound good and go loud, and the multiple inputs and Bluetooth connectivity make them pleasingly versatile, too.

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