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by Bill Braun

Reviewer Extraordinaire

on October 31, 2013
There is a magical word audiophiles tend to use called “imaging.”

Imaging is a wonderful illusion that you aren’t really in your car. 

Forget the windshield in front of you.  Forget the sound of the tires humming and bumping on the road below you. You're in the concert, the radio station, the recording studio or the movie theater.  No matter where you want to be, you're there - where the action is happening. 

Cars with excellent imaging give you that magic. The voices seem to come from the center of the dash (sorry – “center stage” is what we really mean) – when things happen to the side, the sound comes from somewhere to your side - not around your feet. Excellent imaging sounds realistic, and is a very large reason that component speakers exist.  It's also why I’m reviewing the JL Audio C2-650.

Look at similar products like the Rockford Fosgate T165S and the Alpine SPR-60C, and the Kicker KS65.2, all of them are in a similar price range and are competent competitors.

Design

The JL Audio C2 line as a whole is designed to combine performance with affordability.  Typically this approach means that the power handling and overall clarity may be better a bit higher up the evolutionary ladder.  The statistics on the JL Audio website seem to support that approach, especially from a component standpoint.  The crossover is better, the frame is stiffer, the cone is lighter and often stronger – even the overall speaker construction technology itself improves. The sound quality takes a predictable leap skyward. 

Now factor in the price, which of course rises with the model of the speaker.  The JL Audio C2 series (the C2-650 is the subject of this review) of 6.5” separates are $399 MSRP.  The C5 series is $599 and the top shelf ZR series is $999.  Investing more means you get a significant jump in performance, as it is with nearly everything in the consumer world.

The first item I checked out was the grille. In any custom install, you will see a grille and often that’s all you see. What JL recognized was it's importance not only as a method of protecting the woofer, but also that a good design attracts the eye.  The woofer grill is neither flimsy nor generic.  It’s downright sexy, and can obviously take the abuse of life in a car.  The concept itself is excellent, and the only thing I would have changed is to make the thick ring around the edge a bit thinner and sleeker.  Personal opinion there.

The tweeter grille surrounds a stylish insignia integrated into the housing. While lacking the precise symmetry of the silver-ringed woofer grille it accompanies, it does a similar job, and with similar effect.  I like how close the grille is to the edge of the housing. This is out of necessity, as the tweeter has to be able to mount into either of the trim rings that come with it.

The woofer magnet is covered with a thick rubber gasketing, and a stylish sticker covers the back of it. The gasket also has the “evolution” logo embossed on it. It's both a nice aesthetic touch and a practical way of ensuring the magnet doesn’t scrape against other materials while being installed.

The woofer cone is a charcoal gray mineral-filled polypropylene, and the tweeter is a .75” silk dome.

The tweeter uses a relatively common silk dome configuration.  One of the most common reasons to use silk is because of it's smoothness in higher frequency ranges.  I’ve seen silk get a little harsh with extreme volume levels, so be sure to tune the system to your tastes, and if you are the type to blare your music, consider using the “-3dB” setting on the passive crossover (included.)

The tweeter can be installed in one of two ways: flush or surface mount. Flush mounting involves using the included spring clips and fixtures, while surface mounting involves using the other included fixtures.  From an aesthetic standpoint, I’m more a fan of flush mounting if possible.

The speaker terminals are mounted on a thick black plastic base.  The base is not unlabeled, but the plus and minus signs are very small and not highlighted with a color other than black, which is a bit short sighted.  The labeling is clear enough in the instruction manual, and most seasoned installers are already familiar with the different size contacts and their meaning, but for the first time installer it may be a mystery unless they pay attention to the manual.

The crossover is a simplistic design that has a rather nice degree of style to it.  The smoky black shading on the cover is a nice touch, and the terminals are labeled on the circuit board. Some component systems have passive crossovers so large that it’s nearly impossible to mount them anywhere but the trunk.  I was happy to see that this wasn’t the case with the C2-650.

Build Quality

The grille is very solidly built. For people that aren’t mounting the speaker behind the factory grille, this is a key point to pay attention to. The grille is exceedingly solid, while talking next to nothing away from the sound.  I was very impressed with the foresight involved in taking a factor that some would consider trivial and go the extra mile to ensure it was done the right way.

The woofer cone material is often chosen by speaker manufacturers for it's combination of lightness and stiffness. This means it can deliver a degree of accuracy without being weighed down by thicker materials that require more power to push them properly.  As advertised, the cone is quite stiff and will offer a good level of accuracy.

What caught my attention was the surround, which is quite thin and seems to be a Santoprene (confirmation was unavailable that the time of publishing).  This material is reasonably UV resistant, which allows the speaker to operate for years. Some speaker manufacturers use thin surrounds because the other suspension is so strong that it's simply unnecessary to do otherwise.  If that’s the case then the midrange and midbass will still be clean and crisp.  We’ll see soon enough.

The C2-650 has a very strong spider structure, with the tinsel leads ran directly to the voice coil. I tested the leads and found no way to make the two strands touch, or to strike the basket. This means that even under extreme circumstances it would take something other than shorting out the leads to make the speakers fail.

The woofer terminals are very well built – as is the case with very JL speaker I have come across.  Over time, some lesser quality terminals (attached to lesser quality brands) can come loose and cause the terminals to tilt or shift, which may result in the speaker wire contacting the basket. This is a recipe for an electrical short, and at minimum, the speaker failing.

The woofer magnet is mounted closely to the basket, with a miniscule space between the two.  This is primarily a good sign, as it makes for a smaller mounting depth. It can denote a slightly lower tolerance for deep bass, so were relying on a good choice of crossover points and a smart motor design to keep the sound smooth at higher volumes.

The tweeter mount is firm in the fixture, and doesn’t allow for adjustments in angle or position. This is good in that once you set the angle it won’t budge, but that also means you have to take the time to aim the tweeter prior to committing to a specific installation point. I’d suggest you take some time to play with angles and locations in the dash to get that great imaging I talked about in the beginning of the article.

JL also incorporates a tweeter protection circuit into the system.  The circuit helps protect the tweeter from blowing under extreme circumstances, and automatically resets itself if the circuit trips.  Just lower the volume to reset it.  Again – great foresight.  Broken tweeters are among the most common failures in component speaker has.

The crossover is small enough to fit in the vast majority of car doors, (which is a common mounting location), but think twice about doing so.  JL emphatically states how bad an idea this is, as doors often have condensation in them.  It can damage the crossover in the long run.

Sound Quality

Listening to the speakers, I first played some classical music from the IASCA competition CD.  Believe me, I know that not as many people listen to classical as they do other kinds of music, but for revealing how a speaker performs, nothing can compare to the quality of a classical recording.

The horn was crisp in the recording I was listening to (Track 6 if you're interested – “Superman – the Planet Krypton”.)  In the beginning is a great test of how well your imaging is…the Timpani is distant but audible and the trumpet is recorded from a microphone rather far away.  It should sound that way. Distant, yet distinct.  That trumpet was very well represented in the recoding, and when the crescendo started to rise the cymbals come crashing in.  They should have been sharper, but they were present.  Finally the Timpani’s come roaring back into the track, and the midbass comes to life.  If you have subwoofers – you will feel it.  For this test the subs are turned off and I let the C2-650’s handle everything, and I was quite glad I did.

Officially the speakers are stated to handle 59Hz to 22KHz, but I believe they do a bit more than that, if that track and the others I listened to were any indication.

Turning on Van Halen’s “Right Now” I loved the clarity of the midrange, which is where much of rock lives.  The piano was well represented, but lacked the sharpness and detail I was hoping to hear from the piano in the first few moments.  When the piano started blending into those first few near brutal snare smacks, I felt the details as well as heard them, which for me is visceral joy.  Hagar’s voice felt a bit distant to me (again with the imaging) but I’m not going to completely lay that onus on the speakers - not playing with my tweeter placement as much as I could have could be part of it. I tried bumping up the tweeters on the passive crossover to +3dB and that helped quite a bit.

Value

The C2-650 is a good value, but more than that they are an outstanding combination of performance and price.

Yes I would have loved to have heard a bit more detail, especially in the high end but there are several ways to use these speakers and still achieve a great sound regardless of the music styles you tend to listen to.

Give them the power they ask for (factory RMS specs say anywhere from 15 to 100 watts – which means they work even with a decent aftermarket radio and no amplifier), throw a sub in the mix and you've got a damn good system that will last for years.

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