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by Bill Braun

Reviewer Extraordinaire

on October 31, 2013
JL Audio believes in choices.

If you look at most mobile audio speaker manufacturers, you’ll begin to see a few trends. In this case, you’ll see that two or three competitive speaker lines is the norm. Some call this a “Good, Better, Best” strategy, their thoughts being that one of the three will fit your needs closely enough to tempt you to buy.

Being among the very few to go against that grain, JL offers five speaker lines. The C2 is just above their introductory TR line.

Check out their website and you get the message. JL designed the C2 line for people that are looking for gear that can take a fair amount of power, without spending money on the “premium lines” that cost significantly more. Looking at similar products like the Rockford Fosgate T1693 and the Focal 690 CA1 SG 6x9 full range speakers, all handling 150-225 watts peak and retailing around the $200 mark, the proof becomes pretty solid.

Design

The JL Audio C2-690tx Full Range Speaker comes with a grille. Yes that’s obvious. No, that not always a given. There are a few manufacturers that don’t offer a grille as standard equipment, so it bears mentioning here.

This black steel mesh grille is a bit higher on the coolness scale as it truly seems made for the speaker. Two silver ovals are perfectly placed to accentuate both the woofer and midrange/tweeter assemblies, which makes my “inner designer” smile. I like anyone with the intelligence to give the consumer a chance to brag just by putting on the grille.

The cone JL chose is a smooth black material called Polypropylene, which is among the most popular materials to use. So is the Polyether foam material the surround is made of.

The black cone was a smart choice so as not to look odd with the grille in place. From an aesthetic standpoint, the less you see behind the grill the better. Just imagine a white speaker behind a black grille. Hey - to my chagrin it’s been done before.

The midrange and tweeter assembly rise barely half an inch above the surround of the woofer, and have the brand built into the frame. For mids and highs, JL chose a 2” Mylar midrange and a ¾” silk dome tweeter. A sleek plastic assembly is in front of both speakers, and could loosely be interpreted to protect the assembly, but it seems to be obvious speaker jewelry. It does help to make the speaker look a little cooler.

The basket is a black stamped steel frame with plenty of ventilation, but the magnet is where it gets impressive.

Examining the magnet structure reveals a graphic sticker on the bottom of the magnet as well as a rather large passive crossover by the speaker terminal. What I really like is the thick rubberized gasket that completely surrounds the outside of the magnet. It even has the “evolution” insignia embossed into the gasket, which confirms our suspicion that JL never misses a branding opportunity. Kudos to their marketing department. Ok, I was impressed on two levels.

The speaker terminals are mounted on a black plastic base thick enough to be classified as “beefy”, with positive and negative polarities marked in a rather small font. The speaker terminals themselves will be familiar to the veteran, but the newbie installer may have to double check the terminal size to learn which polarity is which.

Build Quality

The grille is as stout as it is attractive. Even thin steel is still steel, and when you look for functionality in this medium you hope you get something a bit better than the same ol’ thing for the price tag, the alternative being a plastic. Happily, you do here.

Determining how stiff and light a speaker cone is helps you figure out a little about how it will respond under stress. The C2-690tx has an unusually flexible cone material, which implies that it may break up under stress. Depending on several factors like the amp for example, this may translate to a muddy sound when the volume is cranked up.

Can you fight that by doing something more than keeping the volume down? Yes. Putting it in a sealed box is another option. Using an active crossover (some aftermarket receivers have one built in) is still another way to help the sound quality reach it's potential. Consider talking to your local mobile audio shop to discuss options.

I asked JL Audio Technical Support for a sealed box size and power recommendation. Their suggestion was .75 cubic feet per speaker, with 25 to 100 watts each. The official word on the website is 15 to 125 watts, but the guys in the JL tech support depart are on top of their game. If you ever have occasion to call them, listen. Closely.

The midrange/tweeter stalk is extraordinarily solid, and the mounting height is rather shallow – which is a good thing. The reason will become obvious to anyone mounting these speakers behind factory speaker grilles: keeping the height down means there are more opportunities for a nice flush fit, which turns into a factory look without the factory sound that would come with it.

The basket is stamped steel, and the magnet’s huge – which accounts in some senses for its 225-watt peak power rating. The rubber gasketing helps to protect the installer against metal shavings that some magnets collect, as well as protecting them against random items in the trunk hitting them if mounted free air.

Well protected under the same gasket is a large passive crossover, and another large crossover is glued solidly to the midrange. It’s not unusual to see a pair of crossovers on a full range speaker; what is unusual is to see such beefy crossovers incorporated into what could accurately be considered a mid-range offering in JL’s speaker line. In a nutshell, they over deliver – and no one should ever complain about that. As an audio fan installs their gear, they often ask for more – and better – control. Higher grade crossovers are a great first step towards that control, and they’ll find the benefits of clearer midrange and treble easier to attain.

The speaker terminals have always been a sore spot to me. Some first time installers or do-it-yourselfers will not get the fact that speaker manufacturers expect the general public to know that the small terminal is negative and the large one positive.

Their solution? Mark positive and negative signs so small on the terminal you’d need a magnifying glass to read them on a black on black background, while you’re on your back in the dark of a trunk. Not ideal.

The terminal polarity may be hard to identify, but the terminal itself is quite stout. By stout we mean you could hang a barbell off of it. Remember - beefy is always what you're looking for good because you don’t have to worry about breaking the terminal in half while pushing on the connectors.

Sound Quality

This is my favorite part of my job, and hopefully your favorite part of an installation: listening to the fruits of your labor. I usually use a range of music, from classical, to rap and rock to judge the real world sound quality of a speaker, and all at varying volume levels.

In this case, the rap was lots of fun to listen to. The C2-690tx handles big, bumping lows better than I expected, with thanks in so small part to the crossover. The male voice did crackle a bit when I really started to turn the music up, but it should be mentioned that every speaker has it's limits, no matter how expensive it is or isn’t.

The midrange is much more of a test in rock, so like the rap music I became a bit heavy handed with the volume control. Listening to rock (used a few tracks here) the kick drums did present themselves as a little less defined then I’m looking for, but like the rap music the female vocals absolutely sang. They were smooth, clean and even as I changed volume those characteristics didn’t falter an iota.

Finding my classical music, I popped that into the player. Symphonies aren’t the most popular music in the world admittedly – but they are typically very well recorded, typically use no reverb (unlike most rock) and produce a very wide range of acoustic frequencies at the same time. It's going into the kitchen of a five star restaurant; you get to see the components (in this case, hear) in their raw form.

Trumpets are the first thing I truly paid attention to in the symphony. They were a bit bland compared to other speakers I’ve heard, but became sharper as the crescendo hit, and the blanketing effect seemed to dissipate. The timpani drums were also low in the mix, but defined. Flutes and strings were obvious, and sharp – something I was very pleased with.

I promise you – give me any car audio speaker, any home audio speaker or a horn speaker pulled right out of Wembley stadium, and with the right frequency and power combo I’ll fry it like a chicken nugget. My point is everything has it's limits.

The art in building speakers lies firmly in balancing performance with economy, but just as important is your ability to tune and install a speaker properly. Learn about equalizers, learn about crossovers, and you will be absolutely thrilled with how much performance you can get out of a speaker like this 690tx.

Value

Please don’t forget that the heart of musical detail does not live strictly in the speaker alone. Everything from the radio to the amp to the car’s cabin itself effects sound, and the more you try to control acoustically, the better off you usually are.

The C2-690tx delivers especially dynamic midrange and treble, seemingly regardless of the music and volume I threw at it. There is room for improvement in the midbass range and with detail in especially loud bass. In fairness, the speaker does say in the literature that 53Hertz is the low end of the effective frequency range, and the tests that were done confirm that.

Overall I was a fan of these speakers. They deliver everything I would expect for the price - and a bit more. Something I would hope to experience in every piece of audio gear I use.

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