A few weeks ago, I was smuggled into JBL distributor CMI Music & Audio’s HQ for a top-secret, under-NDA preview of a yet-to-be-released product. Why the cloak and dagger, I thought?
Now it’s gone public, I can reveal the product is the JBL PRX ONE, a stand-alone powered column PA. I now understand the secrecy. In the hotly contested portable column and sub market, it may not be a category-killer, but it’s definitely a category disruptor.
The design boffins at JBL have taken what they typically don’t like about ‘stick’ PAs and addressed those issues one-by-one. Firstly, it looks professional and expensive; perfect for corporate. Secondly, the mixer and DSP are extensive and powerful. There are seven analogue ins: 4x combo XLR (two of which have +48v) 2x TRS, and 1x 3.5mm. Bluetooth 5.0 is supported for streaming and control. The onboard DSP includes dbx and Lexicon processing, along with standard channel strip EQ mand dynamics, all controllable via the excellent built-in screen or fully-featured JBL Pro Connect App. Thirdly, it’s specc’d well; capable of 130dB powered by a 2000W amp, dispersion is 135 x 40 degrees.
It all looked good on paper, so now for the real-world listening test. Brand Manager (Audio) Billy Mak and Tom Kunz, Brand Specialist (Audio) fired up the beast for me, cued my favourite test tracks, and let me walk around stroking my chin and generally giving the impression I knew what I was doing.
I can report that the PRX ONE succeeds where many previous stick PAs fail. Having toured and run the portable column PA demo on ENTECH Roadshow several years running with my favourite test tracks, I know exactly where all the choke points are; the sudden crack of a snare, the thud of a tom, the marcato lows of a string section. In typically underpowered or sonically inferior column PAs, these passages very soon sort out the pretenders from the contenders. JBL’s PRX ONE is definitely a contender. When running speech through a humble SM58, any PA’s flaws are obvious. The PRX ONE was strong, flat, and honest.
The mid-high array sports 12 2.5-inch drivers. JBL’s marketing copy states that they’ve used ‘Array Inumbration Mechanics’ or ‘AIM’ to ensure consistent front-to-back coverage. I had to look that one up. ‘Inumbration’ is to ‘put in the shade’ or ‘darken with shadow’. That’s a new one on me in the field of loudspeaker design, so I’m going to chalk it up to marketing copy that’s explaining how good old-fashioned physical placement of the mid-high drivers in relationship to each other, and in respect of their size, means there’s not a lot of DSP being used to deal with the nodes and lobes created by line source. Neither nodes and lobes are immediately evident in the coverage field, and that’s down to good design. Meanwhile, in the sub, there’s a 12” woofer extending down to 35Hz. It’s tight, musical, and completely free of the kind of ‘one note’ resonances you can find in this part of the market.
As I’ve stated about new products coming out of the HARMAN-owned brand recently, this is not your parent’s JBL. I’ve noted that all of JBL’s recent releases, from the VTX A8 and A12 line arrays right down to the 3 Series budget studio monitors, all have a flatter, cleaner, and more ‘European’ voicing when compared to the bark, boom, and tizz of old. The high end is totally different beast. The reverb tails on vocals when heard on the JBL PRX ONE were detailed and coherent. It’s an expensive sounding box.
One of the most intriguing things about the PRX ONE is the optional install bracket and adaptor. Unlike other column PAs, this means you can position the mid-high array away from the sub enclosure/mixer/amp that feeds it. Specifically, you can wall mount them with a multi-angle bracket, hide the sub/mixer out of the way, and connect the mid-high via a speakCON terminated cable. Considering that the whole package includes inputs, processing, app control, subs, and mid-highs, this puts the PRX ONE in contention for installation in everything from small entertainment venues to large meeting rooms and every application in between. The humble stick PA is spreading its wings way beyond small corporate events.
The JBL PRX ONE is available now through distributor CMI Music & Audio.
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