What We Like
- An attractive visual design that is also highly functional.
- Placement options: they sound great on walls and on a stand.
- Great audio performance for this price range.
What We Don’t Like
- Lacking a little in detail, but this isn’t a major issue.
JBL has positioned themselves as a name you can trust in the consumer audio equipment market. And for good reason: their products are consistently high quality, durable, and occasionally even innovative beyond the offerings of many of their competitors.
The Arena 120 weighs in on the smaller side of the bookshelf speaker range. Unlike the majority of competing products, JBL offers it in two finishes: white and black. This is a nice touch, and allows you to tailor the speakers to the room they will be placed in rather than having to make adjustments in order to accommodate your new equipment.
Overall, the finish is surprisingly nice considering its simplicity. The watchword here is ‘minimalistic’. It’s a classic design that has been polished into refinement with a gorgeously textured, matte black surface on the front offset by chrome strips which provide a subtle but effective hint of premium quality. The sides and the top of the box are slightly tapered which gives it an interesting shape that is certainly more interesting visually speaking than the standard affair which you’d be used to at a lower price range. It’s a genuinely good design, and goes far beyond the generic, under designed appearance of much of the competition.
The one inch, textile dome tweeter is placed within a large waveguide which takes up almost the full width of the front facing baffle. With a crossover frequency at 2.5 Khz -18 Db/octave, JBL have engineered the Arena 120s for performance.
Included in the box, you’ll find a template which will help you mount the speakers on a wall should you require as well as a number of rubber pads which you can affix to the underneath or back of the unit in order to prevent against damage. Being able to choose between mounting on a wall or placement on a stand is, it turns out, a great choice to have: they sound great in either configuration which is more than can be said for many similarly priced offerings from many manufacturers.
If you like your listening experience to prioritize a natural sound, then the Arena 120s will be quite the auditory delight. We began our tests by playing some classical music (Mozart, if you must know), and the clarity of the various sections, as well as their placement within the enjoyable wide, spacey soundstage, were noteworthy.
When it comes to modern tracks, the main thing we noticed was that the speakers sound a lot larger than they actually are. There’s a real sense of weightiness, and an energy which exceeds what you might expect from the fairly modest, unassuming speakers, especially if they happen to be tucked away on a bookshelf or otherwise out of sight.
The overall sound is clean and clear, and while the detail isn’t the best we have heard at this price range, it is nonetheless competitive. The bass response, in particular, is worthy of commendation. It performs well across the board, maintaining a sense of energy and agility without ever becoming muddy or overwhelming.
The Arena 120s have cemented themselves as a firm contender within their competitive price bracket. With a sound quality that is extremely solid but which does not demand too much consideration be put into placement, these are a great choice.