Review: JBL PRX900 Series
JBL supersedes PRX800 with superior components and technology, giving this professional portable PA series fresh impetus.
The new JBL PRX900 Series of pro portable loudspeakers sits between the class-leading JBL EON Series and the top-spec SRX Series. They cost twice as much as the EONs and that seems about right. The PRX900 Series replaces the PRX800 Series with mostly new components. Demand for good quality portable speakers is high and performance keeps improving as the technology evolves. The competitive marketplace ensures good value in all segments, the choice depends on what you need and what you can afford.
THE RANGE & THE TECH
The PRX Series consists of three full-range speakers and two subs. The subs still have timber cabinets but the full-range speakers are now made from the same talc-reinforced FEA-optimised polypropylene composite material as the current EONs. The talc (10%) adds strength and heat resistance. There are subtle differences in the looks of the current JBL portable speaker series but they share a contemporary, professional JBL family theme with a perforated steel front grille, flat sides, foldback angles and a control panel at the back.
The 12-inch woofer-based JBL PRX912 is the middle speaker of the range that includes the PRX908 (eight-inch) and PRX915 (15-inch) versions. The subs include the PRX915XLF 15-inch and PRX918 18-inch. The full-range boxes are the standard two-way, point-source, bass-reflex designs with on-board processing and amplification. The switch to polypropylene cabinets for the PRX series enables computer-modelled internal bracing to shape the cabinet response and add strength. The HF compression driver is the new 2408H-2 1.5-inch tweeter featuring a poly-annular (ring shaped) diaphragm and neodymium magnet. NTC thermistors protect the drivers from overheating and updated waveguides control the 90 x 50° HF dispersion. The 912G 12-inch LF driver replaces the PRX800 Series JBL Differential Drive technology with a new design using a ferrite magnet.
Power comes from a single 2000W (Peak)/1000W (RMS) Class-D amp designed by stablemate Crown. A passive crossover at 2050Hz separates the drivers. Cooling is passive (no fan), with the back panel acting as a heat sink. I had them out in the full Aussie sun on one occasion and the cabinets get very hot. They didn’t seem to mind (read: they didn’t melt and kept working) but I’d like to see an on-demand fan for peace of mind. Both sides of the cabinets are angled at the back with protective feet so the speakers can be used on their sides with your choice of which side the horn is on if you’re using them as a pair of wedges.
The 19.5kg PRX912s are 5kg heavier than the equivalent EON712 model and feel like they mean business – the EONs are solid enough but feel a bit light for what they do, while these feel reassuringly dead and resonance-free. The chunky handles on the top and one side are neatly integrated into the design. Mounting options comprise 6 x M10 eyebolts and standard dual-angle polemount sockets on the bottom.
NEED TO KNOW
JBL PRX900 Series
Active Portable Loudspeaker System
We ran them with no EQ (again) and had a happy singer — PRX made it seem easy
The rear panel sports a new colour OLED screen. The layout is inviting — beside the screen there’s simply a large Main Volume/Menu Navigation knob and a Back button. Below the screen there are two combi input channels with gain knobs and individual XLR pass thru outputs. These thru outputs are a simple split of the input signal and don’t have any DSP processing. An Aux In third input accepts a 3.5mm stereo minijack plug. All three inputs have a signal/clip LED indicator for the channel level. An additional XLR Mix Out socket sends the post-DSP full-range, mixed output to another speaker (or mixing console if the PRX912 is being used as a keyboard mixer/monitor). The Sub preset includes a variable crossover function enabling the Mix Out to drive separate sub woofers without an external crossover. The Pass Thru and Time Align menu section allows both the PRX912 itself and the Mix Out outputs to be delayed up to 180ms for delay speaker use or fine tuning phase relationships.
The speakers are set up to be driven from a mixing/DJ desk. The Channel and Master gain knobs are calibrated with 0dB (line level) max and there’s no mic/line switch or 48V phantom power. If you must plug a microphone directly into the speaker, pressing the Main/Menu knob gets you to the Gain settings for the two input channels and the opportunity to add up to 32dB of gain. The JBL PRX912s are largely plug ’n’ play and sound fine flat but there’s a range of EQ presets, a customisable 12-band EQ and a Bass Boost (3dB@80Hz) on hand. Limiting comes courtesy of dbx and goes from its Overeasy soft-knee-style compression through to Brickwall mode for system protection.
EFFICIENT & EASY
In use, my first impression was the efficiency and easy volume, they seem to lift up a lot for any given increase in gain. The PRX sound quality is different to the EON range – less hi-fi and more of a focused, mid-forward monitor sound. The frequency response is flat across the mids while the low frequencies are quite subdued (-3dB point is at 65Hz) until you push them. The Bass Boost and EQ/presets will fill out the low end if needed but to realise their full potential on the dancefloor, separate subs will be needed.
As FOH speakers in small to medium venues the PRX912s run noticeably louder and harder than the EONs. Their strength is in their powerful mid-range and high frequencies —both new drivers contribute but the larger diaphragm in the 2408H-2 1.5-inch tweeter, in particular, seems effortless at medium and higher levels. Once I’d heard them, I was confident I could use a pair for a local football club function with a DJ and a few hundred in the audience. I was using suitable subs but I still wouldn’t have done it with a pair of EONs, the room was too big, and that’s the difference — a pair of 12-inch EONs <may> have worked but I knew the PRX12s <would>.
Setting up was made easier by having the Sub preset to drive my subs from the Mix Out, rather than taking a crossover — very handy. They sound right flat but presets are worth exploring, especially for music playback. They’re subtle and I chose the DJ preset for this event. I was happy when I set it up and heard it. The DJ had it cranked up after dinner with no problems apart from repeated requests for ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and ‘We Are The Champions’.
INTO THE FOLD
The PRX912s also make excellent foldback wedges, aided by an on-board G-sensor that automatically changes (reduces) the LF response when the speaker is laid on its side. The mid-range projection and clarity are what makes them work well as vocal monitors but they’ve got the power handling and depth to get a decent amount of kick drum and bass as well. I used them for long-time Melbourne supergroup Checkerboard Lounge: one for guitarist Shannon Bourne and another for singer/drummer Carl Pannuzo, and they got their vocals clear above the band despite a firm stage volume. You can tell a lot about wedges from the band’s reaction, if their reaction is ‘yeah, great’ without me needing to explore full volume or apply excess EQ, then I like them. I left the AFS (Automatic Feedback Suppression) switched in — you can hear it working if you look for it when testing but I don’t think I got near it during the show.
US grunge band Mudhoney sold out the Theatre Royal and they were loud. Dan Peters is a cracking drummer and his playing sets the level on stage. The band’s mixer, Bob de Wit, doesn’t use hi-hat or overhead mics and I could still hear them clearly. Full-volume rock sorts out speakers. I placed in the PRX912s as Mark Arm’s vocal monitors, and I knew it would be a trial by fire. They sounded good to me. Bob gave them a good listen, tweaking with his ipad at the vocal position before soundcheck, and had to agree. We ran them with no EQ (again) and had a happy singer — PRX made it seem easy.
Bluetooth 5.0 is included. Built-in wi-fi enables the JBL Pro Connect mobile app to control up to 10 speakers from a range of JBL models from different series with a smartphone or tablet. When paired, BT Control give access to volumes and some more precise EQ than the presets provide.
The JBL PRX Series are pro quality speakers. The EONs are good, these are better, and even at twice the price they’re still good value for venues, bands/DJs and hire companies looking for more performance than the entry level models. The build quality is high and they come with a seven-year warranty. Powerful, versatile and practical.