JBL is an American acoustic audio company that is part of Harman International Industries, which includes numerous audio companies. JBL was founded in 1946 by James Bullough Lansing. JBL products are high-end speaker systems and accompanying electronics. There are two divisions of this company: JBL Consumer and JBL Professional. The first of them produces audio equipment for home use, the second produces professional equipment for recording studios, sound engineers, DJs, etc.
Many people probably know that the American company JBL is named after its founder James Bullough Lansing. The name of this man is also imprinted in the name of another world-famous acoustic brand – Altec Lansing. The founder of JBL was born in 1902 as James Martini, the ninth child in the family of a coal mine engineer (he had 14 children in total). James lived for some time in the Ballou family – obviously, these were not the worst years in his life, since he later added his name to his own and eventually became James Ballou Lansing. Now no one remembers why he did it and why he chose the name of a town in Illinois as his surname. But what is known for certain and precisely is his keen interest in technology. At the age of 10, he independently built a Leyden jar (an ancestor of the capacitor) to make fun of his classmates. Next came detector receivers, and at the age of 12 he already had troubles with the radio interception service of a nearby military base – the transmitter he had assembled was confiscated from James. However, the boy’s interests were not limited to radio technology alone—as a teenager, he began working in a car repair shop, specializing in engine adjustment. He apparently did well, since his owner sent him to study as an auto mechanic in Detroit.
James Bullough Lansing
In 1924, James’s mother died, and he left his father’s house, going to Salt Lake City. There he worked as an engineer at a radio station, where he met his future business partner Ken Decker. Next – moving to Los Angeles, changing the name and registering the first company – Lansing Manufacturing Company. It specialized in the development and production of speakers for radios. By 1930, the company already employed about 40 people. Just then the boom of sound films began (the first films with sound appeared in 1928), and James’s company expanded its product range – it began making loudspeakers for cinemas. In 1933, the head of the sound department of the MGM film studio, Douglas Shearer, assembled a group of enthusiastic engineers to develop a cinema loudspeaker that would eliminate the shortcomings of the then-produced systems – bulky and insufficiently high-quality. James B. Lansing was also invited to this group. As a result, in 1936, a speaker was born who went down in history as “Shearer’s mouthpiece” – he was awarded a prestigious award from the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the annual Oscars are her work). The system raised cinema sound to a previously unattainable level and became the prototype for a great many loudspeakers from a variety of companies.
Another notable – and now personal – development of James B. Lansing from those years was the Iconic, a compact two-way loudspeaker with a 15-inch low-frequency driver and a tweeter loaded onto a small multi-section horn. The speaker became extremely popular in the film industry and was widely used as a studio monitor. And, as some experts believe, its features are easily discernible in many modern two-way studio speakers. In 1939, Ken Decker, James’s partner, died, and he realized that he could not sustain his business alone – the talented engineer was very far from commerce, and the company was constantly plagued by financial failures. He still managed to hold out for a couple of years, but in 1941 Lansing Manufacturing Company was acquired for $50 thousand by Altec Service Corporation, which was spun off from the powerful Western Electric at the direction of the American government. The latter, among other things, was engaged in the production of cinema loudspeakers and was in dire need of its own production of components. The merged company became Altec Lansing Corporation, and James received the post of vice president overseeing engineering development. Freed from financial worries, Lansing was able to focus on inventing. It was then that he perfected the technology of high-speed winding of voice coils and stamping of aluminum diaphragms for high-frequency drivers, which later began to be used throughout the world. He continued to develop speakers. The most successful of these were the 604 coaxial model and the A-4 theater system (more than three meters high), created together with John Hillyard – the world’s first loudspeaker with a closed low-frequency section at the rear and a port at the front.
During the war, the company developed ultra-sensitive electromagnetic detectors that were installed on aircraft to detect submarines – they used the high-energy magnetic material Alnico V, which was later very useful for the production of dynamic drivers. Like most gifted people, Lansing had a contradictory and very difficult character. Constant disagreements with George Carrington, one of the bosses of the company, made James’s departure from Altec Lansing inevitable – five years after the merger, he considered his moral obligations to the corporation fulfilled and registered his own company – first Lansing Sound, then, at Carrington’s insistence, was renamed James B. Lansing Sound. This happened just 60 years ago, in 1946. In those years, American companies produced their products at home; no one thought about moving factories to Asia. James Lansing’s factory was located in the town of San Marcos, not far from his ranch, where he grew avocados and citrus fruits. One of the launch products was the D175 bass driver, which remains in the JBL catalog to this day. It was Lansing who began using 4-inch voice coils in woofers, and the first loudspeaker to implement this solution was the D130.
As it turned out, the company was founded at the wrong time—immediately after the war, an economic recession began in the United States. In addition, as we remember, the talented engineer Lansing was a lousy businessman, and under his leadership the company was never profitable. It ended its second financial year with losses of $2,500, it was necessary to borrow money, and by the beginning of 1949 the company’s debts had already reached a very large amount for those times of $20,000. On September 24, 1949, James B. Lansing passed away. Obviously, this could be the end of JBL’s fate, but then we would not be celebrating the company’s anniversary and this essay would not exist. A few years before the founding of the company, James insured his life – the $10,000 received from the insurance went to pay off part of the debt and allowed him to stay afloat. Although much more important than this money was the fact that Lansing managed to gather extraordinary people in a company who continued his work. It must be said that the authority of James B. Lansing as an acoustic engineer was extremely great, so speakers with the “Jim Lansing Signature Sound” sign were in steady demand, which helped his followers save the company from bankruptcy. The company still remained small, but had already become quite noticeable in the market. This is what caused another attack on the part of Altec Lansing – its bosses did not like the fact that part of their trademark, the word “Lansing”, was being successfully used by a competing company. Long and exhausting negotiations began, as a result of which James B. Lansing Sound Company turned into the acronym JBL, at which time its former logo appeared in the form of an exclamation point, reminiscent of a military award with three letters inscribed in the “medal”. And the ascent of this brand to its current heights began.
Much of the credit for the company’s rise goes to the gifted businessman William Thomas, who began to participate in its affairs during James’s lifetime, and after his death became the sole owner of JBL, buying out the share from Lansing’s widow. William managed to attract to work in the company the same enthusiasts of their work, talented engineers, like its creator. The company’s success has always been based on innovative technologies that have allowed it to achieve significant advantages in the market. For example, in 1954, the 375 high-frequency compression driver was launched into production, providing unprecedented characteristics at that time – linear reproduction of high frequencies up to 9 kHz! And in 1957, the company began to use a fundamentally new method for manufacturing magnetic systems for drivers, which made it possible to reduce their cost and at the same time increase the field strength in the gap by 25%. From the beginning of the 50s and over the next two decades, the outstanding engineer Edmond May * worked for the company – there was, perhaps, not a single driver or speaker model that he did not have a hand in. It was in the mid-50s that the concept of Hi-Fi appeared and the demand for high-quality home audio equipment arose. William Thomas was sensitive to the new trend and attracted the famous industrial designer Robert Hartsfield to collaborate – with his participation, the famous Hartsfield acoustic system was developed, which was produced until the mid-80s. Another great success of those years in the field of consumer hi-fi was the famous Paragon stereo acoustics, released in 1958. Its design was created by Colonel of the US Army Signal Corps Richard Ranger, the author of many inventions in the field of film sound, and its extravagant appearance was created by a talented designer and generally an exceptionally versatile person Arnold Wolf – he developed the modern JBL logo, and in the period from 1969 to 1979 was the president of the company.
Despite the success of home models, professional acoustics remained an important area of JBL’s activity. In the early 60s, the company worked closely with the Capitol Records label, and the fruit of their cooperation was the 4320 monitors – they made JBL one of the leading players in the studio acoustics sector. In particular, its speakers were adopted by EMI. As you know, professional acoustics are often active, so the company develops not only drivers, speakers, but also amplifiers. In particular, in 1965, JBL created a proprietary T-shaped output stage circuit for powerful transistor final amplifiers. A little later, in 1968, the series of three-way studio bookshelf monitors 4310 was launched, the design of which was further improved in models 4311 and 4312. It was JBL that made the world’s first 4-way monitors – this was the 4300 series, the production of which began in 1973 . The rock era that began in the 60s created a need for powerful and overload-resistant concert acoustics. And JBL was able to satisfy her. The D130 driver, developed by James B. Lansing himself, was taken as a basis – after a little fine-tuning it met the new needs. As a result, the famous musical instrument manufacturer Fender Guitar Company regarded it as the ideal head for their guitar speakers. In a short period of time, a fairly wide range of concert drivers and systems was created, which made JBL one of the leaders in this area. In 1969, William Thomas decided to retire and sold JBL to Sidney Harman of Jervis Corporation. And under his management, the company increased its annual turnover from $8 million to $60 million. In 1977, JBL again changed ownership, and its headquarters moved to Northridge, California – the popular brand was later named after this city home acoustics series. After three and a half years, the company returned to ownership of Sidney Harman and is now still part of the Harman International corporation.
In 1981, the famous L250 was released – 4-way home speakers, which survived reincarnation in 1990 in the L250Ti Limited Edition model, and earlier this year – in the anniversary and improved TL260 Limited Edition. In 1982, JBL engineers first used titanium as a material for diaphragms in compression drivers, and since 1984 it began to be used in consumer models, which, thanks to new tweeters, received an expanded frequency range to 27 kHz. The mid-80s were marked by the implementation of the unique iconic acoustic project “Everest” – the third after “Hartsfield” and “Paragon”. In 1985, these speakers received the title “Product of the Year” from the authoritative Japanese magazine “Stereo Sound”. Over four years, about 500 pairs were sold, which is by no means small for acoustics of this class. In 1989, it was replaced by the top-end K2 line, and its newest modification with the flagship K2 S9800 SE was released just in time for its 60th anniversary. One of those who played a key role in the development of JBL’s top models was Ed May’s follower, Greg Timbers. He joined JBL in 1972 and eventually rose to become head of the design department of the consumer division at Harman International.
JBL K2 S9800
A notable event in the history of the company is the launch of the EON series of professional acoustics in 1995. Now the second generation of these studio systems is being produced, which have gained unprecedented popularity. It must be said that JBL’s professional and consumer equipment divisions are formally independent, but in engineering terms they have always maintained the closest connection – the most important innovative solutions, which were first implemented in studio models, later certainly became the property of home systems. So the slogan “Pro sound comes home!” (“Professional sound comes home”) is not just a nice advertising slogan – it is a statement of fact. True success in the AV technology industry is unthinkable without several critical components. First of all, of course, this is the talent of developers, designers, engineers and designers – enthusiasts of their work, creative people who think outside the box, generators of fresh technical ideas. However, their ideas will not be able to reach the public without smart managers, prudent financiers, and marketers with unerring intuition. In addition, all these very different people must form a strong team of like-minded people, which in itself is not always possible for everyone. But JBL did it.