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Vintage 15" JBL comparisons w/soundclips

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by johnk_10, Sep 20, 2011.

  1. johnk_10

    johnk_10 vintage bass nut Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 16, 2008
    Thousand Oaks, CA
    John K Custom Basses
    As some of you may already know, I’m a huge fan of using JBL 15’s in a lot of my rigs, ever since I experienced my first D130F in a 1962 rough blonde showman that i bought in 1969. IMO, even today, I haven’t found a speaker yet that’s built with the same quality of construction and materials, and more importantly, quality of tone. The other day, I did a few comparison tests between three different versions of JBL 15’s, namely the K140, E130 and E140 ( BTW, All but one of my JBLs have original factory cones and operate to factory specs, with many of them being NOS). I currently have ten K140’s, four E140’s, two E130’s, four K120’s, a D140F, a D130F, a D120F, a K145 and two K130’s (for a total of 26 vintage JBL’s).

    And being addicted to the tone of JBL speakers since the late 60’s, first, I’ll start by saying that my personal favorite sounding speaker out of all of them for bass is the K140, however, since I have so many on hand, and really love the sound of all of them, I wanted to share/demonstrate their differences, in construction, efficiency (sensitivity) and tone.

    Here’s some front and back pics of the actual drivers used for this comparison test.




    The D and K series both have large alnico magnets (w/ a 12000 flux density), for a total weight of 15 1/2 lbs. after alnico became so expensive to use in such a large quantity, the later E series used the heavier ceramic magnets (22 ¼ lbs). On all of them, the 130 and 140 versions of the same series used the same basket and magnet assemblies, with the only difference being their cones and voice coils. The only factory recone kit that JBL still offers is the ‘E’ kit, so if you need any of them reconed and you want an OEM kit, you’d have to recone the D or K series with an E kit. I might add, that in the past I've had Orange County Speaker Repair recone a K140 with an E kit and it still sounded just like a K140, except it had a slightly higher power rating afterwards. I've also reconed a few JBL's myself when I was fortunate enough to find a few OEM K130 kits. It's really not that difficult to do if you are very meticulous at cleaning off all of the old glue residue, have the proper voice coil shims and use the correct adhesives. OEM kits aren't seperately available from dealers though, so if you do need one reconed, you have to have an authorized JBL reconer do it for you. I've dealt with Orange County Speaker since 1973, and they charge ALOT ($264) for parts and labor, but it will be like brand new afterwards. Another, very meticulous authorized JBL service center is Upland Loudspeaker Service and they charge about $300 to recone a 15". Either one of them will do a perfect factory job on it.

    The D series used a one piece paper cone with the F series (F stood for Fender) surround being doped with a flexible coating to yield better longevity/durability when used as an MI speaker for both fatigue (to handle larger transients/spikes) and adverse weather conditions. (BTW, if you google 'Harvey Gerst' you'll find that he was the designer of the JBL D series speakers. has posted a lot of first-hand info about them on various forums on the web). The D130F and D140F both used paper formers on their voice coils with the coil wire being flat ribbon aluminum wire on the 130 and flat ribbon copper wire on the 140 (flat ribbon wire is also used on the K and E series). The 130 cones are smooth, and 140 cones are ribbed (heavier and more rigid for use with a bass). On the K series cones, JBL introduced a treated linen surround and used Kapton formers which yielded a higher power (thermal) rating (125-150 watts) than the D series (75-100 watts). The E series upped their power handling again, with aluminum/nomex formers to 150-200watts (130/140)

    On all of the versions, the 130’s were more sensitive (efficient) than the 140’s due to their lighter weight cones and lighter weight aluminum voice coils. To this day, I have yet to see a more efficient speaker than the E130 that has a spec of 105 dB @ 1 watt/1 meter! And BTW, JBL’s spec is NOT just at 1kHz like most other companies use for their ratings, making the JBL more sensitive over a much wider range.

    So, if you have a lower powered tube head and want to get the most clean volume out of it, a pair of E130’s would be the ones to use, since they make a 100 watt head sound and feel like you’re using a 300 watt head, as opposed to conventional speakers that are usually sensitive in the 98-101 db range at best, and two E130’s will yield 108db @ 1w1/m.

    Their sensitivity (@ 1w/1meter), frequency response, and X/max specs are:
    E130: 105db 50hz-6khz 2.54mm
    E140: 100db 40hz-2.5khz 3.56mm
    K140: 98db 40hz-2.5khz 5.09mm

    The 4” aluminum domes do add a bit of top end sparkle to all of them (which I love!) so, IMO, the 2.5khz spec on the 140’s might be a bit conservative since there’s definitely stuff ‘going on’ at 4khz..

    I’ve also found JBL’s power handling specs to be on the VERY conservative side, as I’ve pushed two K140’s with 600 watts all night long with no problems whatsoever. Their 150 watt rating is rated with a continuous sine wave, and at 300W of continuous music program (more commonly used today).

    The soundclip:
    The test amp that I used for the audio comparison clip is my 1978 Super Twin head with the rotary equalizer section bypassed, running into a non ported fender speaker cabinet. The tone controls were set as follows: bright switch-OFF, treble on 5 (mid way), middle set on 6, bass control set on 5. I played my ’71 maple neck 8 1/4 lb p bass with the new vrsion of Fender's 9050L flats using my fingers. The bass's volume and tone controls set wide open (full up). I used a Zoom H4n to record it 6” in front of the cone, and recorded it in mono so as not to introduce any phase cancellations.

    Here’s a quick mp3 sound clip of all three speakers back to back. The tracks were not normalized intentionally so that you’ll hear a slight volume difference (sensitivity) between the three. The E130 is first, then the E140, followed by the K140.


    My take on them is that they all sound great, and IMO, a lot better than anything still offered today, and are at least as, or more efficient too.

    My take on them:
    The E130 is loud and proud, with excellent midrange detail, and obviously the brightest sounding one of the bunch.
    The E140 is also very efficient (just not quite as much as the E130) and has a much softer mid/high end, with a little more low end punch. It has less upper mids, but still has a nice smooth top end.
    The K140 is my personal favorite. It has a little more punch than the other two, as well as a less ‘veiled’ and ‘open’ character to it, with a very special & complex midrange. It has a slightly different attack & bloom to each note. To me, the notes sound thicker and have a little more clarity and definition. IME, you can actually play the K series speakers at a higher volume (of course, it takes a bit more power to do it), but IMO, it has less ear fatigue since it sounds a bit smoother. Some consider these speakers as ‘old school’ but after listening to the clips, i think that you might agree that they just sound great, no matter what era that they’re from (at least I do), and they can handle a ton of power, although they’re so efficient, they don’t really require it.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post, but I thought that it might be helpful for those that might be considering acquiring some vintage JBL’s for their 15” cabs.

  2. babebambi


    Jan 7, 2008
  3. solodb


    Jun 3, 2011
    British Columbia
    Thank you johnk , you summed up a lot of info I have been mulling over in my mind. I have a very old D130 and am determined to get it re-coned to use with my V4B.
  4. I like them all!!! The 130 I have more time with and the 140 I think has slightly more bottom. Although the JBL's gave the bassman a cleaner clearer mid sound I never had that much interest in the mids other than a slight help in throwing some sound out there (old altec monster boxes)(with lansing or jbl loaded but the tech in that era was bad). I'm from an era that had pretty crappy reinforcement fronts and often times the stage was much better than the fronts so it was a problem. For me playing blues music the clearity wasn't needed then, we wanted to get low down and have some highs crack through as opposed to a mid sound. The bass needed to send out a physical feel along with great playing. Also the ampeg had become king then but my preference was always the jbl's.
    The first ampegs were very nice sounding but you couldn't come off a big band stand with a thousands kids in a room that held 750. Thats were the jbl's ruled!!! A few years later the Aucostic 360 and other monster cabs came out and the jbl's took a back seat for some time. I still like them and in my 3 man R&R band (I'm the drummer) we have a nice lil JBL P/A. 18s /15s/ and 2" horns they sound very good. I'm with you johnK I love the JBL's!!!! Doc
  5. johnk_10

    johnk_10 vintage bass nut Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 16, 2008
    Thousand Oaks, CA
    John K Custom Basses

    the nice thing about it is, you can recone it as a D140 or a D130. if you use an OEM kit, they're E kits now and the part number is C8RE130 for the 130, and C8RE140 for the 140.

    if you want to save $, there are also a few aftermarket ones that sound great and use the correct edgewound ribbon voicecoil wire, with the correct DCR, paper cone and spider for about $100.
  6. Cool thread!

    Where does the K 145 fit into all of this? If I remember correctly, I had a bass cab with one of those monsters in it way back in the day (early 70's maybe). At the time, it seemed to sound very good. I remember it had this HUGE sort of 'lip' on it... massive basket assembly or whatever that is called.
  7. pbass888

    pbass888 Supporting Member

    Jul 8, 2009
    New York, NY
    That 130 sounds so good and full. We both know a good red '66 jazz that would sound great with that and a bassman/showman head. Thank you for this cool thread. I really love these sound clips when a/b'd and Ive listened to them several times with the 'good' cans on. But I do feel they all sound much better then my weekend trip to the local guitar center to try out various 1x12 such as mb, gk, and ampeg. But I guess its a very different sound weather in the studio or live.
  8. +1 Cool clips. I like the E130 the best.... very clean and natural and wide... nice top end.
  9. jnewmark

    jnewmark Just wanna play the groove. Supporting Member

    Aug 31, 2006
    Stax 1966
    Play guitar.
    Excellent, thread, John, and you are preaching to the choir as far as I'm concerned. The sweetest sounding 15's I've heard for bass, bar none. I like the E140 best, and it is the heaviest, but, the K140 actually seems to have more bottom to it in your samples. I've got two of them, both with voice coil rub, that just may have to get reconed soon ! Thanks for taking the time.
  10. jnewmark

    jnewmark Just wanna play the groove. Supporting Member

    Aug 31, 2006
    Stax 1966
    Play guitar.
    I believe my buddy, and fellow TB'er, Nysbob, still uses K145's and loves them. maybe he will chime in.
  11. Ric Vice

    Ric Vice Supporting Member

    Jul 2, 2005
    Olivette, Missouri
    +1 My ears tell me that the 130 had a more even response across registers an the low frequencies are warmer. If you get a chance it would be nice to hear a D 130F in comparison. I wish you had one of those.
    since that's the speaker Ampeg used in the B-15 N (B), B-15 N (C), and B15N (D). The new Eminence Commonwealth http://www.usspeaker.com/Commonwealth15-1.htm that Ampeg
    is using in the Heritage B-15's is based on the E 130. Unfortunately, it's not available in a 8 ohm version to the consumer market.
  12. johnk_10

    johnk_10 vintage bass nut Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 16, 2008
    Thousand Oaks, CA
    John K Custom Basses
    yep, the K145 is a monster all right. it has an even bigger magnet and frame structure than the K140, but with a lower flux density (9,000 gauss). it has a heavier cone (non ribbed), a paper dome )so it's not quite as bright sounding), and it's a little less efficient (sensitive), but it has the same x/max and power rating of 150/300 watts (sine wave/program). I have a near-mint one that i'm probably going to put in the TB classifieds soon. some swear by them, but the K140 has always been my personal fave.

    here's two pics of my K145:


  13. johnk_10

    johnk_10 vintage bass nut Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 16, 2008
    Thousand Oaks, CA
    John K Custom Basses
    BTW, i really like the E130 too (as well as K130's).

    between the three tested above, I've found that the K140 takes eq adjustments quite a bit more gracefully. On my Super Twin’s rotary graphic, if you add bass at 100hz, they stay fat, full, and round, whereas when you add 100hz to either of the E versions, they can get a little bit cloudy. The same goes for the mids and highs. Adding treble gives the K140 just a bit more sparkle, whereas the E’s can get more ‘spikey’ and harsh/brittle if you overdo it. All in all, you almost can’t make a K140 sound bad with any eq setting. IME, the E’s have a great sound, with the ability to cut-thru the mix a little better, but also have a much smaller eq sweetspot and a bit tighter/stiffer feel to their low end due to their lower x/max.
  14. NKUSigEp


    Jun 6, 2006
    Bright, IN
    By coincidence I've been looking for a pair of JBL 15's for an Ampeg 2x15 I'm hoping to score.

    This is an amazing test...all things being equal, I'd go with the K140's too. Although the E130's are a close second.
  15. johnk_10

    johnk_10 vintage bass nut Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 16, 2008
    Thousand Oaks, CA
    John K Custom Basses

    yep, that's my opinion too.
    the funny thing is, JBL changed the x/max's on both the 130 and 140 on the E series. the D and K 130's have a tiny x/max of .7mm, whereas the e130 has a much higher 2.56 x/max, but and the D and K 140's have a 5.09mm x/max and the E140has a lower 3.56mm one.

    and to respond to a question about D and K130's. they definitely have an extremely sweet tone in the mid-bass all the way thru to the highs (up to 6Khz), but they just don't have quite the low end of the three i tested above.
  16. Laurent

    Laurent Supporting Member

    May 21, 2008
    Napa, California
    Lovely bass playing too. Thank you for this great post.
  17. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Rockage! I liked them all but I really like the midforwardness and extra brightness of the E130.

  18. That is the one! Thanks for posting that. It brings back memories. I had that big thing crammed in a little sealed 'Sound City' cab (I think that was the bass side of Hiwatt if I remember correctly back then). Weighed a ton, but put out a nice warm fat tone.

    Again, cool thread. Thanks!
  19. hrgiger


    Jan 11, 2009
    man this is great thanks a lot. :D I too prefer the k140 among these clips as the E130 is just a bit too clicky. I have to wonder and wish though, that I could hear these drivers again using the PB-1 (if you didn't already sell it), I think it would totally change my mind about the E130, and probably the others as well. IIRC, a lot of the preamps you demoed had a lot of pickup click as well, while others seemed to make it disappear (PB-1 was one of them.)
  20. It is interesting. The combination of the more extended top end, and I'm assuming the higher SPL that allows that low powered tube amp to stay very clean, gives that 130 clip a very contemporary sort of vibe (per your comment in the other recent thread.... kind of like adding a tweeter to a vintage cab).

    I remember, back in the day, that when I yanked those nasty Jensens (or whatever the 'stock speakers' were back then), and put in the JBL or Altec speakers, it was the opening of the top end that was so impressive to me and made the biggest difference, versus the low end (which of course, improved a bit also).

    Very nice sounding to me. The Eminence 3015 (non LF) Neo has a touch of that tone IMO and IME... tight but round low end, and a nice present upper mid/lower treble response. I really like that tone in a one way cab.

    Edit: I'm chuckling a bit at remembering choosing that 145 back in the day. I had NO idea about anything technical, or matching a driver to a box, etc. I just saw that massive frame and magnet on that thing, and thought 'THAT IS THE ONE I NEED'. Literally bought it because it looked so much more bad **s than anything else!