Pros: Classic JBL Rock&Roll Sound, Bass Response, Full Dynamic range, Driveable
Cons: Lacks Transparency of High End Speakers
I went looking for speakers for my daughters personal stereo system. My priorities were: best possible sound for a small footprint and price. Her listening habits are fairly diverse for a gen-Z-er. Primarily Rock&Roll, but her music interest spans ... from Punk ... to Indie ... to the Dixie Chicks. My instincts (and Stereophile review) led me to the JBLS-38II-BE (Erin liked the "beech" finish).
The speakers: brand-new ... freshly out-of-their-boxes ... sound fabulous. I drove them at all volumes with excellent response. I expect that they will sound even better after they are "broken-in".
The S38II's did an admirable job of reproducing Steely Dan's Two Against Nature These 3-way speakers reproduced the full dynamic range of the jazz ensemble. Everything from the screeching highs of saxaphones, to the percussion bass lines sounded natural and complete.
My ear finds the speakers a little unbalanced in favor of bass reproduction. (to be expected from a JBL speaker). I preferred listening to the speakers with the bass dialed-down just a bit. Even without resorting to a graphic equalizer, I found that simply diminishing the bass at my receiver evened-out the dynamic range of the speakers.
My only complaint is that the S38II's suffer from a slight lack of transparency. While the S38's sound much better than most mass-market speakers - they still sound slightly muddy to my hypersensitive ears. I demoed the S38's parallel to my old AVID 330's(rock&roll relic's from the 70's). At roughly twice the mass and cabinet volume, my old AVID's did no better at reproducing the low end !! But the aged AVID 3-ways produce a noticeably more natural and transparent sound. It appears to me that the voice coils of the S38's mids and tweeters are not quite at the high end of speaker quality. A hypersensitive comment about an excellent $ 264.00 (pair) of speakers. The S38's might also improve through their "breaking-in" period.
These are definately large, and heavy "bookshelf" speakers. Don't expect to balance them on some cheap, wobbly plant stands. I agree that the soundstage is improved by listening to the speakers in a horizontal orientation, although I have not yet evaluated altering the mirrored orientation.
The cabinets are nicely designed, with a slight high-tech look. "Floating" plastic framed grilles are compression-fit into securely-holding pin holes. The look is sophisticated (although the speakers sound significantly better without the grilles). Gold-plated binding posts are generously sized for the largest of speaker cables. While I have not dissected the finish, the speakers appear to be finished in a "shelf-paper veneer" - very well detailed - but I will warn my daughter not to gouge the surface finish