The Arena series is JBL’s longstanding entry level home theater lineup, and the Arena 130 reviewed herein is the larger of two bookshelf speakers in the series. The 130 has a larger driver and twice the depth of the smaller and still popular 120 (reviewed here), which is known for being unusually shallow for a bookshelf speaker. The 130 also adds a rear port while the smaller 120 is sealed. All in all? These changes will help add the bass that the 120s will almost certainly be missing, though the latter seems to be more designed to be the easy to place surround speaker in the overall Arena lineup.
JBL speakers tend to look pretty plain, and the 130 cabinet seems like pretty standard issue MDF with a vinyl finish. The edges have some contouring and the speakers angle up slightly, so it’s at least little above and beyond a boilerplate box look.
The upward angle that allows for a bigger baffle is almost certainly in part to help fit the large waveguide the tweeter sits in, which is signature JBL design right there. It definitely helps with dispersion and allows the speakers to sound really outward and great just about anywhere in the room. The tweeter itself is a 1 inch soft dome, nicely protected by a finger guard, and the woofer is a so called poly-cellulose blend, which is basically just a fancy paper driver. Pretty standard all in all.
While the smaller 120s have a comparatively poor response floor, the 130s are far better. The overall response range is quite good for a 2-way bookshelf speaker at its price. While the 120s almost certainly wouldn’t sound the best as standalone speakers, the 130s, for many, definitely could get by without a subwoofer.
The culminating factor that really distinguishes this speaker (and many other JBL speakers actually), is just how loud it can get – they can handle up to 125 W per channel and are decently efficient with an 87 rating. Coupled with the bigger 6.5 inch driver, and the large waveguide, these get impressively loud despite using “softer” driver materials that you’d more normally see in quieter speakers intended mainly for near/mid-field listening. A lot of the really loud competitors will use metallic drivers which, while very stiff and light, can “shriek” a bit in a way that some people don’t like. The 130 is a sort of best of both worlds.
JBL speakers are generally unapologetically big and heavy, and the 130s are no exception. They might be hard to place on a desk, especially with the added rear ports that will need room to breathe. But these are definitely not near field desktop speakers.
JBL has a five year warranty on all its passive speakers which is pretty top of the line coverage for a budget-tier speaker.
Our Overall Take, As Compared To The Competition
For a speaker that can get so loud while using soft/paper drivers, these go for a very competitive price, like just about all popular JBL speakers do.
They are a bit older now, so prices and availability seem to be more and more inconsistent. We have seen some pretty ridiculous discounts on these here and there, but just be careful if you buy second hand because the warranty might not apply. These might also be overkill for a lot of people. Check out the links below for some cheaper and lesser powered alternative recommendations.