JBL Arena B15/120 Bookshelf Speakers Review

Last updated on: 10-26-18
Bottom Line: a sealed speaker that allows for a shallow depth and is thus easy to wall mount. Decent specs and build for the price. Probably won’t sound great as standalone speakers and will likely benefit greatly with a paired subwoofer.
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Shown with and without the foam-grill cover

Important Specs Overview

Speaker type: Passive, sealed, 2-way
Continuous power handling: 30 W*
Peak power handling: 100 W
Impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 86 dB/W/m
Frequency response range: 100 – 40k Hz
Unit weight: 8 lbs
Unit dimensions: 8 x 5 x 14 inches (width x depth x height)
Warranty: 5 years

*When nominal/RMS power isn’t specified by manufacturer, we use an approximation of ~30% of the specified peak/dynamic power for comparison purposes.

Review And Discussion

The JBL B15s and 120s, aside from a few slight cosmetic differences, are the exact same speaker. We’re not sure why the name change, but we’re treating them as interchangeable and giving them both a singular review here.

Unlike most bookshelf speakers the B15s are sealed as opposed to open air ported, a design choice which generally allows for a smaller cabinet to produce equivalent force with the drivers. We suspect the choice is to allow for a speaker that’s quite shallow and easy to wall mount (hardware comes included), or place in a similarly shallow bookshelf or the like.

30 W of (approximated) continuous power handling with a sensitivity rating of 86 is decently loud, but probably wont cut it for the largest of rooms with a full fledged home theater system.

The 100 Hz response floor is high, and that coupled with the shallow, sealed design means the bass will almost certainly be lacking. This is a usual case with 2 way bookshelf speakers, and while some of them might be OK as standalones, the B15s are pretty clearly designed to be in tandem with a subwoofer.

The build actually looks quite nice for a budget-tier speaker. The thin horizontal bezels and sheen logo contrasts nicely with the wood-washed MDF. The B15s uses a paper blend woofer and tweeter, which can be slightly more performant than more common metallic polymer, but less resilient over time. Probably not an issue for indoor speakers, and JBL offers a 5 year warranty on its passive speakers which is pretty top of the line, especially for budget-tier speakers as cheap as the B15s.

Our Overall Take, As Compared To The Competition

The B15s are available for much cheaper than the 120s, so we don’t see why not just get the former if they’re essentially the same, for as long as they’re available at least. For as cheap as they are these are pretty solid speakers. If you need or like the idea of shallow speakers that are easy to wall mount, the B15s look like a great choice – JBL is a solid brand and hard to go wrong with.

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We don’t recommend these as standalone speakers though – while some 2-way bookshelf speakers have adequate range the B15s response floor is very high and they’re pretty clearly intended to work as part of a larger system, or a subwoofer at a bare minimum. If standalone speakers is what you want, we’d recommend a 3 way speaker with subwoofers built in. Not too many such bookshelf speakers, but Yamaha makes one (The NS-6490, reviewed here) that’s older but still quite good. You might also consider tower speakers as an alternative Polk’s Monitor 70s (reviewed here) are an excellent choice for standalone speakers.

Relevant Links and Resources

The best budget bookshelf speakers