JBL Arena 120 Review

Resoundingly Small

JBL Arena 120 Review

The smallest bookshelf model in JBL's Arena series, the Arena 120, is also the most versatile as its cabinet dimensions allows you to put it on a stand or bookshelf, or mount it on a wall without any significant loss in performance.

Arena is JBL’s latest series and consists of six models in varying sizes; the floorstanding speakers Arena 180 and Arena 170, the bookshelf models Arena 130 and Arena 120, the Arena 125C center speaker and the Arena Sub 100 subwoofer. After testing the biggest floorstander in the series, we turn our attention to the smallest bookshelf model, the Arena 120, which is characterized by an affordable price and somewhat unusual proportions.

JBL Arena Series

Slim Jim

With a height of 13-7/16" and a width of 7-13/32", the Arena 120 could be categorized as a small bookshelf speaker. The cabinet depth of only 4-7/16" and the integrated brackets on the back indicate that it is also suitable for wall-mounting, and can either be used as front or surround speakers as part of a home theater setup.

So far the Arena series is only available only in a black or white finish, and the finish is indeed very good and better than one would normally expect in this price range. Visually, Arena 120 follows the style of the larger models and are distinguished by a classic look and unpretentious design, but by rounding the vertical edges of the front panel JBL manages to avoid an overly boxy look. The top and sides are tapered towards the rear, thus giving them a trapezoidal shape.

A closer look reveals a finely textured matte black surface on the front, while the sides are covered with a wooden imitation finish. A cloth grille with chrome strips on the lower and upper edges provides a nice contrast to the otherwise completely black speaker.

The baffle is fitted with the same type of textile dome tweeter as in the large Arena 180 floorstander, and has a diameter of one inch and is placed in the patented HDI (High Definition Imaging) waveguide, which occupies almost the entire width of the baffle. The Midrange/Bass driver below the tweeter has a diameter of 5.5 inches and is made of polycellulose.

Arena 120 is a 2-way, single-wire speaker with a crossover frequency at 2.5 kHz @ 18 dB per octave, have a nominal impedance of eight ohms, and a sensitivity of 86 decibels @ 1 watt / 1 meter. The frequency response ranges from 100 Hz to 40 kHz, and the recommended amplifier power is rated at 20 to 100 watts per channel.

JBL Arena 120 black
JBL Arena 120 white

Sound Quality

Thanks to its relatively small dimensions, Arena 120 comes in a relatively small box, and in the packaging you´ll find a user manual, a mounting template for drilling holes in case you want to wall mount it, eight adhesive rubber cushions which may be placed on the bottom or back of the cabinet to protect both the speaker and the surface it´s placed on.

In order to be mounted flush to the wall, Arena 120 have recessed speaker terminals as well as a recess to accommodate the speaker cables. Unpacking and setup is quick and easy, so the Arena 120 should be hooked up to your audio system and ready to go within a few minutes. Given that these have small cabinets, we started by placing them only a few inches from the back wall in order to try the sound quality in this position.

Starting out with some nice jazz recordings, the 120's provided us with a very natural, detailed and authentic sound. The soundstage was quite wide, and the speakers showed that they can sound great in a room larger than 20 square meters.

Moving on to more contemporary music with more focus on the bass frequencies, and we were met by a weight and energy that belied the modest dimensions of the speakers. Regardless of whether it was a solid drum beat, synth or a bass-guitar, it sounded agile and relaxed, and the Arena 120's chewed and swallowed any type of music we fed it. It was almost as if they didn´t know they were such small speakers.

Despite having a lower limit of 100 hertz on paper, the Arena 120 have the character and attitude of a pair of much larger speakers. The midrange is pleasant and clean and complement the lower frequencies brilliantly, making the tonal balance very close to neutral. The sound is clean, but could do with a little more openness and detail. The pacing and tonal color is great, but it lacks the small details and nuances that gives the music character and intimacy. The higher frequencies are also clean but somewhat withdrawn, and as such perfect for more laid-back types of music, but when playing more aggressive music we wish it had a little more attack and bite.

JBL Arena 120 grille
JBL Arena 120 speaker terminals

Now, moving the speakers about three feet from the rear wall made a small but noticeable difference in the sound character. The bass kept all its positive characteristics, but was slightly more withdrawn, which made details in the mid and high frequencies more pronounced. All this resulted in a better tonal balance, and also showed that the small cabinets are not immune to the environment and placement in the room. Also, thanks to the shorter distance to the listening position, the speakers gained a better focus and a clearer delineation of tones, especially in the mid and high frequencies. The conclusion is that if used as a stereo pair, the Arena 120 should preferably be wall-mounted in smaller rooms, while placing them on a stand at an appropriate distance from the back wall would be ideal in larger rooms.


JBL have managed to make speakers that sound great on a stand, but also mounted on a wall, something most other manufacturers haven´t managed, at least not at this price. An additional benefit is a very attractive price, which suggests that the Arena 120 doesn´t really have any real competition. These speakers sound as good as the best in this particular price range, but they are far less demanding in terms of placement and, if necessary, can be mounted directly on the wall. We could hardly ask for more from these affordable speakers.


  • IN ThE bOX
Inspired by JBL’s legendary M2 Master Reference Monitor

High Definition Imaging (HDI) waveguide technology takes its cues from the legendary JBL M2 Master Reference Monitor.Computer-optimized driver positioning and network integration result in ideal performance and lifelike soundstage imaging. Proven acoustic superiority through rigorous testing and real-world evaluation.

Signature JBL loudspeaker performance

5.5-inch (140mm) polycellulose woofer brings room-filling JBL sound to all your music, TV shows, movies, and console gaming.1-inch (25mm) soft dome tweeter provides clean, powerful highs.Experience standard-setting accuracy with TV shows, movies, and games.

Understated, contemporary look and feel

Contemporary cabinet shape with angled side and top panels provide a sophisticated, modern look.Integrated wall-mount solution for flexible installation and system configuration.Soft-touch paint around the transducers and on the waveguide.Available in black and white finishes, accentuated by minimalist grilles and brushed metal trims.

An audio powerhouse at an affordable price

The perfect trifecta of JBL power, precision, and affordable pricing.

Just one part of an even more powerful system

Functions as a bookshelf or surround speaker in stereo or multi-channel systems.Intended for use in conjunction with the entire series of JBL Arena loudspeakers: 2 floorstanding speakers, 2 bookshelf speakers, 1 center channel speaker, and 1 subwoofer model.

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Old Price: $149.95
Current Price: $149.95