Jensen Jet Blackbird

People like to have their cake and eat it too, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to alnico speakers. Most players love the sound of alnicos, but they typically haven’t been able to enjoy them in higher-powered amps because of the fact that many of the classic alnico guitar speakers have only been good for lower-wattage applications (excluding, of course, Altec’s 417/418 models and JBL’s D120/D130 series speakers). Recently, however, Celestion, Fane, and Jensen have introduced alnico-magnet speakers that can take much more power—50 watts in the case of the Celestion Gold [reviewed January 2007] and now 100 watts from Fane’s AXA12 and Jensen’s new Jet Blackbird ($325 retail/$249 street). But can an alnico speaker deliver the tonal goodies and handle the extra power? To find out, we loaded a Jet Blackbird into an open-back Mesa/Boogie cabinet and pummeled it with everything from a 15-watt Bad Cat Lil’ 15 to a very badass 100-watt EVH head. During th

Weighing in at 7.1 lbs, the Jet Blackbird features an aluminum voice-coil winding on a kapton former, a pressed-steel frame, and a stamped-metal cover over the magnet structure. It delivers 98dB SPL at 1 watt and comes in 8O and 16O versions. At various loudness levels, the Jet Blackbird proved a viable candidate when burnished tones are desired. Alnico speakers are known for delivering sweeter highs, smoother mids, and softer clipping characteristics than ceramic-magnet speakers, and the Jet Blackbird displays some of these qualities to a fault. To wit, it’s relatively dark sounding—our reference speakers sounded noticeably brighter and also somewhat livelier in the mids and lows. At higher volumes the Jet Blackbird holds together well, maintaining good bottom-end tightness and midrange punch, albeit at the expense of some of the shimmer that classic low-wattage alnico speakers are known for. Pushed into distortion, the Jet also displays a harder edge than I’m used to hearing from alnico speakers, most of which start sounding smoother and more compressed as they near their power limits.

Interestingly, we got some of the best sounds by pairing the Jet Blackbird with the Kendrick Blackframe 12. The darker and brighter qualities of these respective speakers teamed up to provide a well balanced and complex sound that allowed the full spectrum of tones in our test amps to be revealed. And with the Jet Blackbird you also get the advantage of its high power rating—so you could pair it with, say, a 15-watt Celestion Blue and have no worries about inflicting any damage—to the speakers anyway—when you crank up your 50-watt tube head. As the sole speaker in a combo amp, the Jet Blackbird certainly has sonic characteristics that jazz players or old-school blues purists might find endearing, and it will stay clean sounding at louder levels than you may have experienced with alnicos of the past.

Kudos 100-watt power rating. Stays tight and focused at higher volumes.
Concerns Lacks some of the sparkle and smoothness that classic alnico speakers are known for.
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