When amplifying an acoustic guitar, there’s often a tradeoff between the portability of a small acoustic amp and the power and full-range sound of a heavier and more expensive PA system. JBL’s new IRX line of Bluetooth-enabled powered PA speakers offers flexibility and power in a surprisingly lightweight and affordable package. The 112 model ($379 street) features a 12-inch woofer, tweeter, and 1,300 peak watts of class-D power, while weighing only 27 pounds. The 112 is just shy of 24 inches tall, 16 inches wide, and 12 inches deep. Multiple well-placed handles and a molded body make the speaker easy to carry. The 108 model ($329 street) has an eight-inch woofer, weighs 17 pounds and shaves several inches off of each dimension. The speakers are designed to be mounted on a pole, or placed on the floor, flat or angled—especially handy when used as a monitor.
The back of the speaker provides a pair of 1/4-inch/XLR combo inputs, with separate volume controls and an XLR through output that can be used to connect a second speaker or a subwoofer. The IRX offers four EQ presets. JBL recommends the flat setting when used as a monitor. The music preset produces enhanced bass response, while the speech preset is optimized for spoken word applications. A vocal or “karaoke” preset adds a high-pass filter at 100Hz and is meant to be used with a subwoofer. Bass boost and automatic feedback suppression buttons round out the sound-shaping controls.
The IRX speakers also support streaming music from Bluetooth-enabled devices, and it is possible use a pair of speakers to stream stereo sound. You can also enable a ducking mode, in which the level of the streamed music will be automatically lowered when speaking into a microphone.
In use, the IRX112BT sounds clean, with plenty of volume. Although you could plug an instrument or dynamic mic directly into the speaker, it would be best to use a mixer as an input, because the EQ presets don’t offer a lot of control for acoustic guitar. For testing, I drove the speaker with an L.R. Baggs Venue preamp. The speaker produced a surprising amount of bass, and a big sound. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I was unable to test the speaker in a performance venue, but the IRX (or a pair) should easily handle an acoustic performance in a medium-sized venue.
With plenty of power, light weight, and easy handling, and an affordable price, the IRX112BT and its smaller companion are worth considering as part of any acoustic amplification setup.