Image and Courtesy of Arnold Wolf


The initial JBL connection was the result of a chance encounter at an audio trade show. William Thomas, president and owner of JBL, and his marketing vice president Ray Pepe, were in attendance at a show where Sargent-Rayment had an exhibit. They noted the design qualities of the this exhibit and of the equipment itself. They asked Mr. Rayment who was responsible and then suggested that the designer get in touch with them. Rayment conveyed the message; however, for various reasons Wolf did not immediately act on the invitation. About this time, The Audio Shop liquidated its inventory and closed its doors because the owner, Robert Fisher, decided to start a manufacturing business devoted to high-end institutional intercom devices. Wolf found himself unemployed and was obliged to accept whatever interim jobs that were available at other high-fidelity outlets. During this period, a family obligation took Wolf to Los Angeles where, recalling the JBL interest, he phoned the company (then located on Fletcher Drive) and was asked to come in for a talk.

JBL Fletcher Drive Offices
Harman International, Courtesy Mark Gander and John Eargle

Wolf recalls meeting Bill Thomas on that occasion (probably August of 1956), but the bulk of the afternoon was taken up by a conversation with Ray Pepe. The discussion resulted in Wolf's first assignment a concept for a bookshelf loudspeaker. Others had attempted this configuration before; most notably, the Jensen Company. The lavish space requirements of the most-favored systems of the time, with their horn-loaded or bass reflex enclosures, had created some consumer interest in smaller units that would fit more readily into typical living quarters. The JBL idea was to combine their D216 transducer (a 16 ohm version of the D208) and the 075 ring radiator high frequency driver into a highly styled compact enclosure. Four designs were proposed and one, the most futuristic of the group, was selected for production.

The final product was given the model name "Bel-Aire" and carried the model number D42020. In typical JBL fashion of the time, it was offered in two versions that allowed upgrading in stages. The first version, the D42216, included just the 8" driver operating full range. It could then be upgraded to the D42020 by adding a cross-over and the 075 tweeter.

Unfortunately, sales did not live up to expectations and it did not remain for very long in the product lineup. It is difficult to assess why this occurred. The company's established reputation for superlative floor-standing systems was certainly one factor; another may simply have been that the art of system design had not yet advanced sufficiently to produce effective low-end performance from a small enclosure.

2000 Arnold Wolf