JL Audio e110 Subwoofer
AT A GLANCE
Powerful, deep bass from a compact box
Elegant visual design
Flexible, fully implemented two-way crossover
A small, or at least smaller, subwoofer that goes truly low, loud, and clean—and looks sharp doing it.
What can you say about a subwoofer? It goes this low, that loud. It has these jacks, knobs, and features and is yea big and costs yon dollars. And really, that’s about it; almost all other discussion is so much verbiage.
Response “flatness” from a speaker covering barely two octaves is of little consideration unless a sub is horribly peaky (a few are), especially since room effects invariably dwarf such variations anyway. As to “bass slam,” “tunefulness,” “low-end detail,” and all the rest: Don’t make me laugh. My favorite, “fast bass,” belongs in the Oxymoron Hall of Fame along with Military Intelligence and British Cuisine. The highest frequency of interest from any subwoofer crossed over at 80 hertz is, let’s say, 200 Hz, which means the fastest thing you’ve got to reproduce is a sinusoidal waveform every 5 milliseconds or so—an eternity in electroacoustics terms. Put another way, every last element of “bass attack” arrives from the high-passed main speakers; the sub itself produces only the fundamental tone and, on the very lowest notes, the first harmonic.
Lecture over. But while we’re on oxymorons, here’s another: beautiful subwoofer. Yet the new e110 from JL Audio begs consideration. True, it’s a plain, black, vinyl-wrapped almost-cube like so many others. But raising it high is a handsome fit and finish, from the carefully radiused inset heatsinks to the molded, removable, magnet-fixed cover that conceals its controls—plus thoughtful design touches like the controls’ location at the top rear, where they are easy to reach, read, and adjust.
JL Audio is a Florida company with roots in high-end car audio. But for several years now, they have also produced some of the most expensive, nicest-looking, heaviest, and loudest/lowest home subwoofers you could buy, including the $12,000 Gotham model. Now, with the E-Sub series, JL is moving a bit closer to where the rest of us live. In the case of the e110, this means a “compact” 10-incher that costs “only” $1,500 in the black ash finish I received (a gloss version is $1,700) and weighs “just” 53 pounds. The E-Sub series (there’s also an e112 at $1,900) incorporates a number of JL innovations trickled down from its more expensive brethren, most of which have to do with maintaining motional linearity from very long-excursion drivers. That the e110 exploits these in so surprisingly compact a form is thanks in no small part to the time-honored engineering wizardry of lotsa-lotsa power, in this case from a switching-power-supply-equipped amplifier delivering 1,200 watts “short-term.”
Setting up the e110 was merely a matter of unboxing, lugging across the room, and connecting to AC power and my system’s single-RCA subwoofer line cable. I am years past needing to drag heavy subs all around my studio, searching for the low-frequency sweet spot; in my room, this is a few feet right of the right-front speaker, about 4 feet from the corner, and a foot or so from the wall. (Yes, I know corner placement is theoretically optimal for maximally exciting room modes; in practice, my location is better.) And since room modes are indifferent to the source, what’s optimal for one subwoofer is optimal for all.
JL’s E-Sub designs eschew any auto-setup or room-equalization features. There’s a volume knob, a crossover-frequency one, and a third for phase, plus slide switches for crossover defeat, polarity (a quick-flip for phase setting), and power on/off/auto. Simple.
With the JL Audio subwoofer placed, quickly balanced up, and phase adjusted (this I do by ear, listening to a particular James Taylor track with my head midway between the sub and the front right speaker), I went searching for low-hanging low-frequency fruit. My prompt reward was a showing of X-Men: First Class just beginning on cable. Within 10 minutes, I’d learned 90 percent of what I needed to know about the JL sub. Which was this: At my preferred listening level of a good few decibels below THX reference, the e110 fully matched my everyday sub in low-end grunt, extension, and impact from typical big-action soundtracks (and First Class has plenty of impacts, crashes, and high-volume down-sweeps even in its opening few scenes), with no discernible downside of boom, bloat, or obvious non-linearity. Of course, this doesn’t tell you much until you learn that my regular woof is SVS’s mighty PC-12-Plus, a 17-inch cylinder standing some 4.5 feet tall; the JL sub is roughly a 15-inch cube.
The e110 joined my system for nearly a full month, and the longer I listened, the more impressed I became. Musical deep bass, whether from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra or Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony, was convincingly complete, with even the lowest fundamental tones geologically solid and fully accounted for. Electronica ultra bass, conveniently sourced from Net-radio vTuner’s Bass Drive stream, was equally powerful and maintained its fundamental-tone gut-bucketing at far higher volumes—without the disco-thud second-octave embellishment added by too many less rigorously engineered subs. In all cases, I was very pleased with the JL’s restraint in the crossover region; this is one subwoofer that, for whatever reason, seems never to overcook the top octaves. In the name of science, I mostly ran the JL sub at an 80-Hz crossover, where it still sounded superbly tight and controlled. My usual 60-Hz hinge-point made a just-discernible difference—not dramatic, but an improvement nonetheless. Either way, the JL was gratifyingly quick and easy to balance, which suggests a clean, well-behaved crossover filter.
Satisfied that the e110 was plenty of sub for my room, system, and somewhat restrained level preferences, I went looking for its limits. I found them a good bit beyond what I’d ordinarily ask. Playing a bass-heavy track like Sade’s “Cherish the Day” a good 6 dB louder than I’d usually require, I sensed (rather than heard) a coarsening of the kick-drum thud. I had to power down my power amp and audition the subwoofer naked to hear it hitting its limits with a 50-Hz thwack, and even then the JL’s combination of large, clean output and well-engineered “smart-limiting” kept it from producing any of the ruder noises I’ve heard from plenty of subs (including some quite expensive ones) under similar duress.
For any who fear such limitations, know that JL recommends deploying the e110 in pairs, trios, or quads—in fact, the company sent me two identical subwoofers. I dutifully unpacked the second unit and set it up about two-fifths of the way down my left wall, where I’ve previously found duplicate subs to integrate best. My reward: lil’ bit louder now. At a guess, I’d say the dual-sub layout gained me 5 dB or so peak level; theoretically, two powered subs will play 6 dB louder than one if located together, but the vagaries of room gain and uneven mode effects usually result in less than the theoretical summation with placement in real rooms. The character and quality of bass remained unchanged, but the second sub put the level limit beyond anything I could ever imagine wanting and into the range required to send your friends home speechless.
In all honesty, the rest of my test amounted to trying, unsuccessfully, to disprove my earlier impressions. Whatever I tried, even a single JL e110 was reliably loud, low, clean, and well behaved; two were just that much more so. I even played Black Hawk Down (an almost-free Blu-ray I scored from my local Blockbuster’s closing) and cued up its famous helicopters: nada. I managed to set the pencils in my pencil jar visibly dancing, but I got nothing more than deep, floor-weaving, respiration-inhibiting bass from the subwoofers.
This one’s a keeper. ’Merican-made, too.