Hertz So Good

Seeing as how we tend to focus on "home" theater gear - hence the name "Home Theater Magazine" - it's not likely that you've ever heard us mention a twenty-some-year-old company called JL Audio. Although JL Audio has certainly a bigwig of boom for quite a while, they've existed pretty much under our radar because their main focus has been on car audio. (Unfortunately, the powers that be who write our checks won't let us cover events such as the Funkmaster Flex 2004 Celebrity Car Tour of which JL Audio is an official sponsor.) But all that is about to change.

JL Audio was (to most attendees) a surprise exhibitor at the recent CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) Expo in Indianapolis, IN last week -- and they weren't in the home of the Indy 500 to entice custom installers to trick out their work vans with the latest car audio subwoofer technology. Instead, they came to shake the foundation of the RCA Dome with demonstrations of their new Gotham and Fathom home subwoofers.

Now you've probably laid awake in bed at night thinking that if the world only had another line of home subwoofers, all would well. Good would finally be able to triumph over evil, and teeth whiteners would finally be easy to use. Well, Virginia, I hate to break it to you. There might be a Santa Claus, but the world definitely was not in need of a new subwoofer line.

Or so we all thought (except for the JL Audio folks, of course) until they unveiled the new subwoofers to potential dealers and the press at a lavish soiree. Then the chorus of "oohs" and "aahs" indicated that maybe the world did have a bit of room for one more home theater subwoofer.

The flagship Gotham g213, weighing in a 305 pounds, incorporates a pair of JL Audio's 13.5-inch extreme-excursion drivers (specifically engineered for the Gotham) plus an amplifier capable of "3800 watts of short-term RMS power". And when they say "extreme-excursion drivers", they're not kidding. The newly designed woofers are said to be able to travel a full four inches from peak to peak, and the system can "deliver performance to well below 20 Hz in a typical home theater application." The smaller Fathom f113 (130 lbs.) features a single 13.5-inch woofer with a 2500-watt amplifier while the Fathom f112 (115 lbs.), the smallest of the trio, includes a single 12-inch woofer with a 1500-watt amplifier. JL Audio maintains that, thanks to the "dynamic advantages of their proprietary JL Audio woofers" and the built-in powerful switching amplifiers, with the Fathom subwoofers "listeners can expect full bandwidth down to 22 Hz and very high output while keeping distortion well below audible thresholds."

All three models utilize what JL Audio calls Automatic Room Optimization (A.R.O.), a built-in feature that allows quick acoustic optimization of the subwoofer system in your listening room. Here's how A.R.O. is supposed to work: After you've paid someone to move all 305 pounds of the Gotham, for example, into position in your room all you do is connect the supplied microphone to the front panel and push the A.R.O. Calibrate button. Using a series of self-generated test tones, the sub's internal smarts measures frequency response at the listening position (assuming, of course, that's where you remembered to place the microphone), analyzes the output, and configures a filter to correct the noted low-frequency acoustic problems.

While it's true that you should never judge a book by its cover or a subwoofer by its luxurious, hand-rubbed gloss-black finish, one look at the Gotham g213 creates instant desire. The illuminated output level control knob on the top begs you to take it to +15dB. And the option of running it as "master" or "slave" in a multiple Gotham system (the Fathoms are likewise linkable) is truly frightening. Until we get a chance to test one under real-world conditions, we'll have to reserve final judgement. At the moment, however, it looks as though the JL Audio folks have done their homework. The new subwoofers aren't expected to be available until the April/May 2005 timeframe. For the Gotham g213, be prepared to shell out $7,500. It will only be available in the high-gloss black finish. The Fathom f113 will run $3,000 in gloss black or $2,800 in matte black. The Fathom f112 will also be available in two finishes - gloss black and matte black - at $2,400 and $2,000 respectively.