JL Audio Fathom f113 Subwoofer Page 2

It will also do so at very high levels. I really never pushed the JL to its limits—I know my own—but it would keep up with anything at any level I could stand. Head bangers with estate-sized listening spaces might not be fully satisfied, but they could always buy several f113s and sprinkle them inconspicuously around the manse.

The JL wasn't undone by any music I could throw at it. But it did take some work to arrive at that happy place. The A.R.O system helped some, but didn't make as much of a difference as I expected. The E.L.F. Trim, however, was effective in cutting back a bit on the extreme bottom end (around 25Hz, as mentioned above). Without seriously impacting the low frequency power of the subwoofer, the E.L.F. largely eliminated a somewhat bloated quality that had been distracting on some program material. But getting it right wasn't a quick procedure; sometimes an adjustment of less than one-eighth of a turn made a noticeable difference.

Once everything was dialed in there was no sense that the subwoofer was even working unless appropriately deep program material came along. Then it was hard not to notice. But if I hadn't known that a sub was in the system I would simply have assumed that the main speakers had really great bass.

That was true of movies even more than music. I pulled out some of my favorite movie bass moments, and was never disappointed. The sandstorm in the remake of Flight of the Phoenix rumbled powerfully. The opening scenes in Hellboy went down to, well, you know where.

One problem with subjective subwoofer reviews is that no matter how good the results appear, you're always left wondering if subwoofer A or B might actually do better. To find out, I set up a direct AB test with my long-term reference sub: a comparably priced Revel B15.

The astute reader may now ask, "How can you AB subwoofers?" Good question. The response from a subwoofer is very position dependent, and two of them can't occupy the same space at the same time. If the results show a dramatic difference between the two subs, you might be able to make some tentative conclusions. But even then, it's mandatory that you run the test twice, as I did, swapping the locations of the two subs from the first run to the second.

Both subs were located side-by-side and close to the front right corner of the room, with the JL first occupying the position closest to the wall and the Revel moved to that location in the second round. The levels were matched as closely as possible and readjusted after the swap. The JL's A.R.O. was recalibrated in the repeat. The Revel's three-band parametric EQ was left untouched on both runs from its original setting, which had long since been calibrated for that approximate location. While the fixed EQ setting I chose for the Revel might appear to give a small advantage to the JL, in practice it did not appear to do so. The subwoofer feed was run through a simple passive switcher, which allowed the signal to be switched from one sub to the other from the listening position

The result was very close. In fact, which sub I preferred at a given moment appeared to depend more on the conditions of the setup and the program material than on the overall characteristics of either subwoofer. In one setup, for example, the JL clearly had more measured in-room output than the Revel on the third-octave band centered at 20Hz, but at 25Hz the situation was reversed. The same reversal also occurred at 40Hz and 50Hz. So while the JL often sounded more impressive with this setup on the deepest organ notes, the Revel crept ahead on higher organ notes and kick drum.

None of these differences were audibly startling, and many required very close listening to hear. They would have been impossible to pin down in any sort of a listening test short of a direct AB.

The one constant was that the JL appeared to extend a few cycles lower into the deepest bass than the Revel. But on music that never dug this low into the bottom end, the Revel would sometimes win out.

It was the same story on soundtracks. With the cannon fire in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World the score was even for the most part. But in one scene (early on in the film as the H.M.S. Surprise escapes into the fog and the French privateer Acheron angles away to continue a blind, broadside barrage) the JL produced more of the deep bass rumble that accompanied each explosive shot.

In chapter 12 of Happy Feet there's a huge avalanche, culminating in huge chunks of ice, and a giant crane, plunging into the sea. At first both subs were impressive, but the JL, while dredging deeper, lacked the clarity of the Revel. In my preferred movie seating position, which differs slightly from the position I use for two-channel audio, the bass is stronger and measurably elevated with both subs. This did not bother the Revel, but a bit of bloat crept back into the JL's sound from this seat.

The solution was to return the JL's E.L.F. control to its default zero position and instead back off a few dB on the overall subwoofer level. Now the JL shook the room more aggressively than the Revel without any negative side effects. The same was true in chapters 21 (the fight with the killer whales) and 22 (the rumble of the ship's screw).

Ultimately, however, which sub I preferred continued to depend on the program material, where I sat, the overall setup, and the playback level. Both the JL and the Revel are superb products, with the Revel nudging ahead in bass clarity and definition, and the JL capable of a more powerful and gut-wrenching bottom end. The Revel's three-band EQ is definitely an advantage over the JL for setup in difficult rooms, but the JL nevertheless offers more adjustability than most of its competition.

The JL Audio f113 is an impressive performer, capable of filling the average room—and clearly a larger than average room, as well—with deep, powerful, high level bass. It also blended superbly with the rest of my system. And when there was little or no bass in the program material, it stayed out of the way and didn't intrude on the sound. JL Audio has brought in a winner for its first line of home subwoofers.

Strong, deep bass for medium to large rooms
Good adjustability
Vault-like build quality

Not large, but heavy and difficult to move around
Single band parametric EQ may not be sufficient for optimum results in all rooms
Priced competitively, but still expensive