Subwoofers

JL Audio Fathom f112 Subwoofer

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

This article is, in many ways, a departure for me. For one thing, it is WAY, WAY late. I'm usually pretty conscientious about these things. I mean, of course, I procrastinate, but when push comes to shove, I usually shove on through, get wheels on the wagon and roll. Not this time. Life doesn't wait for good audio. I had a few personal events that cascaded into an avalanche, and I pretty much crumbled. Suffice to say, some things just don't end up going well, and you've got to leave it at that.

Fortunately, some things go splendidly, unbelievably so, and while I wouldn't assign single-handed credit to JL Audio for rescuing me from my personal mire, the subjects of this article, the Fathom f112 subwoofers, did in fact perform a supporting role in what I'd call musical therapy, and their sheer demonstration of what can be done when things go very, very well, is just plain inspiring.

Let me back up, a lot.

A friend has quoted to me, from a self-help book, that 'timing is perfect.' Hardships often open up opportunities. In a strange parallel example, while a company whose products I admired was quietly going out of business, absent from the 2006 CEDIA show, Captain Purple (known to insiders as Barry Ober, Industry Know Guy) suggested I check out something new in home audio, JL Audio.

Specifications

  • Design: Sealed Enclosure
  • Driver: 12"
  • Amplifier: 1,500 Watts RMS
  • MFR: 19 Hz - 150 Hz, - 3 dB
  • Dimensions: 18.5" H x 15" W x 17.8" D
  • Weight: 115 Pounds
  • MSRP: $2,700 USA
  • JL Audio

JL Audio isn't a new company. I had become familiar with their car audio subwoofers, capable of smooth, clean bass with minimal enclosure volume, enabled by the delicate application of raw muscle & sinew. A friend had a Chevy Camaro outfitted with a single 10" JL Audio subwoofer that provided the highest-quality low frequency production I've heard in an automobile, particularly impressive since the whole system was virtually invisible. There were no carpet-covered enclosures, exposed amplifiers, etc. The impressive feat on the subwoofer's part was that it was doing its job with less than a single cubic foot of enclosure volume, and doing it well. As a hardcore audiophile, I was surprised, and impressed.

But still, on the whole, home audio seems like a very different market. Competition car audio is known best for absolutely ridiculous SPL, not sound quality. If it weren't Captain Purple himself (Barry) telling me that I should be watching out for the new neighbors on the block, I might have been quite dismissive. Even so, I remained a wee bit skeptical. Besides, I had become a bit worn out with claims of anything new and improved. I had already discovered combinations of certain products that I found, when carefully set up, that provided me so much of what I wanted in music and theater audio, that despite a whole lot of listening to other systems, I had not turned up anything substantially superior in my estimation. In other words, I had become bored with the idea of looking at new equipment. For an equipment reviewer, it's kind of depressing.

JL Audio's demo, using an array of subwoofers and prototype 'satellite' speakers cleared my mind, shook loose my inner doubt, and once more ignited a fire in my belly for something new. This was not the car audio sound I passed on the state highway- some poor kid destroying the hair cells in his inner ear with razor-sharp treble and providing nausea for me with poorly tuned, ultra-resonant bass. JL Audio's demo not only brought dynamics and ease at listening levels that would have made almost every other home audio system sputter and hack up a lung, it did so with a comfortable, sweet, balanced, neutral finesse that simply spelled beauty out in a soundstage. This was real fidelity! That wasn't the verbiage that crossed my mind immediately. I believe it was, rather, "What the $%^&?". I simply was not prepared, despite Barry's warning.

After the demo, I had a chance to talk shop with Carl Kennedy, one of Barry's friends and former coworker. Carl had joined JL Audio to help develop their home audio division, with the support of the company's brass and engineering talent behind him. Interestingly, Carl had previously worked at the company who then made the loudspeaker products I had become so fond of, as the head engineer. He went to JL Audio, explicitly because they offered to let him take home loudspeaker design even farther, without constraints. The f112 subwoofers are members of that first round of expression, sandwiched in the subwoofer product line between the f110 and f113. Later, the Gotham followed, a downright beautiful monster, and I'm just freaking out in a proverbial itch waiting for those 'satellite' speakers to come to market.

It would be very interesting to relate the subsequent volley of audio trivia, technical banter, and recording industry anecdotes that passed between Captain Purple and Carl as they answered each of my questions with a machine gun spray of information, often steering off on wicked tangents about aerospace laboratories and lubricants, the nature of human perception, and the meaning of life without odd-ordered harmonics, and how that eventually spawned Carl Kennedy's awesome blog, which I urge EVERYBODY to read for their own benefit but . . . .