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JL Audio Fathom 113 Subwoofer Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 September 2007
Article Index
JL Audio Fathom 113 Subwoofer
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Music And Movies
Manufacturers usually publish the range of response for a loudspeaker. In the case of the JL Audio Fathom 113, the frequency response is reported to be 19-200Hz. Since subwoofers are not stereotypically expected to operate above approximately 100 cycles, it is the lower number that is in many ways most important to us. There is more to a subwoofer than just how low it can go. The way a subwoofer loads into the room is directly related to its success. To me, sealed or acoustic suspension systems are the least sensitive to room interactions. Their output rolls off slowly when compared to vented systems. This is also true of the JL Fathom 113. It has significant output below the rated 19 HZ. Using test signals, I had no problem rattling the foundation of my house with notes below 16 Hz, the lowest pedal on a full-size pipe organ. So how about a full-size pipe organ? Playing the Cantate Domino, its wonderfully recorded Scandinavian church organ ran through my body and moved me in ways few instruments can do. The low end on the JL Fathom 113 is beyond low. The JL Audio Fathom 113 doesn’t just stop at rattling the walls of your house – it rattles the caissons dug into the bedrock of your foundation.

On the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan (DreamWorks Home Entertainment), the JL Fathom 113 makes you feel the ground physically move with every blast. Tanks and artillery and even bullets moved me either by resonating in my chest and or coming up from the ground. I could hear and feel the tank’s motor and motion not as two separate sounds, but as one emanating from the tank. Moreover, I could hear as the bass was not just low but articulate – my entire audio system become clearer. I could hear the highs sound a little less congested. With a top-performing subwoofer like the JL Audio Fathom 113 in your system, you need to set your expectations higher than just loud, low bass. When your system is properly set up and tuned, you can expect to get audio improvements for music and movies well above the rated 130 Hz limit of this speaker.

It’s important to discuss the linearity of such a subwoofer when doing an evaluation. While linearity has a lot to do with room acoustics in most cases, in my room, the output of the Fathom was quite smooth, with only a little set-up trickery needed. Most rooms have one dominant resonant frequency in the bass. The Automatic Room Optimization System finds that resonance and equalizes it out. Connecting the microphone and running the Automated Room Optimization system smoothed out the bass, letting the Fathom disappear into my system. When I listened to Leonard Cohen’s Ten New Songs’ “Boogie Street,” the bass guitar was finely articulated, with each note reproduced at its appropriate power. Nothing sounded overpowering, but everything sounded energized in ways that I tend to reserve for the live experience with electric music.

Dynamic response has to do with how well a speaker transmits sound through the room when presented with a pulse. It is a product of output level and speed, but it is more than that. The best way to explain it is that a product with good dynamic response will make you feel the notes without fogging the sound or being too loud. The JL Audio Fathom 113 proved its mettle in dynamic response on Yim Hok-Man’s “Poem of Chinese Drums.” The incredible dynamics in this recording can knock you off your feet. Amazingly, the Fathom 113 accomplished this while finely defining the drums’ sizes and shapes, allowing you to hear every nuance of sound from the drumsticks and the skins. Leonard Cohen’s voice on “Dear Heather’s Morning Glory” resonated in your chest cavity while the female vocals flew freely, unencumbered by the bass. The Fathom subwoofer silently and cleanly made me feel the sound going right through me.

This feeling of power and control also made the sound effects on action movies such as Terminator 2 (Artisan) and I, Robot (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) more engaging and real. When Arnold Schwarzenegger is chasing the truck and they both fall down onto the concrete base of the Los Angeles River, the impact went through the ground while the motor sounds went through the air. Both moved me without the usual bouncy, boomy sound that screams “artificial” that comes from many lesser subwoofers. The four-inch excursion, which yields an amazing 6.3 liters of effective displacement, coupled with the 2,500-watt amplifier, gives the Fathom gobs of volume output. Using a sweep frequency from below 16 HZ to 200 Hz, I found it perfectly clean throughout the range at output levels that pinned my meter. I could have gone louder, but the walls of my room were screaming uncle and I was fearful that a drywall screw might pop free and crucify me in my own audio room – it was just that loud. This kind of audio output gave me the horsepower needed to play Santana’s Supernatural Live (Arista) at levels equal to the live concert in my room without any noticeable distortion. Amazingly, I found myself listening to “Maria, Maria” after turning the volume louder than I ever had before and enjoying it, thanks to the clean and powerful base line coming from the JL Fathom.

The Fathom uses a very linear driver with a robust, low-distortion amplifier in the appropriate sealed enclosure to achieve audiophile-quality bass. Listening again to “Poem of Chinese Drums,” the drums hit me with an impact I would expect only from a live performance, while still allowing me to hear the nuances of sound vibrating across the drum skins. This is a level a speed I have not heard from a sealed system before.

The quality of room correction and Low Pass filtering are important features for integrating a subwoofer with the room and the speakers. The Automatic Room Optimization system and the phase and filter controls, combined with the relative insensitivity of the design to room interactions, make this a subwoofer that can be used with many speakers in a variety of placements. While corner placement is popular, it is clean and fast enough not to be hidden. It can look pretty standing in the middle of the room and still disappear sonically.


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