|JL Audio Fathom 113 Subwoofer|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Subwoofers|
|Written by Mike Levy|
|Saturday, 01 September 2007|
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JL Audio is very well known to many audio enthusiasts for their powerful yet accurate car audio speaker products. Those who think today’s car audio world is limited to the guy blasting ear-destroying rap while driving down your street as all there is have a lot to learn. State-of-the-art car audio offers consumers willing to customize their cars’ audio and video systems many of the same tricks that you would expect to see in a ModernHomeTheater.com featured installation. JL’s specialty for more than a decade has been building and designing some of the most impressive, tight and powerful subwoofers you could ever hope to put in your trunk. Logic would suggest that repackaging JL’s excellent car audio subwoofers for the home theater and audiophile market would be a no-brainer, but JL would stop you right there. Their home theater subwoofers are anything but repackaged car audio speaker systems. These woofers are as serious as you might expect to see from audiophile brands such as Wilson, Revel, MartinLogan, B&W and beyond, with prices that are more than competitive in the current marketplace. With this back story in mind, I jumped at the chance to review the new, top-of the-line $3,500 JL Fathom 113 subwoofer.
I visited JL Audio recently with special interest, as I am a self-proclaimed loudspeaker geek. I love designing and studying the art of audio reproduction, especially loudspeakers. Ward Benjamin, the technical support specialist at JL Audio, showed me around the facility and Ernie Collado, the senior production manager, explained the manufacturing procedures. I was truly impressed with how clean and neat everything looked at the factory. The machinery is state-of-the-art and the manufacturing and test procedures are carefully controlled, with an expert in charge at every critical point. The factory is as carefully designed as the JL products, and their quality control measures are of the highest level I have ever seen. Every driver for every product has a bar code serial number and is individually tested. These tests are kept in computer memory, so that if a component should ever be brought in for service, JL Audio can track every move the product made. If a product is serviced at the facility, JL Audio creates a video of the product being disassembled, photographs the interior parts and makes a video record of the product’s reassembly. This allows the JL staff to find and/or track any problems that may (or may not) occur. As important as all the carefully designed manufacturing and test systems are, I found another very important feature of the JL Audio factory – a happy and dedicated work force. Everyone seemed to truly care about and enjoy what they were doing. This is no small matter when investing in a specialty audio product costing thousands of dollars. For the same money, you can buy a so-called high-end product made in China for slave wages and by people not adhering to the stricter codes and laws of this country. Moreover, you want the pride of ownership that comes from buying a fine item and I have seen this pride right from the people who make JL Audio products.
This subwoofer is impressive while still in its shipping carton. The JL Audio Fathom 113 is relatively small, a cube with rounded corners measuring 19-and-three-quarters inches high by 16-and-a-half inches wide and 19-and-a-quarter inches deep and weighs a massive 130 pounds, so, you likely will need a friend to help you move it. Everything about this subwoofer exudes luxury. The packing is elegantly done, with a soft black cloth bag protecting the black mirror high gloss finish. White gloves are included as a thoughtful touch to prevent your fingerprints from marring the finish when moving the subwoofer. Still, if you do leave a few prints, the finish is very scratch-resistant and wipes to a high gloss with ease. The entire front of the subwoofer is covered by an elegant grille, which when removed reveals a copious amount of controls and the JL Audio woofer itself. The controls from left to right are Power, Microphone Input, Demo, Defeat, Calibrate, Level Mode switch, Master Level, Light Levels, Low Pass Filter, Low Pass Frequency Control, Extreme Low Frequency Control (ELF), Polarity and Phase.
In auto-mode, the subwoofer turns on when it senses an input signal. The microphone input is for the Automatic Room Optimization system, which has three settings: Demo, Defeat and Calibrate. The Indicator Lights let you know if the sub is on and whether the sub is being operated as a master or slave unit. The lights themselves can also be dimmed or defeated, using the Lights Level Switch so not to attract too much attention in a darkened theater or living room. The Level Mode switch has a variable or a reference position; the latter defeats the Master Level Control altogether when activated. The Low Pass Filter has three positions: off, 12db and 24db.
Below the buttons and switches sits the heart of the system, the JL Audio 13-and-a-half-inch subwoofer driver. From the front, the only evidence of its extraordinary design is the size of the surround and the fact that you cannot see the mounting screws. A look inside finds the JL Audio driver weighing in at 58 pounds. It has an astonishing four inches of linear excursion and a magnet structure to match. The die cast basket and the voice coil assembly are designed to absorb extremely high power. Unseen from the exterior are the patented innovations in the design that allow for the greatest linearity and silent air flow. The rear of the unit sports two huge vertical cooling fins on either side of the 2,500-watt amplifier. Between the fins are the inputs (Left and Right, Balanced and RCA), a Balanced Output to Slave, a Grounding Switch, an Input Mode Switch and the Line Power Input.
While it is common for people to corner load subwoofers, I preferred the Fathom 113 right between my monitors. Corner mounting augments the deep bass, but there was no lack of deep bass in the center position; at the same time, the central location provided improved melding and speed. I tried the Fathom both with its internal filter and through my DEQX-based Wasatch Acoustics processor/crossover. When using the Wasatch crossover, the crossover frequency was 100 Hz and the slope was 60 db per octave. No processing was applied, and the Automatic Room Optimization system was on in both cases. Operating the Automatic Room Optimization system was simple. I plugged in the microphone, placed it in the listening position and pressed calibrate. The system did the rest, although it did take a couple of tries to get the test level to the acceptable range. It was then only a matter of listening to music and adjusting the listening level. High-quality bass is intoxicating, so it took me a while to be sure I had it just where I wanted it. It was not long before the Fathom 113 melded into my Wasatch Musina 2.0 monitors seamlessly and provided an astonishing feeling of power and size. The internal LP filter sounded best at 24 db per octave and 50 Hz. While the filter did an excellent job, I found the melding and speed somewhat better using the Wasatch as a crossover.