Fathom f113 Subwoofer
Price: $3200 USD
Dimensions: 19.5"H x 16.5"W x 19.75"D
Weight: 130 pounds
Warranty: Three years parts and labor
- 13" W7 driver
- 2500W amplifier (manufacturer rated)
- Unbalanced RCA inputs (stereo, mono)
- Balanced XLR inputs (stereo, mono)
- Output to slave (balanced)
- Two input modes (Master, Slave)
- Two level modes (Reference, Variable)
- Variable low-pass crossover (frequency and slope)
- Adjustable polarity
- Phase variable, 0-280 degrees
- E.L.F. Trim
- Automatic Room Optimization, including microphone and XLR
2004, car-sound specialists JL Audio sent out a press release announcing their intention
to "push the boundaries of bass reproduction in audio and home-theater systems"
with their first line of active subwoofers for the home. Three different subs were
announced: the Fathom f112, the Fathom f113, and the Gotham g213. Buyer anticipation began
to grow, and continued to build for some time, if only because not one of the
above-mentioned models ever made it to market. Release date after release date was pushed
back, until I began to wonder if JLs subs had any reality at all.
In January 2006, I stumbled my way around the car-audio
displays at the Consumer Electronics Show, looking for the JL Audio booth. I wasnt
interested in the incredible sounds coming out of the demo cars. I had one goal: to see
and hear JLs home subwoofers. I finally interrupted one of the JL reps at the car
booth to ask him where the home-theater demo was being held. "The Mirage," he
said. I quickly left the Las Vegas Convention Center and took the monorail to the strip.
At the Mirage I met Brett Hanes, JLs senior research
engineer and the man in charge of the home-audio demo. He was standing next to an imposing
Gotham g213 sub, which I later learned was not a working model. After an exchange of
pleasantries, he quickly introduced JLs Fathom line of subs before playing a few
music and movie selections to demonstrate their capabilities. The demo was very
impressive. On the way out, I asked the one question the demo had not answered: "When
will they ship?" Hanes little smile told me Id asked a question he must
have heard a hundred times that day. "The end of next month," he said. I said
goodbye and, as I walked out the door, cast one last look back at the Gotham, thinking, I
wonder when Ill get to hear that beast.
Such anticipation for a new JL Audio product is nothing
new, I would come to find out. The company has a reputation for pushing back a
products launch date until they feel theyve gotten it just right -- a
commendable quality in a market that demands everything right now.
Then, almost two years after the first press release about
the Fathoms, a boxed-up Fathom f113 ($3200) was delivered to the lobby of my office. Lucky
Unpacking and setup
My review sample of the Fathom f113 was packed like
precious cargo. Four green plastic balls on the bottom of the box act as shock absorbers
during shipping. They raise the box a few inches off the ground and protect the cardboard
from water damage. On the sides of the box are two handle slots to aid in the carrying of
the sub, which, for its relatively small size, is quite a load: 130 pounds. The handles
are a big help. I lugged the box into my listening room and followed the instructions
printed on the top to safely remove the sub. Inside, the f113 was enclosed in a protective
velvet bag, which made it seem even more special. Did I say "precious cargo"?
Having finally freed the f113 from its packing, I donned
the (supplied) white gloves and carefully positioned it. Then I removed the sturdy grille
cover to reveal the massive 13" driver. The cone itself is a modified version of the
legendary (in car-audio circles) W7 driver, which JL created and manufactures in-house. To
take advantage of the cones considerable peak-to-peak excursion capabilities -- well
in excess of 3", Im told -- JL needed a "prodigious amount of controlled
power." Through intense analysis, their engineering team "produced a pair of
precisely engineered switching amplifiers employing patented technology . . . capable of
unclipped output voltages equivalent to 1500W (f112) and 2500W (f113) of RMS power when
referenced to the nominal loudspeaker impedance." All of this technology is housed in
a well-braced, attractively sealed case that seems designed to handle abuse.
I connected my Anthem AVM 20 preamplifier-processor to the
balanced mono input on the rear of the f113. When I then pressed the Demo button on the
subs front, I was treated to some sweeping bass tones. At this point I was way too
eager, but I still had to complete one final process: JLs Automatic Room
Optimization (ARO) program, which is a primary feature of the f113. This process uses a
single-band parametric filter to equalize the main offending frequency peak and thus
achieve a flatter frequency response. To remove problematic bass resonances, I have in the
past used my Anthem AVM 20s notch-filter function, but have noticed that the bass
response, while flatter, was also duller (i.e., not as lively). I hoped the ARO
feature would improve my rooms low-frequency linearity. I connected JLs
special testing microphone to the f113 via an XLR cable (both are supplied with the sub,
and come in a nice storage pouch) and pressed Calibrate on the front-mounted control
panel. The sub was then subjected to two minutes of test tones covering the full spectrum
of low frequencies. When the process was completed, the Calibrate button lit up solid
I then grabbed a test CD and my RadioShack SPL meter to
measure my rooms bass response. It was much improved. The unequalized peak had been
+8dB at 40Hz, with a -6dB dip at 80Hz. After calibration, the peak was +5dB at 50Hz, with
a -2.5dB dip at 20Hz. I improved those figures even more by tweaking the f113s Phase
and Polarity controls, also conveniently placed on the subs front, but, like the
rest of the front controls, are hidden when the grille is attached. With the polarity
switched to 180 degrees and the phase set to 275 degrees, I was able to smooth out the
50Hz peak by cutting another 2dB, which produced a peak of only 3dB.
Using the ARO calibration in my room
required identifying my front speakers as Small, and setting the crossover frequency
higher (both changes made via the Anthem AVM 20). Usually, I find that the best crossover
point for movies is 80Hz, but for music, I like to run my Aerial 10T speakers full-range,
and let the sub help out only in the lowest frequencies. I quickly had to get over that
mindset, and understand that in order to achieve the best bass response in my room I
needed to let ARO do its thing. ARO cant fix a peak or a dip created by sound from
the 10Ts, so crossing over to the sub at 65Hz was appropriate for music and provided the
flattest response. Very impressive results on paper, but would the AROs EQ stifle
I threw everything at the Fathom f113. From the depth
charges in U-571 to the cannon fire in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the
World, all my usual demo material exploded in ways I had never experienced in my home,
and set a new reference level. The visceral impact of the cannons kicked like a mule --
deep, strong waves of bass barreled through my room, quick and relentless. It was the kind
of bass that makes your eyeballs rattle. The depth charges in U-571 seemed to the
suck air out of the room just before they hit. Although the f113s volume level was
relatively flat in relation to the level of the rest of my speakers, the sub was a clear
standout with its explosive and dynamic presence. A friend who sells JL car products
stopped by and was blown away by the subs performance as properly calibrated, but he
wanted even more. He switched the Level mode from Reference to Variable and turned the
level much higher. Normally Id be concerned for the subs safety, but he
assured me that a JL woofer is almost "indestructible" -- our bodies and my home
were what was in danger. He cued up the scene again and I scurried out into the front
yard. The explosions sounded just as clean and dynamic outdoors as they had inside at the
lower volume. I was amazed.
Brett Hanes described to me a test he performed late in the
Fathoms development process. He placed an f113 in the middle of a parking lot,
turned it up, and measured the subs output: Outdoors, with no room reinforcement, it
was an outrageous 121dB at 1m. As impressive as this anecdote is, I already knew that the
Fathom f113 had more headroom than any other sub I have experienced.
Even compressed cable signals sounded great in the bass.
Fed compressed signals from HBO-HDs broadcast of Flight of the Phoenix and War
of the Worlds, the f113 created big, theater-like bass. The crash scene in Phoenix
is so well done -- the effects of the spinning plane are witnessed on the faces of the
actors, and I felt it in my room. Surround sound is used to re-create the sensation of
spinning, the sub kicking in to provide the pressure of the G forces. Waves of
unfathomable bass exerted a pressure on my body that I had previously felt only in the
lift-off of an actual airplane. It was that intense.
War of the Worlds is full of big visual and audio
special effects. One effect that hadnt stood out with my previous sub but that
quickly became apparent through the f113 was the low rumble of bass when the first Tripod
begins to rise. The sound was so low in frequency that it would be inaudible with some
subs; the f113 re-created it in a way that Ive never felt outside of the theater.
The sound was deep, with no audible distortion at all. It was smooth, solid, and layered
with detail, without showing any weakness. I could sense the size and mass of the object
rising from the ground.
I was now convinced that JL Audio had produced a dynamic
sub of incredible output capability. But could the Fathom f113 produce quick, detailed
bass while meshing its sound together with that of my Aerial 10Ts?
Diana Kralls The Girl in the Other Room
[SACD/CD, Verve B0002293-93] gave the Fathom f113 ample opportunity to reveal any weakness
in this department. Only acoustic instruments are used on this disc, and almost every song
has a snappy bass line that sets the pace for Kralls sultry voice.
"Temptation" opens with a superb double-bass line that drives the entire song.
Clean and quick, the f113 didnt draw attention to itself. The two front speakers
produced the higher frequencies of each plucked string, while the weight of each note was
carried by the sub. So seamless was the combination that I marveled at the Fathoms
ability to "disappear." This concentrated little package delivered the bass in a
powerful yet delicate, agile manner well suited to this acoustic album.
For a more authoritative sound, I turned to Donald
Fagens most recent release, Morph the Cat [CD, Reprise 49975-2]. I expected a
great recording from Steely Dans front man, and he didnt let me down. The
title track begins with a thunderous bass line thats characteristic of the rest of
the album. Again, the Fathom f113 produced deep, rhythmic bass that was clean and musical.
My reference subwoofer, the SVS PB12-Plus/2, is an
incredible value at the price ($1199), and I continue to recommend it highly. In fact,
some of the biggest differences between the JL and the SVS are in size and price: the SVS
is three times the size of the Fathom but costs only a third as much. The SVS has two
12" cones and the Fathom a single 13" driver, but what the JL lacks in size it
makes up for in driver capability and amplifier power. The f113 has some of the most
advanced technology Ive seen: the legendary W7 driver is a sight, and the ARO
circuit helped me get flatter bass than ever before. Simply put, the Fathom f113 provides
more possibilities. As for sound, the JL played deeper, louder, and tighter than the SVS
with any material I chose. But this statement doesnt apply only to the SVS
PB12-Plus/2; it applies to every other active sub Ive heard, at any price. The JL
Audio Fathom f113 has become my new reference subwoofer.
Good things come to those who wait. JL Audio may have
jumped the gun a bit by issuing a press release that promised a groundbreaking line of
home subwoofers almost two years before they actually shipped one, but now all is
forgiven. Their level of achievement in this first venture into home audio is truly
impressive. The Fathom line of subs is a shot across of the bows of competitors that
signals the arrival of JL in the world of high-end home audio. With JLs in-house
technical and production facilities, I expect great things from them. You may have to wait
a while for it, but when you get a product that bears the JL Audio logo, you can feel
confident that its the real deal.
The JL Audio Fathom f113 is the single best A/V product I
have experienced. The improvement it made to my home-theater system was stunning.
Ive never heard better.
|Speakers - Aerial Acoustics
10T (mains), CC3B (center); Von Schweikert VR-1 (surrounds); SVS PB12-Plus/2 (subwoofer)
- Anthem AVM 20
|Amplifiers - Anthem MCA 50,
- Denon DVD-2910 universal audio/video player, Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player
|Display Device - Sony
KV-36HS420 direct-view monitor
- Nordost, Monster Cable, DH Labs
|Remote Control - Universal
Remote Control MX-850 Aeros
Conditioners - APC H15, Goertz BP1000