2017 Buyer's Guide: Subwoofers

Equipment report
Audiokinesis Swarm Subwoofer System,
GoldenEar Technology SuperSub XXL,
JL Audio E-Sub e110,
JL Audio e112,
JL Audio Fathom f112,
JL Audio Fathom f113v2,
JL Audio Gotham g213,
Martin Logan BalancedForce 210,
REL S/5,
2017 Buyer's Guide: Subwoofers

REL T/7i
A special round of applause is due this mini-sub for music lovers. The new T/7i is even faster and tighter than its forbear, yet remains tonally supple, with well-defined timbres. It’s also remarkably potent for a single, forward-firing 8" driver augmented by a quick-reacting, downward-firing 10" passive radiator (and a smooth 200W Class AB amp). The sumptuous high-gloss lacquered enclosure with aluminum accents has inputs for high-level Neutrik Speakon (cable included), plus low-level RCA and LFE. A little classic. rel.net

JL Audio e110/e112
Before he got this hefty little cube (with 10" driver) from JL Audio, JV was anything but a fan of subwoofers, which always seemed to take more away in midrange transparency, tone color, and resolution than they paid back in bass-range extension, detail, and power. Crossed over at the right frequency—which is easy to do with the instructions that JL provides and the e-Sub’s manifold built-in controls, including a genuine fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley high-pass/low-pass crossover—the e110 is the very first sub he’s heard that doesn’t screw up the sound of the main speaker. Rather it seems to extend that sound into the bottom octaves, producing some of the highest resolution of bass timbres and textures he’s heard from any transducer. Driven by its own 1200W Class D amplifier and capable of extension into the mid-to-low twenties, the e110 is a powerhouse with uncommon grip and definition. Paired with something like a Raidho D-1 stand-mount it will give you everything (save for dynamic range and overall impact) that you pay the big, big money for in a massive multiway floorstander, and it will do so for a mere $1500 ($1900 for the e112 12" version). jlaudio.com

GoldenEar SuperSub XXL
Sandy Gross, the owner of GoldenEar, is legendary for extracting big sound from reasonably priced products. The SuperSub XXL is a case in point. Gross has crammed an astounding amount of technology into this fairly diminutive subwoofer, including a 1600-watt digital amplifier that is controlled by a 56-bit DSP device with a 192kHz sampling rate. Add two 12" long-throw active drivers and two infrasonic drivers, and you’ve got a recipe for a powerful, bone-crushing sub. No matter the source material—rock, pop, or classical—the XXL will deliver a deep and tuneful foundation that helps to create an airier and wider soundstage. Timpani and drum whacks emerge with authority from black backgrounds. There are faster and more powerful subwoofers out there—at three to four times the cost. It is also important to note that the XXL only accepts single-ended inputs. But the XXL will never produce less than satisfying performance in almost any audio system. goldenear.com

AudioKinesis Swarm
The Swarm is a subwoofer system with four subwoofer enclosures powered by a single high-powered amplifier, the four being connected in a series-parallel configuration. Placed suitably, the four subs make possible a remarkable uniformity of bass response over a considerable area, following acoustic ideas originated by Earl Geddes and later seconded by Floyd Toole. This statement of fact hardly does justice to the positively enveloping sound one obtains. The room around is all but erased and the acoustic signature of the recording venue, which is carried in so large a part by the bass, is revealed, nay experienced directly, to a startling extent. The prospect of having four subs in a living room is less daunting than it might seem—each sub can be placed with its driver facing the wall, at which point the sub looks like a rather elegant, if solid, end table. This type of system is the future of bass reproduction in REG’s view, and the price here is extremely reasonable as well. audiokinesis.com

The extraordinary thing about REL’s latest effort is that it buries once and for all the old wives’ tale that only small subs excel off the line and disappear as sound sources. Fact is, the S5 is big—a 12" woofer with companion 12" downward-firing passive radiator with 500 Class D watts to provide the fireworks. Its bass extension is terrifyingly deep; yet it has the delicacy and dexterity to become one with the music, from the deepest fundamentals on up, doing so without coloring the character or reducing the transparency of even the most highly resolved system. rel.net

JL Audio Fathom f112/f113v2
These two subs—identical except for woofer size (12" vs. 13.5") and amplifier power (1500W vs. 2500W)—raise the bar in subwoofer performance with their unlikely combination of brute-force power and tonal and dynamic finesse. Capable of delivering high SPLs at very low frequencies without strain, the Fathoms are equally adept at resolving the pitches, dynamics, and tone colors of a synth or an acoustic bass. The new v2 versions add a much more sophisticated room-correction system as well as many technical refinements. Reference-quality performance at a reasonable price. jlaudio.com

MartinLogan BalancedForce 210
Before he discovered the 210s, reviewer SH tended to eschew much of the bass-centric jazz and classical music that he really enjoys because of the inability to achieve realistic SPLs. Once he put the 210s in his listening room, his music—and not just music where bass was prominent—took on a whole new life. The 210s made a far larger difference in his system than any other component in a very long time—and that’s saying a lot. If you have a large room or really want to reproduce low bass, the Balanced Force 210s are essential tools to getting the most out of your music. martinlogan.com

JL Audio CR-1 Crossover
Though they used to be relatively plentiful in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, nowadays outboard active analog crossovers are scarce on the ground. Which is why JL Audio’s CR-1 outboard active analog subwoofer crossover comes as such a surprise. You’ve got to hand it to Brett Hanes and his fellow engineers at JL Audio: They are serious about subwoofing, and the CR-1, which took years to perfect, is a serious effort to optimize the interface between your main speakers and your subs. Built around two banks of extremely high-precision Linkwitz-Riley low-pass and high-pass filters, the CR-1 gives you an entire toolbox of controls that allows you to dial-in the hinge frequencies, slopes, output, and damping (Q) of both the mains and the subs with great subtlety. Though JV has never loved outboard crossovers because of the price they so often exact in transparency, resolution, and dynamic range, the CR-1 appears to be an exception. It is highly transparent, and the improvements the CR-1 can make in achieving a truly seamless blend through the crossover region are considerable—and quite audible. jlaudio.com

JL Audio Gotham
This gigantic $12k subwoofer with two 13.5" drivers has simply redefined subwoofing for JV. Never a fan of subs, he’s been turned around by this wonderful product, which in combination with JL’s CR-1 crossover, is capable of a more seamless blend with main speakers (be they two-ways, panels, or multiways) than anything he’s yet heard (in fact, than anything he imagined possible), with next-to-none of the midrange veiling—the loss of resolution and transparency—that was inevitably part-and-parcel of subwoofing in the not-too-distant past. What the Gotham does is open up an entire new world of loudspeaker possibilities, wherein smaller and/or less expensive mains can be made to sound a whole lot like Raidho D-5.1s or Wilson Alexandrias or Rockport Arrakis or Magico M Projects, for a lot less dough. JV’s reference. jlaudio.com