JL Audio E-Sub e110 Subwoofer

Old Dog, New Trick

Equipment report
JL Audio E-Sub e110
JL Audio E-Sub e110 Subwoofer

Similarly the sub’s volume level can be optimally set by playing back Tracks 18 and 19 on the Soundoctor CD. Track 18 contains “contoured” high-frequency noise (i.e., a test signal with no low-frequency information that has been contoured for the Radio Shack SPL meter). What you do is adjust the volume of your preamp so that your Radio Shack meter reads 85dB (slow, C-weighted) while Track 18 is playing. Track 19 contains “contoured” low-frequency noise (i.e., a test signal with only low-frequency information that has also been contoured for the Radio Shack SPL meter). Playing this track back, you adjust the level control on the e110 subwoofer so that your meter once again reads 85dB SPL (slow, C-weighted). In theory, your e110 subs are now matched in level with your main speakers.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that your system will sound as coherent or as transparent as it does without subwoofers—or that the sub’s level will not need further tweaking by ear. Getting a relatively seamless blend and tight, powerful, high-resolution, high-definition bass depends on several other equally important factors: the crossover frequency that you choose between subs and mains, the quality of the subwoofer itself (including its amp, controls, and crossover), and above all else your own listening preferences.

The question of crossover frequency is hotly debated. JL Audio recommends that crossover be set at 80Hz or higher, regardless of main speaker. And it is true that setting the sub at a higher crossover frequency can make for a more seamless sound. Alas, it can also make for a substantially different sound than what you’re used to from your main speakers alone.

Let’s face it: You’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money on your loudspeakers. Presumably, you picked them from a myriad of others because you prefer the way they sound on the music you typically listen to. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you think they are perfect. (Or why opt for subwoofers?) What it does mean, I think, is that their essential qualities satisfy you— that you are pleased with what we used to call, in The HP Era, their “character.”

There is no surer-fire way of changing a loudspeaker’s character than crossing it over to a powered subwoofer at too high a frequency. With first-or second-order crossovers the problem is generally that the subs continue to play (albeit at reduced levels) into the power range and the midrange, audibly masking the very qualities of timbre, resolution, speed, and dynamic nuance that led you to buy your main speakers in the first place. With steeper crossover slopes, such as the 24dB/octave Linkwitz-Riley filters in the e110’s crossover, this should be less of a problem. (The theoretical advantage of fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley filters is that because of their steep roll-off at the high and low cutoff frequencies their gain at crossover is closer to 0dB.) And yet...crossing the e110s over at 80Hz or higher isn’t less of a problem. Here it’s not so much that the sub is still playing beyond the crossover point, masking the main speaker’s virtues; rather it’s that the sub’s own character (including the character of its amplifier and crossover) becomes more audible and predominant the higher up you cross it over, since the sub is literally playing more of the music.

Many people don’t seem to be as sensitive to this “change of sonic character” as I am, and can live happily with the added bass-range power and extension (and concomitant added breadth and width of soundstage) at what they presumably consider a reasonable cost in tonality and transparency. Speaking for myself, I would far rather live without the deepest bass than audibly sacrifice the characteristic sound of my main speakers.

For me, then, the secret to subwoofer satisfaction is to find a way to cross the subs over that doesn’t markedly change the character of the main speakers—or that changes it only in the sense of extending its virtues into the bottom octaves. With the e110s this means a lower crossover point (lower than 80Hz).

Although the speaker that I am using with the e110— Raidho’s superb stand-mounted D-1 (review forthcoming, recommendation already the highest)—is a two-way, it has remarkably satisfying mid-to-upper bass. Flattish down to the 50Hz–55Hz range its ported 4.5" mid/bass driver (which uses a diamond diaphragm) manages to give the psychoacoustic impression of going lower than it does because of its naturally full and high-resolution reproduction of the power range, where first and second harmonics live (as do a whole lot of fundamentals).

Because the D-1 doesn’t really cry out for a subwoofer and because I simply love the beautiful and lifelike way it sounds (which, reduced image size and dynamic power notwithstanding, comes very close to—and in certain respects exceeds—the sound of my reference Raidho C-4.1s), I picked it for this experiment, knowing full well that I would easily hear any changes in its character, and knowing, as well, that in the past I have not been able to mate super-high-resolution two-ways to subwoofers without substantial sonic penalties. And at a crossover point of 80Hz—with all other parameters (placement, phase, level) set to theoretical correctness (and then tweaked by ear to my own preference)—the changes in the Raidho’s character were marked. Despite the much deeper, more generous bass, the D-1 simply no longer sounded like the speaker I’d fallen in love with.