I’ve been a fan of JL Audio’s subwoofers since their debut at a CEDIA show about ten years ago. At that time this company, which had already redefined bass performance in high-end car audio, was making its first foray into the home-audio market. I went into the demo a skeptic: a car-stereo company introducing home-theater subwoofers? What could possibly go right? My trepidation was magnified when on the way into the demo room I was handed a pair of earplugs. I braced myself for a blast of rap at 110dB and chest-crushing, one-note bass. And then the demo began—with Bill Evans’ lilting Waltz For Debby.
JL’s Fathom f113—the product being demonstrated—didn’t sound like a subwoofer at all. Instead, it gently reinforced the bottom end, reproducing Scott LeFaro’s exquisite bass work with astonishing nuance and delicacy. The Fathom’s prodigious bone-shaking capabilities were demonstrated later on, but JL Audio had made its point about the company’s aesthetic and about the sub’s musical prowess. I ended up reviewing a pair of Fathom f113s, and found that they offered stunning performance in a stereo music system as well as in a serious home theater.
JL Audio recently introduced its much-lower-priced E-Sub line, the $1500 e110 (reviewed by Jonathan Valin in Issue 244) and the $1900 e112 reviewed here. The differences between the two units are driver size (10" vs. 12") and amplifier power (1200W vs. 1500W). The e112 includes an integral, fourth-order, line-level crossover (unlike the crossoverless Fathom), with controls on the top panel—a welcome change from difficult-to-reach rear-mounted controls. Once the adjustments are set, the knobs and switches disappear behind a magnetically attached cover. The whole package is very elegant.
The metal front baffle is essentially an extended mounting flange of the 12" woofer, bolted to the MDF enclosure. JL Audio made its name by developing advanced proprietary woofer technologies (it holds 24 patents on raw-woofer design plus 12 more in enclosures, amplification, etc.), and those technologies have been distilled down into the e112’s woofer. The 12" driver features a cast-aluminum frame, dual spiders, a large voice coil, and is capable of a whopping 3" excursion.
I wanted to hear a pair of e112s with the Raidho X-1, thinking that this combination could be a giant-killer, delivering JL’s bass performance with the Raidho’s spectacular midrange and treble. I had recently set up a pair of JL’s e110 subwoofers for a friend, mating them to the Joseph Audio Pearls. (He had bought both products on my recommendation.) The combination proved to be exceptional, with excellent integration between the two subwoofers and the Pearls.
The first thing I did after adding the e112s to my system was to evaluate the subwoofer’s crossover. I listened carefully for audible artifacts overlaying the midrange and treble with the e112’s crossover in the X-1’s signal path. If the JL sub introduced the kinds of distortions common to many crossovers, the system would be a non-starter. These distortions typically include added grain, treble hardness, a flattening of the soundstage, compression of dynamic contrasts, coloration of instrumental timbres, loss of fine detail, and a reduction in transparency. When you think about it, an active crossover should be designed and built to the same standards as a high-end preamp. Most are not.
I was pleasantly surprised by how little the e112’s crossover changed midrange and treble performance. Many high-end preamps aren’t this transparent. To give you an idea of how good the e112’s crossover is, I’ll tell you about my experience with changing the five-meter runs of interconnects that ran from the preamp’s output to the e112’s input, and then from the e112’s output to the power amplifier inputs. The only long RCA-terminated interconnects I had on hand were decade-old AudioQuest Amazons. Midway through the review I replaced the Amazons with AudioQuest’s new Fire interconnects (review to come). The improvement rendered by the upgraded interconnects was more sonically significant than the effect of the e112’s crossover. Keep in mind I’m using exceedingly high-resolution sources and world-class electronics, which leave the e112’s crossover nowhere to hide. In short, you don’t have to worry about the e112’s crossover mucking up the sound of the main speakers. That, in itself, is remarkable in a $1900 subwoofer.