As you know, I am not a fan of subwoofers—that is, I wasn’t a fan of subs until I ran headlong into JL Audio’s e110 about a year ago, and concluded (to my astonishment) that when this compact, affordable sub was paired with a superb two-way like the $27k Raidho D-1, it came so close to the sound of my $200k reference loudspeakers—at one-sixth their price—I could scarcely tell the difference. (Well…there was this: Though superior to every big transducer I’d heard in low-end resolution and extension, the Raidho D-1/e110 combo did reduce image size and slam compared to big speakers—a by-product of the low crossover point I deliberately chose to more fully preserve the virtues of the Raidho monitor and of a two-way mid/woof’s inevitable power-handling limitations in the upper bass.)
Now I’ve run headlong into another astounding JL Audio sub—this time its top-of-the-line, $12,000 g213 Gotham. And while its price is considerably higher (and its 360-pound bulk vastly greater) than that of the $1700 e110s, the conclusion I’ll reach, as you’ll soon see, is very much the same. If you mate a pair of Gothams with an affordable but highly capable multiway, like the $5k Focal Aria 948 that Our Ms. Mullins reviews in this very issue, and channel the subs and the mains through JL Audio’s superb $3k CR-1 low-pass/high-pass active crossover, you can, once again, build a loudspeaker system that competes sonically with the Big Boys for roughly one-sixth of what the Big Boys cost—and, unlike the e110/D-1 combo, this time there is no downside when it comes to image size and slam.
Moreover, with the Gothams there is a rather significant additional bonus—to wit, when these subs are paired with those selfsame Big Boys, they will also elevate their performance to new levels of wonderment. The Gothams are simply that versatile and that spectacularly good. In fact, to spill the beans, if I haven’t already, the Gothams are the most powerful, most extended (19Hz!), most finely detailed, and, paradoxically, given their sheer size, most invisible subwoofers I’ve heard in my home.
How do I explain this sea change in subwoofer performance—and my newfound appreciation of those thumping boxes (or, at least, these two from JL)?
Well, it probably amounts to this: JL Audio has spent the past two decades assiduously researching and developing unique subwoofer technologies, and it has thrown every single one of them into the Gothams, beginning with a feature that simply wasn’t readily available up until a few years ago (although variants of it are now commonplace)—what JL calls its ARO (Automatic Room Optimization) System.
What ARO does is effectively (quite effectively, as a matter of measurable fact) take the room out of the equation precisely where rooms inevitably play the greatest havoc in the low end. Triggered by pressing a pushbutton on the top panel of each Gotham (and cancelable via the press of another button), JL’s Automatic Room Optimization system generates a series of bass-range calibration tones, played back through the woofer and measured at the listening position by means of a supplied, laboratory-grade calibrated microphone that is plugged into a mike jack on the sub. The mike sends its readings back to the Gotham, where built-in circuitry “analyzes the shape and magnitude of the primary response error and configures an appropriate filter to tame it.” Though ARO can be slightly tricky to implement (setting the proper playback level to conduct the tests takes some volume-dial twiddling) and by design only addresses the single most problematical room-induced bass-range peak, when ARO finally does do its thing, the results are remarkable. That 60–80Hz hump that plagues virtually every listening room? Gone as if by magic. [The improvement in bass smoothness rendered by ARO in a JL Audio Fathom f113 subwoofer in my brother’s system was nothing short of miraculous.—RH]
In addition to the remarkable ARO system, the Gotham also incorporates JL Audio’s proprietary Dynamic Motor Analysis system, its patented W-Cone unit-body cone-assembly technology, its patented Elevated Frame Cooling design, its patented Floating Cone Attach Method (FCAM), its patented OverRoll Surround, its patented Radially Cross-Drilled Pole-Piece, its patented Engineered Lead-Wire System, and its patented High-Damping Feedback Circuit. In case you weren’t counting, that amounts to seven patented technologies in a single woofer assembly, which must be some kind of record. The U.S. Patent Office doesn’t hand these things out like party favors, folks—a lot of science has gone into the Gotham’s design and construction. (To read more about this science and the benefits that JL claims it confers, go to http://www.jlaudio.com/g213-gloss-home-audio-gotham-powered-subwoofers-96237.)
However, you won’t need a Xerox of a patent application and a magnifying glass to assess the results of what JL hath wrought. This is a subwoofer—housed in a hand-fabricated-and-finished, curved-fiberglass enclosure (no parallel surfaces)—that uses two (count ’em) thirteen-and-a-half inch drivers per side (that’s 214.7 square inches of effective piston area per sub, for those of you with scorecards), each powered by a built-in 3800W RMS Class D amplifier and each capable of four-inch peak-to-peak excursions, 19Hz extension, and seemingly unlimited, distortion-free output. To put this plainly, with the Gothams you will get wallop in the low end like you’ve never heard before. And yet, the most telling thing about the sound of these subs isn’t the sheer wall-shaking, window-rattling, chest-thumping, distortion-free loudness with which they play sforzandos and crescendos—you’d expect that from two pairs of 13.5" woofers—but, rather, their ravishing refinement on mezzofortes and pianissimos.
Here is a subwoofer that is just as capable of realistically reproducing the dark, organ-like pedal point of a contrabassoon as it is the depth-charge detonation of a concert bass drum. Here is a subwoofer that can distinguish contrabass lines from those of cellos, while also holding the low-pitched wind and brass instruments doubling those lines in unwavering focus. Here is a subwoofer that will sustain the decay of a grand piano’s bottom-octave notes like a sostenuto pedal. In other words, here is a subwoofer that will reveal everything in the bass (including the depth, width, height, and resonant signature of the recording venue) with the same lifelike clarity, speed, density of tone color, and dynamic range that Magico’s Ultimate III horn brings to the midband or Raidho’s superlative ribbon tweeter brings to the treble. And the best part is that here is a subwoofer that can do all these things—and when it comes to the bottom octaves I really haven’t heard anything else that can match it—without screwing up the midband.
Of course, it takes the usual amount of painstaking work to get the blend between the Gothams and your main speaker just so. But, thank goodness (and JL), here also, at long last, is a subwoofer that gives you the tools to make this magic happen.