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JL Audio Gotham Subwoofer and CR-1 Crossover

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.


The Gotham itself comes equipped with a low-pass crossover with two different, user-selectable slopes—a second-order (12dB/octave) Butterworth filter and (my preference) a fourth-order (24dB/octave) Linkwitz-Riley filter. (In addition to its steepness—down 100dB per decade [ten times the crossover frequency]—the Linkwitz-Riley filter has the estimable advantage of 0dB gain at the crossover hinge point. Given that you’re likely to cross over somewhere in the 50–80Hz region, not adding energy precisely where rooms do the most damage is a better idea.)

In addition to its low-pass filters, the Gotham has calibrated controls for subwoofer gain, phase (0–360°), crossover hinge point (30Hz–130Hz), and E.L.F. (extreme low frequency) trim. (This last cuts and/or boosts frequencies below 20Hz to compensate for excessive ultra-low-bass “room gain” in small-to-medium-sized spaces.) The only thing the Gotham doesn’t have—and, rather paradoxically, the e110 does—is a high-pass filter.

I would imagine this was not so much an oversight as a tacit acknowledgement that woofers this big, powerful, and deep-reaching are most likely to be used in elaborate home-theater systems, where “bass-management” (low-pass and high-) will be handled by surround-sound/home-theater electronics. However, that does rather leave two-channel listeners in the lurch. In my experience, running any subwoofer/satellite system with a low-pass-only crossover scotches one of the advantages of using a sub, which is to transfer some of the heavy lifting from the woofer or mid/woofer in the main speaker to the woofer in the sub. (In addition, and despite propaganda to the contrary, running the main speaker full-range often makes achieving a seamless blend between it and the sub a good deal more difficult, as there is bound to be a region of considerable overlap between the two bass drivers.)

Happily, JL Audio has an answer to this problem, as well, its new CR-1 outboard crossover.

Now, to be honest, in the past I was no more a fan of outboard subwoofer crossovers than I was of, uh, outboard subwoofers. The very idea of sticking another piece of electronics—generally of considerably less than high-end transparency—between your preamp and your amp was and is anathema to old-timers like me. So when JL Audio’s Brett Hanes, the resident engineering genius behind many of JL’s subwoofing breakthroughs (and a genuinely amiable and modest young man), showed up at my digs with the CR-1 I was less than enthused.

I should’ve known better, given my previous experience with Brett’s work for JL.

While I can’t say that the CR-1 is completely invisible sonically, it is unquestionably far more transparent than any active subwoofer crossover, built-in or external, that I’ve tried—and over the decades I’ve tried a few. In Brett’s words, the CR-1 was “engineered for audiophiles by audiophiles,” its design based on years of calibrating subwoofed systems for picky high-enders.

What the CR-1 offers in the way of fine adjustments is precisely what JL Audio’s subwoofer experts have determined matters most—nothing more and nothing less. Built into it are three essential tools, meant to work alongside, replace, or refine those already included in the Gotham itself.


First, there are high-precision 12dB/octave and 24dB/octave Linkwitz-Riley filters, which, unlike the crossover built into the Gotham, work high-pass and low-pass. Both of these independently adjustable filters employ “multiplying DACs with monolithic ratio-matching to adjust the analog circuit’s filter frequencies.” If you think this means that the CR-1 digitizes the signal, think again. All it means is that digital technology is being employed, outside the signal path (rather in the same way it is used in certain ultra-high-end-preamplifier volume controls), to ensure the absolute accuracy of the Linkwitz-Riley filters’ crossover-notch-point settings and its slopes. (When the CR-1 is used with any JL sub, including the Gothams, the subwoofer’s own built-in low-pass crossover must be turned off via the LP switch on the sub’s control panel.)

Second, in addition to these individually adjustable, precision low-pass and high-pass filters, the CR-1 has a subwoofer/satellite balance control that allows you to add more sound from the sat and less from the sub (or vice versa) to fine-tune the blend.

Third, the CR-1 has individual damping controls for the sub and the satellite that allow you to adjust the Q of the filters, both low-pass and high-pass, through the crossover region. (If, for instance, the crossover region sounds “thin,” you can create a rise in response near one or both of the filters’ cutoff frequencies. If, on the other hand, the crossover region sounds “thick” or exaggerated, you can reduce response, creating a softer corner around the filters’ cutoff frequencies.)

Outside of power, muting, home-theater bypass, and output mode (stereo or mono) switches, these are the only controls that the CR-1 offers, but, trust me, in combination with the ARO, level, phase, and extreme-low-frequency trim controls built into the Gotham, they are quite sufficient to the task of achieving a seamless blend between the Gothams and your mains, provided that you follow the set-up procedure I outlined in my review of the e110 (for which, see the sidebar on setup).

Indeed, when I commented at the start of this review upon the shocking “invisibility” of these giant subs, I was also commenting on the manifold positive effects of the CR-1, which, once again allowing for proper setup and adjustment, gives honest-to-God new meaning to the words “seamless blend.” Outside of the aforementioned reduction in slam and image size (in the bass), I thought I’d gotten the best combination of a subwoofer and a satellite I’d ever heard via the e110’s built-in high-pass/low-pass crossover, but the unvarnished truth is I didn’t really know what I was talking about, because I didn’t yet know what was possible with the Gotham and the CR-1 in the loop. With the proper adjustment of the Gothams’ own controls (including ARO) and those of the CR-1, these giant subs no long sound like subs. Rather they sound like exceptionally deep-reaching, incredibly fast, powerful, and hard-hitting, super-high-resolution woofers that were engineered for and built into the main speakers. In other words, they do their ineffable thing without touching the transparency, resolution, speed, and timbral signature of the mains.

Well, maybe not entirely without touching the mains.

The Gothams and the CR-1, as transparent as they are, do slightly alter the sound of the satellites. Part of this, of course, is simply the sonic and psychoacoustic effect of adding tremendous low-end power, extension, refinement, and resolution to speakers that don’t offer the fullest measure of these things on their own. With the addition of two or three marmoreally solid bass octaves, overall timbral balance is bound to change—warming up, darkening, ripening—simply because the upper midrange and treble are less nakedly “exposed.” Part of this is also a matter of the Gotham’s enclosure design. Like the e110, the Gotham’s twin 13.5″ woofers are housed in a sealed box, i.e., there is no port and therefore there is no port boost (or steep roll-off after port resonance). To my ear, sealed-box bass is a superior way of doing the bottom octaves (faster, higher in resolution, lower in distortion, inherently more extended), but if you’re used to a woofer in a bass-reflex enclosure you may find what I judge to be the Gothams’ incredibly refined and discerning bottom octaves to be a touch “polite” or “over-damped.” Of course, you can markedly change the damping of the Gotham’s woofers by fiddling with the CR-1s damping control, effectively adding a “port-like” boost at the crossover frequency, if you so choose. I do not. Added slam achieved at the price of higher resolution and a smoother blend is, IMO, the last thing these subs (or any subs) need.

The bottom line on the Gothams and the CR-1 is this: This sub and crossover are nothing like the subs and crossovers of the Bad Old Days, when adding such items was tantamount to throwing a blanket over your main speakers—the veiling, noise, and loss of transient speed were that marked. As far as I can tell, with the Gothams and the CR-1 any veiling of detail, any elevation of the noise floor, any loss of transient speed is so exceedingly slight that, for all intents and purposes, it is virtually non-existent.

For those of you with the space and the dough, those of you into low bass (and who isn’t with the right music?), those of you with decent main speakers looking for a ticket to the Big Leagues at a Minor League price, even those of you with ultra-high-end loudspeakers that already have outstanding bass, the Gothams and the CR-1 are the paths to a full-range bliss you’ve never before experienced, because, in my own experience, it’s never before been available at this level of unalloyed satisfaction. Both the Gotham subs and JL’s CR-1 crossover, obviously, get my highest, most unqualified, most enthusiastic recommendation. I just wish all of you could hear them!


JL Audio
Miramar, FL 33025-3962
(954) 443-1100
Price: Gotham subwoofer, $12,000; CR-1 crossover, $3500

JV’s Reference System
Loudspeakers: Raidho D-5, Raidho D-1, Avantgarde Zero 1, Avantgarde Trio/Basshorn, MartinLogan CLX, Magnepan .7, Magnepan 1.7, Magnepan 3.7, Magnepan 20.7
Linestage preamps: Soulution 725, Constellation Virgo, Audio Research Reference 10, Siltech SAGA System C1, Zanden 3100
Phonostage preamps: Audio Research Corporation Reference Phono 10, Constellation Audio Perseus, Innovative Cohesion Engineering Raptor, Soulution 725, Zanden 120
Power amplifiers: Soulution 711, Siltech SAGA System V1/P1, Constellation Centaur, Audio Research Reference 250, Lamm ML2.2, Zanden 8120, Odyssey Audio Stratos
Analog source: Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Mk V, TW Acustic Black Knight, AMG Viella 12
Tape deck: United Home Audio UHA-Q Phase 12 OPS
Phono cartridges: Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, Ortofon MC Anna, Ortofon MC A90, Benz LP S-MR
Digital source: Berkeley Alpha DAC 2
Cable and interconnect: Crystal Cable Absolute Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo LE, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power cords: Crystal Cable Absolute Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo LE, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power Conditioner: Synergistic Research Galileo LE, Technical Brain
Accessories: Synergistic ART and HFT/FEQ system, Shakti Hallographs (6), Zanden room treatment, A/V Room Services Metu panels and traps, ASC Tube Traps, Critical Mass Maxxum equipment and amp stands, Symposium Isis and Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks and Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment and amp stands, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Clearaudio Double Matrix SE record cleaner, Synergistic Research RED Quantum fuses, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses

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