JL Audio Fathom F 113 review

JL Audio Fathom F 113 review

Subwoofers are one of the two lynchpins of home theatre, the other being a solid centre speaker.

You can have a great pair of front speakers, and spend a lot of money on the surrounds speakers, but without these two, it will be hard to generate not only the explosions and slam when a bomb goes off, but more importantly, add suspense and atmosphere to scenes and create tension.

The subwoofer will also be needed to alleviate the stress on the main speakers and allow a less powerful AV amp to be used.

Vented subwoofers tend to give more bass, at the expense of accuracy, and sealed subs tend to be less efficient, and their drivers tend to be under more stress. If you then reduce the size of the enclosure, and even the driver, then you add even more pressure on the cabinets and the design of the sub.

The JL Audio company comes from a tradition of making subwoofers for cars and other commercial installations, but in 2005, has come out with some very fine subs. The Fathom Series has been an outright success, garnering many positive reviews, and lighting up the HT world with it's well made and beautiful subs that amazed the world with the quality and quantity of bass it could generate.

The main issue with these fine subs is the cost. Essentially you can get a subwoofer, which goes deeper, and loud, and sometimes with the same quality or better, for less money. But most are far bigger, the finish is not as good, and you lose out on the ARO or automatic calibration.

So JL Audio isn’t for everyone. And I did own an SVS PB 12 plus and also a Rhythmik FV15HP, which is one mean monster.

Some comparisons:

Will post more, but essentially, the vented sub was a little slower - I should have listened and gotten a F15HP the first time. Also, in my rather small place, the big monster sub didn't work so well. The power was superb - the FV15HP can open my front door by the sheer mass of air it was moving... i.e. the door is closed and it can suck it open!

But it didn't suit my place so well and I have no alternate positions to re-position it, so YMMV with each sub. For those with space, the Rhythmik offers superb value and SPL, at a fraction of the price of the F 113.

If you have the space and can place it right, the FV15HP is the top dog under $2000, bar none. But it needs space, and positioning it is more tricky.

As for calibration, AVS forum users suggest either using the ARO first, then Audyssey or other auto-EQ systems. But some even advocate bypassing ARO. Remember ARO was first invent in 2005 when the F 113 came out.

Having said that, you do feel like you are owning a premium product, for which you pay a lot:
- gloves to handle the sub
- the mike looks better than any others, even the omni-mic
- a bag for everything, including the mike

The bottom line (pun intended) is:

- if you are on a budget, and do not have space constraints,
- can place the sub in many potential locations
- want top SPL and dig deep

Buy one of the ID company subs, like Hsu, Rhythmik, SVS etc. SVS is still very good, just that having a local dealer means costs that need to be passed onto the buyer.

Likewise for the JL Audio subs, you get it if you want:
- top drawer performance in a small form factor
- top drawer build quality
- for those intimidated by lots of calibration issues etc, the ARO can be a boon
- tight musical bass

What you get from the JL Audio, can be almost duplicated or even bested, by a much bigger beast. But if you have the budget and desire WAF, then this could be your next sub.

Don't get it for VFM.

Some useful links:

Manufacturer's site:

Some reviews:

AVS thread: http://www.avsforum.com/t/736243/jl-audio-fathom-13-sub

Manufacturer specs:
• Enclosure Type: Sealed
• Driver: Single 13.5-inch (nominal diameter)
• Frequency Response (Anechoic): 20–86 Hz (±1.5dB), -3 dB at 18 Hz / 127 Hz, -10 dB at 16 Hz / 154 Hz
• Effective Piston Area: 107.35 sq. in. / 0.0693 sq. m.
• Effective Displacement: 386 cu. in. / 6.3 liters
• Amplifier Power: 2500 watts RMS short-term
• Dimensions: (H) Height x (W) Width x (D) Depth 19.75 in x 16.50 in. x 19.25 in., 502 mm x 419 mm x 489 mm
• Net Weight: 130 lbs. / 59.0 kg
• Cabinet Finish: High-Gloss Black or Satin Black
• Unbalanced Inputs: Stereo or Mono (two RCA jacks)
• Balanced Inputs: Stereo or Mono (two female XLR jacks)
• Output To Slave: Balanced (one male XLR jack)
• Input Modes: Master or Slave
• Level Modes: Reference (fixed gain) or Variable from full mute to +15dB over reference gain
• Power Modes: Off, On or Automatic Signal-Sensing
• Light Modes: Off, On or Dim
• Low Pass Filter Mode: Off, 12 dB per octave or 24 dB per octave
• Low Pass Filter Cutoff Frequency: Variable from 30 Hz–130 Hz
• Polarity: 0 or 180 degrees
• Phase: Variable from 0–280 degrees
• ELF Trim: Variable from -12 dB to +3 dB at 25 Hz

Proprietary Features

Automatic Room Optimization (A.R.O)
A wise man named Murphy long ago prescribed that a subwoofer will generally sound best in the most impractical spot in the room... a fact that home theater professionals wrestle with constantly. Subwoofer placement almost always involves a compromise between sonic performance, practicality and aesthetics.
f112_cpright_575 height=131

To face this dilemma head on, JL Audio subwoofer systems incorporate a clever piece of technology called Automatic Room Optimization (A.R.O.).

The A.R.O. system self-generates a series of calibration tones, measures the response at the listening position, analyzes the shape and magnitude of the primary response error and configures an appropriate filter to tame it. The system effectively allows for smooth, well-balanced sub-bass from a variety of locations that may have been less than ideal without A.R.O.
fathomaro_mi_475 height=274

To accomplish this complex feat, all you have to do is:

1) Connect the included calibration microphone to the front panel of the subwoofer.
2) Press the "calibrate" button on the front panel of the subwoofer system.
3) Hold the microphone at the primary listening position.
4) A few minutes later, you have completed this one-time setup routine.

You won't need a computer, spreadsheets or expensive equipment and you don't need to navigate and manipulate complex interfaces... a fine example of technology in the service of man, if there ever was one.
Fathom Signal Processing
Fathom® powered subwoofers incorporate a comprehensive suite of signal processing tools.
fathomprocessing_mi_475_01 height=274

These include:
  • A low-pass filter with selectable slopes (12dB/octave Butterworth or 24dB/octave Linkwitz-Riley), variable from 30 Hz to 130 Hz, fully defeatable via switch
  • Fixed gain or Variable gain modes (selectable via switch), Variable gain from full mute to +15 dB over reference gain
  • Input polarity reversal, via switch
  • Variable phase from 0 to 280 degrees
  • ELF (Extreme Low Frequency) trim cuts extreme low frequencies by as much as -12 dB or boosts them by as much as +3 dB at 25 Hz

I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

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