JL Audio Fathom f212 powered subwoofer Page 4

The Fathom f212s strongly benefited the quality, scale, detailing, and full power of orchestral music, enhancing the sound of my Quad ESL-989s in new ways. I heard, as never before, the powerful bass-drum strokes in the second movement of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, as performed by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (SACD/CD, Deutsche Grammophon 00289 477 6198-2)—each one burst into my listening room as a well-defined thud with a clean, defined leading edge and sudden, explosive power. On the same recording, wind instruments are mixed with the thunderous stomping of low strings used as percussion. The pulsing tempo and surging energy of this work builds through Adoration of the Earth, near the end of Part 1, then erupts into the explosive Dance of the Earth. The quality of sound of the Quads plus Fathoms playing these passages approached that of the more expensive Revel Ultima Salon2 full-range speakers ($22,000/pair; see my review in the June 2008 Stereophile).

Jazz, rap, and world music also benefited from the Quad-JLA combo. For the first time, my ESL-989s were able to clearly depict each note of Tal Wilkenfeld's intricate and tuneful electric bass line in "Truth Be Told," from Transformation (CD, Goldelux Productions TAL001-2); to deliver the Insane Clown Posse's fully gut-tightening, claustrophobic bass line in "Ain't Yo Bidness," from The Wraith (CD, Psychopathic RIV 9912-2); and to produce the deep, room-vibrating, seismic didgeridoo notes that open "Rainforest Wonder," from David Hudson's Didgeridoo Spirit (CD, Indigenous Australia IA2003D).

Just as I heard with a pair of Fathom f113s, two Fathom f212s used in stereo deepened and broadened the soundstage. The f212s blended so seamlessly with my ESL-989s that the subs seemed to disappear, providing no obvious directional cues to the sources of the bass I was hearing. The f212s increased the three-dimensionality of the soundstage, from side to side as well as from front to back. This improvement in imaging was most evident when I streamed high-resolution digital music to my combination of Bel Canto USB Link 24/96 USB-to-S/PDIF converter and Bryston BDA-1 DAC, including two files downloaded from www.HDtracks.com: a 24-bit/88.2kHz file of Beethoven's Symphony 3, "Eroica" (originally SACD/CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 807470); and the eleven 24/96 tracks of Chesky's Ultimate Demonstration Disc, Volume 2 (SACD, Chesky SACD343). The first movement of the "Eroica," performed by Andrew Manze and Helsingborg Symphony, was spellbinding—I heard subtle ambience cues I usually hear only at concerts. The female vocalist on the cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing," from the Chesky sampler, had the most realistic, palpable, three-dimensional image I'd ever heard in my listening room, enveloped in a 360° space that extended well behind her.

When I played standard 16/44.1 "Red Book" CDs, both bass and imaging were excellent, though not as breathtaking as with higher-rez sources. The Quad-JLA system was able to create a sonic image of the choir that hovers, suspended and deep offstage, behind tenor José Carreras in the Kyrie of Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla, as conducted by José Luis Acejo (CD, Philips 420 955-2). The Fathom f212s let my Quad ESLs blossom, producing superb images and portrayals of space and revealing musical details I'd missed before. The acoustic guitar that Emmylou Harris plays softly on Daniel Lanois's "The Maker," from her Spyboy album (CD, Eminent 25001-2), was no longer drowned out by the drums. In "Deeper Wells" from the same album, the massive synth note that floods the entire soundstage through other audio systems was now localized at the stage's front center, the drums and vocals clearly behind it.

The Fathom f212s also greatly enhanced the Quads' dynamic range. The system played passages louder, didn't "clamp off" during passages of wide dynamic range, and delivered considerable slam. Explosive piano scales jumped out of dead-black silence in "Hand-off," from the Sneakers soundtrack, while Mark Flynn's kick drum exploded into my listening room at the opening of "Blizzard Limbs," from Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2).

Two Fathom f212 subwoofers improved the bass response of my Quad ESL-989s as no other pair of subwoofers has done before. Not only was their bass the strongest and best defined, but the f212's controls allowed me to attain the flattest frequency response between 15 and 200Hz that I've achieved in my listening room. Pipe-organ music was excellent in its power and impact, shaking the room and producing ample room lock.

While a single Fathom f212 easily produced enough of the bass extension, pitch definition, dynamics, and power needed for pipe-organ music, two f212s let me enjoy music with the more realistic soundstage depth and three-dimensionality I hear at concerts. The larger, heavier, more expensive f212 betters the f113 with its easier acoustical setup and factory default settings, a pair of f212s delivering almost as flat a frequency-response curve as the f113 before ARO was run. The bass extension and tightness from two f212s were the best I've heard in my room. I'm left with a sense that the Fathom f212s' performance potential is even greater—that they're only awaiting further fine-tuning from me.

I would have preferred that JL Audio included internal high-pass filters for managing the bass, so that an external electronic crossover would not be needed when using the f212 in a two-channel audio system. Additionally, the f212's asking price should include a remote control to allow the user to adjust phase and level settings from the listening chair. If you buy a Fathom f212, I suggest that you request the dealer do the installation and setup, including moving the heavy sub into your room, then using a spectrum analyzer to match it to the rest of your system.

The Fathom f212 belongs in the top rank—Class A—of "Recommended Components." I strongly recommend JL Audio's Fathom f212 to serious music and home-theater aficionados who already have Class A–recommended full-range speakers with limited low-frequency response, such as my Quad ESLs. (Perhaps the Fathom f212 is the "better subwoofer" that, two years ago, Carl Kennedy hinted to me was on JL Audio's product horizon.) The Fathom f212 has raised the performance quality of my audio system, and my enjoyment of it, to much higher levels.

JL Audio, Inc.
10369 N. Commerce Parkway
Miramar, FL 33025-3921
(954) 443-1100