Recommended Components: 2018 Edition Subwoofers

Subwoofers & Crossovers

A

JL Audio f212v2: $7000
Blessed with a model designation that has nothing up its sleeve—this is the second version of a Fathom-series powered subwoofer that contains two 12" drive-units—the f212v2 is the second-most-expensive subwoofer made by Miramar, Florida–based JL Audio, exceeded in that regard only by the Gotham v2 ($15,000). The Fathom f212v2, which stands only 32" tall yet weighs 224 lbs, incorporates the company's DARO "cut-only correction" equalizer, each of whose 18 bands is DSP controlled. Its internal class-D amplifier is capable of outputting 3600W short-term. LG, who praised the f212v2's build quality as "outstanding," used the new sub with JLA's CR-1 standalone electronic crossover ($3000), which is designed for use in music-only systems whose preamps or integrated amps lack built-in crossovers. He praised the DARO system for increasing "the precision and reliability of the sub's setup," and concluded that the "beautifully made, sonically transparent" f212v2 is "exceptionally powerful" and "strongly recommended." (Vol.39 No.11 WWW)

JL Audio Fathom f113v2: $4500
Descended from the JL Audio Fathom f113—a Class A subwoofer in previous editions of "Recommended Components"—the recent f113v2 is a compact subwoofer with a single 13.5" driver and an internal amplifier boasting 3000W RMS (compared with the f113's 2500W). Other refinements include the rerouting of audio signals away from the v2's control panel and, perhaps most notably, an upgrade from the original's Automatic Room Optimization (ARO) to JL Audio's new Digital Automatic Room Optimization (DARO, a name that caught us totally off guard). In contrast to ARO's single filter, DARO provides 18 bands of (cut-only) correction. According to KR, who declared DARO easier to operate than ARO, "the v2's improvement over the v1 was the complete disappearance, from my conscious awareness, of the subwoofer's existence." KR's conclusion: "JL Audio's Fathom f113v2 is everything good from the Fathom f113 and more." (Vol.39 No.1 WWW)

MartinLogan BalancedForce 212: $3995 ★
The two 12" aluminum-cone woofers of the 212 are mounted on opposite sides of their enclosure and operated in opposition to one another—an approach for which MartinLogan has coined the term BalancedForce. Power comes courtesy an internal pair of 850W class-D MOSFET amplifiers, themselves addressed with a choice of balanced and unbalanced connectors for left-channel, right-channel, and LFE (low-frequency effects) operation. Controls include continuously variable knobs for level, low-pass filter (30–80Hz), and phase (0–270°), plus an On/Off switch with a third choice for power-saving Auto mode, which detects an incoming signal and powers up the system accordingly. JI used two 140-lb BalancedForce 212s with his own MartinLogan Prodigy loudspeakers, and was impressed with the results—especially with the newly remastered Led Zep catalog: "Kick drum and bass were tuneful and heavy . . . yet there was no sense of bloat or bass 'effect,' and the tonal balance from top to bottom just felt right and real." The only performance negative: the audible clacking of the system in Auto mode. Perfect Bass Kit costs $100. (Vol.37 No.10 WWW)

SVS SB16-Ultra: $1999.99
Just as a big dog needs a big leash, a big woofer cone needs a big voice-coil, if only to prevent the cone from flexing and the coil from shifting in its gap. So in designing their SB16-Ultra powered subwoofer, SVS equipped its 16" driver with an 8" edge-wound voice-coil—a coil so wide that it runs outside the driver's four big toroidal magnets. Indeed, SVS says that the SB16-Ultra's voice-coil is, to date, the largest used in a commercial subwoofer. (The driver as a whole weighs 63.9 lbs, almost precisely the average birth weight of a Holstein calf.) Joining all that bigness is a 1500W class-D amplifier, a computerized bass-management system that, like the SB16-Ultra's basic controls, is operated from a Bluetooth-friendly smartphone app, and an "uncluttered" rear panel that, according to reviewer LG, includes both unbalanced (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs and outputs. LG was also impressed by the 122-lb SB16-Ultra's relative ease of installation, praising in particular its "smart" packaging, its four-page quick-start manual—and Merlin, SVS's online setup guide, which offers loudspeaker-specific recommendations for filter settings and the like. LG wrote that, after optimizing its setup, "it was clear that a single SB16-Ultra could produce more than enough bass extension and slam in my large listening room." (Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

B

Bryston 10B-SUB crossover: $4995 ★
The 10B features three balanced configurations—stereo two-way, monophonic two-way, and monophonic three-way—and proved extraordinarily versatile in managing crossover slopes and frequencies. LG heard no electronic edginess and noted only the slightest loss in soundstage depth. "I found the 10B-SUB's sound clear, transparent, and neutral—as good as I've ever heard from an outboard crossover." (Vol.18 No.5, Vol.28 No.11 WWW)

JLAudio E110: $1699.99 in Gloss, $1499.99 in Ash $$$
One step down from JL Audio's Fathom series is the Florida company's E-Sub line, the entry-level model of which is the e110 in black ash finish. (Add $200 for gloss black.) The self-powered (specced at 1200W RMS) e110 sports a 10" driver and pairs of RCA inputs and outputs. With the sub's crossover engaged, the output jacks provide a 24dB/octave, Linkwitz-Riley–filtered high-pass signal; when the crossover is defeated, they provide a buffered version of the same signal that appears on the e110's input jacks. Controls include level, filter defeat, filter frequency, polarity, and variable phase; the e110's specified frequency response is 25–116Hz, ±1.5dB (–3dB at 23Hz). KR, who relied on Audyssey and Dirac Live software for EQ chores, found that, in his room, "useful response was maintained to below 15Hz. Pretty impressive for a pair of 10" drivers!" And although, as KR observed, "two 10" subs couldn't 'load' the room" as his larger subs did, the E-Subs offered "deep, powerful bass." (Vol.39 No.9 WWW)

SVS SB13-Ultra: $1599.99 $$$
Weighing less than 100 lbs—a noteworthy accomplishment for a good subwoofer, per LG—the sealed-box SB13-Ultra is a compact (17.4") cube containing a 13.5" ferrite-magnet driver and a 1000W Sledge class-D amplifier. The SB13-Ultra lacks a remote control, offering instead a single-knob Integrated Function Controller next to its small LCD screen and balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) inputs and outputs. SV Sound offers, on their website, an automated setup advisor (called Merlin) that LG found helpful in integrating the sub with his Quad ESL-989 electrostatic panels. His verdict: "The combination of Quad ESL-989s and SVS SB13-Ultra rendered clean, dense, fast response for many different instruments, including kick and bass drum, synthesizer, and or timpani." LG concluded: "In its price range, it's the best subwoofer I've heard." The SB13-Ultra is sold direct from the Girard, Ohio, factory with a 45-day home-trial period and a money-back guarantee. (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

C

Tannoy TS2.12: $921 $$$
With a double-layer (50mm thick) MDF cabinet, two opposed 12" drive-units (one active, the other passive), an internal 500W class-D amplifier, and a bypassable, three-position low-pass filter with a continuously variable phase control, the TS2.12 offers a lot for its three-figure price. Moreover, as LG discovered, the Tannoy's small size (17.2" H by 16.75" W by 14.75" D) and reasonable weight (40 lbs) make it easier than some to schlep around the listening room. With the Tannoy supplementing his Quad ESL-989 electrostats, LG was "delighted by the deep-bass response" while playing some favorite pipe-organ recordings, and he enjoyed the "authority, solidity, and clear pitch definition that I didn't hear from my Quads alone." But other recently reviewed—and more expensive—subs "went substantially deeper in the bass" than the TS2.12, the extension of which in LG's room tended to roll off below 40Hz. (Vol.39 No.2 WWW)

Deletions

B&W DB1 no longer available.

COMMENTS
supamark's picture

You have the KEF Blade II listed class A full range, and the KEF Reference 5 in class A (restricted LF) yet their frequency respnse in JA's room is essentially the same at 20 Hz (both have a -10dB point below 20 Hz in JA's room)... what's up with that?

link to Ref 5 review measurements page:
https://www.stereophile.com/content/kef-reference-5-loudspeaker-measurem...

John Atkinson's picture
supamark wrote:
You have the KEF Blade II listed class A full range, and the KEF Reference 5 in class A (restricted LF) yet their frequency respnse in JA's room is essentially the same at 20 Hz (both have a -10dB point below 20 Hz in JA's room)... what's up with that?

Judgment call on my part.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

waynel's picture

Was surprised to see this amp on the list considering you said you could not recommend it.

John Atkinson's picture
waynel wrote:
Was surprised to see this amp on the list considering you said you could not recommend it.

This amplifier didn't measure well but I defer to my reviewers' judgments on sound quality when deciding on the ratings.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

supamark's picture

fair enough.

Joe8423's picture

but I've been reading JA's opinions for quite a while and I've concluded that his personal opinions on audio components are the product of terrible hearing and/or terrible taste. I have no criticisms of how he does his job as editor of stereophile. I just can't get my head around his opinions of specific components/speakers.

John Atkinson's picture
Joe8423 wrote:
I've been reading JA's opinions for quite a while and I've concluded that his personal opinions on audio components are the product of terrible hearing and/or terrible taste.

I do have my hearing checked regularly, so it must be my taste :-)

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mrkaic's picture

...this is a lovely artful reply. Congrats, dude!

Indydan's picture

This is off topic. But, Will Art Dudley or someone else be visiting and reporting on the Montreal audio fest?

John Atkinson's picture
Indydan wrote:
Will Art Dudley or someone else be visiting and reporting on the Montreal audio fest?

Art Dudley and Robert Schryer will be attending the Montreal show for Stereophile.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Indydan's picture

Thanks for the information.

FredisDead's picture

I have learned over the years not to take the rankings seriously, but these are essentially the same speakers, one designed for larger rooms and one designed for smaller rooms. I can't help but believe that the magazine is unduly influenced by John Devore's description of the O/93 as being built down to a lower price point. I don't think JD was fair to his own babies. Since it was Art Dudley whom was the major proponent of the O/96 and since he now has a smaller listening room, it would be great if he were to audition the O/93's in his new room and let us know if he hears a qualitative difference.

ken mac's picture

John [DeVore] has no influence on how we write or review his speakers.
I owned and reviewed many of Johns' speakers (owned 8, Super 8, Nines; reviewed Super 8s, 3s, Nines, O/93) long before I joined Stereophile.
The 2 speakers are not really alike, and not designed for different sized rooms, I believe. I've heard both many times and prefer my O/93s. John makes extremely natural sounding loudspeakers that work well in many systems, hence their popularity.

tonykaz's picture

I'm not much of a Fan of Vinyl nowadays but still... shouldn't there be a phono cartridge in the Same Class as that A+ Turntable for $30,000 or the one for $104,000 ? and.. are there only two "A+" Turntables ?

I can understand, of course. I was a Big Time Phono Cartridge Shop, once upon a time. I know fully well the difficulties involved in proper set up of Phono Cartridges and their Arm and all things tracking, etc,etc,etc,etc,etc,etc,etc..... phew.

Committing to review Phono Cartridges is an elaborate set of burdens to put upon any competent reviewer lacking an Assistant ( like ole HP at TAS had ).

We at Esoteric Audio reviewed ( and had "Active" ) every phono Cartridge we sold, it was an exhausting commitment. Koetsu was A+.

Proper playback of RedBook via one of the many A+ Rated Players is a God Send compared to the Mechanical Complexity of revolving mechanisms and those mechanical transducers having astonishingly low output.

My two great Audiophile Philosophers ( HR & Steve G ) still have vinyl "lives" and rather vast vinyl collection commitments that I'm happily well past, their commentaries have substantial merit because they both have that vast history of experiences giving them the heft of "Earned Confidence" so.....

Stereophile should give them both the A+ Recommended placement : HR for Writing and Steve G for Vlog.

Tony in Michigan

z24069's picture

The list once again contains (many of the same) names of some great offerings from many manufacturers.

It is still beyond explanation however (IMHO) how Esoteric offerings are totally missing from yet another issues of recommended components. The K-01X (now K-01Xs), Grandioso K1, etc...are among some of the finest digital playback gear (same to be said for the 2-box and 4-box options) in the world. Clearly they belong on this list and the lack of focus on evaluating and listing these products with their peers definitely needs to be cured once and for all.

Great issue over all; you are however missing several key entries from Esoteric and others.

Thank you,

John Atkinson's picture
z24069 wrote:
It is still beyond explanation however (IMHO) how Esoteric offerings are totally missing from yet another issues of recommended components.

I have explained this before. If we haven't reviewed a company's products in the past 3 years, they are not included in "Recommended Components." With the changes in Esoteric's US distribution, we have been waiting for things to settle down. However, we do have a review of the Esoteric N-01 scheduled for our August issue.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Ola Harstrom's picture

Was interested to see how this would be rated.

Is HR's coverage (Gramophone Dreams #11 -->so it should perhaps have been in the Fall of 2017 edition...?) not considered a formal review?

Tx!

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