Recommended Components: Fall 2018 Edition Subwoofers

Subwoofers & Crossovers


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 lb, 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 lb, 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)


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) 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 lb) 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)

SVS SB13-Ultra discontinued.

dalethorn's picture

I bought a AQ NightOwl Carbon when it was on sale, and I'm glad I did (get it on sale, that is). A weak bass and a weaker treble makes a very different headphone from the NightHawk. I wondered what Skylar was thinking when I purchased the NightHawk a couple years ago and broke them in. But as it turned out, a little bit of EQ and the NightHawk was a splendid performer. Not so the NightOwl - I gave it away - couldn't bear to take someone's money for it.

SimonK's picture

The NAD amps are in fact Class D's though they call them Hybrid Digital. They are power dacs with an output switching stage coupled to a DAC.

Axiom05's picture

When did this issue mail out? I'm still waiting for mine in Sarasota, USPS is so frustrating! It is not good when I can read the articles online before I receive my paper copy.

DougM's picture

With all the great budget CD players available from the likes of Marantz, NAD, Cambridge, and many others, you couldn't find one to recommend to your readers, but instead are still beating the dead horse of the PlayStation?, and grossly overpriced "portable players" and smartphones. The only actual CD player you could find that doesn't cost a small fortune is the Rega. You do a real disservice to your readers who aren't among the 1%. Another reason why I pay more attention to the British magazine What Hi-Fi 'cause they cover truly affordable electronics and speakers. Shame on you JA!