When I received the e-mail from Carl Kennedy announcing that JL Audio’s new E-Sub line of subwoofers were shipping, I immediately asked him for two review samples. I knew I wanted a sub to go to one of the SoundStage! Network’s resident home-theater guys, but I also wanted one to come to me for review in a high-end two-channel system. An E-Sub e110 has landed with fellow writer Kevin East, which you’ll soon be able to read about on SoundStage! Xperience. I asked for the larger e112. About a week after Kennedy’s e-mail hit my inbox, the E-Sub e112 ($1900 USD in Black Ash, $2100 in Black Gloss) hit my front porch.
I guess I was expecting a lightweight, seriously scaled-down version of JL Audio’s Fathom f112. What showed up instead was a box heavy enough to warrant a few groans as I maneuvered it into my foyer and around corners. Although shy of the Fathom f112’s 115 pounds, the E-Sub e112 was still quite a haul: about 80 pounds, fully boxed; unboxed, a full 70. When I’d finally wrestled it into my listening room and unboxed it, I was surprised to see a gloss-clack cube that looked mighty similar to the Fathom. But then the two lines began to diverge, as the E-Sub revealed a character all its own.
The first of those divergences was the e112’s control panel. It’s on the sub’s top rear, covered by a rubberized bar secured with magnets. Remove the bar and you’re greeted with a number of controls that let you integrate the e112 into your setup. From left to right are the power-on LED, followed by a three-way Power switch that lets you turn the sub On or Off or set it to Auto, whereby the e112 automatically powers up when it senses a signal at its input. I used Auto for the entire review and never had a problem -- the e112 always switched itself on when it was sent a signal. Next is the Master Level control for setting gain, then a Crossover Off/On switch that lets you bypass the crossover controls completely -- useful if you were using the e112 with a receiver with its own built-in crossover functionality and wanted to use that, for best sound. Next is the Crossover Freq. (Hz) knob, with settings from 25 to 130Hz -- an unusually wide range that should allow the e112 to mate with systems that need support only in the lowest frequencies, all the way up to setups with dinky speakers that need bass reinforcement much higher in frequency. Next is the Phase (Deg.) knob, continuously adjustable from 0 to 280°, and last is the Polarity switch, which toggles between 0 and 180°. If you want JLA’s Automatic Room Optimization (ARO), you must spring for a Fathom. I think this is a reasonable tradeoff -- after all, most A/V receivers now include some form of room-correction software, and many, if not most, E-Subs will be used with just these types of AVR.
I appreciated the control panel being on top of the subwoofer as I integrated the e112 into my system. On the other hand, the connections and the amplifier heatsinks don’t need fiddling with once the cables are hooked up, so these are on the back of the e112, where such things are usually found. Here are two stereo pairs of RCA connectors, one each for line-level inputs and outputs. I used the inputs and ran my stereo speakers full range. If you’re using smaller satellite speakers, having the option of using the line outs to have the onboard crossover send only a high-pass signal to your main speakers would be quite useful. This 24dB/octave, Linkwitz-Riley crossover lets you create a multiway system optimizing the performance of both sub and satellites. If the crossover is turned off, the line outs can be used as a pass-through to power additional subwoofers.
There’s not much to say about the e112’s MDF cabinet, except that it has beveled edges and is nicely finished. Well, I take that back. There is one notable thing: there’s no front baffle on which to mount the driver -- the driver is the baffle. The e112’s 12” cone is built such that its mounting flange is square, and sized to serve as the front baffle. Rap on it and it feels like a thick piece of steel -- because that’s what it is. And with the cabinet’s dimensions (16.13"H x 15.5"W x 18.2"D) barely big enough to house the electronics and the driver itself, the e112, with metal front, is one dense little bugger.
The main deal here is that 12” driver. I was told that JLA spent lots of time and effort engineering a woofer that could match the 3” peak-to-peak excursion of their W7-series woofers, but that could also be manufactured at a cost that would allow the company to introduce their lowest-priced subwoofers ever. Looking at the driver itself, you’ll notice the widely spaced dual spiders, good for keeping the long stroke linear and therefore low in distortion. The motor was designed using JLA’s Dynamic Motor Analysis system, which helps them optimize the mechanical and thermal attributes of the drive-unit in the design phase. As you’ll see, the e112 proved quite potent in my Music Vault listening room. Powering the e112 is a 1500W class-D amplifier, of which the only parts visible are the generous heatsinks on the rear panel. Speaker-level inputs/outputs and an IEC power-cord inlet round out the rear panel, and a sturdy black grille is included if you want to hide that big black cone.
System and setup
I used the E-Sub e112 with a pair of Magico S1 speakers, two-way floorstanders capable of very high resolution. The Magicos were driven by a pair of Ayre Acoustics MX-R mono amplifiers, fed directly by the balanced outputs of a Calyx Femto digital-to-analog converter. The Calyx was connected to an Apple MacBook computer running Amarra music-player software, and the Calyx’s RCA outputs were connected to the line-level inputs on the e112. I used True Audio’s TrueRTA software to get the smoothest response possible in-room. The Magico S1s and e112 integrated quite easily, with the below in-room response the result of about 20 minutes of effort adjusting the crossover-frequency control (set at 60Hz, S1s run full range), phase control, and, of course, the level control. I placed the e112 just to the left of center in my room, on the same plane as the Magico S1s, which put it about 12’ from my listening position.
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” from Enya’s And Winter Came (16-bit/44.1kHz ALAC, Reprise), is capable of sounding simply huge. I listened to the track first with the subwoofer off, and heard crisp imaging and a wide soundstage that spread from wall to wall. The Magicos easily filled my room with rich, full sound, and transparency was at a very high level. When I added the E-Sub e112 to the mix, I first noticed an even fuller image of Enya placed dead center on the soundstage. There was more dimensional accuracy of the image of the singer, which I attribute, at least partially, to a deepening of the soundstage. There was greater overall envelopment -- a more wraparound sound -- with the music spreading out in all directions. Although the bass in this track is not of the punch-you-in-the-gut variety, it does add a subtle but important foundation to the music. The e112 was able to reproduce this without drawing attention to itself at all. It was only when I turned it off that I noticed it had been on.
Almost anyone who’s ever added a subwoofer to a system knows that the fuller reproduction of the foundation that low bass adds to most music is quite beneficial in re-creating the sense of live sound. When your walls, ceiling, and floor seem to expand to replicate the dimensions of the recording venue, it’s easier to close your eyes and suspend disbelief for a moment while listening to a favorite recording. I enjoyed this aspect of living with the e112 over the course of this review. Nor, surprisingly, was this underpinning of music limited to live recordings. Again and again, with various soundstages, I felt greater foundation underneath all types of music, and heard greater envelopment. There’s no question that, in a high-end system, the e112 can serve that purpose with aplomb. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to dial back the crossover to 40Hz and use the e112 with three-way floorstanding speakers with greater bass capabilities than the Magico S1’s. I think the e112 would still be quite a plus.
Satisfied that the e112 could plumb the bottom and render acoustical spaces with great power and depth, I decided to go higher in frequency to see what it could do with the kick-drum. Let’s face it -- when you add a subwoofer to your system, one of the first tests of your new acquisition is a track with kick-drum, to hear if that gut-socking impact that we all crave at one time or another has been enhanced. And when the sub isn’t able to meet the main speakers’ quality of sound, you end up disappointed. This has happened to me, and the result is that I usually dial back the crossover frequency so that sub handles only the very lowest bass.
To test the e112 in this respect, I chose Jack Johnson and Friends’ Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George (16/44.1 AIFF, Universal). The song “The 3 R’s” begins with a deep, tight kick drum that satisfies my inner need for bass impact. I listened to this track at peaks of about 95dB (at the listening position), and the tapestry of the music held together just perfectly. I felt the impact of each drumstroke in my chest and gut, just as I should, but there was zero muddying of the overall sound. Not once did the music become boomy or inaccurate in pitch. When Johnson’s voice entered, there was crisp, clear fidelity, with no unpleasant interactions between the e112 and the main speakers.
By this point in my auditioning I had already developed a tremendous amount of confidence in the e112. If you’ve played around with subwoofers -- integrating them, testing them, blowing them up -- you can perhaps subconsciously sense where their limitations are. It’s the same thing with full-range loudspeakers. You just know that you shouldn’t push the volume any louder, for fear of damaging something that will surely be costly to repair. With normal music listening, I never experienced this with the e112. But I also felt it necessary to find out just where the sub’s limits were, so that I could report it to you. So . . .
My reference track for energizing my room with great bass depth and power while maintaining articulation and pitch definition has long been “Norbu,” from Bruno Coulais’s music for the film Himalaya (16/44.1 ALAC, Virgin). The big bass-drum whacks at the beginning of the track should roll through the room from front to back, evenly energizing the space with tremendous weight and power. To say that the e112 handled this effortlessly is an understatement. But still, I was playing this track through the two-way Magico S1s, each of which has a single 7” midrange-woofer that was not being crossed over, which limits overall dynamic range. Had I pushed the volume too high, there’s no doubt I’d have reached the Magicos' low-bass limit long before reaching the e112’s limits. Which meant I was still unsatisfied -- I still didn’t know the limits of the e112.
So I did what anyone would do: I cut off the main speakers and played just the sub -- loud. The room was now fully pressurized, with the only noise at the listening position some slight rattling of the metal air vents in my ceiling. I moved right up to the subwoofer, and could only faintly hear some slight ruffling of the driver cone. My RadioShack SPL meter was registering peaks of 114dB at about 1m in front of the cone. The e112’s box was quiet, and the whole thing seemed quite composed. Most satellite speakers would be toast long before you reached those volume levels.
There were a number of other uses for the e112 in my system. I used it extensively for listening to Internet Radio while writing reviews. I was also surprised more than once at the bass content of various Netflix streaming releases -- such as the series Revolution, which is filmed in my hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. Never once did the e112 disappoint me with regard to its fidelity or its output capability. I have no question that I could obtain even more effortless bass, and likely more even response in my room, with multiple subs. Which raises a question: For the same list price of $4000, would you be better off with two e112s or, say, a single Fathom f113? Good question. On the one hand, the f113 would give you JLA’s ARO, which could prove critical in some rooms. The f113 also has balanced inputs, which would be an advantage in some installations (like those using an Ayre KX-R preamp, which has only balanced outputs). On the other hand, a pair of e112s could be spread across the room, for more even bass response without room correction. And room correction might be included in a receiver- or processor-based system anyway. I guess the point is that you could argue it both ways, depending on the system.
I was thoroughly impressed with JL Audio’s E-Sub e112 subwoofer. It provides true supersub performance in a handsome package that, in its Black Ash finish, doesn’t break two grand. It also comes from a brand you can brag about to your friends -- yes, pride of ownership matters in high-end audio. The JLA e112 could open up your speaker-buying possibilities, too -- you don’t have to buy that last octave. I certainly had a great time matching them with a super-resolution speaker like Magico’s S1.
At the end of the day, the E-Sub e112 is an output beast with fidelity to match. That’s worth the asking price in most any system. In fact, its performance makes the e112 the no-brainer buy of the year.
. . . Jeff Fritz
JL Audio E-Sub e112 Subwoofer
Price: $1900 USD in Black Ash, $2100 in Black Gloss.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
JL Audio, Inc.
10369 N. Commerce Pkwy.
Phone: (954) 443-1100
Fax: (954) 443-1111