JL Audio Fathom f112v2 Review
By Stephen Hornbrook on
The JL Audio Fathom f112 has been highly praised in the audio community and the new version 2 arrives with some solid updates. Chief among them is the updated room calibration system. The Fathom subwoofers have a built-in system called D.A.R.O. or Digital Automatic Room Optimization. The previous models employed an analog system known as A.R.O. which is limited to a single frequency. Moving to the digital domain has allowed the JL Audio engineers the ability to equalize with 18 bands. The new version also employs an updated driver and better amp capable of more output with lower distortion.
These are some of the best subwoofers money can buy. They are compact, especially given the amount of bass they output, and beautifully constructed. Bass output is clean with tons of impact. The new D.A.R.O. is easy to run and does an excellent job at smoothing out bass response. If you are looking to build a reference quality home theater, a pair of JL Audio Fathom f112v2’s should be your foundation.
Build Quality / Looks
The JL Audio Fathom f112v2 comes in a high-grade piano gloss black finish. It is a beautifully constructed piece of audio equipment with smooth curved edges and impeccable craftsmanship. These are expensive units at $3,700 each, but they look the part. With the grill removed, access to the front panel controls is easy which comes in handy for tweaking the sub.
The back of the unit features two massive vertical heat sinks that keep the 1800 watt switching amplifier cool. It has balanced and unbalanced inputs along with a balanced output for use in a multiple subwoofer system.
The f112v2 is not huge, but it is dense and heavy at 117 back-breaking pounds each. Getting the two units upstairs to the home theater room required help from Chris. These suckers are heavy! A solid cabinet with some heft is always a good sign of a proper subwoofer. The packaging is well done and taking the subwoofers out of their boxes is a cinch. We placed the two against the front wall of the home theater, between the two main speakers. Setup one as master and connected the second via balanced XLR cable as slave. The master/slave setup allows D.A.R.O. to run its calculations and adjustments for both subs simultaneously.
JL Audio Fathom f112v2 Features
The Digital Automatic Room Optimization is the main new feature in version 2 of the JL Audio Fathom subwoofers. D.A.R.O combines a built-in mic input on the front panel, a calibrated microphone, and a DSP chip to work its magic. The calibration process produces a series of tones that allow the DSP to calculate and configure an 18-band ? octave equalizer. The self-generated calibration tones allow the microphone to discover any frequency bumps that may happen in the room.The equalizer then reduces output to cut those peaks, resulting in a flatter response curve. Unlike some other RoomEQ systems, D.A.R.O. doesn’t try to correct for bass nulls in the room. Trying to do this causes extra strain and distortion and isn’t recommended.
Running the calibration is about as easy as I can imagine it being. Connect the calibrated microphone to the front input, place it in the main seating position and hit the calibrate button. The subs play white noise for three minutes so just sit back, have a beer and let them do their thing.
Subwoofer placement can make a big difference in room response. Generally speaking, for greater output, a corner is best. Since I run corner bass traps on the front wall of my home theater, I moved the subs inward, between each front speaker and the center channel. With how easy it is to run the D.A.R.O. calibration, there’s no reason to not experiment with room placement. If you have carpet, these furniture moving pads make it easy to slide the heavy sub around.
JL Audio Fathom f112v2 Performance
The JL Audio Fathom f112v2’s made their debut in my home with the latest Mission: Impossible film, Rogue Nation. The BMW car chase scene and the following motorcycle chase shows off the effortless low-frequency energy the Fathom F112v2’s are capable of. Strong rumbling, quite guttural at times, yet never congested or boomy, bring a new level of appreciation for home theater sound. I will say the most amazing aspect of the new JL Audio Fathom f112v2 subwoofers are their ability to disappear. Chris and I were both amazed to the point of having to crawl up to the subs to make sure they were on during the scene featuring Puccini’s Turandot and that beautiful song “Nessun Dorma”.
Continuing the Tom Cruise trend, I popped in a couple more of his starring role films, the first being Edge of Tomorrow. The movie begins with an abrupt series of low and loud frequencies. Set on the reference level setting, the two Fathoms brought my entire house into the movie mix. It’s quite a phenomenal experience to hear and feel such deep, yet clean low frequencies.
Most listeners have heard plenty of distorted bass on cheaper speakers and subwoofers, or the over-taxed audio systems at the local cinema. Hearing the subtle textures of high quality bass output with low distortion can be a religious experience and the JL Audio Fathom f112v2 subwoofers are capable of that. Those textures I speak of are well represented in our third Cruise flick, Oblivion. The spherical A.I. drones feature a language of their own, comprised of beeps, wrrrs, and low frequency blurps. All the subtleties put into the mix are masterfully recreated by the pair of Fathom f112v2’s.
Listening to the lightcycle battle in Tron: Legacy, the dual Fathom f112v2 setup is intense at reference level. The subs send seismic rumbles across the floor and through my feet. Bass output is high enough with dual f112v2’s to get my neighbor’s attention as they came by to see what was going on. With just one subwoofer running, the grumbles and rumbles of the lightcycles are powerful and well-defined, but not as room filling and spread out as with two. There’s still some localization with running one sub where your mind can tell the general area bass is coming from. Having two creates a wall of bass.
Just one f112v2 will do most people and rooms justice, so why would anyone need more than one subwoofer? Need and want are two separate things, but here are the benefits of running more than the typical one subwoofer. Creating the low-end frequency spectrum requires moving large amounts of air in a controlled, precise fashion. One JL Audio f112v2 can output a lot of bass, but that 12” driver only has so much surface area to work with. Adding a second (or third or fourth) sub allows more surface area to move more air with less work. Less work on each sub means less distortion.
Spreading out the low-frequency emanation at different points in the room can also help to even out room response. If you want some technical analysis, Harman has a presentation showing the benefits of multiple subwoofers in different locations of a room you can read here. The room calibration works great as it tries to fix these issues, but the less work D.A.R.O. has to do, the better things are going to sound.
For music, the 5.1 SACD mix of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here is a solid test. I dialed down the level a tad from the reference setting. With the master slave setup, it’s a simple matter of toggling the Level Mode switch from “ref” to “variable” and adjusting the knob on the master sub. This adjusts the slave to the same level. Bass during “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” disappears into the soundstage produced by my main speakers. The taught, clean low frequencies produced by the f112v2’s make them an excellent choice for music reproduction.
Compared to the Paradigm Prestige 1000SW
Similarly priced and sized, the Paradigm Prestige 1000SW makes for a good comparison against the JL Audio Fathom f112v2. Both have a 12” bass driver, but the Fathom is a little smaller. The Fathom sits closer to the floor without the isolating feet and spikes that the Paradigm has. This translates to more low-frequency energy transferring from the sub to the floor and house. Of course, some aftermarket spikes or a granite slab would take care of this.
Both units come with room optimization solutions and they both have their pros and cons. With the Paradigm Perfect Bass kit, you have to connect the sub and mic to a computer and run the software from there. It’s not difficult, but it is a few extra steps and sometimes the USB connection fails. On the plus side, the PBK measures and calibrates for many listening positions whereas the JL Audio only calibrates from one spot. Each room correction algorithm does a good job and cutting peaks and not trying to boost room nulls. Performance wise, the subs are close. With the Paradigm I felt a bit more punch, especially in the 40-80Hz range.
The JL Audio is better at disappearing and blending with my main speakers. The dual f112 setup disappears best while the difference between a single Paradigm or JL Audio f112v2 is not as clear. Both are excellent choices in the high-end subwoofer category.
There’s no doubt that a $3,700 subwoofer, let alone a pair of them, is not for everyone. For those that are able to invest in a high-end sub, the JL Audio Fathom f112v2 is a superb choice. Fit and finish reflect the investment that goes into this reference quality unit. Bass output is anything but shy and wonderfully tight and detailed thanks to the low distortion. The Digital Automatic Room Optimization does a fine job at smoothing out room response and is easy to use.
The master/slave configuration makes it easy to add more Fathom f112v2 subs. You can start with one to find out just how much bass that produces in your room. Down the road you can add a second or go for it with one in each corner. The JL Audio Fathom f112v2 is a fine update to an already excellent subwoofer and one of the best subs money can buy.
Beautiful build, impressive performance, relatively small package.
High performance comes at a cost.
New room calibration system, better amp and driver make the version 2 of the JL Audio Fathom subs even more enticing.