Finally received the F112's this afternoon. Since I ordered a pair of F112' and a Bryston 10B-Sub balanced active crossover and there are 3 components involved, I wanted to break this review into 3 parts. This way I could track the changes from single F112 to a stereo pair of F112's and finally integrating the 10B x-over. I will take notes and share the results so anyone interested in adding a sub/subs/x-over into their own system may find this helpful.
Part I. Singe F112.
After taking the well packed, double boxed F112 out of the boxes I proceeded to place the sub in the right corner of my room. Not much wiggle room in that corner but just enough to do some fine tuning with positioning as it turned out later.
The F112 features a single 12" long excursion driver in a sealed cabinet and 1500w built-in amp. I chose the gloss black finish. Elegant looking sub for sure. I feel the F112 is appropriate for my current 14x17 room. The F113 may have been just a touch too big dimensions wise as I have little room room to wiggle them between the wall unit and the corners of the room.
I've been preparing for their arrival by ordering a 30ft pair of balanced cables from BlueJeans. They use the extra low capacitance, braided and shielded Belden 1800F cable. Since I needed a 30ft pair, the price was right and there was no reason to buy anything more expensive in my mind for subwoofer use that will see 80Hz and lower at best. (Not at this point).
Since I needed the XLR outs of MDA for the subs before I can go back to them with the 10B, I've been listening to my system with RCA cables driving the 501s from the MDA to get used to the sound. Yes, there is a bit of a difference. The RCA cables make the system sound a bit "forward" with the soundstage a little closer than what I've been used to with the XLRs. There is also a little more energy up top as compared to the XLRs. The JL Audio folks recommend the balanced inputs for their subs and with 30ft lengths it was a necessity to go XLR anyway. The 10B will have balanced in and outs so I will be able to go back to XLRs for both the amps and subs.
Digging out my SPL meter and Stereophile test CD 3, I took base measurements from 200Hz to 20Hz with just my Guarneri for reference. The Guarneri are essentially flat from 200Hz to about 40Hz save for a few +/-2dB peaks and dips along the way. The bass falls off sharply below 40Hz. This is by far the flattest response I have measured with any of the previous speakers in my system.
Hooking up the F112 with both L and R XLRs straight out of MDA and setting it up as "master" as well as plugging it in is all it takes before the tweaking begins. The sub will sum the L+R channel in this configuration. Those with "sub out" in their pre/pro can just use the L/mono channel.
I decided to fine tune the sub with the SPL meter and get it to blend in as close as possible with the speakers before actually listening to music and fine tuning it by ear. I am not a bass freak by any means, I hate boomy, bloated or over-emphasized bass. I need natural bass that blends in smoothly and can be appreciated only in the context of recording and in such a way that no one would ever be able to tell there is a sub in a blind listening test. This is what I am used to and this is what I set out to achieve. The REL subs are very musical subs and I am familiar with them so the JL Audio Fathom F112 had its work cut out for it.
The F112 offers ample controls to achieve the desired result. Not to bore anyone with unnecessary details (one can download the manual and take a look at the controls as well as all the patents the JL Audio holds on their website, wow. http://home.jlaudio.com/products_sub...php?page_id=33
After fine tuning it with the SPL meter I arrived at the settings that gave me the smoothest response, crossed over at 37Hz, polarity at 180, phase at 45deg, elf trim at -8, master level set at approx 10 o'clock, essentially flat response from 200Hz to 20Hz, +/- 1dB from 80Hz to 20Hz. Some positioning changes in the corner was necessary to achieve this. This will be fun!!! I also ran the auto-calibration sequence which was fun and made the room and my teeth rattle with the included mike. The sub will self calibrate from 200Hz down to 20Hz and eliminate the highest peaks in the room response. I didn't notice a difference because it if did smooth out something along the way, I am only using the 37Hz x-over at this point with 12dB Low Pass filter slope.
Now to the important stuff. How does it sound? After a few hours of listening and tweaking the settings and positioning some more, basically arriving at the initial settings as the flat SPL response sounded the best to me in the end anyways.
I can say this, this sub has met and exceeded my expectations. It goes without saying that the single sub has added tremendous sense of weight and scale. Smooth, extended bass response down to 20Hz, maybe lower but I don't have any source material that offers any signals lower than 20Hz. I've spent some time listening to systems with well integrated subs but I have never realized that the spacious, three-dimensional soundstage is what the sub brings to the table.
I've always just assumed that the sub will add bass and enhance the bottom octave and the rest is due to speakers and their positioning/integration into the room. Well, this sub just added another dimension to my listening experience! The soundstage immediately opened up and deepened by a significant margin. Surprisingly this is noticeable all across the frequency spectrum, not just the bass. Bill from Sumiko has mentioned this effect to me, the pressurization of the room and recreation of the ambiance is what a good sub will bring. It's one thing to listen to someone describe it and another to witness this in your own system. I am very impressed with the results.
If anyone is rolling their eyes and saying, "oh, yeah, sure, another boom-boom bass lover" right about now. Trust me, there is none of that. I've never liked it, I've never had it in my system. The bass does not jump out at you. It doesn't rattle my room or floor unless there is over abundance of bass on the recording (my son will be happy when he listens to his trance/techno stuff on my system. ) My music sounds smooth and natural, there is no artificial bloat, no over-hang and no ripeness to any recording or instruments within them that I have listened to so far. I've tried various rock, jazz, blues and some classical recordings so far. I strongly prefer the smaller driver/sealed subs (REL being an exception) for their fast, tight, crisp and articulate bass response. This sub does not disappoint. It's not about the quantity, it's about quality!
I'd say that in my system the enhanced soundstage takes the award followed closely by the new found level of weight and scale, especially on recordings that benefit from it the most such as a few classical pieces I have come across so far. On recordings that have hard left or right bass instruments and drums, the instruments are defined with a holographic presentation and take on body and three-dimensionality unlike I have experienced before in my system with any of the speakers before these. Not that I've ever been able to achieve a smooth response like this with full range speakers in my room. Just not possible in my 14x17 room. This sub does it with ease. There is something to say about the realism of a complete drum set sitting well outside the boundaries of the speakers with proportional, realistic size and convincing, holographic presence. Close your eyes and you are there!
I'd say the F112 is very close if not the same performance that I have experienced from upper line REL subs. Of course this sub is half the price of an REL so I got a pair of them to see what that brings to the table, as well as the Bryston 10B to relieve the 501s and the speakers from some mid/low bass, essentially bi-amping in my system which does not allow to be bi-amped. (one pair of speaker binding posts only).
Stay tuned for part II. Stereo pair of Fathom F112's.