JL Audio Fathom F113 V2 13.5-inch Subwoofer Review
Tony O'Brien has a blast with a premium-priced, high achieving subwoofer…
Fathom 113 V2 13.5-inch Subwoofer
JL Audio's 'little' E-110 made quite a splash last year. Capable of producing agile and impactful bass, it surprised us by what could be accomplished with a relatively small driver. As good as it was, however, it couldn't dig down to the lowest frequencies, which remain the domain of larger drive units. So what of its bigger brother, the £4,350 Fathom F113 V2? The manufacturer claims a frequency response of 20-86Hz (±1.5dB), 18-127Hz (-3dB) and 16-154Hz (-10dB), and so it promises good things…
There's always a trade-off, however, so while bigger drivers are capable of digging lower, they usually lack the speed of smaller ones. Silvio Pupino, JL Audio's International Sales Director, assured me the Fathom is capable of achieving flare-flapping bass without overpowering the subtlest of recordings, going on to say that – as someone once said – “it floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee…”
The big Fathom uses a sealed enclosure to house its 13.5-inch driver; in fact, it's the same unit seen in the larger Gotham series subwoofers. Model design similarities aside, as with all JL subs it doesn't use off-the-shelf components – its driver, enclosure and electronics are all developed in house.
The W7 driver, for instance, is covered by no less than six US patents, among them the Fathom's large OverRoll Surround. This, Silvio explains, maximises the cone's radiating surface and provides huge excursion capability by bringing the surround to the outer edge of the driver frame. It also results in a larger cone surface. The driver, which uses JL's proprietary W cone design utilises a patented architectural reinforcement technique which allows rapid changes in speed and direction without distortion.
The frame uses a rigid cast aluminium design coupled to a powerful magnet assembly. Powerful magnet systems such as the one found in the Fathom, tend to generate excessive heat which in turn causes distortion or even premature failure. To avoid this, the F113 V2 uses JL Audio's Elevated Frame Cooling system which delivers cool air from slots above the top-plate directly to the voice coil of the speaker. It receives further cooling from JL Audio's Radially Cross-Drilled Pole technology, Silvio says. This not only enhances thermal dissipation and power-handling but improves sound quality and linearity by minimising dynamic parameter shifts and power compression.
Of course, moving a driver of such power and speed necessitates enormous amounts of energy. To this end, the F113 employs a Class D power amplifier capable of delivering a claimed 3,000W RMS peak power – yes, you read that right! Along with upgraded input and output circuits for superior signal linearity and better noise performance, the F113 V2 sports a twenty per cent increase in power over the V1. Unlike the smaller E-110, the F113 V2 offers parametric EQ in the form of JL Audio's proprietary DARO or Digital Automatic Room Optimisation.
Where I described the E-110 as svelte, the F113 V2 is anything but. When the 100kg box containing the Fathom arrived, it was abundantly clear this was a piece of equipment that wasn't going to come and go without raising eyebrows. For those hoping to sneak the Fathom into their system, you have been warned. It was also apparent JL Audio wasn't taking unnecessary risks when it came to transporting the big sub. The bottom of the box is reinforced by a purpose-built wooden pallet and 'doughnut style' feet, upon which the sub and its packaging rest.
As you might imagine, unpacking the Fathom isn't a solitary undertaking. Free from packaging and the cloth bag which protects the finish, it weighs in at a back-breaking 60kgs. At 419x489x489mm it's anything but inconspicuous, yet rest assured that it's a beautifully crafted speaker, with a finish that's second to none. And while piano gloss-black wouldn't have been my first choice of finish for a home theatre due to its reflective nature, it does give the Fathom a striking appearance.
The infinite baffle cabinet is finished with rounded edges that you don't see in many subwoofers, and the fabric speaker grill is magnetically affixed to the front of the Fathom. Removing it reveals the business end of things, that chunky woofer snuggly nestled into the OverRoll Surround.
You'll also find all the controls under the grill. These consist of level, power and input modes, as well as controls for the low pass filter mode (off and 12dB or 24dB), a variable crossover from 30 to 130Hz, polarity (0 or 180), variable phase from 0-to 280-degree and trim controls. DARO's control panel also resides here, which along with an input for the calibration microphone offers all of the necessary controls to calibrate the Fathom. It's at the back of the sub that you find unbalanced RCA connections and balanced Neutrik combo XLR/TRS jacks. There's also an XLR output to connect a second Fathom as a slave unit.
My hardwood floors were grateful for the absence of spikes and the inclusion of four sturdy rubber feet upon which this sub sits. With limited placement options, this big box ultimately found itself in the left-hand corner of my room, roughly 400mm from the back wall and 600mm in from the sidewall. The subwoofer's internal crossover was defeated, the Fathom connected directly to the sub output of my Anthem MRX-720 AV receiver.
JL Audio recommends that DARO calibration is run before any other room correction software. And while I did audition the Fathom with and without DARO, it couldn't be any simpler to use. Plug the microphone into the corresponding input on the sub, press the calibrate button and you're away, at least after a ten-second pause, giving you time enough to find your seat before the test-tones start. The process takes just a few minutes to complete.
Additional room correction (EQ) was completed with ARC Genesis. ARC also weaved its magic with the other loudspeakers in the system – VAF Signature i91 front and centres and i90 rear and overhead speakers, making for a 5.1.2 speaker layout. The video was handled by a Sony VPL-VW270ES 4K projector, Panasonic UB-9000 4K Blu-ray player and Apple TV with images projected on to a Severtson Cinegray 100-inch 16.9 projector screen.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the big Fathom couldn't quite match the speed and grip of my usual 10-inch VAF Veritas subs, or for that matter JL Audio's smaller E-110. What is surprising is how little the bigger sub yielded in terms of speed to the smaller ones. Its speed ensures that it complements the extension of the main speakers, without overwhelming them. Able to fill the listening room with powerful, visceral bass, it has real ability to dig into lower frequencies, making for an exciting listening experience.
Action films are what typically come to mind when evaluating subwoofers, yet a good one can add an extra layer of detail to even the subtlest of movie fare. Unusual for horror movies, Anabelle Comes Home has its share of ambient cues designed to unsettle the viewer, intermingled with the soundtrack and of course, more than a few jump-scares. Here it added a welcome extension to the eerie Dolby Atmos soundtrack without getting in the way of the other speakers. More often than not, the extension was felt rather than heard, making for a more engaging and exciting – if somewhat terrifying – listening experience.
Although many will favour the Fathom for its low-end extension, some may find the more tactile experience a little overwhelming. Such was the experience of my wife, herself no novice and usually at my side to audition/review gear in our own home theatre. When asked to be, this subwoofer can be the politest of guests, never intruding where unwanted. Yet feed it the likes of Fury and all bets are off.
As ferocious as the exchange between the American Sherman tanks and German infantry and AT guns, was the ferocity and speed with which this sub reproduced it. Watching this film on a good home theatre system is an experience that needs to be experienced to appreciate. Fed with a constant stream of material such as John Wick and Ready Player One, the Fathom F113 V2 continued to show its prowess in creating some of the most memorable home theatre experiences I've had in my listening room.
Loftier even than the Fathom F113 V2's asking price is its ambition to combine visceral bass with the speed of a smaller driver. This is an audacious goal, yet one that the JL Audio team has successfully pulled off.
Okay, so it isn't quite as fast as the 10-inch subwoofers that we've had in through our home theatre of late – but the difference is surprisingly small. Coupled with its ability to dig into the lower octaves, this subwoofer engages the viewer on a whole new level, one that's more felt than heard. Audition it when you possibly can.
Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator by day, and an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products by night. Tony has calibrated and worked with some of the best home cinema designers throughout Australia.
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