Mark Henninger takes a critical listen to a pair of premium-priced, powerful sealed 12" subwoofers.
Subwoofers may well be my favorite AV component. Back in 2013, I heard JL Audio subwoofers in a Keith Yates-designed home theater demo and took note of the exceptionally clean and dynamic quality of the bass.
It took a year, but I finally got my hands on a JL Audio sub to review for AVS. In fact, JL sent two subs, because the company finds using a single subwoofer presents problems when it comes to achieving a flat in-room frequency response. I strongly support this position. All else being equal, I always recommend including more than one sub in a sound system—with two (or more), you get smoother in-room response (depending on placement), as well as more output. Furthermore, for 2-channel listening, you can use a pair of subs in a stereo configuration for a true full-range audiophile experience.
JL Audio has a reputation for building some of the best subwoofer drivers money can buy. The company specializes in high-excursion drivers with extremely powerful motors, and the E-sub e112 is no exception. The moment you pick one up, it's obvious the enclosure contains much more heavy-duty components than found in less-expensive 12" subs.
Before we get into the review, take a quick look at the cutaway view of an E-sub. The driver takes up practically the entire enclosure! The result is prodigious output from a relatively compact package.
Inside the E112.
The e112 is a compact, 1500-watt, 12-inch sealed subwoofer featuring a front-firing driver. JL Audio lists its anechoic frequency response at 22-118 Hz (+/- 1.5 dB), -3 dB at 21 Hz and 120 Hz, and -10 dB at 17 Hz and 153 Hz.
The 73.5-pound e112 measures 15.5" (W) by 16.23" (H) and 18.39" deep. It comes in three finishes: Black Ash for $1900, and either Black Gloss or White Gloss for $2100. The enclosure is basically a cube, but beveled edges add an attractive design touch. Also—for fans of exposed drivers—the e112's 12-incher looks as impressive as it sounds.
JL's E-sub e112 looks great with the grill off.
Here it is with the grill on.
Signal-processing controls are top-mounted—a nice ergonomic touch that makes tweaking the sound a lot easier than subs with rear-mounted controls. The crossover has a true 2-way design, plus it's defeatable and offers an adjustment range of 30 Hz to 130 Hz.
Top-mounted controls make the e112 easy to set up and tweak when it's up against a wall.
The e112 has a stereo speaker-level input and a stereo line-level input on its rear panel. According to JL Audio, all of the sub's signal processing occurs in the analog domain, with minimal latency.
The e112's 2-way analog crossover is a 4th-order Linkwitz-Riley design, with a lowpass filter for the sub itself. When active, it offers a highpass filtered signal through stereo line outputs—perfect for 2-way systems. When the crossover is disabled, the line outputs produce a signal identical to the input; you can connect multiple e112s using this feature. Additional audio processing features include switchable polarity and a variable phase control.
While the e112 does offer convenient onboard controls for integration with 2-channel systems, for the majority of my listening I opted to bypass onboard signal processing. Instead, I relied on the bass management built into the Pioneer Elite SC-85 AVR
and the Crestron Procise PSPHD
7.3-channel pre/pro. I used the Elite for movie watching, and the PSPHD for music playback.
I placed the subwoofers in the front left and right corners of my room—not necessarily the most optimal positioning for the subs, but a common configuration that I've managed to make work with various other subs. The bass response at my main listening position varied by +/- 6 dB—nowhere near perfect, but usable. After applying Dirac room correction using a miniDSP DDRC-88A, the spread between peaks and nulls was reduced.
I used Dirac room correction to compensate for bass peaks and nulls at my main listening position.
I'm happy to say the twin JL Audio E-Sub e112s have produced exemplary bass over the hundreds of hours I've listened to them. I enjoyed every minute I had the subs in my system—plus they were a pleasure to look at.
Thanks to ample amplification, room gain, and their high-excursion drivers, the e112s easily reproduced sub-20 Hz bass in my studio. That crucial capability turns virtually any decent speakers into true full-range systems.
The twin e112s proved more than capable of producing earthquake-like rumbling, while also offering nuance and precision. At high volumes, the subs kept pace with aggressively bass-heavy music and movie soundtracks. When called upon to extract nuance from a quiet passage, they also rose to that task.
During the four months I had the JLs, I used them in conjunction with a wide variety of speakers, and never had a problem integrating them seamlessly; I always found a good crossover point and achieved a perfect blend. From the $270/pair SVS Prime Satellites
to the $6000/pair Thiel TT1s
, I found a lot to love when I used the e112s with engaging speakers. They were a key component in getting the most satisfaction out of every system I added them to.
The twin e112s paired up with Thiel's TT1 towers.
Whether I used them in stereo mode for music with the Crestron PSPHD or mono-summed as part of a 5.1.4 Atmos-capable system (with the SC-85 handling the processing), I found the e112s enthralling, thanks to their clean and impacting output.
Musically, the two e112s handled everything from the 16 Hz pipe organ in John Rutter's Requiem: Pie Jesu to the synthesized extreme low frequencies found in Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy soundtrack. Furthermore, the subs are proficient at playing one of my favorite jazz reference tracks: "Cotton Tail" by Duke Ellington, from the album Duke's Big Four.
The best thing about the e112s is how they reproduce tone and timbre. In a progressive metal track like Animals as Leaders' "Ka$cade" (from the album The Joy of Motion), you don't just hear the kick drum—you can tell how drummer Matt Garstka set up his kit and mics. All that nuance comes through, despite the music's density and intensity. In a smaller listening room like mine, the e112s offer that chest thump sensation I associate with a live performance in a venue equipped with a great PA—although not at the same insane SPLs you hear at some concerts.
Speaking of drums, the e112s ace Dead Can Dance's fantastic 2012 album Anastasis, which requires tight and fast bass response to reproduce the percussive instruments often featured in the group's recordings. David Axelrod's "Holy Thursday"—from the album Song of Innocence—featured drums so realistic, I could visualize the kit. It was hard to believe the recording was made in 1968.
Many modern movies contain unforgivingly brutal bass sound effects—including foundation-cracking explosions, subterranean bass sweeps, and infrasonic ambient drones—meant to instill fear or excitement at a subconscious level. The e112s consistently delivered a physically involving movie-watching experience. The re-release of Gravity on Blu-ray (with an Atmos soundtrack) offered a perfect demonstration of how these subs increase the sense of immersion by emulating the precise character of different bass sounds.
The JL Audio e112 is undeniably a luxury product, but compared to JL's top-tier subs (such as the $3500 Fathom f112), it's comparatively affordable. The e112 is a sophisticated and capable subwoofer design that audibly outperforms many other 12" sealed subs—but you do pay for that privilege.
Buying two e112s is not a trivial investment, but my advice is to go for twin subs if you can swing it. Of course, there are numerous less-expensive subs available, and a number of them offer excellent performance. Even so, by packing so much power and performance into the e112, JL Audio manages to offer a superior overall product in terms of performance, fit, and finish. The law of diminishing returns may be in effect with JL Audio's E-sub series—you get what you pay for, it just happens to cost a lot.
If you can afford two (or more) e112s, I can recommend that approach without reservation. If your subwoofer budget only allows one e112, it remains a compelling choice. Regardless of your budget, it's worth thinking about your bass-related needs before committing to subs in the $2000 price range—there's only so much a sealed 12" sub can do once you get under 20 Hz. However, despite the aforementioned caveats, in my opinion, JL Audio does pack enough premium performance into each e112 to justify its elevated asking price.
DIY PC (Windows 8) running Tidal and iTunes
Amplification and Processing
Crestron Procise PSPHD pre/pro
Crestron Procise ProAmp 7x250
miniDSP DDRC-88A Dirac Live processor
Pioneer Elite SC-85 AVR
Monoprice 12-gauge OFC speaker cables
Mediabridge Ultra Series subwoofer cable
Mediabridge Ultra Series HDMI cable
Behringer B215XL PA-style speakers
SVS Sound Prime Satellite speakers
Thiel TT1 Tower speakers