JL Audio E112 Subwoofer Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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JL Audio E112 Subwoofer Review

JL Audio E112

By Jim Wilson (theJman)



Introduction
The subject of this review is the JL Audio E112 subwoofer, the largest member of their new E Series line. The E112 utilizes an acoustic suspension design with a single 12" front-firing driver. Like all JL Audio subs it tends to be on the small side, with this one measuring just 15.5"x16.2"x18.4" (HWD). It's definitely a stout unit though, weighing it at a lofty 74lbs. The amp is listed at 1500 watts "RMS short term". The quoted frequency response is 21Hz-120Hz (-3dB).


Ordering
JL Audio sells their products through a dealer network, so finding one available on-line might prove to be a challenge. The review unit came with the black ash finish and retails for $1900. There is a 3 year parts and labor warranty.


Unboxing
The E112 came single boxed which most readers know by now is not what I expect, especially for a subwoofer costing almost 2 grand. At least it was thick cardboard but with the way shipping companies handle packages today I consider double boxing to be a necessity, and this is why...



Thankfully there was no damage, but that was more from luck than anything else.
[JL Audio sent me the following update on 3/5/14... Now on gen-2, the E-Sub IS double boxed with extra cardboard protection sheets adjacent to the box outer handles]

The unit itself was nestled between hard styrofoam blocks covering the entire top and bottom of the box. One interesting thing that JL Audio did was pack the subwoofer upside down. Generally what I do is cut the top flap of the carton, remove whatever protective shipping layer has been used and then tip the box over to slide out the subwoofer. What you have to do then is flip the unit back over to orient it properly. Since JL Audio packs the unit upside down when you liberate the E112 from the box like I do -- and probably most others do as well -- you end up with the subwoofer oriented correctly right from the get-go. Nice touch.

Once the E112 is unboxed you'll have to remove the protective plastic bag and then unwrap the cloth used to ensure the finish is unblemished. The grill was already mounted on the sub and was wrapped in a separate plastic bag. Except for it being single boxed the E112 was very well protected.

The only accessories were the owners manual and a 3 prong power cord.


Impressions
The E series is JL Audio's entry level product, but "entry level" comes with an asterisk in this case. Often that term carries with it a certain connotation, that being of a product where some corners have been cut in order to achieve a specific price point. Not here, because the E series is still a JL Audio subwoofer through and through - there wasn't a single aspect of the E112 that struck me as being a compromise. Think Mercedes Benz CLA Class; while it may be the "cheap" Benz it's still a Mercedes in every respect. And in the case of the E112 the best part is they're all hand made right here in the good 'ol USA (in Miramar, Florida to be precise).

The owners manual is first rate and covers absolutely everything. There are sections dealing with placement options whether you have one, two, three or even four E112's. Diagrams are plentiful and clear, with all the controls explained in detail using easy to understand wording. Each connection is painstaking described too. This is a very well executed manual.

The review unit came with the black ash veneer finish, which was by request actually. Most of the reviews I've seen on JL Audio subwoofers have been on the high gloss paint units, so I wanted to be different (probably not a shocking revelation for those who have read my previous reviews). The veneer was applied meticulously, with no obvious flaws. The cabinet feels solid and has a somewhat unique 45 degree angle cut on the edges. Normally subwoofers have either 90 degree corners or a slight roundover, but JL Audio went with 45 degree cuts instead. It makes for an easily identifiable profile.

It's constructed from .75" MDF everywhere but the front panel, which is 1". There is a .75" window brace in the middle of the driver portion of the enclosure, with an additional full panel used to shield the amp from the driver. The build quality is excellent, with obvious care taken during assembly. Even the glue seams were perfect. One interesting thing to note is that JL Audio doesn't utilize any damping material - rare is the acoustic suspension subwoofer that doesn't use some type of stuffing or lining on the interior. The only real issue I noted was that not a single screw holding the amp in place was torqued down, each needing at least 2 full turns to snug them. Oddly, every other screw was perfectly tight.

One word immediately jumped to mind when I saw the driver JL Audio uses in the E112; imposing. OK, so massive, striking and monstrous would work equally well, but I'm going with imposing. This thing is a beast, plain and simple, easily towering over the competition (literally and figuratively). Where does one even begin to describe this colossus? Perhaps the 12 spoke cast aluminum basket is appropriate, the deepest I've ever seen. That frame cradles dual spiders, which combined impart an extraordinary level of mechanical stability. Good thing too since this driver has 3" of linear (key word) peak-to-peak excursion! The polypropylene cone and huge half roll rubber surround are securely nestled in a .25" steel plate that forms the entire front of the enclosure and is held in place by 4 very large screws (one in each corner). Out back are a pair of huge slug magnets that are topped by a bolted on collar assembly. The collar is used to help support the back of the driver by means of a corresponding cut-out in the interior wall that separates the amp from the rest of the enclosure. So what does this impressive piece of engineering weigh? How does 42 pounds strike you. Now that is a driver.

The grill is constructed from a heavy plastic lattice frame with very transparent material stretched over it, along with a discrete JL Audio emblem at the bottom. It attaches to the steel front panel by four large rubber pins that have ribs to ensure a secure and tight fit. Like almost everything else about this subwoofer it appears to be well engineered, overbuilt even.

Most powered subwoofers have their adjustment dials and switches mounted to the amp on the back of the cabinet, generally making them difficult to access. JL Audio opted to move those controls to the top of the amp instead. That means it's effortless to make changes, so no more grabbing a flashlight and rooting around to adjust something. If you would prefer a more stealth look the controls can be hidden with the included cover, which is a rubber coated plate held on by magnets. It makes things look streamlined, but I did find a few head scratchers with this particular design.

For example, the LED power indicator ends up underneath that rubber cover. Want to know what state it's in with the cover on? You're out of luck I'm afraid. Another oddity is the power switch goes off/on/auto, as opposed to off/auto/on. What's wrong with that you say? The way JL Audio has it setup you always have to turn the amp On before you can select Auto. The same thing holds true when you want to shut it Off; the way the switch works you end up turning the amp On if you're in Auto and want to simply shut it Off. Not the most logical approach. The amp is somewhat lazy to wake up from standby too, requiring a bit of volume before it springs to life. Well, springs to life might be a misnomer; first there are a few clicking sounds, almost as though relays are energizing, and then a couple of seconds later you start to hear bass. Thankfully the E112 doesn't go into standby mode until it should, taking about 20 minutes of inactivity to do so.

One surprising omission is the exclusion of a balanced (XLR) input, which is unusual for a subwoofer in this price range. There is a pair of unbalanced (RCA) inputs and outputs, along with a terminal block for high level inputs. The latter input is used for 2 channel systems connected to a receiver that doesn't have integrated bass management. The terminal block in question is made from thin plastic, and certainly not befitting of a subwoofer in this price class. In order to hook up your speakers the terminal block is removed from the amp, at which point you connect the positive (+) and negative (-) cables from your speakers. Once the wires have been attached you plug the block back into the amp and you're ready to go. I like the overall concept and design, it's just the choice of materials could have been better. It doesn't appear as though the terminal block will accept wires thicker then 16 gauge (OK, so maybe not everything is overbuilt).


Listening
My living room is 13x17x8 (1768 ft^3), so it's not terribly large. The main seating position is approximately 11 feet from the subwoofer. All testing was done after the unit had been broken in for at least 15 hours.

JL Audio has never been known as a company who makes products for those interested in bass that merely goes "boom, boom, boom". Instead, they cater to discerning individuals who appreciate nuance and detail, balance and poise. In other words, my kind of sound. Being a fiend for accuracy and precision meant the E112 and I got along very well. It was near impossible to make this thing sound bad. To be honest, I'm not sure if I ever did; as you crank up the volume it just gets louder and louder, yet it never loses composure. Physics eventually step in and say "that's all she wrote", at which point the limiter simply won't allow the sub play any louder. No theatrics, no melodrama.

What makes this all the more impressive is when you consider how much the driver is actually moving. Generally speaking, the more excursion the more potential there is for distortion. Not in this case; even with a mind boggling 3" of travel the sound remains clean and precise, with the E112 seemingly always under control. But don't think transient response suffers due to all that movement, because it doesn't; this thing starts and stops on a dime, and gives you 9 cents change to boot. Guess that's part of what the extra $$ buys you; unflappable manners.


Movies
I run each test scene twice; once while seated in my normal listening position, and then a second time while sitting a few feet from the subwoofer. This allows me to hear it as I normally would, yet also affords me the opportunity to determine if the subwoofer is straining even the slightest bit. Both tests are run at the same volume level, which is slightly above what I would normally use on a day-to-day basis.

Avatar (blu-ray)
I haven't seen this movie in a little while, and I figured it might give the E112 a bit of a workout, so I fired up the OPPO and popped the disk into the tray.

The approaching gunships during the Assault On Home Tree were powerful, with a nice rumble produced from their engines. As the military begins to attack Home Tree with their arterial barrage -- fully intent on toppling it -- they initially fire gas rounds in the hopes of scattering the Na'vi, the native people of the planet Pandora. Every time one of those canisters burst open to deliver its payload the E112 let out a solid thud. The incendiary rounds they shot off next exploded with authority, while the missiles they finished up with had excellent attack (no pun intended) and decay; no sounds lingered or seemed bloated.

Home Tree ultimately succumbs to the onslaught of fire power though, and eventually comes tumbling down. As its massive roots begin to buckle and collapse the cracking sound they make was produced convincingly, with a distinctive crunching noise. A little less convincing was when Home Tree crashes into the ground; the impact could have used a touch more depth in order to make the sensation palpable. What I was most impressed with though was the poise and clarity that the E112 had as it went about its business. Everything just seemed to be properly balanced and well defined, with nary a sound out of place.

Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring (blu-ray)
After Avatar I decided to keep the 'familiar old friends' theme going and dug up LOTR. Anyone who has read my past reviews probably knows where I started out, The Bridge Of Kazad Doom scene.

As the Fellowship is fleeing the cave city Moria -- with a horde of Orcs hot on their tails -- the soundtrack slips in a quick little orchestral piece which the E112 seemed to like because it came across with an unexpected force. The Orcs finally do catch up to the Fellowship and surround them, but just before the savages can swoop in for the kill the Balrog makes his presence known by letting out an ominous growl. All I heard was pure clean bass, without so much as a hint of protest in spite of the -10dB my AVR was registering.

The Balrog causes the Orcs to flee in terror, which the Fellowship also does as soon as they're out of sight. While retreating they find themselves in a huge cavern where the only escape route is to go down a long circuitous staircase to the bottom level. The Fellowship haven't shaken the Balrog though, as he's fast approaching from behind. The closer he gets the more his pounding footsteps cause the walls of the cave to crumble and fall apart, and the E112 played right along by producing deep and authoritative effects brilliantly conveying the destruction raining down upon the Fellowship. I found myself amazed at the uncanny poise and composure of the E112. This thing is virtually unflappable.

Battle: Los Angeles (blu-ray)
For the person who likes a thrill-a-minute movie, where a lot of things get shot or blown up, this one is a must see. As the name implies it takes place in Los Angeles, which happens to be one of a number of cities around the world being attacked by aliens. All manner of chaos ensues because of that, making this an excellent subwoofer torture test. As it turns out, for a "blow 'em up" type of movie the soundtrack is surprisingly polished and well edited.

In spite of the alien assault, at its heart this is a story of redemption for Marine Staff Sargent Michael Nantz. Sargent Nantz's last op went bad and a few soldiers under his command lost their life. As we come to find out it wasn't Nantz's fault, but everyone is looking at him as though it were. He also blames himself, which results in him lossing his confidence. So wracked with guilt is Sargent Nantz that he files his discharge paperwork, but before he can get it processed the aliens attack and he's called back into action to lead a squad of Marines deep into LA to extract half a dozen civilians who have been trapped at a police headquarters.

One of the most brutal scenes, from a subwoofer perspective, is the battle that takes place on the bridge. It's here where the Marines and civilians get trapped by the aliens as they're attempting to escape Los Angeles and make it to the FOB (Forward Operating Base) for extraction. The onslaught begins with the aliens firing mortar rounds at the bus they've commandeered and are using for transport, explosions the E112 faithfully produced with a resounding thump. The Marines return fire, mostly with M16's, and the bullets absolutely ripped through the air. At one point a Marine gets access to a 50 cal and starts blasting away. Those shots were rendered emphatically, with a strong kick.

As the fighting progresses there are explosions in both the foreground and background, each of which the E112 lent the correct amount of weight to enabling me to get a sense of depth regarding where they were in the soundfield. The bass was deceptively good and remarkably balanced throughout, equally at home with subtleties and bombast. I ran this scene twice actually, once at my customary elevated volume and again at barely more than a whisper. The E112 was rich and detailed, regardless of the output level.


After all the testing had concluded I checked the amp to see how hot it had gotten, but it was little more than warm. I pushed this thing hard, yet in spite of that the amp never gave any indication of it. Gotta love when something is properly engineered.


Music
JL Audio is renown for sound quality and the E112 is no exception, clearly adhering to the company ethos. Regardless of what I played, how high or low the volume, how challenging and complex the passage, dynamics and transient response were superb. The output was always nimble, never once being confused or overwhelmed by what I had chosen. I don't lightly bestow the term "musical" on any subwoofer, but the E112 certainly fits my description of the word.

Cream - White Room Live (Streaming)
Ask anyone with a few years under their belt to list the most influential rock bands of all time and names like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple will invariably be part of the conversation. I have absolutely no argument with any of those, but two groups I never thought got the recognition they deserved were The Who and Cream. I'm going to pay a little respect to the latter of the two.

Cream was a "power trio" that consisted of bass player Jack Bruce, drummer Ginger Baker and the incomparable Eric Clapton on guitar. They lasted less than 3 years, but in that time they produced 4 albums and some of the most highly regarded songs of the era. Most of us 'elder statesmen' will clearly remember Sunshine Of Your Love, Crossroads, Spoonful, Tales Of Brave Ulysses, Strange Brew, Badge and White Room. Bet you forgot just how many hits they made in such a short period of time, didn't you? Sadly Cream imploded because Bruce and Baker hated each others guts. What a shame too because I can only imagine what else they could have written if those two weren't constantly at each others throat.

White Room came from the Wheels Of Fire album, which was my 2nd favorite from their catalog (Disraeli Gears was number 1 for me, an album produced by Felix Pappalardi who later went on to form a band called Mountain). However, the version I used for this review was not the original mix -- which had limited dynamic range unfortunately -- but instead was from Cream's 2005 reunion tour that was recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Modern electronics, plus a bass player and drummer who no longer detested each other, made for an extraordinary concert.

I have been to well over a hundred live shows in my life, and no that's not an exaggeration. There's something about the kidney punch of the rhythm section that's simply addictive for me, so I keep going back for more. Call me a sadist if you must but I never get enough of it, and in this recording they nailed that primal sensation perfectly. The bottom end seems to be recorded on the hot side, but in actuality it's just like the real thing. I was left in awe as Baker's right foot pounded away, while Jack Bruce was simultaneously making his bass guitar growl. The E112 absolutely ate it up, anchoring the low end with music that was sharp, precise and hard hitting. I was transported back to those innumerable live shows, albeit without having to pay the exorbitant parking fees this time.

Wings - Junior's Farm (Streaming)
I decided to delve into my past some more and chose another song from a bygone era. This one comes from the second album of Paul McCartney's post-Beatles band called Wings. Junior's Farm was written by Sir Paul and his wife Linda, and was rumored to be an ode to Curly Putnam's farm (where they were staying while recording some music). Curly was a musician himself, but probably like most of you I don't really know much about him or his music.

The lyrics for Junior's Farm are complete nonsense -- I was talking to an Eskimo, Said he was hoping for a fall of snow, When up popped a sea lion ready to go -- but the energetic and driving rhythm draws me in every time. Paul may have eschewed his signature Hofner bass guitar for this one, which I consider tantamount to heresy, but I suppose even he gets a mulligan every once in a while.

The bass lick has an almost "rubbery" sound to it, which could prove tricky for less articulate subwoofers to produce, but the E112 simply laughed at the challenge. No matter how hard I pushed it this subwoofer seemed to be right at home, playing every note with rich detail.

Tony MacAlpine - Serpens Cauda (CD)
As much as I love to revisit the music that started it all for me -- the early stuff, which the previous two songs represent -- I decided to finish up with something a bit more current. Truth be told, I could probably listen to music every waking minute of the day. My parents got me hooked from an early age, openly fostering the insatiable appetite I have to this very day, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Tony MacAlpine is one of those rare finds, a person so talented that you wonder how come he has so much of it and you have so little. Tony plays guitar for the most part; 6, 7 and yes, even 8 string versions! He's equally adept at the bass and keyboards, so he's anything but one dimensional. I almost hate him because of it but then I put in one of his CD's and all that fades away, replaced by a sense of awe which few people are able to inspire within me.

For those of you who have read any of my previous reviews, and are familiar with my propensity to blast high energy songs, you probably already concluded that I cranked this one to ear-bleeding levels. Well surprise, you're wrong! By this point in the evaluation I was already convinced the JL Audio E112 had the goods to play loud without straining, so I dropped the volume to a hush in order to gauge low-level resolution. Yes my friends, I decided to throw everyone a curve (myself included).

The drummer on Serpens Cauda, Virgil Donati, must confuse his right foot with a jackhammer because throughout this song he spews triplet after triplet, often times in blindingly quick succession. The E112 was completely unperturbed by the pounding and never blurred a single one of them, hitting each with avidity. After I had jotted down my review notes I simply restarted the song, closed my eyes, tipped my head back and enjoyed a second pass, only this time -- you guessed it -- I cranked the volume. And the results? Equally impressive, just louder.


Conclusion
There are some very talented people working at JL Audio. I've often wondered why their subwoofers were expensive, and after hearing one of them myself I now understand how they can command a premium price. This is bass for the discriminating individual, no doubt about it. The control and fidelity the E112 is capable of was stunning, definitely the type of bass I crave, and yet this model is from JL Audio's "entry level" product line. It is a bit pricey by conventional standards, but if you can swing one your ears will surely thank you. Dignified and composed are words not often associated to a subwoofer, yet in this case they're apt. Throw in precise and dynamic and what you end up with essentially describes the JL Audio E112 perfectly.


Please use the JL Audio E112 Discussion Thread for questions and comments



JL Audio E112 Pictures




JL Audio E112 Measurements
These measurements were taken using XTZ Room Analyzer II Pro. The unit was indoors, physically positioned in the center of my listening room with no other speakers running.

This represents the overall frequency response


This represents the Spectrograph from the driver

-Jim

If you take yourself too seriously, expect me to do the exact opposite

Last edited by theJman; 03-05-14 at 03:03 PM. Reason: Updated packaging information
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