JTR Speakers Captivator 118HT
By Jim Wilson (theJman)
The subject of this review is the brand new Captivator 118HT
from JTR Speakers. This is a bass reflex subwoofer utilizing a custom 18" driver in a fairly large enclosure, measuring 30"x20"x22.5" (HWD) and weighing right around 100 pounds. Motivating the driver is a 700 watt RMS class D amplifier. Stated frequency response is 22-150Hz +/-1dB, which is an incredibly tight 2dB spread (most manufacturers quote +/-3dB, which is a 6dB spread). JTR claims "in room response below 17hz", an assertion which should prove true due to the 17Hz port tune.
is a classic Internet Direct (ID) company, selling everything from their own website. JTR actually has two divisions, one that caters to the live music reproduction industry while the other offers products for home theater and 2 channel listeners. The Captivator 118HT retails for $1299 and includes a 5 year warranty on everything but the amplifier, which comes with 3 years of coverage.
The Captivator 118HT came single boxed, but the cardboard used was very thick and sturdy. The subwoofer was packed on its side, cradled all around by 2" sheets of hard styrofoam. I dislike hard styrofoam because of the excessive number of BB pellet sized pieces of material it invariably leaves behind, and it was no exception here. Ready your ShopVac because there will be stuff to clean up after unboxing. Although hard styrofoam is old school the stuff does protect from shipping damage very well so it's understandable why JTR uses it.
The subwoofer was in a thick plastic bag, as was the grill. A standard 3 prong power cord is included. Missing was any type of owner's manual or 'quick start' guide. This is the third JTR subwoofer sent to me in the past year and none of them included documentation so I wasn't surprised when I didn't receive anything this time.
As you've probably already surmised from the dimensions, the JTR Captivator 118HT won't simply disappear into most rooms. Big bass does require big enclosures though, so it's right in line with how the company positions it. Their website says the unit is covered in matte black paint but the review unit wore the company's more typical LineX truck bedliner instead. The application was first rate with no drips or visible seams. If LineX does not suit your fancy other finishes are available for a nominal upcharge.
The enclosure has a slight roundover on all the edges, softening the appearance somewhat. Constructed from 18mm (about .70 inches) Baltic birch plywood - not the more conventional MDF - it feels both sturdy and solid. Inside there are horizontal braces along each side wall, at about the same relative height as the amp is mounted. On the underside of the top panel there's also a cross brace between the side walls. The entire interior is lined with 1" sheets of acrylic foam, neatly cut and glued to the walls. There are no feet, nor are there any provisions for them (such as threaded inserts).
Like all previous JTR subwoofer grills I've seen, the one on the Captivator 118HT is a bit thin. Excellent custom drivers, well built cabinets and top quality amps are unmistakable JTR hallmarks, but grills? Not so much. Made from a sheet of .25" plywood that's been sanded smooth and painted black, it does flex somewhat. The fabric material is quite transparent and was not only glued on but stapled as well. The whole thing attaches to the cabinet using felt-covered magnets and when placed on the subwoofer aligns itself well. The framework has two cut outs above the driver for what appears to be a pair of ports, yet the correct orientation of the grill puts those cutouts such that they're effectively covering nothing. The actual ports in the cabinet are always visible, regardless of how you install the grill, and are positioned below the driver anyway. One thing this grill did do, that I was glad for, was it stayed put. My past experience with other JTR subwoofers has shown that once things get loud the grill is unceremoniously catapulted off by air movement from the driver. Not so with the 118HT because the grill remained on during the entire review, and yes I did push the volume on numerous occasions to see if I could make it end up on the floor. In spite of my best efforts it was resolute and stayed put.
The 18" driver is a unique JTR design made by none other than the fabled Eminence. A company known for their quality and attention to detail, this is certainly a good foundation for a subwoofer. Featuring a rigid paper cone held in place by a 4 rib accordion surround, it offers a generous 19mm of xmax. Motivated by a dual stack magnet housed in an 8 spoke metal basket, this driver weighs in at a hefty 41 pounds. Roughly three stone, and this is what JTR considers a lightweight driver?
They went with a top-tier company for the amplifier as well: SpeakerPower. When the conversation turns to who makes the best plate amplifiers the name SpeakerPower is always high on the list. This particular unit puts out 700 watts from a class D amp and has a DSP (Digital Sound Processor) tuned specifically for the Captivator 118HT. To some 700 watts might seem on the low side for an 18" subwoofer, but don't let the power rating fool you; since the driver has an incredible 97dB sensitivity 700 watts had absolutely no trouble getting this thing moving.
The amp contains inputs for both RCA/unbalanced and XLR/balanced, so no matter what type of interconnect you have it's supported. There is also an input for a 12V trigger. Controls are typical for the most part, with dials for gain, crossover and delay (comparable to the phase setting on other subwoofers). There's a fourth dial for LF Adjust, which is a type of room compensation for the deepest bass. Without documentation most people will probably be confused by this adjustment, but searching around various forums lead me to a post that included an explanation of the feature:
The LF Adjust knob controls the boost or cut of lower frequencies to achieve a flat response. If the dial is set at the midway point (50%) the output is flat. Cut (0%) is -5dB and boost (100%) is +5dB. If you have a large room try somewhere between 50% and 100% to give you more output at lower frequencies. If you have a smaller room you might want to set it somewhere between 0% and 50%.
A pair of toggle switches round out the adjustments, one unmarked and the other designated for the ubiquitous power settings of off/auto/on. The unidentified switch is supposed to control the input source - either balanced or unbalanced - but in my case it didn't seem to make a difference which way I had it set because XLR worked regardless.
Like all of the SpeakerPower amps I've encountered previously, this one is a true gem. Never once did it get hot, never once did it go into standby when it shouldn't have, never once did it not wake immediately, never once did it skip a beat. Want to know why they cost what they do? Because they're arguably the best available. I did, however, experience one interesting thing that lead me to call Jeff Permanian, owner of JTR, to ask for clarification. Since you might stumble across the same thing I thought it a good idea to provide some insight.
In order to get the room EQ software in my AV receiver to calibrate the subwoofer trim close to 0dB I had to set the gain dial on the Captivator 118HT to around 75%. Never having to set it that high on any other subwoofer in the past gave me some concern. Was I pushing it too hard? Could that possibly cause a long term reliability issue? After speaking with Jeff it made perfect sense. His response, somewhat paraphrased, was "my customers always crank things up to the extreme, so I programmed the amp such that no matter how high they turned the gain or LF Adjust settings the subwoofer would never be able to hurt itself". The typical JTR customer I've observed on the forums does seem to have that tendency, so my concern turned out to be nothing more than a company owner knowing his customers very well. Problem solved.
Miscellaneous tidbit of information ostensibly with no place in this review to put it... the Captivator 118HT I received was serial number 001 for this 2016 model, basically the first unit ever produced. Ironically, the Captivator S1
I reviewed in August of 2015 (and subsequently bought for my own use) was also serial number 001 for the 2016 model year. I'm not sure if it was purely coincidental or JTR planned it like that, but either way I found it pretty interesting to get the first ever unit of a particular model on back-to-back occasions. I have no segue out of this topic either, so I'll just say "we now return you to your regularly scheduled program".
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 20 hours.
I'm going to be perfectly honest here; if you want a subwoofer that's in your face all the time the JTR Captivator 118HT might not be for you. While it can surely make its presence known, there's more balance to the sound than appearances could lead one to believe. It took me a bit longer than normal to fully grasp what this one was capable of and to truly appreciate its nuanced behavior. You would think after evaluating 40 or so different subwoofers in the past few years I would be able to instantly grasp what something can/can't do, but every so often I run across something that throws me a curve. The Captivator 118HT proved to be one of those rare products.
Looking at it - the size of a dormitory refrigerator and covered in truck bedliner - you would be excused for thinking "it can't possibly have any finesse". All brawn no brains, right? No, not right. My notes are filled with words like "understated", "cunning" and even "polite". It was subtle until called upon to be... well, not subtle. It was as though it would sneak up and then wham!, sucker punch you in the face. The dynamic transients the Captivator 118HT is able to muster can best be described thusly; enormous. From faint musical undertones to over-the-top movie special effects, the balance and pitch remained spot on. It has the ability to lash out with a vengeance, almost as though it was mad at you, but it chose not to unless required. Punishing, yet somehow poised at the same time. No matter how hard I pushed there was never a sound of distress from the ports either. They spew lots of air, but nary an unpleasant noise or hint of compression was heard.
Since the JTR Captivator 118HT is a bit different, from an overall sound perspective, I opted to do something different with regards to my testing process. Typically I crank the volume until it gets annoyingly loud, then I back it down a dB or two and start taking notes. After all I am evaluating a subwoofer, and looking for deficiencies, so why not push it some? I did that this time as well, but only after I had watched each scene at the volume level I normally use. This afforded me an opportunity to test the 118HT and check for weaknesses, yet I also had a chance to gauge how it might handle less overbearing situations (read: day-to-day, at least for me). Frankly, I've often found low volume resolution and detail more difficult to accurately reproduce than when things are cranked to spleen-crushing levels of output. Since the Captivator had thus far proven rather nimble it seemed like a perfect time for me to break from the same ol', same ol' of my testing regime. As it turns out, I was rewarded for my efforts.
I use this movie largely for the same reason other reviewers do; the stampede scene. Although short in duration it is nonetheless quite challenging. An added bonus is that you can get a good feel for how articulate a subwoofer is while it's being taxed by very deep bass demands; if the thing starts to lag behind the individual footsteps of each beast will blur into one long monotonous sound, and there's nothing enjoyable about that.
Scene 3 is pre-stampede though, when the Yaghal people are plotting how they're going to take down a mammoth (a necessity for them because all their food and clothing for an entire winter season come from this one animal). After hatching their master plan they infiltrate the herd in a clandestine manner as the mastodons are preoccupied and docile, simply milling about and feeding. With each step their massive feet thump the ground, and the Captivator 118HT rendered them with impressive weight. But then the Yaghal launch their assault, and that's when things get interesting.
As the mammoths try to flee from the advancing hunters it turns into an outright rampage. Each footstep from the mammoths got heavier and more powerful as they bolted, causing air currents from the ports to wash over my legs even though the subwoofer was positioned about a dozen feet away from me. In spite of the intense action the Captivator 118HT didn't waver, didn't lose its composure. There was a sense of realism to the stampede only a very capable subwoofer would have been able to convey.
Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring
Where has this movie been? Truth be told I should have dragged it out a long time ago, if for no other reason than I actually enjoy watching it from start to finish. And I did just that, albeit somewhat unintentionally.
I started with scene 1, as is my wont, primarily because of the challenging ring and helmet drop - both of which hit with a resounding 'thud', by the way - but then I never jumped to my other favorite test scene, The Bridge Of Kazhod Doom. For some reason, still unknown to me, I typed out the scene 1 notes and then put my laptop on the end table. By the time the inevitable "hey wait a minute, what am I doing!" head-slap moment came it was already scene 6, so I just settled in and watched the rest of the movie. Guess to some extent that gives an indication of how good the Captivator 118HT was making everything sound, eh? When I finally did get to scene 30 - The Bridge Of Kazhod Doom - I made sure to grab two things, my laptop and the remote. The former to take notes, the latter to test the limits.
As the intrepid Fellowship - which consists of an elf, a dwarf, three hobbits, two men and a wizard - are fleeing from an encroaching hoard of orcs bent on killing them a balrog (an underground demon thought to be long dead) lets out a menacing growl. It's reasonably subdued, at least initially, but as the thing grows more and more irritated by the swarm of intruders the intensity of its growl increases. The Captivator 118HT played along swimmingly, ratcheting up the action every time this creature opened its mouth. The orcs take off, terrified by the balrog, and it's at this point the Fellowship see their opportunity and head for the exit themselves. The balrog is not letting them off that easily though and starts lumbering after them. Each step this gargantuan beast takes caused my hallway closet door to rattle. Thanks JTR; hit pause, get out of easy chair, open closet door, sit back down, hit play again.
Of course, the sound engineers have an ominous musical score playing in the background while all this is going on. I've found the combination of those two effects can become a little obnoxious and overbearing on occasion, but not so this time. Same undesirable thing can happen when the massive staircase crumbles into the abyss; prodigious LFE & potent soundtrack = (potentially) offensive. Nope, didn't happen during this part of the scene either.
Battle: Los Angeles
has deep bass in a few scenes, Fellowship Of The Ring
takes it up several notches from there. Battle: Los Angeles
? That's a whole other ball game folks because this movie is pretty much a non-stop workout for your sub. If it seems like I went from small to medium then large - from a subwoofer punishment standpoint - well, you would be correct. I deliberately worked my way up the ladder, ending my torture test with a doozy.
By the 3rd scene this movie starts working your sub hard, real hard, so when you consider there are 16 scenes in total you soon come to realize just how long it gets exercised (the bass equivalent of P90X I suppose). I can't really isolate just one or two scenes from this film because almost the entire thing is challenging, but scenes 9 and 10 are particularly difficult so I focused on those.
Scene 9 finds an alien warbird stalking our military as they attempt to evacuate civilians from what's left of Los Angeles. With everyone trapped on a bus the enemy aircraft begins zeroing in on them using their radio signals as a beacon. As this thing starts hovering overhead the impact generated by the subwoofer made it seem as though the pulsing engines had kicked up a storm in my own living room. When Sargent Nantz blows up the drone craft by tossing a grenade into a bunch of gas station pumps the explosion the Captivator 118HT was able to summon was quite remarkable, lending a true sense of realism. But that was merely a warmup for the pièce de résistance, scene 10.
After having watched this blu-ray countless times I'm convinced the battle that occurs on the freeway is the most difficult thing this film throws at a subwoofer. Not that the rest of the movie is a walk in the park, mind you, but it's here that you make or break a sub. In the case of the Captivator 118HT it was 'make', not 'break'. The amount of artillery the Marines direct at the invaders is mindboggling; pistols, M-16's, 50 caliber machine guns, grenades, C4 explosive, you name it they use it. Of course the aliens have a multitude of weapons themselves, and they're returning fire as quickly and fiercely as the humans are dishing it out. The clash escalates into a prolonged assault/counter-assault, with neither force willing to back down an inch. Caught in the crossfire, as it were, is your subwoofer because it has to keep up with all this carnage and bedlam. For almost 10 minutes of movie time the poor thing does not get a single break, so if there's a problem with how it was engineered you're more than likely to expose the flaw(s) here. I got nothing for you though, because the Captivator 118HT never put a foot wrong. Detail was always evident, individual weapons were clearly identifiable, explosions that were supposed to be big were more obvious than those which were supposed to be small. Ferocious yet balanced. My guess is what I heard is precisely what the sound engineers had wanted me to hear, with nothing amiss or out of proportion.
After all the testing had concluded I checked the amp to see how hot it had gotten and it really wasn't much warmer than what I felt during normal day-to-day usage. Apparently JTR left enough amplifier capacity in reserve to ensure that nothing was being stressed. Immensely efficient drivers have advantages, and helping to keep your amp from overheating is certainly one of them.
It has been said that when you want a subwoofer for accurate music reproduction it should never be ported. At one point that was probably true, but today I'm not so sure. I've heard a number of bass reflex designs which have been quite adapt when it comes to music, so perhaps modern engineering and electronics have rendered that argument all but moot. Either way, for me the true litmus test has always been music; if a subwoofer can't faithfully
(key word) reproduce music then it will never be part of my personal collection. No exceptions - I simply won't own a subwoofer unable to handle music the way my hears want to hear it.
Unbeknownst to some, JTR does a sizable amount of business in the live music industry. They offer several different models of speakers and subwoofers designed specifically for large-scale venues like clubs, auditoriums, etc. Since music reproduction is deeply ingrained in this company's DNA it stands to reason that the consumer side of the house creates products that are equally proficient. They do, as I soon came to realize.
Fuel (live), Metallica
After that intro what better way could I kick off this section than with a live song? And continuing the theme, who better to choose than one of the top metal bands of all time? From 2007's Live in Moscow I went with Fuel
, one of my favorite Metallica songs. Fuel
has a driving rhythm, quick changes and the type of aggressive posture I love in a song (especially a song played live).
This recording tends to be more realistic than most live albums, and by that I mean the "thick" sound from thousands of watts driving stacks of PA cabinets is mostly preserved. As such, you won't find too much has been 'cleaned up' with the final recording. That's fine by me since one of the primary reasons I go to a live show is to experience that very thing. Call me foolish, or even sadomasochistic, but I just love being pummeled by waves of sound.
In 2007 Metallica's rhythm section consisted of Robert Trujillo on bass and Lars Ulrich - one of just two founding members that remain - on drums. By this time those two had been playing together for about 4 years, so they were as tight as could be from a musical standpoint. As the pair underpinned this fast paced song neither was able to trip up the Captivator 118HT; no matter how complex the rhythm got this subwoofer never flinched. I was able to play this song at a volume that closely approximated a live concert, and never once did I hear any sound of anguish from the driver.
Kickstart my Heart, Motley Crue
After we 'kicked off' with a live song, how about we launch right into 'kickstart'? Go ahead admit it, that was funny! Or not. Either way, I wanted another song with a raucous attitude. Almost anything from Motley Crue could be deemed that, but I had this particular one chosen from the moment I got the Captivator 118HT. It just seemed like such a perfect match to me.
Mick Mars kicks things off (sorry, I couldn't resist) with an effect that makes his guitar sound almost like a motorcycle going through its gears. Shortly thereafter drummer Tommy Lee brings the pain. From the instant he joins in I knew this was going to be fun; loud, obnoxious and over the top, everything the Crue represents. The Captivator 118HT seemed to enjoy the extreme nature of this song as much as I did because no matter how high I pushed the volume it played right along, always in control and not strained.
As the song ends it gets downright frenetic, yet the subwoofer remained unperturbed; no matter how much I asked of it the sound never got the least bit sloppy. My eardrums took a bit of a pounding, but for me that was a good trade-off because of how thoroughly enjoyable it was.
Dead and Bloated, Stone Temple Pilots
RIP Scott Weiland (December 2015). At the tender age of 48 Scott's bad habits finally caught up with him. Not that it was terribly surprising - with his penchant for excess you knew it was going to happen sooner or later, and probably sooner than later - but it's always sad when a talented person succumbs to his or her demons. The music world is littered with tragic tales such as his, yet it continues to happen to people over and over again. As an homage to Scott I felt compelled to choose something from STP.
Dead and Bloated
is my favorite song from my favorite Stone Temple Pilots album, 1992's insanely good Core. This was their debut offering and contained such favorites as Creep, Plush and Wicked Garden. Of the 12 songs on this landmark release, 5 got significant radio airplay. That's unprecedented, and the exposure lead to STP becoming an instant success.
Up until this point everything I had listened to was at a blistering volume, so why stop now? Unlike the previous two songs Dead and Bloated
has a very slow rhythm but the bass and kick drum are prominent, making for quite a subwoofer test when you push it. Robert DeLeo's bass and Eric Kretz's drums battered me with seemingly no remorse. I could literally feel it in my chest and gut, which of course is exactly what I was hoping for. My room was alive and man was it a lot of fun. Although Scott Weiland wrote little of the music on Core - this album was penned almost entirely by the DeLeo brothers, Dean and Robert - his voice and presence made it all work. For those of us into this genre of music Scott will be sorely missed. The JTR Captivator 118HT afforded me the opportunity to give this enigmatic person a resounding send-off, with an emphasis on "resounding".
Do you crave pervasive bass, constant output which is seemingly never more than a hairsbreadth below the surface of everything you listen to? If so, the JTR Captivator 118HT may not be the subwoofer for you because it doesn't play that game. Being the size of a small bookcase - and covered in truck bedliner no less - its appearance could suggest unrefined or ostentatious to some, but that couldn't be any further from the truth. This subwoofer is designed for those who relish a more subdued approach, who appreciate a subtle and textured sound. It can be relaxed, almost calm even, but don't take that to mean weak because it has teeth and it's not afraid to show them at a moments notice; it can and will bite when provoked. Virtually unflappable, the Captivator 118HT never seemed phased by what I threw at it, all the while sneering in contempt as I tried in vain to trip it up. Placid, yet with a mean right hook when warranted, the JTR Captivator 118HT evinced itself to me as a subwoofer tour-de-force.
Please use the JTR Speakers Captivator 118HT Discussion Thread for questions and comments
These measurements were taken using an Omnimic. The Captivator 118HT was positioned in the center of my listening room with the microphone 1 foot from the convergence of the driver and port. The gain and crossover were at their maximum setting while the delay was all the way down. LF Adjust varied between 0%, 50% and 100%. Each graph's name reflects the percentage and is noted accordingly.
Overall frequency response, LF Adjust set at 0%
Spectrograph, LF Adjust set at 0%
Overall frequency response, LF Adjust set at 50%
Spectrograph, LF Adjust set at 50%
Overall frequency response, LF Adjust set at 100%
Spectrograph, LF Adjust set at 100%