JL Audio Fathom F212 V2 Subwoofer Review
Tony O'Brien tries a monster American subwoofer for size…
Fathom F212v2 Subwoofer
USD $9,000 MSRP
Eclipsing many a floorstanding speaker in terms of size, intimidating is perhaps the best way to describe JL Audio's F212v2 subwoofer. Boasting two 12-inch drivers and 3,600 watts of amplification, plus the ability to dive as low as 19Hz at -3 dB, it promises – on paper at least – to be an exciting listen.
Like all JL Audio subwoofers, the unit abstains from using off the shelf components. Drivers, enclosures and electronics are all produced exclusively in-house. Every design begins with a purpose-built subwoofer driver, developed with both a specific cabinet size and power range in mind. The driver is then optimised for linear motor and suspension performance.
As for the driver, the F212v2 uses the very same W7 platform used in JL's Fathom and Gotham subwoofers. No less than six US patents cover the W7, the company says, including the driver's OverRoll Surround. Unlike most drivers, which sit inside the frame, the F212v2's is located on the outer edge of the frame. This maximises the cone's radiating surface and provides greater excursion capability, says the manufacturer. It can place additional stress on the driver, so JL Audio's W cone design is used, which is architecturally reinforced to allow it to withstand rapid changes in speed and direction without distortion.
The W7 drivers also employ JL Audio's patented Engineered Lead-Wire System. Typical high excursion woofer designs either weave the signal carrying leads into the spider (the lower part of a driver's suspension) or use flying leads. With the former, the leads are less elastic than the fabric material of the spider, causing asymmetric suspension behaviour; with the latter, the leads can mechanically whip and contact the cone or electrically short. The JL Audio approach features carefully engineered entry and exit support structures moulded into the terminals and the voice coil collar. The result, it's claimed, is flawless high-excursion lead-wire behaviour, with outstanding reliability.
The frame itself is a rigid cast aluminium design coupled with a powerful magnet assembly. Such designs can generate excessive heat and even premature failure, the company adds. To alleviate this, the F212v2 uses JL's Elevated Frame Cooling system, which delivers cool air from slots above the top plate directly to the voice coil. The company's Cross-Drilled Pole Technology further enhances thermal dissipation and power handling. It's also said to improve overall sound quality and linearity by minimising dynamic parameter shifts and power compression.
Signal processing and amplification are developed in tandem by a dedicated team of engineers. The processing or EQ used in room correction systems to flatten the response of a subwoofer can place enormous demands on an amplifier, the company ventures. For this reason, JL Audio subwoofers generally have more powerful amplifiers than most powered subwoofers. The goal is to provide linear output to the lowest content available in a recording. Hence, nearly all of the company's designs are sealed systems with powerful amplifiers and robust drivers designed to withstand the extra power.
I had concerns about reviewing the F212v2. At 379x812x518mm and weighing 102kg, it's built for larger spaces than my own, and given its sheer enormity, I struggled to overcome the feeling that it would overwhelm the rest of the system. JL Audio allayed my fears somewhat by stating that while it can produce dramatic special effects, it also happily plays quiet music. You'll only become aware of the subwoofer if you take it away, at which point the sense of body and room acoustic disappears. It's all about control – the ability to start and stop accurately.
Packaged up, the F212v2 stands nearly a metre tall, its box sporting its own pallet and plastic feet upon which the container rests. Free of its double boxed carton and packaging foam, the big subwoofer is further protected by a cloth bag, presumably to protect the gloss finish from unwanted scratches. Unsurprisingly, wrestling the thing into place isn't a solitary undertaking. While I had an extra set of hands for unpacking and packing the sub, I'd recommend recruiting a couple of friends. Thankfully, JL Audio has included furniture sliders, which let me slide the sub into place once free of its box. Removed, the big subwoofer rests upon four sturdy rubber feet.
As I've come to expect from the American company, the overall build quality was faultless. Sporting a high gloss, piano black finish, it's a stunning looking speaker, undoubtedly high end. Be that as it may, such finishes are never my first choice for home theatres, given their reflective nature – and unfortunately, JL Audio doesn't offer the F212v2 in other finishes.
Removing the speaker grill reveals the sub's dual 12” drivers, nestled snuggly in their OverRoll Surrounds. It's here you'll also find a comprehensive range of controls for polarity, phase, low pass filter, low pass frequency, e.l.f. (extreme low frequency) Trim, input mode (master/slave), level, power and JL Audio's Digital Automatic Room Optimisation (D.A.R.O).
The back of the big subwoofer is equally impressive; its rounded corners, height and grills giving off a distinct art deco vibe. Connections consist of balanced and unbalanced inputs and a balanced output – for using the sub in slave mode- along with input mode and grounding switches. JL's attention to detail is impressive. In the box, you'll find white gloves to keep the glossy finish devoid of fingerprints, furniture sliders, a leather case that houses the DARO calibration microphone, a power cord and a user manual. Wonderfully comprehensive, the latter is worthy of special mention. Not only does it clearly explain the various controls, but guides you through the setup in a logical, simple manner.
JL Audio recommends using DARO before running processor-based – or in my case receiver-based – EQ systems. Operating between 20-150Hz (1/6 octave), it provides a greater level of granularity than most parametric EQ systems. It's also a breeze to use. Plug the supplied microphone into the input on the F212v2 and press the calibrate button – and you're away. Mercifully DARO gives you ten seconds to leave the vicinity, and the entire process is complete in a few minutes.
Ultimately, I allowed the onboard Dirac Live/Bass Control on my JBL Synthesis SDR-35 to EQ the sub with the rest of my speakers. Replacing my usual subs, the Fathom was partnered with VAF Signature i91 front and centres and i90 rear and overhead speakers, creating a 5.1.2 Atmos layout. The remainder of the system consisted of a Sony VPL-VW270ES 4K projector, Lumagen Radiance Pro 4242, Panasonic UB-9000 4K Blu-ray player, Apple TV and a Severtson Cinegray 100” 16.9 projector screen.
The F212v2 filled my room with authoritative and visceral bass, its ability to dig into the lower octaves creating a powerful home theatre experience. Equally as impressive is its wonderfully taut, agile bass that gave very little away in terms of grip compared to the 10” drivers in my own subs.
As the Tiger tank clears the smoke in the 4K Ultra HD of Fury, the rumbling of its engines can not only be heard but clearly felt at the primary listening position. It's a visceral performance, one that gives the Tiger the ominous presence it commands. When the Tiger and Sherman tanks finally exchange fire, the fury of the shells tore through my listening room with ease. As powerful as it is, it's as whip-sharp as you expect a high-velocity round to be and over in a heartbeat.
Ever-present and powerful as it is, the F212v2 is also equally capable of enjoying the finer things. Its foundational bass means it revels with the discordant orchestral tones that serve to unsettle the viewer in Anabelle Creation. With the 4K Ultra HD of A Star is Born, the F212v2 was on its best behaviour. While it could have easily overwhelmed my speakers, it was more than happy to extend the range of my big bookshelves rather than swamp them. It's not as fast as my own 10” subs, but it's surprising just how little differentiate the two in terms of speed. Those deep notes give the stage performances a sense of presence, yet the Fathom also knows when to back off. Instruments never sound bloated nor flabby, making for a taut yet theatrical listening experience.
The F212v2 has all the hallmarks you'd expect from a big subwoofer; impactful bass that's capable of digging deep into those lower frequencies. Built for rooms far bigger than mine, what's more surprising is the level of poise it possesses. The big Fathom could have easily overwhelmed my system. Instead, it served as an impressive extension to my own speakers. The consummate guest, the F212v2 understands the importance of keeping quiet just as much as it does speaking up. Top this off with first-class build and attention to detail, and JL Audio has produced another winner. If you've got a big room and want powerful yet articulate bass, the F212v2 may be just what you're looking for. Either way, it comes highly recommended.
As the owner of ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator with over a decade of experience. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.
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