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by Bill Braun

Reviewer Extraordinaire

on January 2, 2014
When it comes to subwoofer power ratings, more is not always better.

A lack of information is often to blame. Choosing an amplifier able to dole out loads more power than the speakers were designed to take results in big bass. In time, it will also result in the telltale smell of a burning speaker, a burning amp, or both. Ultimately no one wins.

JL audio has answered this problem with a highly logical solution: choices. With eight subwoofer lines, their 12” drivers range in peak power handling from 200 to 600 watts. The thought being that if you need enough bass to fill the acoustic gap – but not enough to cause your own earthquake – why buy more than you need?

The 12WX is built to work with as little as 75 watts, and costs a scant $120 retail. JL is not the only company to take this approach to their introductory line of subwoofers. The Rockford Fosgate R2D2-12, the Kenwood KFC-W12PS and the Kicker 40CWS122 are all great examples of similar ideas with similar prices.

Design

JL enjoys its creativity. Every subwoofer line has its own unique look, starting with the cone material. The woven Polypropylene fibers make you (errantly) think it’s Kevlar or some sort of Carbon fiber. The dust cap sports a JL logo with a respectable size relative to the cone.

I liked this compared to many other manufacturers, who believe their logo should take up so much real estate you barely know a cone even exists. I don’t need to see a logo on a sub so large a chopper can land on it. Points for overkill avoidance.

The flange surrounding the cone is a trim piece that serves as both an aesthetic addition and way for the optional SGRU-12 grille to be attached. It’s a nice touch, especially considering that edges of a speaker often have a raw, unfinished appearance with other subwoofer brands.

The basket is especially well made, considering the 12WXv2 is an introductory model. Instead of the standard black, nearly unconsidered framework you normally get, a silver, baked-on coating covers the frame of the sub. It’s just different enough to be cool without the fancy lines, indentations and silk screening that you’d never see (or appreciate) once the speaker is installed in a box.

The magnet is encapsulated in a large black shroud, meant to make the shape a bit more “cooler” than it’s competition. I believe it’s also meant to hide the magnet, which were guessing is on the smaller side. As long as it sounds good, the magnet can be any size it wants. My ears won’t care one bit.

Build Quality

Cone rigidity is a pretty easy thing to check, and this woofer has plenty of it. Even when you consider one of the sub’s main sources of music integrity is in fact a woven material – which is not something you would normally associate with stiffness – it holds up more than adequately. Countless speaker manufacturers employ woven materials, and with excellent results.

The surround is a standard foam material. We would recommend you stay away from prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, as foam – especially foam that has nothing in the way of added ultraviolet resistance – is at a higher risk to develop dry rot in the heat and humidity of a car’s interior. Hatchback owners, I’m talking to you: buy the SGRU-12 or make a grille for this sub.

In fairness, we did consult JL audio regarding the WX series surrounds. Their response was a thoughtful one, stating that under normal use the speaker should last five to six years - a fair amount of time relatively speaking. They went on to say that under hard use the speaker may last three to four years.

When asked to explain their choice in surround material, their response was motivated by cost concerns and performance at the upper limits of the speaker’s tolerance. In short – foam is cheaper and works better when the volume is cranked. Good enough for me.

The 12WX’s flange has a trim piece cover that can prevent putting a screw or a drill through the surround during installation. The trim piece also doubles as the framework needed for the grille, should you decide to add it. JL wisely covered the opposite end of the flange with a gasket, which helps with ensuring an airtight seal.

The basket itself looks cool. The wisdom behind the powder coating and rounded edges is even cooler. Most speaker baskets are simply stamped steel, and stamped means sharp. That’s the fastest, cheapest way to get the speaker on to the next stage of production. It takes another step to smooth those edges, ensuring that whoever installs these speakers can’t be wounded while working with them. That kind of attention to detail is appreciated by countless installers. Whoever said that car audio isn’t a bloodsport hasn’t done many installations, that I can promise you.

The spider is a bit unusual, in a few respects. Firstly, it’s elevated off the top plate (one of the hottest parts of the speaker). The claim JL makes is that their special design blows air directly on that plate – keeping it cooler. Cooler is good – especially in a subwoofer. It also means the speaker lasts longer theoretically.

The other curiosity lies in the tinsel leads woven into the spider. These are the wires that connect the amplifier to the voice coil. Traditional tinsel leads run from the terminal directly to the joint of the spider and cone, leaving a bit of “loose” wire between those points. JL chose to stitch those leads into the spider at regular intervals, similar to the lacings on a football. The result according to the folks in Miramar is a much lower chance of the tinsel failing under stress or interfering with the spiders’ movement. JL is not the only company to manipulate tinsel leads in ways similar to this, but they are one of the few to offer this advantage in an introductory line of subwoofers.

As has been JL’s tradition, the contacts are thoughtfully made. While some choose to simply attach this vital connection to the basket with a single rivet, JL makes an effort to shroud the entire assembly in a piece of plastic to make a solid connection that wont move or snap off over time.

Yet another tradition seemingly every manufacturer has followed is to make the positive and negative terminals virtually indistinguishable from each other. Yes there’s a red dot on one side (marking positive.) Yes, there’s a small plus and minus. The insignias blend into the rest of the terminal like the fine print of an athletes’ contract. For the sake of the novice installer, I wish this information were clearer.

One feature that captured our curiosity was the vent at the bottom of the magnet: there isn’t one. For a company so technologically invested in heat dissipation that they altered the basket - making the spider cool the entire motor structure – it’s odd that one of the most traditional speaker design features was nixed. I wanted an explanation…

I asked JL about this unconventional approach. Their response involved two factors: the engineers felt the raised spider design’s air flow was enough to keep the entire speaker at an acceptably cool level. The second factor was the lower power requirements associated with JL’s introductory speaker line – low power means lower heat. The truth is, only time will determine the accuracy of their statements.

Usability

Installing a 12WX is easy. Using the cardboard template from the box is the best way to ensure an accurate cut in the box. It also helps to use the template to verify the spacing of the subs on the box face.

Once the box is cut and covered (carpet, vinyl, etc...) the wiring comes next. The standard crimp connectors slide on to the terminals without a fuss. Spring-loaded terminals would have been a bit more convenient, but these terminals work fine and are well reinforced, so I expect them to last for years.

In the Pacific Stereo custom installation bay, the installers have mentioned to me about the trim around the mounting points. It seems like a small thing to add some pretty plastic around a set of metal holes, but there is function behind the form; the trim ring helps to prevent the screws from going in an undesired direction while being drilled into the box. It also lends a more polished look to the install. It’s something I wish more speakers offered at this price point.

I listened to the subs in a sealed box with 200 watts of power. This is scraping the ceiling of the 12WX’s peak rating. Turning on some rap first, the bass was full, deep and warm. Then I turned up the volume. Sorry, let me reiterate: I ganked the volume up nearly as loud as it could go. The reward was the relentless pummeling I was hoping for. Deep subsonic drops of bass and thumping synths that I would expect out of a much more expensive speaker.

Turning on some rock, the detail of the kick drum at the lower volume levels was a little less defined then I would have hoped for. The solid, punchiness of a kick drum is not the easiest sound to reproduce, and the 12WX is good at it. Good, but not great.

Classical music is another animal completely. The sub reproduced a smoothness in the Cello that was a bit above average qualitatively. Timpani drums were as boomy as they were powerful. When I listened to the symphony as a whole, I waited for the crescendo - a seminal moment where every instrument comes to you in one, immense sweep of detail and volume. The 12WX’s performed as advertised, with a decently accurate rush of volume.

Value

The rap fans wanting to be “boomer on a budget” will enjoy this sub both for the price, the performance and sound quality it offers. Combine that with the fact that it doesn’t need a lot of power to work well, and the sub is obviously great value.

The rock fans would be well advised to consider playing a little with box size. Factory recommendations seemingly leaned the sound more towards boom and less towards impact. A slightly smaller box may help in this department. You’ll hear tighter bass, and the kick drums will give you that “snap” you’re looking for.

Overall, the JL 12WXv2 brings more than it's share to the table for the price.  Thoughtful design details, installation ease, and above-par good looks make this sub a stand out in the category.

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