Ugh . . . no. The other kind. Take 2.
Odds are you have a subwoofer. Odds are it’s in the corner of the room. And odds are that it sounds like an elephant farting.
Subwoofers are a ubiquitous piece of gear (spelled “ubiquitous” right on the first try, thank you) that allow the main speaker system to be much smaller. Many of you probably have sound bar systems. Maybe computer speakers with a sub. Most of you DON’T have full range tower speakers that can produce the full frequency range of human hearing (20 hz to 20,000 kHz). The subwoofer allows these smaller systems to act bigger than their footprint.
Sub placement is critical for overall sound quality. What do most people associate with sound quality? Is it crystal clear highs? A deep soundstage? I’d argue no: people associate deep, clean bass with a high quality speaker. Midrange and highs are easier to reproduce without distortion, while deeper frequencies are usually what reveal a cheaper or smaller speaker’s weakness.
There are multiple factors to getting a sub to sound good:
1) It shouldn’t have to work too hard. When a speaker works at its limit, distortion is introduced. Because of this:
2) If you are buying a separate sub, you should measure your room to understand how many cubic feet it needs to energize. A small sub (8″ or smaller) works well in a small room. A medium sized sub (10″) works well in a . . . medium sized room. And for large spaces, you need something like this:
My son is sitting on the Hsu Research VTF-15h. It is a 15″ subwoofer. 12″ or bigger is the proper subwoofer for this kind of space where the living room, dining room, and kitchen are together. Yes, my wife puts up with a lot.
3) All subs aren’t created equal. Get the biggest (and best quality) sub you can afford. The biggest because you can always turn it down, but turning a sub up introduces distortion. The best because a $200 12″ sub will NOT performed as well as a $800 12″ sub. With subwoofers, quality is commensurate with price. For normal budgets, I highly recommend HSU Research. They have a full range of subwoofers – it’s their speciality – and are highly respected. The goal isn’t to shatter your windows, but to hear nuanced, effortless bass, instead of the constant pulse of elephant farts.
I’ve had the VTF-15h for over a year and FINALLY it is in a place where it sounds great (it weighs over 120 lbs so it’s not something you want to move around too much). I’ve moved it to every corner, tucked it against the walls, behind couches, everywhere. And this spot is where the sub sounds its best. How can you find this sweet spot? The best way is doing a sub crawl. Basically, put the subwoofer where you normally sit, play music that has bass, and then crawl around the room on all fours (I’m serious) to find where the bass doesn’t boom, but is tight and controlled with as few peaks or valleys (where a frequency is pronounced or understated compared to the frequencies around it). Put the sub there.
But Mike, my wife/husband/prison guard won’t let me buy a coffee table-sized sub for our living space. What then?
The “crossover point” is where the subwoofer takes over frequencies from the loudspeakers. If the crossover point is 80hz or below, the bass coming from the sub cannot be localized (you can’t tell where it’s coming from). Hsu Research recommends this, and from experience, I do to: place the subwoofer as close to your listening position as possible.
But Mike, I have a sound bar system/Bose system/satellite speakers.
For those speaker systems, the crossover is usually much higher (150hz or more). At this crossover point, we can detect where the subwoofer is located. So for those systems to behave seamlessly they need to stick together. I’d stick the sub on the floor in-between your speakers, if possible.
I did that with my sound bar system, but the bass is still elephant farty…
Turn down the sub and increase the volume until it provides “fill” at the lower frequencies. The subwoofer is overmatched by the room, so the objective is fuller sound, not room-rumbling bass.
HSU Research (Best bang for your buck subwoofer company. Subs start at $299). HSU subs will crush anything you purchase at Best Buy, etc. They also have a chart that shows which sub will best fit your space.
Audioholics On-line Magazine (GREAT resource for anything audio. Tons of subwoofer reviews and placement tips).
Bass fish photo courtesy of: http://www.usbr.gov
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