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Subwoofer 101: To place and set up your subwoofer

  To place and set up a subwoofer

Few components compete with the subwoofer on the A / V awesome scale. On a box that only serves to crack the bones and create deep notes, there is only something original. We think everyone should have at least one – but two are better. Unfortunately, they are as powerful as subwoofers, but they can be very volatile.

If you can not handle the acoustics and a deep understanding of how your A / V equipment works, place and set up a subwoofer. The absolute best performance can and sometimes will be a sweaty trial and error. Although we are unable to anticipate and respond to the myriad variables that come with your particular space (things like floor type, ceiling type, room dimensions, etc.), we can point you in the right direction. Our goal is to give you the tools and understanding you need to find this out for yourself. There will still be something of trial and error, but at least it will be trained trial and error; and at the end of everything you will enjoy a better bass. Yay for bass! Now we do that.

Why a subwoofer?

You get a lot more bass for your buck from a box built to pull them out. Subwoofers are less intrusive than the kind of tower speakers with drivers big enough to do the same job. They also have a dedicated power supply, which reduces the load on your A / V receiver or multi-channel amplifier. In short, they are a more efficient way to meet the needs of the lower fringe. Proper integration of a subwoofer also improves the sound quality of your system. You should notice an increase in the depth and width of the soundstage of your system, and your primary speakers should sound less constrained because they have been freed from many heavy lifting jobs.

The Importance of Placement

I think so, but when you hear an audio system, you really hear what your room is doing on the audio system. Walls, windows, and furniture color the sounds you hear, but bass frequencies are particularly sensitive to space factors. That's why it's very important where you place your subwoofer.

One of the biggest enemies of your subwoofer is parallel surfaces ̵

1; you know, those crazy things were called walls in your living room or in your cave. Bass waves are omnidirectional and therefore tend to bounce around the room. When reflected off your walls, they often collide and create one of two scenarios: standing waves or bass zero.

While we recognize that a corner is often the most comfortable option, it is rarely the ideal option

Standing waves (which are influenced by the size of your room and the length of the sound wave) are an excess of bass energy. This occurs when a specific frequency is amplified by space factors or similar wavelengths occurring at about the same time and place. What you will hear in such a case is the "boomy" effect or "one-note bass", which lacks definition or tightness. At the other end of the spectrum are bass zeros that occur when reflective waves cancel each other out so you have a dead spot.

To cope with room acoustics and their effects, you can also work with the room or against it. The work with the room includes acoustic treatments as well as placement and adjustment of the subwoofer. Working against the room can include everything from failed EQs to room correction software. We prefer the former tactics over the latter, if possible.

Where should I put it?

If you place your subwoofer in a corner or near the wall, that will usually lead to more bass, but not necessarily the best bass. Small, low-power subwoofers, commonly used in home theater systems and soundbars, tend to use small drivers coupled with low-power amplifiers, so they tend to benefit from some margin enhancement. Unfortunately, everything you really get is more the same shitty bass. While we recognize that a corner is often the most comfortable option, it is rarely the ideal option.

  SVS SB-16 Subwoofer Review
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends

Subwoofer with Big Drivers and More Powerful Amps You need to lean against your wall for help. In fact, high quality subs sound best when pulled at least 8-12 inches from each wall. Subwoofers work better in the front half of your listening room, closer to the front channel speakers, which helps with timing delays and phase compensation.

Here are some handy suggestions on where you can place your sub based on your flexibility and what to expect from living there.

  • Carte Blanche: So you can take your sub anywhere? Well, congratulations. No, seriously, that's great because so few people have the flexibility you make. But since you have it like this, we suggest: Move your headset or couch away from where you normally sit. Now stick your subwoofer exactly where your chair was and cut it off with heavy bass. Walk and crawl around the room, listening carefully to where the bass sounds most consistent and defined. It's not just about this visceral kick in the stomach. You want to hear the timbre (sound quality) and the texture of the notes. Put a piece of tape on the floor when you realize it sounds good and move to another location. Do that until you have 3-4 options.
  • Somewhere in front: Follow the "rule of thirds" for subwoofers. The idea is to reduce the number of standing waves and zeros when you place the subwoofer in the room in one-third of the space from the wall. In mathematical terms, following this guideline, the likelihood of you sitting is a "good bass spot".
  • It must be in a corner: Look, nobody wants to put baby in a corner, but sometimes you have too. Here's what you can do to alleviate problems that arise when placing a sub in a corner. First, with your subwoofer plugged into the back of the case, you can use tennis balls, rubber balls, or even rolled-up socks on the connector to seal the case and reduce interaction with the wall behind it. Many manufacturers now offer custom plugs with their products so you can experiment with the sound. Second, move the subwoofer out of the corner at least 6-8 inches. Bribe your buddy with a few microbreweries to literally crawl on the ground for you; Move the subwoofer a few inches in each direction to find the ideal place. Just make sure that he does not go crazy with the volume.
  • Under a Couch or a Table: This is not the worst plan in the world, but expect a hole in the sound if you really want to have small satellites at frequencies above 120 Hz on the sub.
  • In another Cabinet: We understand that sometimes certain circumstances can not be overcome. But you must know that this is the worst scenario. To put a sub in another case contradicts the purpose of a subwoofer. These unidirectional low frequencies need room to breathe in the room, and you've just squeezed them into a cupboard and closed the door.
  • In the Wall: This is becoming more and more popular with custom installers, and although there are some really good in-wall subwoofers available from JL Audio, Paradigm, and B & W, this is not the kind of Product tenants should consider – unless you are really good at drywall repair, and even then you seriously risk annoying the neighbors. In-wall subwoofers must be professionally installed with special speakers that hold the subwoofer enclosure in place and isolate it from the rest of the room. Properly done, it can be an effective solution. One thing to remember: subwoofers in the wall are very expensive, as they often require external amplification, crossovers, and a lot of work to properly install them.

Automatic vs. Manual Calibration

Most mid and high A / V receivers have an automatic space correction (ARC) feature today, and although they are good at things like speaker distance and channel levels, they are notorious when determining transition settings inaccurate. For the purposes of this discussion, the term crossover refers to the point where a speaker stops producing bass and the subwoofer takes over. As you can imagine, this setting is crucial to getting the best possible bass response in your room.

Some ARC software offerings do a better job than others. Anthems ARC is by far the most effective we've ever seen, followed by Sono's Trueplay, which is more effective because it's just a handful of Sonos speakers. Yamaha's YPAO, Audyssey and others are generally less effective.

  Subwoofer Rearl Controls

Do not rely on the automated system, but determine for yourself the best crossover settings for your system. You can use automatic calibration for the rest of your speakers and only manually calibrate the subwoofer. See below for details.

Dial-up in

Once you've found the optimal location for your subwoofer and made some important system settings, you'll need to dial in the phase of the subwoofer, crossing point and volume. The smaller the speaker, the higher the crossover frequency. If you do not know what your speakers can do, check the frequency response specifications for your speakers in their user guide or online. Now take this number and push it at 10 Hz.

The setting of the crossover control is simple: turn the control all the way up. This will essentially overcome the subs's internal crossover so that your A / V receiver can take care of the task. If you are not using an A / V receiver or preamp / processor to control your crossover (for example, using line inputs for a stereo rig), set the crossover as close as possible to the point where the sub Output should start bass. This is usually based on the nominal frequency of the loudspeaker. You can also have your buddy (Is he still there, hopefully he did not drink all the beer), start the crossover knob all the way down and slowly bring it up until you feel comfortable between your main speakers and that Sub.

Next, play some bass-intensive music (movies are unreliable and do not give your ear something familiar to hang on). If you notice a significant drop in bass energy during interception (or what we like to call "aspiration") near the frequency at which your subwoofer and main speakers cross over, you will need to adjust your phase control. Repeat the same track over and over again while a friend changes the phase setting (this could be a continuous dial or a single-position or two-position switch). Stop when you reach the setting that gives the fullest sound. If the hiring phase does not free you from vacuuming, the problem may be due to poor placement. Please return to the Placement section of this guide and try again.

Instead of trying to optimize the effect your room has on sound, by optimizing the sound itself, you optimize your space.

In terms of volume, there is a mistake in setting the volume control of your subwoofer to the maximum setting. Instead, set the volume control to about 75 percent, and instead adjust the subwoofer output level from your AV receiver or preamp / processor. Turn the volume up and down in large turns first, then in smaller steps until you reach the point where you do not really notice the subwoofer. It should essentially "disappear" into the sound and create the illusion that your entire system reproduces all that bass response. A well-integrated subwoofer extends the soundstage both in depth and in width.

Work with your space, do not mind

Here we come to work with your space instead of against it. Rather than trying to beat the effect your room has on sound by optimizing the sound itself, you optimize your room so that it does not affect the sound in the first place. One of the simplest options is an acoustic treatment in the corners of the room. You can go with bass traps or any other purpose built sound absorber, but these can be expensive … and ugly. To destroy the acoustic mess in the corners of your room, try a piece of furniture (avoid glass or large flat surfaces – we try to fix it here!) Or a large potted plant (it can be wrong) in the room. Bookshelves are also great for such things.

If you have hardwood or concrete floors, investing in a carpet or rug will be very helpful. For those with hardwood floors, the use of ground spikes and protective screens under your sub will make a difference. If you want to spend more money, you can also consider a dedicated subwoofer stand (yes, they do).

Double Down!

Before we share our last piece of advice, considering that we are not sellers – we have absolutely no interest in milking you of your hard earned money. What we want to tell you is true. We tried it for ourselves and the results are fantastic.

  Polk Audio HTS Subwoofer Family No Grille

You should have two subwoofers. Seriously, you really should. One of the best research papers ever written on this subject came from Todd Welti, a sound engineer at Harman International (the company that makes Harman / Kardon Electronics, JBL speakers, etc.), and that was his conclusion. We understand that the multi-subwoofer route is often less than ideal for domestic reasons, but we're here to tell you that it sounds spectacular. If you can swing it, you should. Several subs will not solve the problem of standing waves, but it will give everyone in the room a better sense of bass response by eliminating the potential for those null spaces we mentioned earlier.

Go on and get moved

It can take a few passes – or even a few days – to get things right. You could even upset a few neighbors or roommates along the way. But this glorious moment, when your subwoofer delivers the kind of bass that makes your spine tingle, is worth every bit of work and grief involved. Have fun!

If you need help with the rest of your system, check out our guide to buy the various types of speakers and their benefits, as well as our list of the best A / V receivers available to you.

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