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Subwoofer 101: position and adjust your subwoofer

Whether it is the roaring crowd at the last moments of a big game or the action-packed chase in your favorite movie, sound prevails when it comes to entertainment, and few components are as important as the subwoofer. There is just something original about a box made for the sole purpose of rattling your house and your bones with monstrous bass. We think everyone should have at least one, but two is better. Unfortunately, no matter how great subwoofers are, they can be very fickle.

Proper placement and positioning play a major role in comparing great sound, and this step can dramatically improve your sound experience, so unless you have a firm handle on the science of acoustics and a deep understanding of how your equipment works, it can placing and adjusting a subwoofer for optimum performance are a sweaty case of trial and error.

Although it is impossible for us to anticipate and respond to the countless variables of each room (things like floor type, ceiling type, room dimensions, etc.) we can point you in the right direction. However, don't worry about figuring this out for yourself, because we'll give you the tools you need to figure this out and get a step closer to achieving that sweet symphony of sound. There will still be some trial and error, but it will be learned by trial and error; and ultimately you enjoy a better bass. Yay for bass! Let's do this now.

Why a subwoofer?

You get much more (and much better) bass for your dollar from a specially designed box. Subwoofers are less intrusive than the type of standing speakers with drivers large enough to perform the same task. Subs also have dedicated power on board, reducing the voltage on your A / V receiver or multi-channel amplifier. In short, they are a more efficient route to meet low-end needs. Proper integration of a subwoofer will also improve the overall sound quality of your system, adding an increase in depth and width of your system's soundstage, as well as better sound from your speakers, as they are relieved of heavy lifting.

The Importance of Placement

Most people don't think so, but when you listen to an audio system, what you really hear is the effect that your room has on the audio system. Walls, windows and furniture color all the sounds you hear, but bass frequencies are particularly sensitive to room factors. That is why placement is really important.

Among the greatest enemies of your subwoofer are parallel surfaces ̵

1; you know, those crazy things called walls in your living room or den. Bass waves are essentially omnidirectional, so they bounce throughout the room. When they reflect on your walls, they often bounce back into each other, creating one of the two scenarios: standing waves or bass zeros.

Although we admit that a corner is often the most convenient 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 too much of base energy. This happens when a specific frequency is amplified by room factors or by similar wavelengths that occur at about the same time and place. What you hear in such a case is that "boom" effect or "one-note bass" that lacks definition or tightness. At the other end of the spectrum are bass zeros, which happen when reflective waves cancel each other out and leave you a dead spot.

To deal with room acoustics and the effects they have, you can choose to work with the room or against it. Working with the room includes acoustic treatments along with smart placement and adjustment of the subwoofer. Working against the room can be anything from beautiful EQ & # 39; s to room correction software. We prefer the previous tactic to the last if possible.

Where to place

As a general rule, placing your subwoofer in a corner or close to the wall will result in more bass, but not necessarily the best bass. Small, low-power subwoofers, such as those usually supplied with home-theater-in-a-box systems and sound bars, tend to use small drivers in combination with low-power amplifiers and therefore tend to to benefit from some border reinforcement. Unfortunately you only get more of the same worthless bass. Although we admit that a corner is often the most useful option, it is rarely the ideal option.

  SVS SB-16 subwoofer review
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends

Subwoofers with larger drivers & # 39; s and more powerful amplifiers don & # 39; t have to lean on your wall for help. In fact, high quality subs usually sound best when they are pulled at least 8 to 12 inches from a wall. Subwoofers also work better in the front half of your listening room, placed closer to your front channel speakers to reduce timing delays and phase cancellation.

Here are some helpful suggestions for where to place your sub based on what kind of flexibility you have, and what to expect from living there.

  • Carte blanche: So you can put your sub anywhere? Congratulations. No, seriously, that's great because so few people have the flexibility that you have. But because you have it that way, we recommend that you put your listening chair or couch away from where you normally sit. Now place your subwoofer exactly where your seat was and cut loose with some heavy basin hold. Walk and crawl through the room, listening carefully to where the bass sounds the most even and defined. It's not just about that deep-rooted kick against the intestines. You want to hear the timbre (tone quality) and texture of the notes. If you find it sounds good, lay a piece of tape on the floor and then move to a different location. Keep doing that until you have 3-4 options, so you can reduce the big winner.
  • Everywhere in the Front: Follow the "Rule of Thirds" for subwoofers. The idea is that by placing your subwoofer in a third of your room measured from a wall, you reduce the number of standing waves and zeros. Mathematically, by following this guideline, you are more likely to find your seating area a "good bass spot".
  • It must be in a corner: Look, no one wants to put his great new toy in a corner, but sometimes you have to have . Here is what you can do to reduce problems that arise by placing a sub in a corner. First, if your subwoofer is landed at the back of the cabinet, you can fill the gate with tennis balls, rubber balls, or even rolled-up socks to seal the cabinet and reduce interaction with the wall behind it. Many manufacturers now provide custom plugs with their products so that you can experiment with the sound. Second, move the subwoofer at least 6 to 8 inches from the corner. Buy a friend with some pizza to literally crawl across the floor; move the subwoofer a few centimeters in each direction to find the ideal spot. Make sure the volume does not drive them crazy.
  • Under a couch or table: This is not the worst plan in the world, but expect a hole in the sound if you have very small satellite speakers that depend on the sub for frequencies above 120Hz.
  • In another cabinet: We understand that sometimes certain circumstances cannot be overcome. But you must know that this is the worst possible scenario . Placing a sub in another cabinet almost beats the purpose of a subwoofer. Those non-directional low frequencies need room to breathe in the room, and you have just crammed them into a closet and closed the door.
  • Inside the wall: This is becoming increasingly 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 type of product that renters should even have consider installing – unless you are really, really good at repairing drywall, and even then you risk seriously making the neighbors angry. Subwoofers in the wall must be professionally installed with special boxes designed to hold the subwoofer cabinet in place and insulate it from the rest of the room. If done properly, it can be an effective solution. One thing to remember: In-wall subwoofers are very expensive because they often require external amplification, crossovers and a lot of work to install them correctly.
  • What about wireless? If it is the wiring that puts you at risk of placing the subwoofer, consider buying a wireless subwoofer adapter, such as the SoundPath Wireless Audio Adapter from SVS. This will not relieve you of the need to find a convenient outlet (in fact, it contributes to that requirement), but it eliminates the need for a physical link back to your A / V receiver or amplifier. If you get one, make sure it is designed for ultra-low latency. Some Bluetooth models have an unacceptable amount of delay; that's fine for headphones, but worthless when trying to synchronize with up to nine other wired speakers.

Automatic versus manual calibration

Most mid-range and higher A / V receivers now have automatic room correction (ARC) of some sort, and although they do a lot of work to detect things like speaker distance and channel levels, They are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to determining crossover settings. In 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 for getting the best possible bass response in your room.

Some ARC software does better than others. ARC van Anthem is by far the most effective we've seen, followed by Sonos Trueplay, which is more effective, especially since it only has a handful of Sonos speakers. There is also a lot of love in the A / V community for Dirac Live. YPAO, Audyssey and others from Yamaha are generally less effective.

  Rear subwoofer operation

Instead of relying on the automated system, it is worthwhile to determine the best crossover settings for your system yourself. You can still use automatic calibration for the rest of your speakers and only calibrate the subwoofer manually. See below for more information.

Running everything in

After you have found the best location for your subwoofer and have adjusted some essential system settings, you must choose the phase of the sub, crossover point and volume. The smaller the other speakers, the higher the crossover frequency of the subwoofer. If you do not know what your speakers can do, look up the frequency response specifications for your speakers in their manual or online. Take that number now and increase it by 10 Hz.

Setting the crossover button is simple: turn it all the way up. This will essentially defeat the internal crossover of the sub, allowing your A / V receiver to perform the task. If you are not using an A / V receiver or preamplifier / processor to control your crossover (perhaps using line level inputs for a stereo), set the crossover as close as possible to the point where you want the sub to start produce bass. This is usually based on the low-frequency expansion of the speaker. You can also start your pizza buddy (if they are still there now) with the crossover button all the way down and raise it slowly until you feel that you have a good mix between your main speakers and the sub. [19659033] Then play some basic music (movies are unreliable and don't give your ear something familiar to hold on to). If you see a marked decrease in bass energy while listening (or what we call & # 39; suck-out & # 39;) near the frequency at which your subwoofer and main speakers intersect, adjust your phase control. Always play the same song and listen while your friend changes the phase setting (this can be a continuous knob or a simple switch with one or two positions). Stop when you reach the setting that results in the fullest sound. If the adjustment phase does not release you from your suck-out, the problem may be due to poor placement. Return to the placement section of this manual and try again.

Instead of surpassing the effect of your room on the sound by tweaking the sound itself, tweak your room.

is wrong to turn the volume knob of your subwoofer to the maximum setting. Instead, turn the volume control to about 75% or so and adjust the subwoofer output level from your A / V receiver or preamp / processor instead. First turn the volume up and down in large fluctuations and then in smaller steps until you reach the point where you do not really notice the subwoofer. It should essentially disappear in the sound & # 39; & # 39 ;, creating the illusion that your entire system reproduces all that bass reproduction. A well-integrated subwoofer also increases the sound image both in depth and in width.

If you are looking for an easy but less rigorous way to dial in your crossover, subwoofer manufacturer SVS has a good set of cutoff frequency guidelines for different sizes and types of speakers.

Work with your room, not against it

Instead of trying to surpass the effect of your room on sound by tweak the sound itself, tweak your room so that it is first place has no influence on the sound. One of the easiest ways to do this is to place some kind of acoustic treatment in the corners of the room. You can go with bass clamps or another specially built sound absorption device, but these can be expensive … and ugly. To break the acoustic mess in the corners of your room, try placing a piece of furniture (avoid glass or large flat surfaces – that's what we're trying to fix here!) Or a large pot plant (it can be fake) in the room . Shelves filled with books are also great for things like this, and they don't look nearly as ugly as foam sound absorbers.

If you have hardwood or concrete floors, investing in a particular carpet or rug will help enormously. For those with hardwood floors, the use of floor peaks and protective discs under your submarine will make a difference. If you want to spend more money, you can also consider a special subwoofer tripod (yes, they make it).


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

  Polk Audio HTS Subwoofer Family No Grille

You should have two subwoofers.

Seriously, really. One of the best research reports ever written on this subject was written by Todd Welti, an acoustic engineer at Harman International (the company responsible for Harman / Kardon electronics, JBL speakers, etc.), and this was his conclusion. We understand that for household reasons, the route with multiple subwoofers is often less than ideal, but we are here to tell you that it sounds spectacular. If you can swing it, you should do it. Multiple 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 ahead and be moved

can take a few steps – or even a few days – to get things right. You can even upset a few neighbors or roommates along the way. But that glorious moment when your subwoofer delivers the kind of bass that makes your spine tingle is worth every associated work and sorrow. Lots of fun!

Do you still have nothing rocking against your walls? We have almost destroyed our ears by testing these things to help you choose the best subwoofer for your home, and there is something for every budget. For help with the rest of your system, consult our guide for the different types of speakers and what they are good for, as well as our list of the best A / V receivers you can buy.

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