It’s easy for audio enthusiasts to succumb to GAS, or equipment acquisition syndrome. Once you listen to a good pair of speakers, you want to try the next best thing, then something else, and then the cycle continues.
Still, one of the biggest upgrades you can make to your hi-fi system is likely to cost less than a brand new pair of speakers and last for you thanks to a plethora of speaker purchases.
I’m talking about what’s in the title, of course. If you don’t already have one, your next audiophile purchase should probably be a subwoofer.
Unfortunately, I still see too many audiophiles rejecting subwoofers from the start. Sometimes it’s because they think they don’t need a lot of bass. Other times it’s because they think it will make their system more powerful. But I’m here to tell you why these aren’t things you should care about – and why buying a subwoofer is one of the smartest purchases a music lover can make.
Duh. The main task of a subwoofer is to increase the extension and / or bass output of your audio system. This is especially important if you are using bookshelf speakers, but even tall towers rarely stretch linearly to the limits of our hearing.
Humans can hear around 20Hz to 20kHz, and we can still feel frequencies below 20Hz. Yet bookshelf speakers typically lower the output below 100Hz – they rarely have significant output below 40Hz. Subwoofers are typically crossed with your other speakers at around 80Hz , taking over as you descend. A good subwoofer will take you down to 20Hz or less.
Getting that last bit of bass might not sound like much in the huge range of frequencies we can perceive, but it can really make a dramatic difference (and remember, we hear frequencies logarithmically, so a few Hz down the line. counts for a wide range of notes). Without that last sub-bass track, bass-heavy genres like rap and pop obviously suffer, but even orchestral music often feels “ incomplete. ” Pipe organs can even reach less than 20 Hz, for example.
These low frequencies are especially important for the physical impact you get from the bass, and they can help a small system sound bigger and more enveloping. Of course, some speakers can reach quite low levels at lower sound pressure levels (sound pressure levels) and you can give the bass a little boost by placing the speakers closer to a wall. , but there’s a good chance you won’t get the full extent of bass content. it’s in the recording. Even if your speakers can hit 30 or 40 Hz, you probably aren’t getting that at the levels expected in the recording.
And before you complain about having too much bass or worrying about annoying neighbors, the bass output of a subwoofer is completely up to you. You are usually able to adjust the volume of the subwoofer independently of your other speakers and can use a subwoofer to “ fill ” the lower frequencies without waking up the whole building.
It will make your other speakers healthier and louder
When you add a subwoofer to your audio system, you effectively simplify the life of your other speakers. Adding a subwoofer can have a direct impact not only on the amount of bass in your audio system, but also on the sound quality of higher frequencies.
Generally speaking, asking a small speaker to play low frequencies at high volumes will increase distortion and require a lot of power from an amplifier (there’s a reason you don’t see a lot of small speakers. reaching 20 Hz, after all). But subwoofers already have their amplifiers built in, and they usually contain larger or more speakers that are much better equipped to handle very low frequencies than the simple 5 or 6 inch woofers in most bookshelf speakers. .
By transferring these lower frequencies to the subwoofer, your speakers are free to operate more efficiently in their comfort zone.
Closely related to the point above, transmitting those lower frequencies to your subwoofer usually means that your speakers will be able to play louder without audibly distorting. And since the lower frequencies are often the most difficult for an amplifier to drive, leaving them to a sub – which again, almost always has an amp built in – also means less load on your amp.
It can help to solve room problems
One of the most important and least appreciated benefits of a subwoofer – or better yet, several – is that it can reduce some of your room’s more damaging effects on sound quality. Your room still affects the sound of your speakers, but nowhere is this influence worse than in the bass.
At lower frequencies, sound waves will create “modes” or standing waves in your room. The net effect is that some low frequencies are boosted considerably, while others see massive dips. This is one of the things that can contribute to speakers sounding booming – not only are some of those low frequencies boosted tremendously, but they’ll also tend to “ ring ” for an extended period of time.
Integrating a subwoofer with careful placement and equalization – whether done automatically via room EQ software like Dirac or manually via an app like REW – can help drastically reduce these peaks and valleys to your listening position. The How? ‘Or’ What It’s beyond the scope of this article, but properly managed bass often makes the difference between a room that sounds bad and a room that sounds good.
(You can also apply the equalizer only to a pair of stereo speakers, but having a subwoofer gives you more flexibility to deal with these room issues.)
This effect is massively amplified by the addition of two or more subwoofers, especially if you want to improve sound quality over a larger listening area. You will need an AV receiver or other hardware to integrate a subwoofer, which may be an additional expense, but this is one of the biggest potential benefits of adding a subwoofer to your system. . For more reading on this, I recommend this article from Audioholics.
They can last you with lots of speaker upgrades
As I noted in the introductory paragraph, once you get hooked on the audio gear, there’s a good chance you might want to switch to a different set of speakers. Part of the reason I recommend buying a subwoofer before trying to upgrade your speakers is because having one gives you more flexibility in your choices.
After all, extending bass is normally a crucial variable in any speaker purchase. Suppose you have to choose between a speaker with a more neutral frequency response and a larger soundstage, or go for one that performs less well but offers more bass extension. Which one do you choose?
Having a subwoofer makes the choice a lot easier: you can drastically ignore bass performance, choose the one that is better in other aspects of acoustic performance.
One final note: Contrary to what some manufacturers might have you believe, there is rarely a reason why a subwoofer should better “pair” or “match” with a particular set of speakers. So pick the best subwoofer (s) you can afford and fit your space – this will last you for many years to come on your audio journey.
This article just scratches the surface of the benefits and process of integrating a subwoofer, not to mention choosing the right one for your setup. Nonetheless, I hope it gets you on the right track – that of glorious bass.
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Published March 18, 2021 – 14:48 UTC