Subwoofers can be mistaken as the sole interest of boisterous teenagers and their souped up motors, but of course bass is a critical component of any good Hi-Fi system.
What is bass?
Bass notes are those that cover the lower end of the audio spectrum, the low-frequency and often guttural drum notes of a track or the explosions experienced in a movie. When you go to the cinema for the latest blockbuster smash hit, bass is the sound that you feel as well as hear; the powerful vibrations that physically shake you in your seat.
Conventional speakers take care of higher and mid-range frequencies as well as a certain amount of bass. The treble in a conventional loudspeaker for example might include the strings of an orchestra’s performance, while mid-range might typically be the rich, warm vocals of a lead singer. The bass could be the thumping beat or the tasty bass lick of your favourite track. This is where the subwoofer steps in and takes on the task of handling the deep, detailed and rich bass that most loudspeakers simply can’t handle on their own.
How’s it measured?
Bass, as with most things, demands a comparison of quality vs quantity. More bass does not necessarily mean better bass.
The power is determined by the wattage of the subwoofer in question, where a higher wattage demonstrates a more powerful subwoofer. A more powerful subwoofer is generally preferred over a less powerful subwoofer not only as it will play louder, but because it will be able to handle lower frequencies more precisely, with much better control of the drive units in the subwoofer.
Just remember: A 500-watt subwoofer doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be played five times louder than a 100-watt subwoofer. Wattage is a rough indicator of how powerful a subwoofer can be, not how it should be played! Make sure you give the neighbors a day off once in a while…
Why should I add a subwoofer?
There’s no denying that aesthetics and design are now just as important when we’re choosing tech for the home, so the trend towards small, attractive speakers has continued to grow.
Smaller speakers are however as expected often bass-shy and therefore require a separate subwoofer. Bass is important for a number of reasons, not least in that it complements the treble and mid-range to provide a fuller, richer sound.
If you are using small stand-mount or satellite speakers, without a subwoofer you would almost certainly feel that something is missing from your music and movies; whether it’s the deeper part of a track or the spinning blades of a helicopter in the latest Hollywood movie, the subwoofer is there to complete the audio spectrum.
Like we mention in many of our blogs, there’s no definitive rule of why you need a subwoofer or which you should run out and buy. Size and power may depend on the room but it’s worth noting that larger, higher-powered subwoofers will generally provide a fuller sound, even at lower volumes and in smaller rooms.
How can I improve the bass in my Hi-Fi or AV system?
Although the deep bass from your subwoofer is non-directional (unlike conventional bookshelf or floor-standing loudspeakers), that does not mean that it should be hidden away or abandoned in the corner; you’ll be surprised by how much of a difference taking into account the acoustics of a room and the positioning of the subwoofer can make.
A further option is to add more than one subwoofer to your system. For example, a 7.2 movie soundtrack has two dedicated subwoofer (or LFE) channels, so two subwoofers can be used to great effect. Just remember the goal is for better bass, not more bass. There’s no need to turn up to full volume and vibrate the entire street. The placement is crucial and spending a little extra time finding the right positions can make a HUGE difference in sound quality. Having multiple subwoofers in different parts of the room provide a greater tonal balance however investing in two might set you back a pretty penny as well as take up space in your room.
The irony of having a good subwoofer is that the difference it makes should be discreet, not glaringly obvious. Anyone who’s suffered harsh, booming sounds that come from a bad subwoofer will understand!
Technical specifications alone won’t help you pick out an excellent subwoofer. When it comes to choosing a subwoofer for yourself make sure you do your homework, read some reviews and of course try some out for yourself!