Feel the Power of Subwoofers
These black boxes put the boom in your home entertainment system. Here's a look at how they work, styles and some shopping tips.
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May 13, 2008 by Dennis P. Barker

Most speaker companies now offer several subwoofers in their speaker lines going from the lowest amplification/smallest driver size to models rated at 1000 watts or more. Prior to the advent of home theater, subwoofers were few and far between. They were basically an esoteric product. Today, there are hundreds of models from numerous companies like Velodyne, Polk, JBL, Infinity, B & W, and many, many others. Virtually all companies that produce loudspeakers also produce subs.

Not all subwoofers are housed in squarish black boxes either, however. There has been some innovation recently from manufacturers like Sony, for example, that place their subs in a specialized base cabinet, in which a LCD TV can sit atop of. In Sony’s case (RHT-G800), the company has included a complete speaker package. Other companies like Infinity with their Cascasde system, for example, completely re-designed the subwoofer to place it in a long, rectangular cabinet. JBL, for example, also offers a wireless subwoofer variant with some interesting results. Most speaker companies that offer in-wall variants, now also offer in-wall subwoofers as well. While many subs come in basic black, others come in white or wood variants. Some models are also paintable to more easily fit into any living room environment. 

Shopping Tips
If you are in the market for a subwoofer, you can always start with a subwoofer from the same manufacturer who makes your other speakers so that it will be balanced with the other speakers of your system. If you need more than one speaker, you might want to consider several from the same manufacturer. Many manufacturers feature 2-piece, 3-piece and up to 8-piece systems that include a subwoofer that’s timbre matched to their other speakers. These are available in several configurations: center + sub, L & R + sub, rears + sub, or fronts (L,C, R) + sub. Bose, for example, packages a powered subwoofer with several small cube-like satellites into their various LifeStyle systems. Obviously, if you live in an apartment or have a smaller room, a sub of reduced stature will probably do the trick. 

When you crank-up your subwoofer, it should sound pretty awesome and impressive! If the sub is doing its job, it should feel like you’re in the middle of a buffalo hunt from “Dances with Wolves,” an animal stampede in “The Lion King,” on the train tracks from “Spiderman 3,” or even flaming skeltons in “Ghost Rider.” Do you feel the action in your gut? That’s what home theater should feel like!

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Dennis P. Barker - Contributing Writer
Dennis has been involved with Consumer Electronics forever it seems. His 25+-year career includes a 12-year tour of duty at Consumer Reports magazine, as well as stints as a product reviewer, market analyst, technical editor, and consultant for the electronics industry. He lives in Ossining, NY with his two children, one demanding cat and piles of A/V equipment.

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