A lot of people, especially if they’re fairly new to high-end home audio systems, are surprised to learn that two speakers, a left and right stereo speaker, isn’t all they need. In a home music or home theater audio system, the subwoofer is often one of the most important speakers in the room.
What’s a subwoofer?
A subwoofer is a loudspeaker that handles the lower frequencies or bass. While it also can reproduce the LFE (low frequency effects), also known as the .1 in a 7.1 system, a subwoofer is more than that. How low or high a subwoofer plays varies greatly with brand or product.
Why do you need one (or more)?
Subwoofers are important because most speakers in an audio or home theater system are not capable of reproducing all the frequencies your audio source sends to them. Without a subwoofer you’ll be missing out on some of the sound. The low frequencies are also the ones that help produce the full, rich, three-dimensional effect we love in movie soundtracks and in music.
You need them for music too?
Yes, usually. Few speakers called “full-range” really are. They can’t fully reproduce everything or if they do, the extremes may be stressed and not fully realized. While some full-range tower speakers are capable of producing rich bass (some even have subwoofers built in), most will benefit from adding an extra subwoofer.
Aren’t subwoofers big?
Yes and no. The traditional image most people have of a subwoofer is a large box with one large driver. Those are still popular, and often are the best choices, but many people don’t like the idea of having to hide something that big in their room. Newer technologies, more efficient amplifiers and dual driver designs have greatly reduced the size of some subwoofers so that they can easily be concealed in a room (sometimes even in a cabinet). The key is making sure the subwoofer’s amplifier is strong enough to power the driver well, and that the subwoofer’s range (and crossover setting) blends nicely with your main speakers. Often you’ll need to depend on the expertise of your dealer or installer for this decision.
What if I have in-wall speakers?
In-wall speakers have improved in performance so much that they’ve become the standard speakers for many multiroom audio and even home theater installations. Luckily in-wall (even in-floor or in-ceiling) subwoofers have also come along to perfectly complement in-wall speakers. Just because you don’t want a large box on the floor of your room doesn’t mean you can’t have a quality subwoofer in your system.
Do I need more than one subwoofer?
Often you do. Bass waves are large which means there are peaks and dips in the room. Sometimes getting even bass distribution is difficult, so multiple subwoofers can be used to fill in all the dips. Ask your audio pro to help you with this selection and placement.