Subwoofers are Awesome!
But why? Well, there are many reasons:
- Engineers feel liberated, they are finally able to design speakers that are bass specialists without the compromises imposed by the main speakers, without the impositions that bass requirements demand.
- Now that subwoofers have allowed the main speakers to shrink to tiny proportions, wives appreciate having their living rooms back. Plus, since sub bass is non-directional, they can be hidden away and out of sight.
- Audiophiles are grateful to have a fix for those bass problems that were once grudgingly tolerated.
- Those who delight in illusion marvel at how their tiny little speakers can magically seem to produce such a huge sound.
How can subwoofers make so many people so happy? Well… by fooling Mother Nature. It just so happens that you, like all humans, are not equipped to tell where pure bass tones come from. Thanks, physics! When wavelengths are a lot longer than the distance between your ears, the kind of information you need to locate sound just isn’t there. Fortunately, the miracle that is your ear (and the processing behind it) has come up with an ingenious solution. Get this – when a low bass note arrives, your ear first determines which of the higher frequency sounds (overtones) are associated with it, figures out where they came from, then “positions” the bass at the overtones’ location. Yep, your brain automatically performs this sonic switcheroo all the time.
Naturally, it was just a matter of time until some clever engineer-type figured out how to exploit all this. “Let’s just put the bass-making speaker over there” he reasoned “and the little speaker that reproduces its overtones over here, and it will sound like all that bass is coming from this little speaker!” It worked, and EUREKA — the subwoofer was born.
How Subwoofers Help
Since subwoofers became widely accepted in the 70’s, they have evolved to the point where they can arguably be considered the most important advancement in home audio in the last 30 years. Check out the ways subwoofers help:
- Speakers used to be big so that they could efficiently reproduce bass. But now that subwoofers have freed your main speakers from this demanding chore, they can be nice and small – allowing you limitless placement flexibility around the room or even in the ceiling!
- What determines the overall sound quality of your audio system? You might be surprised that the quality of the speakers themselves rival the importance of where you put them. Speaker placement is that important. But the optimal locations for the bass are often at odds with the demands of good stereo, clean, full midrange, and the ease of living with your speakers when they’re not working. Now the subwoofer can be put in formerly forbidden places, like a corner, where it can make better bass nicely tucked out of the way. Meanwhile, the now-small main speakers are much easier to place where they belong.
- Here’s an astounding piece of audio trivia: a speaker can theoretically deliver 64 times more bass energy in one room placement than in another! This used to mean that a speaker needed to be in a specified place to keep its bass in balance with the rest of the sound. Now you can get good tonal balance – regardless of room placement – simply by turning the knob on the back of the subwoofer.
- The main speakers aren’t the only things that have been shrunk – even subwoofers themselves have reduced in size over the years. Since they come with their own amplifier, it’s easy to add electronic equalization to compensate for an undersized box.
- Subwoofers make your main speakers sound even better. Let’s explore a few examples. Since small speaker enclosures have less surface area, there’s less material that can vibrate with sound. Which means less resonance. Which means you’re hearing your music, and not the wood in your speaker buzzing. Another is that the problematic electronics needed to shape the woofer’s output can be replaced by cheap and effective filters in the amplifier that do a better job.
- Small speakers look a lot better in your living room. Ask the people you live with.
If you haven’t guessed by now, we love subwoofers. Hopefully you’re convinced that you need one. Your next question is probably, “what do I look for?” Fortunately, further reading can be found in our How to Choose Subwoofers course. Good luck exploring the wonderful world of sub bass.