A subwoofer, or sub, is a type of speaker dedicated to reproducing the lowest frequencies of sound, commonly known as sub-bass. The term “subwoofer” technically refers only to the driver, although most people use it to describe the entire enclosure. The right sub is essential for achieving a high-quality audio experience, especially for a home theatre system. However, the best choice depends on a variety of factors such as the other speakers in the sound system, room size and type of media. Some of the most important factors to consider when buying a subwoofer include its size, power and enclosure.
A larger sub generally moves more air and thus produces stronger bass. It may be tempting to simply buy the largest model you can find, but this strategy risks overwhelming your room or the other speakers. It’s more important for your sub to seamlessly blend in with your existing environment to create an immersive listening experience.
A large, open living room will require a larger sub than a cozy bedroom, all other factors being equal. Furthermore, a room with more furniture and other solid objects can be filled more easily with a smaller sub. The sub’s optimum size also depends on the other speakers in the sound system. For example, a subwoofer with a diameter of 8 to 10 inches is best for compact speakers such as bookshelf or satellite speakers, while a 12-inch sub would be a better match for large, floor-standing speakers.
A sub should be driven by a dedicated amplifier, or amp, primarily because low frequencies need more power. The narrow frequency range of subs also requires an amp with specialized characteristics. Some sub enclosures include their own amp, which eliminates the need to buy a separate amp.
An amp with a higher power rating generally provides more powerful bass, so power is definitely an important factor to consider. However, you should also avoid spending money purely for the sake of a higher number. Furthermore, the root mean square (RMS) power is much more important than the peak power. RMS power is the maximum power the sub can handle indefinitely without damage, while peak power is the maximum power the sub can tolerate for an instant.
Sub enclosures can generally be classified into sealed and ported types. A sealed enclosure, or acoustic suspension, has no openings, which prevents air from moving in and out of the enclosure. This design allows the sub to respond more quickly, providing tight, accurate bass. Ported enclosures, or bass reflex enclosures, have a hole that allows air to move through it. This air helps to reinforce low bass, resulting in stronger bass for a given power input. However, a ported enclosure also needs to be larger than a sealed enclosure.
A sub’s enclosure design is less important with home theatre applications since both types can produce the clean, hard bass of movie soundtracks. However, the enclosure will create a more noticeable difference with music. Acoustic genres such as classical and jazz will typically sound better with a sealed enclosure, while hard rock and hip-hop will benefit more from a ported enclosure.
Once you choose the right subwoofer for your room, positioning it properly can be an art in itself. Many audiophiles will spend weeks “dialing in” their sub, by modifying the level, crossover frequency and physical position to get the best sound possible. If this sounds too tedious for you do not worry, we are here to help! Our home theatre installation experts can properly install and calibrate your subwoofer, and entire home theatre system. Contact us today for more information on installation, or what subwoofer will be right for your home. Have any other questions? Let us know in the comments below!