>> Tips from SVS on choosing the best subwoofer for your system.
A subwoofer is a specialized speaker designed to exclusively deliver bass for all the loudspeakers in two-channel or home theater surround sound system. It does this by exploiting the non-directionality of human low frequency perception so when you close your eyes, it sounds like bass is emanating from all around you, not just from where the subwoofer is located.
Bass is important to music and home theater in so many ways because it adds subtle and massive impact that makes you sit up and take notice. Bass lets you feel the slam of a musical note in your chest and causes you to jump in your seat during a powerful explosion or surround effect, it sets the mood in a movie soundtrack and it provides pacing for the rhythm and melody in music. But not all bass is created equal.
Cheap subwoofers can muddy the soundstage, smear musical notes together or create other distortion, especially when pushed to the limits with extreme SPLs. Just when you want the biggest impact and most exciting audio moment to be conveyed with convincing realism, the subwoofer bottoms out or fails to deliver. And despite the popular notion, you don’t need to match the brand of your loudspeakers and subwoofer. In most cases it’s best to look for a manufacturer who specializes in building subwoofers because a properly engineered subwoofer provides a foundation of deep, powerful, crisp and clear low frequency playback that enhances any speaker system. But this also begs the questions, what does good subwoofer bass sound like?
Unlike choosing speakers, which is a subjective decision with many factors involved, choosing a subwoofer is more of an objective decision because it needs to do 5 specific things well acoustically to improve the sound quality and dynamics of any audio system. With that in mind, here are 5 Things to Listen for When Choosing the Best Home Theater Subwoofer.
Deep and Tactile Low Frequency Extension – This seems obvious, but many subwoofers, especially small subwoofers, don’t have the ability to render the deepest bass, down to 20Hz and below, so they attempt to make up for it by exaggerating the mid-bass performance to address the deficit. This means you don’t get the punch or the feeling of a room being pressurized during those moments of infrasonic audio playback. A great subwoofer delivers all the deep bass frequencies in the content being played, sometimes at frequencies so low they can only be felt, not heard!
Reproduce Lowest Frequencies at the Highest Sound Pressure Levels (SPLs) – A great subwoofer plays effortlessly loud and distortion free, no matter how demanding the cinematic or musical content. Powered subwoofers have internal amplifiers and make adjustments to output as the main speaker volume is cranked up. Lesser subwoofers use amplifier limiting to cap output and save the driver from being damaged. The major downside is that this results in the bass “disappearing” during high impact scenes or demanding music playback, just at the instant it’s needed most for maximum effect. The best subwoofers play up to the level of the speakers to produce effortless output without clipping, bottoming out or cutting itself off.
Pinpoint Accurate Frequency Response – The best subwoofers add no sonic signature and are completely faithful to the source content delivering the bass notes or low frequencies exactly as the artist or director intended. It’s not just about the tonal quality though. A subwoofer must also be accurate in terms of the proportion of bass being produced so it’s not overwhelming the speakers with too much low end. Lesser subwoofers sound bloated and deliver boomy “one note” bass that is not truthful to the source material. The best subs offer the purest representation of what a song, movie or other piece of content is meant to convey.
Precise Speed in Transients – Frequently described as a subwoofer’s ability to “stop and start on a dime”, the best powered subwoofers have excellent speed in musical or cinematic transients and have no problem keeping pace with the content or with any kind of loudspeakers so the sound is always crisp and in perfect unison. Lesser subwoofers, especially those with massive drivers, can struggle to keep up with full range speakers, making the overall system sound smeared with less detail articulation. The best subwoofers stop producing bass at the precise moment they’re supposed to and start playing again at the exact right moment so the pacing of sound is perfectly matched with the speaker output and everything plays in perfect harmony.
Seamless Blending with Full Range Speakers – Subwoofers are awesome, but no one just wants to hear bass. Convincing home audio experiences are created when a subwoofer serves as the low frequency foundation but never draws attention to the bass alone. Bass is omnidirectional and the best subwoofers energize a room without overwhelming the soundstage or clearly announcing their location and presence in a distracting way. Whether used in a two-channel stereo speaker or surround sound configuration, subwoofer bass should always be complementary and perfectly blend with the mids and highs, no matter what the source content, making speakers sound bigger and more powerful than they really are.
From toe-tapping bass guitar riffs and head—nodding drum beats to the most complex and demanding movie sound effects, the best subwoofers reveal deeper, more palpable layers of sound that a speaker is simply not equipped to handle with its smaller divers and external amplification. And while some subwoofers merely add bass, a truly great subwoofer elevates the listening experience in a unique and visceral way. It’s perhaps the most noticeable and highest impact upgrade you can make to an audio or home theater system.
If you’ve never experienced this level of performance, SVS offers a 45-day in-home trial with free shipping both ways for all its subwoofer models, so you can judge for yourself, in your own home, how dynamic and impactful subwoofer sound can be. If you’re ready to unleash world-class bass in your home theater or music system, start browsing all SVS subwoofers now.
For a more detailed explanation of the 5 Things to Listen for When Choosing the Best Home Theater Subwoofer, check out the video with SVS president Gary Yacoubian below.