One of the more energized topics over at our forum, HomeTheaterEquipment.com, is about the use of multiple subwoofers in audiophile and home theater systems. Historically, audiophiles have felt frustration as they fought the use of subwoofers in their systems but, in recent years, people have increasingly converted over to the use of a sub. The fact is that even some of the largest-format audiophile speakers, like Focal‘s Grand Utopia BEs and Wilson Audio’s Home theater enthusiasts are also questioning whether or not to use multiple subwoofers for the all-important LFE channel, also known as that “point one” speaker in your 5.1 or 7.1 speaker configuration. Sound engineers put some serious energy into those subwoofer channels on today’s Blu-ray mixes, and getting rock-solid bass in your theater only makes your home theater sound more like a well-tuned professional screening room. The issue: how to get the best subwoofer performance and whether it is worth it to devote some of your upgrade money to an additional subwoofer?
Professional acoustician Bob Hodas has tuned many of the top recording studios in the world, including A&M Studios, Eddy Van Halen’s 5150 Studio, Electric Lady Studios, and countless others. He suggests that multiple subwoofers are good for both audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts and that you should “keep an open mind when it comes to your room.” All rooms are unique, and any speaker/sub package that you choose will react in ways that are specific to your space. For audiophiles, Hodas suggests that stereo subs positioned in the same plane as the main speakers can often provide the ability to make deeper, smoother sound than even large floor-standing speakers. Hodas says that most people can hear stereo separation in a lower range than some people have suggested, so having low-frequency support deep into the lower registers is a smart investment. For home theater systems, Hodas suggests that you consider using three or four subwoofers, with one of the subs being a larger, truly full-range sub that is set up first, and then using the additional subwoofers to “fill in” any frequencies that the main sub can’t reproduce in the room. When using the correct measurement tools – be they SMAART, Spectra Foo, or something like Room EQ Wizard – you can see how your system performs in different sections of your room. With more than one subwoofer at work, you can create smoother coverage in the lower frequencies over more seating locations in your theater.
Sandy Gross, the co-founder of speaker companies ranging from Polk Audio to Definitive Technology and now GoldenEar Technology, agrees that multiple subwoofers are better for smoother coverage in home theater applications. Gross says, “Multiple sub[woofer]s allow the end user to activate more room modes, thus making a smoother response.” Regarding stereo subwoofers, “This is why we build subwoofers right into our Triton speakers.” Regarding the need to match subwoofers, Gross opines: “Two small subwoofers tend to offer smoother coverage, while one big subwoofer can possibly go deeper. Which one is better? That’s hard to tell.” Perhaps one large subwoofer with one or two smaller subwoofers might be the ultimate home theater configuration.
Gary Yacoubian of SVS Sound, maker of some of the most popular Internet-direct subwoofers, tends to disagree. Yacoubian says, “Within the budgets of our clients – be it a one-, two-, three-, or four-subwoofer installation – we recommend that they match the woofers. We find that it provides the most even sound, less hot spots, and better imaging. Even if they need to go with smaller woofers, it’s the right move.”
Before you get into subwoofer placement and setup, another key concern is room acoustics. Bass tends to load up in corners. If you can deal with these issues before you start turning knobs and setting EQs, you are way ahead of the game. The types of low-frequency solutions on the market are varied and come in a bevy of form factors, ranging from ASC’s famous Tube Traps to in-wall solutions like RPG’s Modex plates. Vicoustic makes a tunable bass product called Vari Bass that shows a lot of potential, especially when used with the right measurement tools.
Subwoofers don’t have to be expensive to be effective, especially if you don’t need fancy external finishes, but subwoofers can offer both the audiophile and the home theater enthusiast one of the biggest performance-per-dollar increases available in the AV marketplace today. While professional tuning is the best solution, it’s also the most expensive. DIY installations using some of the aforementioned tools can get an end user to pretty impressive results without too much cost or effort. Getting subwoofers to sound their best is a process that requires patience and a full understanding of your room’s acoustics and your system’s functionality. When you get it right, though, you are in for a treat.
Tell us about your subwoofer configurations in the Comments section below…
• Do you use a subwoofer for audiophile applications?
• How many subs do you use for your home theater LFE channel?
• What brand of subwoofer(s) do you use?
• What placement sounds the best in your room?
• What crossover points did you end up using in your system?
• Did you use room treatments to get better bass performance?
By Jerry Del Colliano, HomeTheaterReview