Do you need a subwoofer?

When you include a subwoofer in your surround sound system, sometimes you forget it’s even there. That is until the action movie you’re watching uses the LFE (low-frequency effects) channel to literally shake the room with a sound effect. That’s what happened to me recently while watching the movie Troy on Blu-ray. The sound of thousands of Agamemnon’s soldiers marching in lockstep on the beaches of Troy really added to the drama and excitement of the experience.

What to look for in a home subwoofer

Subwoofer Size

Generally speaking, a larger woofer cone will produce more bass output, all else being equal, but it rarely is, because design and amplifier power play a large role as well. But In a manufacturer’s lineup, the subwoofers designed for larger home theaters will have larger cones or more than one driver.

If you’re living in an apartment and don’t need to shake the whole house then a quality 8-inch model will be fine.

The volume of the room (L x W x H) is what matters when deciding how powerful a subwoofer you need.  For larger home theaters a 12-inch or larger cone with an amp delivering at least 150 watts RMS continuous should be considered. Installing more than one subwoofer can also be considered; many amps/receivers now have two LFE outputs for this purpose.

Subwoofer Power

Of course, woofer cone size is only one factor in speaker output.  All the subwoofers reviewed are “active subwoofers”, aka “powered subwoofers”. That is, they have built-in amplifiers.

You’ll find a lot of difference in amplifier power and quality in the different price ranges. For example, compare the Polk Audio PSW10 with a 50-watt amplifier and 10-inch cone and the 10-inch JBL ES150P with a 300-watt amp.

Subwoofer Enclosure Types

Another factor to consider when reading subwoofer reviews is enclosure type. Some subwoofers have a “bass reflex” design that incorporates a tuned port in the cabinet.  Another type referred to as “acoustic suspension” uses a sealed cabinet.

A general rule is that bass reflex designs can produce more output sound per watt, but an acoustic suspension design generally produces a tighter, more accurate bass response, albeit requiring a more powerful amp.

You’ll also find some unique subwoofer designs that define their own niche. For instance, check out the amazing Velodyne MicroVee, an ultra-compact design with incredible punch.

Subwoofer Placement

After you’ve read the subwoofer reviews, brought home and unpacked your new unit, I’d encourage you to devote a little time to optimize the room location. Instead of setting it straight away into one of the front corners, try several different spots in the room. Read about subwoofer placement for some ideas on approaching this task. The goal is to get the smoothest bass response out of your investment. Placement can make a big difference and experimentation is the key.