What should you consider when setting up your subwoofer? Your brand new home cinema surround sound system has arrived, and you are eager to install and test it out right away. But you should take a little time to think carefully about how to set up your new speakers, especially the subwoofer, so that your system can provide optimal sound projection. In this article, we summarise the main tips for correctly setting up your subwoofer for perfect bass from movies, music and games.
Installation tips: from stereo to surround – more speakers means better sound
We can agree on one thing: just as a big 5.1 sound system produces a much more powerful sound than a small 2-way stereo system, so there are more options than just placing two speakers and connecting them to the base. The 7.1 sound system has even more to offer. These speakers promise high-quality surround sound, but only if you place them correctly. The sound comes from all sides. So the best thing to do is make a brief plan of how to set up and position your speakers and subwoofer before starting the set up. This will depend on a few factors.
Is the sound dependent on the position of the subwoofer?
In circles of home cinema and therefore subwoofer owners, the opinion has become established that the bass sound is not particularly influenced by where the subwoofer is located. Left, right, back, front – does it really matter? It can be simple, but also complicated: because the subwoofer is actually not acoustically bound to the other speakers of the 5.1 or 7.1 sound system and can actually be placed anywhere. On the other hand, most manuals specify that the position of the subwoofer should be front central between the left or right front speaker and the centre loudspeaker. We could therefore assumer that there must be some advantage of this position.
So, if you have the possibility to keep the given position between centre and front-right/left speakers, then do it! If you need to place it somewhere else, think about which positions you might already exclude and have a read of out further tips to help you out.
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These places are not suitable for subwoofers
Since subwoofers can be separate speaker cabinets, many people try to save space and place them in a corner of the room or as close to the wall as possible. This is however not such a good idea. We explain why.
The human ear is not able to locate the origin of bass sound exactly. That’s where the fact we mentioned above comes from. Theoretically you can place the subwoofer anywhere and it will fill the room with its bass frequencies. But you have to consider the room acoustics and the other speakers. For this reason, room corners and wall positions are not a good idea. Here the sound waves of the subwoofer, which are emitted spherically, hit an obstacle that is too close and are reflected immediately. If the subwoofer is positioned directly in a corner, the sound waves are immediately reflected by two walls; if the wall is directly behind the subwoofer, the same effect occurs and the sound is reduced. How the conditions are perceived acoustically is determined by the law of room modes.
Depending on the stationary properties of the sound source, your point of view and the room conditions regarding sound waves, these describe the perception of auditory impressions. In short, room modes can ensure that the bass is either perfect, too over bearing, or not audible at all, because sound waves cancel each other out through unfavourable positioning. From this theory comes the recommendation of the operating instructions, which provide a position not only in the middle between two speakers, but also on about a quarter to fifth of the room. This is possible if the entire system is placed in the middle of the room. The emitted sound waves hit the walls at such different times in this positioning so that the reflection is optimised. You can find out more about how to position the other speakers on the blog.
Setting up a subwoofer means detailed work
If you’re not satisfied, you can go into even more details and tests when setting up the subwoofer to find the really perfect subwoofer position. As already indicated, most living rooms don’t offer too many possibilities to set up the subwoofer, especially as individual components. However, the following approaches are suitable to get the best effects out of the subwoofer:
- Crawling method: The starting point is that the subwoofer should be positioned exactly where you sit and will be listening from later. As it plays, you should crawl around the room finding out where the bass sounds best. That’s where the subwoofer should be placed, since in the other direction the perfect sound is at the sitting position. This usually works, but not always.
- Different locations: In short, this is a case of trial and error – testing out several locations for the subwoofer. You should leave the subwoofer in the spot where it sound best.
- Two subwoofers: In fact, you can set up two subwoofers in order to better control the bass sound waves. The point is not that there is more bass, but that the bass is better arranged with room modes (at least in theory).
One more tip: If you have neighbours, do them a favour and put polystyrene or insulating material between the subwoofer and the floor so that they don’t get the full, penetrating bass pressure that the floor likes to transmit.