Selecting a Subwoofer : The Nitty Gritty

Most music consists of a full range of audible frequencies, from low bass (bass guitar, cello etc) to high treble (cymbals, piccolo) although a notable exception is John Cage’ Four minutes and Thirty Three seconds. In simple terms – the lower the sound, the longer the sound wave and the more energy required to generate it. In practical terms – bigger speakers and a more powerful amplifier.

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“Bass is an essential part of music and is the part that adds the drive and excitement, try to imagine Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean or Prodigy’s Fire Starter without any bass, for example.”

“Can’t we just use a more ‘bassy’ speaker?”

To explain why this is not really the answer we need think about what a speaker is doing. In its simplest form a speaker is a vibrating membrane that is generating sound (pressure) waves and to produce lower sounds, the speaker cone has to move more slowly and further. This is no problem on its own but at the same time we need it to produce the mid and treble frequencies. These sounds require a very quick response and result in a very complex vibration pattern. Expecting a speaker to do both low and high frequencies inevitably ends in a compromise of both. The practical result of this compromise is at best a muddled, less defined sound and at worst a distortion that will lead to the destruction of the speaker. The only solution is a dedicated bass speaker, a subwoofer.

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Fortunately there are a wide range of compact, high performance woofers on the market now. Speakers that will operate in very small enclosures and take up minimal space. In a lot of cases, where I’m upgrading a factory Bose or Meridian system, I can use the existing bass speaker location for a completely stealth installation. In many cases I can use wheel wells, under seat locations or custom build enclosures in boot recesses. Even when none of this is possible there are woofers from Jl Audio and Hertz that offer spectacular performance from a unit little bigger than a couple of shoe-boxes.

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At Car and Home Stereo my system designs are always sympathetic to the vehicle but most of all it is my passion for music and great sound that drives my recommendations.