What Is a Subwoofer and Should I Get One?

Speakers play an important role in our daily lives; it’s hard to imagine life without them. Anyone who wants to listen to music, make music, watch movies, or simply browse the web needs speakers. Whether you’re an audiophile or a novice, selecting the best equipment for the finest sound can be difficult.

So, what is a subwoofer, what’s it used for, and how does it work? If you want to boost the bass and enrich anything you’re listening to, a subwoofer is perhaps the best way to instantly improve your audio experience.

What Exactly Is a Subwoofer?

A subwoofer, or “sub,” is a speaker that only produces bass, sub-bass, and low-frequency sounds. It’s often composed of just one speaker or driver, and the frequency range it covers is roughly between 20 and 200 Hz, although subwoofer frequencies may vary depending on the model of the sub.

Every sound we hear has a certain frequency. High-pitched sounds correspond to higher frequencies, and vice-versa. Standard speakers, soundbars, and surround systems usually struggle to reproduce low-frequency sounds, making the music you’re listening to sound flat, even if the bass is audible.

A subwoofer allows the listeners to actually feel the bass, not just hear it. Low frequency sounds are often used in electronic music or film music, but they aren’t limited to that. Deep sounds and cinematic sound effects, like explosions, can also be enhanced by subwoofers.

What Does a Subwoofer Do?

Understanding how a subwoofer works can be a bit complicated. If you’ve never seen a subwoofer in action, know that they can be powerful enough to cause a glass of water to crack.

Subwoofers use speaker drivers that can vary in diameter size, and they’re referred to as “woofers.” An amplifier is also typically included, and in some cases, so are passive radiators. How big the woofer itself is depends on the overall size of the speaker and its targeted frequency.

Subwoofer speakers produce sounds and sensations thanks to components that allow you to minimize or raise the output of specific frequencies, and which also ensure that the woofer cones on the subwoofer and speakers move in sync. A sound’s input signal is transmitted to the subwoofer, which then reproduces those same sounds as audible bass frequencies.

Why do subwoofers require so much power? That’s because they have to move a lot of air, as bass sounds usually have to go through big speakers that are able to produce larger sound waves. A typical size for such a driver is 8, 10, or even 12 inches. An amplifier developed specifically for a speaker is the easiest to manipulate, as a subwoofer requires a lot of power and control to be clearly audible.

Types of Subwoofers

Subwoofers are typically available in two configurations: active and passive. Aside from those specifications, there are several kinds of subwoofers, each with their own set of characteristics and applications. We’ll go through some of the most common ones below.

Most subwoofers range in price from $100 to $2,000, although high-end units can set you back as much as $6,000. The exact speakers you should go for all depends on your budget and what you intend to do with them.

Passive vs Active Subwoofers

The majority of subwoofers are active, which means they have an amplifier built in. They require a lot of power in order to work – sometimes up to 2,000 watts – in which case a powerful receiver is needed. Passive subwoofers are also available, but they are far less common than active ones.

Passive subwoofers require a separate receiver or amplifier to operate because they lack one. Since they have fewer components inside, they’re usually cheaper than active subwoofers. However, passive subwoofers require more power and a decent receiver to be able to emit quality low frequencies. They’re a good option for larger spaces and rooms, and you can use more than one.

An active or powered subwoofer comes equipped with its own AC adapter, as well as its own amplifier and speaker. If you’re planning on getting a subwoofer for your home setup or live performances, then an active subwoofer is the right choice.

Sealed Cabinet Subwoofers

Sealed cabinet subwoofers are usually enclosed in a sealed box, with either their rear or front faces. This type of setup usually comes in a smaller box. People who prefer “tighter” sounding bass typically use sealed subwoofers.

Ported Subwoofers

Compared to sealed subwoofers, ported sub speakers may appear a bit more complicated to use. A woofer and one or multiple ports allow air to escape the enclosed space in ported subwoofers. The port and woofer allow you to generate a louder and bigger sound by getting the air out of the box. If you’re going for “boomy” sounding bass, then these would be the right pick for you.

Front- and Down-Firing Subwoofers

The main difference between these two subwoofers is in their positioning. Front-firing subwoofers are designed to output sound from one side, and those vibrations can usually be “felt” in the air.

Down-firing subwoofer types are designed to produce sound only from the bottom of the speaker, causing the vibrations to shake the floor.

Horn-Loaded Subwoofers

One of the main perks of horn-loaded subwoofers is their efficiency. They consume less power than other types, but their frequency needs to be reduced. Because of the folded design that you’ll see with most horn-loaded subwoofers, they take up less space and produce less resonance. They work well in larger spaces.

Where Should You Place a Subwoofer?

A subwoofer’s frequency range is pretty specific, and its placement can have a great impact on the sound. There are some general guidelines you should follow when it comes to positioning your subwoofer.

Ideally, you should put a subwoofer in the middle of the room, as putting it against a wall or in a corner simply won’t produce the desired effect. Subwoofers and their cables can take up a lot of space, so it’s not uncommon for some people to put them inside a cabinet.

If placing it at the centre of the room isn’t practical, then putting the subwoofer speaker in the back of the room or in a corner can also be an option. It’s best not to set the crossover too high in this scenario, and you should avoid putting too many objects or obstacles in front of it.

If there’s space for air to move above or in front of the subwoofer, then the sound waves are not affected by the vibrations. This should allow them to escape from the port opening before reaching the front face of your speaker cabinet.

To hear the low frequencies clearly, the subwoofer should be placed as close to your primary speakers as possible. You’ll also want it near so that straight bass waves aren’t harmed by surface contact, which creates undesired vibrations and degrades sound quality.

Do I Need a Subwoofer?

Subwoofers allow speakers to perform better at higher frequencies, since they no longer have to play low-frequency sounds. This is great if you want to keep your speakers in good working order.

A subwoofer can complement practically any type of sound, regardless of the use, whether it’s for your car, home use, or a professional stereo system with a subwoofer, such as a 3D sound system. If you value your audio experience while watching movies, playing video games, or listening to music, then adding deep bass sounds will undoubtedly be beneficial. What could be better than being completely immersed in a visual and auditory experience?

Final Thoughts

What is a subwoofer? We hope our article has answered your question comprehensively. Subwoofers can be a fun and practical addition to your setup, whether it’s for your car, home system, or club gear.

You should choose a subwoofer based on the environment you’ll use it in, as each type has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Now that you have all the information you need, it’s time to start building your perfect sound system from the bass up!


FAQ

What is the difference between a speaker and a subwoofer?

The sole distinction between subwoofers and speakers is the frequency range they cover. Lower frequencies are handled by a subwoofer system, while speakers usually handle mid- and high-range frequencies.

Where do I put my subwoofer?

It’s advised to put a subwoofer in the centre of a room, but that’s not always an option. The output of a subwoofer positioned in the corner of a room may also be increased, making the subwoofer sound louder. However, if your subwoofer is too far away from where you’ll be when you’re listening, a corner may not be a practical alternative depending on your floor space.

Are woofers and subwoofers the same?

What is the difference between a woofer and a subwoofer? Woofers often have a higher frequency response, allowing them to play both bass and midrange tones. Subwoofers are often used to generate low-frequency, high-impact bass sounds with a high power output.

Can a subwoofer be used as a speaker?

Subwoofers, including their components, design, and input and output ports, are all designed for low-frequency signals. Subs can’t be used as standard speakers since they can’t stream the high-frequency audio impulses that other speakers work with.

What is the point of a subwoofer?

If you’ve reached this page, you’re probably wondering: what is a subwoofer? While your floorstanding or bookshelf speakers may produce bass, a subwoofer allows you to actually feel it. Listening to deep-toned music like electronica or movie scores with rich bass simply doesn’t feel the same without a subwoofer.

Damjana Cikaric

After teaching for 8 years, Damjana found a new challenge — writing. With her academic background in the English language, doing research and writing is always fun and enjoyable. In her spare time, she loves binge-watching TV shows, especially crime documentaries, or spending time with her dogs.

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