Finding the Best Location for Your Subwoofer

A surround sound system can be one of the biggest upgrades to your home video and audio experience, but can also be very challenging to setup properly. Specifically, in order to get the most enjoyable audio experience from your home theater, your speakers should be placed in the room appropriately.

Most home theater systems are usually comprised of six to eight speakers. In most cases, one of these speakers is a subwoofer ('sub' for short), which is a dedicated speaker for producing low frequency effects. A subwoofer is usually a large box that sits on the floor somewhere in the listening space. Many choose to put it in a corner, others behind a chair, and some put it next to their sofa (so they can "feel" the bass). Although it can be placed anywhere in the listening space, there are some guidelines to consider when choosing the best location of a subwoofer.

Examining The Room

All rooms have different acoustic characteristics, which means that there is no "rule of thumb" for proper sub placement. Since bass frequencies below 80hz are considered to be omni-directional (meaning that bass below 80hz should sound as if it is coming from everywhere), room shape and acoustics play a huge part in how bass frequencies will sound in a given room.

In the magical land of make-believe, subwoofers could go anywhere they sounded best. So if the best location was three feet in the air above your sofa, it could magically float there and perform at its best. However, reality tells us that you cannot have a sub in the middle of the room, on top of a table, or magically suspended in the air. So, subwoofers have a limited number of places in a room where they can go. Accepting these limitations is part of the challenge of properly setting up a system.

Many people are told that subwoofers belong in a corner, which is a widespread myth. Placing a subwoofer in a corner can often yield the most volume from the subwoofer, but it can often sound too boomy (a.k.a. not enjoyable). Oftentimes, people settle on placing it near their TV or sofa, without even listening to it from various locations to see how different it sounds.

Finding the Best Location

Sub response in a room can vary drastically from one area to another. The key is to find a location where the bass sounds deep and smooth, not where it sounds the loudest. The current position of your subwoofer is likely not the best position in the room. Finding the best location will help you achieve the greatest sound quality from your subwoofer.

Testing the subwoofer requires a certain sound that digital home theater receivers have built-in. The test tone generator on your home theater receiver contains the sound needed to perform this action. (If your receiver does not have a test tone generator, you can purchase the proper sound on a DVD known as 'Avia').

There are two easy methods to determine the best location for the subwoofer:

Move the Sub Method

The obvious way to determine the best location for your subwoofer is to move the subwoofer to the location in question, connect it to your receiver, engage the test tone on the receiver, and evaluate from the listening position. Once you have made your evaluation, unhook the subwoofer, move the sub to the new location, connect, and so on. This process can be repeated an unlimited number of times until you find the best spot in your room.

Move Your Ears Method

If you don't feel like back-breaking labor is for you (particularly if you reverse the process), long time audio junkies say a better way to evaluate the best position for your subwoofer is to move it to your listening position. If you sit on the sofa when watching a movie, place the subwoofer on top of the sofa... even if the wife starts to look at you funny.

Once the sub is connected and the tone is engaged, move around the room. You'll notice that the bass sound will change as you move from one location to another. Find the spot that the bass sounds the best to you, and that will be the best place to put your sub. While evaluating, move your ears closer to the ground to make sure that it will sound right from the floor.

It is often the case that the best location for the sub is where you can't actually put it. Evaluate the positions you could permanently leave the sub, and choose the best one out of those locations. Once you've determined the best location, move your subwoofer to that location and connect it to your receiver. Reevaluate from that position to ensure that you are happy with the change.

Follow up

Anytime you change the position of a speaker, it is important to recalibrate your channel levels using a sound pressure level (SPL) meter. For instructions on how to do this, check out the article How To Calibrate Your Surround System Using an SPL Meter.


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