You can’t create room-shaking sound without a subwoofer. This speaker is responsible for playing the low bass only and it can really complement all the other speakers by making all of them sound better.
That said, not all subwoofers are made equal. Aside from that, where you place your subwoofer can make a world of difference in the bass loudness and quality. This article contains tips that will help you achieve the right configuration and setup for your home.
Table of Contents
- How Does a Subwoofer Work
- Common Placement Concerns
- Best Subwoofer Placements
- Small Rooms vs. Large Rooms
- Other Tips to Improve Bass Definition
- Never Forget to Run Multiple Tests
- Final Thoughts on Subwoofer Placement
How Does a Subwoofer Work
Before even discussing popular placements and the do’s and don’ts of setting up a subwoofer, it’s best that you are completely familiar with how a subwoofer works.
A subwoofer is very dependent on room acoustics, furniture location, and placement. That’s because the sound waves projected, i.e. bass or low-frequency waves, are very wide and therefore sound omnidirectional to the human ear. They will bounce off the room walls over and over again before attenuating (the much smaller mid and high-frequency waves will attenuate much sooner).
But, this can also cause bass waves to reflect back into one another. This effect can result in two outcomes – bass nulls and standing waves.
Bass nulls are essentially reflecting waves that end up canceling each other out. This effect creates an acoustic dead spot.
Standing waves create the opposite effect. When similar wavelengths reinforce one another due to acoustic factors and room design, the result can be an excess in bass response or a boom effect.
Finding the correct placement for a subwoofer will help minimize the occurrence of standing waves or bass nulls (though they’re impossible to eliminate completely in a standard room).
Common Placement Concerns
Here are some of the most common concerns regarding subwoofer placement. Everything matters when you set up an audio system, and especially the speakers, subwoofer, and room interaction.
This is one of the first things everyone thinks about. How will the subwoofer look in the living room? Will it be out of place? Will it take up too much room?
And of course, will the wiring show? These are all things you should ask yourself before choosing a subwoofer.
Some positions will be superior to others. That said, some people may trade a bit of audio quality for convenience and a cleaner look.
The amount of distance between the TV, soundbar, and subwoofer can also be tied into aesthetics. Placing the subwoofer further from the soundbar (assuming you’re using it with a soundbar) could expose more wiring than some people are willing to show.
As far as wireless subwoofers are concerned, this doesn’t necessarily allow for very far placement. Too much space in between could lead to interference.
It’s also worth noting that latency shouldn’t become an issue within 30ft, as most wireless subwoofers are rated at least in this range. But, close placement is still desirable for the entire frequency range to sound more coherent.
Should It Be Enclosed?
Putting a subwoofer inside an enclosed cabinet, or even an open cabinet, is not a good idea. This prevents the sound from going in all directions and bouncing properly between the walls.
Another concern is regarding unwanted and unnecessary vibrations. These are quite common when putting a subwoofer inside a cabinet because of the amount of air that a subwoofer needs to move to produce low bass.
It’s also possible that a subwoofer can overheat and the voice coil or amplifier will blow sooner than anticipated.
Best Subwoofer Placements
More often than not, placing your subwoofer in the front of the room (relative to the listener) is the best way to go about it. One corner of the room will do the trick. While it may not necessarily be the best sound, it is often the most convenient place for a subwoofer.
Placing the subwoofer in a corner will help it fire sound and bounce sound waves off the walls, floor, and ceiling. This is one of the reasons why it helps so much in creating an integrated sound from top to bottom.
With that in mind, whether you choose the left or right front corner of your room will depend on a number of aspects.
First of all, it’s recommended that the subwoofer not be obstructed. Therefore, use whichever corner that has less furniture between it and the listener.
Always make sure that the subwoofer is facing the room and not the wall. In this fashion, the audio will always be in sync and less muddy.
There is however one hitch with this placement. If your room is very big and you’re sitting far away from the TV, then a corner placement may be underwhelming. Make sure that the subwoofer is powerful enough for the size of your room.
If it’s not, then a closer positioning may be necessary to boost the bass and overall sound quality.
Set It Next to the TV
Another popular placement option is right next to the TV stand. Putting the subwoofer to the left or right of the TV stand is not a bad idea.
It will bring it closer to you than it would be from either front corner. It will also sound more coherent with the other speakers but it may not be loud since the sound waves may not bounce as hard off the walls.
A Third of the Way
Another interesting placement idea is known as the Rule of Thirds for subwoofers. This concept revolves around setting down a subwoofer at a third of the way from a wall and into the room.
This principle can be applied to most placement options when it comes to finding the right distance between the sub and the wall.
Not all subwoofers can be installed inside walls. However, more and more manufacturers are seriously exploring this new concept.
Although there are some downsides regarding installation, additional wiring, amplification, crossovers, and excessive noise coming out of your walls, this placement option can also enrich the sound, provided it’s done right.
Most in-wall installations will require professional work, as you may already suspect.
Small Rooms vs. Large Rooms
Here’s something very interesting. If you have a small room, you will be more limited with your subwoofer placement options, which can actually make it easier to decide. The smaller the room, the less space there is for sound to travel and the fewer optimum locations.
In a larger room, you will have to do more testing to find a satisfactory spot for your subwoofer.
I should also point out that if you have multiple rows of seating, this could also influence the ideal location for your subwoofer. A front placement, near the TV or screen and the soundbar, might not give a room-filling sound for those in the back rows.
Other Tips to Improve Bass Definition
As mentioned, a corner placement may give you louder bass but not necessarily the best bass response or quality. But maybe that’s your only convenient placement option. Is there a way to improve the bass definition?
There is. You can use what’s known as room correction software or EQs that allow you to make frequency adjustments based on certain room acoustics parameters.
Of course, to do this you will need some advanced audio equipment that you can insert between the subwoofer and the upstream component (preamp, receiver, soundbar, etc.).
Your A/V receiver may already have an automatic room correction feature, or ARC for short. This technology can determine the sound level of each channel, the distance between speakers, and make educated guesses and calibrations to improve the bass response.
Do You Need Two Subwoofers?
Believe it or not, two subwoofers, as in a pair of stereo subs, can make a big difference in the richness of the sound.
However, it can get very expensive, not to mention that it will introduce another potentially big component that you have to fit into your room’s décor.
With one subwoofer, since it’s rarely in a central position, there will be some dead spots in the room. Adding another subwoofer to it will make it easier to reduce these dead spots. You’ll still have to play around with the placement though, and checking with a frequency sweep and a sound pressure level (SPL) meter.
Never Forget to Run Multiple Tests
The convenience of using a soundbar for all your speakers (and subwoofer too) is that you don’t have to deal with multiple speakers, wires, and so on. This means that experimenting with multiple placement options is much easier and therefore not something you should skip.
Start by using the placement tips and examples in this article. Then, use the principles explained to figure out what’s best for your unique room setup. Don’t be afraid to step away from the norm.
Final Thoughts on Subwoofer Placement
After all is said and done, there is no ideal location for a subwoofer that applies to every person. Even two identical rooms in size and spacing may have different sweet spots for a subwoofer.
Everything from the distance between the speakers and the listening area, to the furniture and carpeting in between, can affect how the sound will be projected and perceived by the listener. Therefore, all you can really do is use these pro tips and keep changing the location of the sub until you’re completely satisfied. And of course, this will all depend on you picking the right sub in regard to the room size.