Why the dogs?
First of all, they are darn good-looking dogs, there’s just no denying that. Secondly, wife acceptance factor, also known as WAF, is a real issue. To help you with that issue, cute dogs make the discussion of bass a “little” more palatable for some spouses. This doesn’t address the issue for those who don’t like dogs, but it can surely give some people a better chance for gaining budget approval. “The guy with the dogs said it’s really important to get 2 subs. Look at his dogs, it must be important!” That will totally work, right?
Does it hurt their ears?
Edit: After reviewing sealed subwoofers, I recommend ported subwoofers for people with pets or other sensitive ears. I noticed fatigue with sealed subs that is not present with ported subs. Angel, the white dog, kept flicking her ears and seamed to be uncomfortable with the sealed subs. Also, autistic ears (mild Asperger’s myself), those prone to headaches, and those who often experience hangovers might benefit by going with ported subwoofers.
At my listening levels, the dogs don’t mind with ported subs. Bear (the black Newfoundland/Great Pyrenees mix) easily barks louder than I play the system. Seriously, my system will move you, it’s far more impressive than a typical $500 home theater in a box. There is obviously better out there ($$$), but it really rocks. Did Eric Cartman’s “brown noise” actually work? No comment, that’s gross, and shame on you for asking.
Bear, however, will RATTLE YOUR SOUL to the point of very nearly needing a defibrillator. What’s “super fun” is when it’s dead quiet and he sounds off at full volume in the middle of the night. No growl, no hint of a warning, just a sudden high-powered burst of “woof” as loud as he can. It’s an issue for me, if you can’t tell. It’s really uncool on his part, but we still love him dearly.
Sometimes scenes might cause them to go somewhere quieter, but they usually stick around. Big speakers and big subwoofers only mean bleeding eardrums if you crank it up to an uncomfortable level. My hearing is clearly very important to me. Headroom (how much volume you have leftover before reaching limits) is very beneficial, and this setup does not operate at the extreme levels when they are in the house.
Additionally, poor equipment would be more likely to hurt their ears, as distortion can be destructive. If there is a situation where I will be turning it way up, like the “PB-1000 in Action” video, or running bass tests, then I do put the dogs outside.
They are also put outside during calibration, even I find that sound irritating! The dogs are completely free to roam to quieter parts of the house, and Bear likes to rest his head right next to the sub. I’ve gotten down there myself and it’s not bothersome. I think they prefer Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, and Norah Jones.
Can you suggest subwoofers made by the major brands like Bose, Klipsch, Polk, etc…?
I would really love to, they would increase my income since more people are familiar with them. The criteria for this site is that the sub performs with perceptive “authority” down to 20 hertz. This is not the rating, I’m talking about clean, meaningful output, not just what they put on the box. At this time, I am unaware of a “major” brand that produces subs that actually perform that low with clean authority.
Additionally, the subs need a relatively flat response, and must be relatively free of obvious flaws, like port chuffing (hearing the air puffing in and out as opposed to just the sound itself), dramatic peaks in output and high distortion. On top of that they need to be affordable too, and something I would actually purchase myself.
It’s possible that someday these brands may decide to up their game, so I don’t mean to bash. What I need is to confidently recommend a sub without someone feeling like they got the short end of the stick. That keeps the list really short.
Why Dual Subwoofers?
Because it delivers bass correctly, and reduces dead spots very effectively, making placement less critical. I could go into detail, get you lost in technical terms, and at the same time get a bunch of people I don’t know angry because I’m not an engineer. It’s substantially better, and I will always make it a priority myself.
Going back to a single subwoofer for about a week exposed a phenomenon I call “Swiss cheese bass”, which has a lot of holes in it. These holes are not just at the very depths, but all throughout the bass spectrum. What I can say with a fair amount of confidence is that regardless of how good or bad your subwoofer is, because of standing waves, you cannot hear it’s full range in a single configuration.
Nulls, nodes, dead spots, (all the same thing) shift to different spots in the room as the frequency changes. When it comes to a single subwoofer, there is no such thing as ideal placement, room nulls, which exist in even the best acoustically treated rooms, make it impossible. Dual subs cause the waves to interact, reducing the room nulls and providing even coverage.
Why the Subwoofer? Why not Amp101 or Tweeter101?
Done correctly, subwoofers can make weak sauce speakers sound halfway decent, and great speakers sound truly amazing. Without good bass, the sound is usually unsatisfying, unimpressive, and incomplete. It’s the most “bang for the buck” I have found in home theater and music. (Pun absolutely intended)
You can go into a box store and get something pretty decent when it comes to nearly everything else in home theater, but good bass is much harder to find, especially if you’ve never been able to hear what is you are looking for in the first place. Internet Direct, or Manufacturer Direct, tend to be able to offer better value (although that does not guarantee good performance). I only list subs I would spend my money on, so value is an important consideration.
There is a quality of sound that we all dream of hearing when we see huge, expensive speakers in an elegant room. What I discovered was that, at least for me, the sound I imagined in my head turned out to be deep, accurate bass when paired with good main drivers. A lot of very expensive tower speakers can sound incomplete without quality subwoofers. Proper bass is a vital component for good sound, in my strong and obviously biased opinion.
Are there subs that are NOT on your list that are worth considering?
Some, yes. I don’t know it all, nor have I heard it all. I’m a one man show, so I can’t possibly hear every offering, so I set some very stringent requirements to narrow down the field dramatically.
There is no point in me reviewing a sub rated at 26 hertz, I’ll never buy it myself, and therefore I could never recommend it. Beyond that, I don’t want to waste a company’s time or say bad things about them.
It’s also a matter of feeling confident about what I’m recommending. If I’ve heard it, and it’s great, it’s much easier for me to recommend. If I haven’t heard it, but I still recommend looking at it, there is good reason. I’m always open to hearing more, but I feel confident that those on the list deserve their place. That said, if a particular sub or brand loses quality, I will remove them. What I don’t want is my audience to be unsatisfied with something that I recommend, and that will remain the biggest factor in what makes the list and what doesn’t.
Yes, if you can. My amp is 95 watts, not super powerful, but not super expensive either. A better budget would have meant a more powerful amp. The hard part is driving the bass, it requires the most power. I’d happily run 3000 watts of combined sub amplifier power with my 95 watt per channel amp, but more amp power would generally be better. You always match your subs to your mains, so bass should always be appropriate relative to the volume. Big subs like these do not mean too much bass unless you have them turned up too high. You adjust that with the subwoofer gain and your amplifier settings.
Does that mean you should avoid high power AVR’s or separates (preamp/amp)? No, headroom is great in any form, and it’s always better to have more than you need than not enough. But if I had to decide between a $1,200 AVR and a $600 sub vs a $600 AVR and dual $600 subs, I’d put priority on the dual subs. Of course a better AVR is better in general (there are always exceptions), and separates are great, so I don’t mean to discourage getting the best you can afford.
Sure, if it make sense for you. With dual subs I don’t think it’s nearly as important, and duals are not as “visually disturbing” as things hanging from your ceiling. I don’t use them, but don’t discourage it either, it’s just beyond what I’m willing to do in my own living room for aesthetics and WAF.
Certainly, textiles such as rugs, curtains, and wall hangings will all help acoustics while not having the obvious purpose of acoustic treatment. You would normally find these items in a living room anyway, so it’s not as out of place as a bass trap or egg crates or other treatments on the wall. You could get clever, integrating traps as art pieces or something.
Bass traps may improve the sound, but your “enjoyment” may suffer dramatically if your spouse constantly glares at you due to their presence in the living room. Did I mention the benefits of a dedicated theater room? Kudos to those who can do it!
No rack, no power conditioners, where is the solid gold wire?
The guys who want that kind of stuff usually have no need for a site like this. They already have the sickness worse than I do, and are probably leaps and bounds more knowledgeable than I am. There comes a point when the sound is amazing, but to do better you have to get really expensive. Dedicated rooms, racks, projectors, perforated screens, really funky looking speaker designs, it gets crazier than you can imagine. I don’t mean to knock it, I’m envious.
I imagine my audience wants to know where to start to get something really good, and then do even better, or just get on with their lives after having their home theater “under control”. It can bankrupt you if you let it.
It’s OK to want great sound while also not wanting to spend every waking moment on forums, too afraid to ask questions because you might get “yelled at in caps” for not using the search function. Everyone was new once, and I would have really liked to find something like this myself to save some time and money when I was new.
Is your wife just super cool to let you have big subs?
Yes, of course she is. And to get the macho stuff out of the way, respecting your spouse’s concerns is a good idea in any case, if you want to have any degree of happiness, so don’t get too hung up on the word “let”.
One reason she has been supportive of me going down this road is that she enjoys the set up as much as I do. There were doubts initially with a larger subwoofer, but hearing the difference and living with it, she is really happy with the results. She hasn’t read a single word on this site yet, way too dry for her, but she loves what it means for what’s happening in our living room.
Ear bleeding volume doesn’t appeal to either of us, and we both enjoy quality sound, even if I take it a little more seriously. When it comes to the Wife Acceptance Factor, it was mainly a hurdle PRIOR to buying a quality subwoofer. Once installed and properly adjusted, the size issue seemed to evaporate for me (placement is still an issue, setting a sub in the middle of the living room would not be an option, nor would bass traps).
That said, she does prefer the smaller subs over the larger ones, so long as they still deliver. She liked the PB-1000’s for their size, and the PB-2000’s are favorite, as they fit perfectly on either side of our entertainment center, very symmetrical. Fears of being boomed out of the room were squashed as beautiful music became stunning, and movies sounded extraordinary.
You’re own experience with your significant other may vary greatly, of course, and flowers and chocolate may be required.
I’m really new, what are “Hertz” anyway?
In simple terms, Hertz is a measurement of frequency in cycles per second. It also indicates actual wavelength. Just like a wave in a swimming pool, you can have big long waves, or short ripples. The bass would be the big long waves, while higher frequencies would look more like short ripples. A 4000 hertz wavelength, like the highest key on a piano, is about a third of an inch. The roar of a tiger reaches tones under 20 hertz, a wavelength of over 50 feet long! The roar is so visceral, it is known to temporarily paralyze!
Being able to truly appreciate that tiger’s roar in in your home requires subs that can fully reproduce the sound. You can still hear the tiger’s roar with basic subwoofers, but not the full “gravity” of the roar you get with good subs. This applies to music, movies, etc…
Lower frequencies are harder to hear and more difficult to reproduce, which generally means you need more power and surface area to reproduce them effectively. Imagine making a tiny wave in a pool, easy to do right? Now make a single large wave. Takes more oomph doesn’t it? It’s also harder to make a large clean and smooth looking wave without a big surface area.
This is why whales and elephants can produce infrasonic sound (under 20 hertz), but canaries and crickets have a harder time. Same with your cell phone or laptop. Run a frequency sweep to see for yourself. My laptop speakers only go to about 160 hertz before I can no longer perceive the sound.
Perception of the sound is the important part, which is why rated frequency response only indicates the “possibility” of a good sub. A sub rated for 28 hertz has no place on this site, I consider it incomplete and wouldn’t buy one myself. A sub rated for 17 hertz “might” be a good sub, but only if sound can actually be “perceived with authority” that low, and do so without other bad manners. Not an easy task, which is why the list is short.
What is a subwoofer?
A subwoofer is a loudspeaker designed to reproduce low frequency sound, generally under 200 hertz or so, the bottom 1% of the total spectrum humans can hear, but requiring the most power and largest drivers to reproduce that sound. The subs I discuss are active or powered, meaning they take the low power signal that comes from the AVR or receiver and amplify it to drive large drivers (woofers) to produce the sound at audible levels.
They need to be plugged into an electrical outlet as well as a source (like an AVR Receiver or preamp) to work, compared to your mains (center, bookshelf speaker, surrounds, towers, etc) that just need to be connected to AVR and do not require being plugged into an electrical output as well. You will be able to match the volume of the subwoofer to the volume of your mains by using the “gain” or volume dial and the AVR controls.
What is a crossover?
It’s a circuit that sends high frequencies to the tweeters and midrange, while sending the low frequencies to the woofer/subwoofer. In an AVR or preamp, the crossover is adjustable, sending different levels of bass to your subwoofer and blending the signals between the subwoofer and main speakers. A crossover inside of a main speaker (tower, center, surround) are usually fixed to optimum frequencies by the manufacturer.
A crossover is a bit like a spaghetti strainer or a gravel classifier. Big stuff is separated from the small stuff, with each going to it’s appropriate driver. The smaller high frequencies are directed to tweeters and midrange, while the larger low frequencies are directed to the subwoofer, and this is all done instantly. This is a very simplistic analogy, it’s more complicated, but hopefully you get the idea.
Where you set your crossover (both on the AVR and the subwoofer) determines what gets through to your subwoofer. If you set it at 40 Hertz, only the giant “boulders” of sound get through, which makes it harder to volume match, since a lot of good bass happens above 40 hertz. Norah Jones/Peter Malick Group’s “Heart of Mine” has an opening bass line of 80 hertz or so, for example. It’s hard to level match your subs to your mains if your subs aren’t getting that 80 hertz signal at all.
I suggest using a minimum crossover of 80 hertz or higher up to a max of 110 or so, and usually a good set of mains will do great at 80-90. I used to prefer 90, but the SVS Primes were so good at the lower frequencies that 80 was more appropriate. Some big towers capable of deep bass can be crossed over lower (40-60 hertz), but you will usually want bigger amplifiers to get good performance, since you are trying to get the towers to handle what subwoofers already do extremely well, and they do it much more easily.
I say let the brutes handle the heavy lifting of producing bass, and give your AVR and main speakers a break by crossing at 80 hertz. Keep the eggheads in accounting and meat heads in the warehouse, everybody is happier that way and things go smoother. No offense to either, I’ve been both to an extent.
Also, if you are using a typical sub now, it’s output may fall off (stop producing good sound) at 40 hertz and below, and if your crossover is set to 40 hertz, it leaves you with very little output from your sub. That is not a happy situation.
What is a “Port”?
A port is a passage that allows air to move in and out of a speaker enclosure. Sealed subwoofers do not have ports, and are air tight. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but my preference is ported.
Do you do car audio stuff?
No. I used to, but it got too expensive to do it right, and with the noise of a vehicle itself I came to the conclusion that I could get a lot more enjoyment from putting that money into an already quiet environment and just “suffer” with a stock audio system. I might toss in a sub, but nothing serious.
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