are subwoofers anti-audiophile?

I have been into this hobby 25 years now and have noticed not a lot of us use Subwoofers in our systems.

I have 2 systems, one which is a Celestion SL700 with their Celestion System 6000 subwoofer pair with a outboard crossover-----my other system has changed quite a bit, but with always large floorstanding speakers. I have also always had adequate power to the speakers.

My floorstanding system cannot match the realism i get from my Celestion/subwoofer system. In my floorstanding system, it is almost like the bassist is backstage playing, while the rest of the band is front stange and center. This leads me to my question. Why don't most of us use subwoofers? I am a member of an audiophile club and we do system hops and no one has a subwoofer in their 2 channel systems.
I think it's because (1) most really good music-oriented speakers are designed to run without subs, and (2) most subs are designed to make the floor shake when watching movies with overdone explosions, or to one-note "music".

Good-sounding music-oriented subs (Rel, Vandersteen, et al.) exist, but they're the exceptions.
I'm with you. Even large floor standers benefit from the addition of well integrated subs. I've done many tests with and w/o and every time I go back to using the subs. They flesh out the trailing edge of the lower notes; something the smaller drivers in floor standers don't seem able to do.

But you can't over so it, and you need musical subs, not just the room shakers. My subs are from the same company as my floor standers; they are designed for music and blend exceptionally well.
Subs can be difficult to integrate with satelite speakers. More difficult than most people know, even those who love subs. I usually find that a speaker designer is best at designing a woofer to integrate seemlessly with the other drivers in one speaker.
I've heard quite a few systems with subs, and many make their owners happy, which is really all that matters. I wouldn't say that I care for the sound they are listening to, a bit boomy for my tastes, but to each their own. IMHO, a perfect sub would be one that no one can hear. Most sub owners set the level so high that you KNOW there is a sub in the system. Bass is nice, but not if it drowns out the midrange.

Right on Bigbucks. However, my floor standers aren't very large and I use only one sub, which I'm told was voiced with the floor standers I use. I've tried many speaker combinations over the years, but most likely will keep this one for many more. What a great hobby! -Lars-
A good sub, set up the right way, should not even be noticed.....untill you turn it off. People don't even know I have a sub on most of the time. I'm not a "bass freak" by any means, but when I listen, if I turn the sub off, the room seems to get hollow. If you want to hear the thumping, any piece of junk can do that. Just listen to the kids next to you at a stop light sometime. I asked a young co-worker a while back what that noise was. He said "bass" I then asked him what instrument makes that sound. He was clueless. I don't think it's hard to get right. Some subs are more musical than others, for sure, but with a little effort, you should get good results. I use one in every room that has music.
Agree with Jmcgrogan2 100%. Subs for hometheatre can embellish the enjoyment of a Movie watched but are very hard to get right and usually expensive for musical bass that does not overwhelm the room or the MIDRANGE! Cheers
I have often wondered about this myself. I certainly understand the concern that a sub might sound slow, bloated, or one note. But it seems to me that there is ample evidence available to audiophiles that manufacturers like REL, Velodyne, and JL make subs that have few or none of these problems. So the question remains, why do so few audiophiles seem to use them? Maybe it is a prejudice, left over from an era when musical subs were few and far between. Maybe it's that many audiophiles value system simplicity, and they view subs as adding unnecessary complexity.

I use a sub in my 2 channel system. I initially decided to use it as a solution to space limitations, but now that I have, I'm not sure I would give it up if my space limitations were to change. Among the biggest advantages, as I see it, is the fact that the sub has a powerful, optimized amp to drive the woofer, which left me free to choose a low power, sweet sounding amp for my satellites, without having to worry about the amp's ability to balance both muscularity and finesse.

Of course, some manufacturers, like YG Acoustics and Evolution Acoustics, use powered sub modules in their tower speakers, which is essentially like having subs that act as stands for your satellites, integrated and optimized by the manufacturer. I think that is a very intelligent approach, and I often wonder why more manufacturers don't adopt it.

Among the downsides of using a sub, as others have mentioned, is that it is very difficult and time consuming to integrate a sub properly in a system. It took me several full days of experimentation, microphone measurements, and computer assisted equalization. Proper integration also requires a high quality crossover, which are expensive and somewhat difficult to find. As a result of these difficulties, it is rare to hear a system in which a sub is truly well integrated. Perhaps this explains some of the reluctance on the part of audiophiles to embrace subs.

Ultimately, the standard against which success should measured is your INABILITY to hear the contribution of the sub until it is turned off. If you can reach that level of integration, the results can be very musical, IME.
I have been running right and left B&W subs with my N802's for the last decade and just feel it is icing on the cake. I have a second system that I just added a single sub with my B&W 9NT's and it just took it up a notch in musicality. If they are set up properly which isn't difficult with a frequency test disc and a SPL meter (Radio Shack).
I think it depends on what kind of music you listen to and how you like it reproduced.

If it's full scale symphonic or any genre with a big sound, a sub will add depth and realism to the presentation. You also need to be able to match and integrate the main speakers and sub/s for full effect.

However, for more intimate type of music such as acoustic or small venue jazz I would tend to agree with what Jim and John have said. I had tailored my system to reproduce this type of music and never was able to integrate a sub without ruining or clouding the lower and middle midrange.

Using ProAc 2.5s I found the sub masked too much of the articulated bass even when set to its lowest crossover setting and barely a modest volume level. With ProAc 1SCs I also has to tune the sub way down which lead to big hole in the mid bass. Raising the crossover point on the sub muddied the mid bass driver of the monitor.

I think certain speakers and musical genres are less conducive to sub integration while others especially those speakers that do home theater well are more accepting of subwoofer blending.
I am onboard with John 100%;when done properly there should be no indication of where the sub is and a change is heard when it is turned off.
if i could find a true full range speaker system, namely 20 to 20,000 hertz, i would definitely not use a sub, even for movies, but especially for music. but alas, i cannot afford a pair in the first place, unless of course i am listening to a great pair of headphones, like say the new senn 800!
"...when done properly there should be no indication of where the sub is and a change is heard when it is turned off"

My system is exactly like this. You can't tell the subs are on, until you turn them off. And when you first them on again, it doesn't seem like you've changed anything..."Are they on?" Then when you turn them off after several minutes of listening, you say to yourself, "What happened?"

To me, this is perfect sub integration.
I think that almost all music systems benefit from stereo subs IF they are integrated properly. This is due to several factors imho. First they generate air movement which is not necessarily generated even by full range speakers. Second " full range " speakers get there by either using multiple mid sized drivers ( which definately won't move much air and will roll off quickly below their limit denying you any real low frequency support) or they use a large driver which will have more difficulty integrating with the midrange and is in any event not designed purely as a low bass unit and will not be as a good as a well designed sub which needs do nothing else. As others have noted 2 subs properly set up will not be noticed except by their absence even with pure acoustic jazz. When you turn off my subs during the Duke Ellington/Louis Armstrong sessions the sound stage shrinks and the acoustic bass doen't sound as real. Sound stage is a very overlooked component to these very low fundamental frequencies. JMHO - Jim
over the years, I too have found complications, mostly with Panel/electrostats and subs, but with cone speakers, integration was fairly simple.

Zydo, I agree with you 110% here: "A good sub, set up the right way, should not even be noticed.....untill you turn it off. People don't even know I have a sub on most of the time. I'm not a "bass freak" by any means, but when I listen, if I turn the sub off, the room seems to get hollow"----your observation of "hollow" is spot on.

I am glad to hear others have noted this as well and also agree with Byroncunningham that perhaps it is an old prejudice to the times where most available subs were junk.
I have a small room, but still like a full bass response, so a sub works great. Any speaker that gives the full range sound I prefer on its own would overload the room. So, I can go with a standmounter or small floorstander and then add a high quality sub to come up underneath them and fill in what's missing. The sub then can be dialed in so that the room isn't overloaded and I get the sound I want. Like others, I've been able to accomplish this in a way that the sub doesn't stand out at all. There are a lot of great subs available now compared to years ago.
Here is why I decided to loose the sub I had in my system. I found I lost both midrange and highs causing my system to sound less intmate and natural are more impressive for a short listen.

Every time I turned off the sub I immediately hated the loss of bass impact and quickly turned it back on.

Well I recently decided to let my ears endure a longer time period with the sub off and my music collection came to life with better imaging and much more midrange and highs detail.

The music was more involving and less impressive.

My sub was carefully set up to only play 40 htz and below. The volume was set very, very low as to not make the use of it apparent

I found that a sub will/can rob some life and transparancy from my system. I owned an SVS PB12 Plus 2.

This is my recent experience with a sub.

My main speakers are Silverline Bolero rated down to the mid 30's.
I believe there are many listeners that prefer an excess of bass. I like to indulge at times myself. However, when I listen to the Phoenix Symphony live, or jazz concerts at the center for the arts I do not hear/feel that excess bass subwoofers provide. Perhaps, the subwoofer user wants to show off how much thump he has and the levels are set too high.

In a small room, there is definitely a placement advantage versus full range speakers. My secondary system utilizes a separate woofer. I would not label it as a subwoofer since response is into the thirties not the teens or twenties.

Certain recordings and music are deliberately made for an enhanced bottom end, and the true subwoofer can make the experience more satisfying. This may also be true for comparison to a live rock concert which I don't attend. I've used several different subs in my main system and usually find I prefer the sound without the sub turned on. I have since sold the last one and don't miss it at all.
One issue is philosophical. There is a retro/zen subgroup of 'philes that swear by "simplest signal path" and simplest circuitry (often retro tech). Subs don't fit this POV and high tech subs with DRC run 180 degrees contrary. I suspect that this also limits their popularity in the 'phile community

No--some systems are truly full range without subs others are not despite what their owners may think and can benefit from the added info in the lower bass--I xover my stats at 50hz and the increase in dynamics --soundstaging far out weights any negatives--my subs run in stereo and are just inside my speakers to maintain phase --I think the problem has been finding really good subs that will integrate well and become seemless----understanding that one can still have an outstanding system without subs and not being totally full range. All personal preference.
Grannyrig, No sub has a brick wall filter causing it stop producing sound at an end point like 40hz. I don't know your sub well but it likely either has a 12 or 24db/octave filter. The cutoff frequency is usually - 3db. Add to this ALL sytems have driver/ room interactions which (particularly below 250 hz) can be the MAIN determinant of the sound. Subs can bring this out in spades if not set up properly. Even with a 12db/octave filter I can't imagine a 40hz cutoff frequency affecting the " midrange" (250hz) at which point it would be >30db down UNLESS : 1)The volume on the sub was too high 2) There are serious room interaction problems (most likely) or 3)there is a problem with the sub. If you have measured the frequency as flat ( + /- 3db or so) from 25hz and up then my only answer would be 3) above. If it is not then it is 1) or 2) imho. Phase, relative driver distances , quarter wavelength cancellations all can affect sound. Integration can be very frustrating and it will likely not be perfect but it is almost always worth it with dynamic (box) speakers. - Jim
The physics favor separate bass enclosures.

The best locations for higher frequencies (as close as possible to the listener to maintain a higher ratio of direct sound to the reflections without being too close for the drivers to integrate correctly) aren't the best locations for bass (where you get minimal interaction with room modes and are close to boundaries so that you aren't getting nulls where the bass driver is odd multiples of 1/4 wave length from the boundary).

More bass sources also produce more uniform bass response, especially over multiple seats. Floyd Toole does a great job summarizing this in _Sound Reproduction: The Acoustics and Psychoacoustics of Loudspeakers and Rooms_. Earl Geddes and Duke LeJeune of Audio Kinesis sell commercial systems that work that way.

Due to cosine alpha polar response (-3dB @ 45 degrees, -6dB at 60, -12dB at 75, and theoretically no output 90 degrees off axis although a -20dB null may be more typical in practice) dipole bass doesn't couple to a room's height modes, has weaker coupling to the width modes depending on toe-in, and some effects on length effects due to the rear wave being 180 degrees out of phase with the front where a conventional speaker's bass response has essentially the same amplitude and phase at all angles. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of dumping a lot of displacement into the acoustic short circuit - a 14" deep speaker takes 2X the displacement of a monopole to produce the same SPL at 80Hz, 4X at 40Hz, and 8X at 20Hz. That big stack of drivers gets expensive, and the alternative of doubling enclosure size instead isn't practical.

Subwoofer problems come entirely from the implementation.

Achieving a correct acoustic cross-over is often an issue.

Amplitude changes imply phase changes, including those coming from the mechanical high-pass at the bottom end of a driver's output and the analog filters in cross-overs.

The net result is that when you mix an arbitrary sub-woofer, main-speakers, and cross-over frequency the combination does not sum flat.

Siegfried Linkwitz has a nice on-line example:

Until recently (DSP manipulation of phase and amplitude has gone mainstream with Audyssey) most consumer gear has not included the tools necessary to address that, and this is still lacking in the minimalist gear sold to the audiophile market.

THX works around the problem in the home theater environment by specifying electrical and acoustical filter functions that sum correctly - 4th order Linkwitz Riley low-pass on the sub-woofer, 2nd order electrical and acoustic high-pass functions for main speakers.

REL works around it by providing an adjustable low-pass that can be adjusted to mate well to the speaker's mechanical high-pass function, although this does not relieve the speakers (especially 2-way ported designs) of low-frequency content that can cause distortion problems.

Some sub-woofers have problems.

Non-flat tunings are often used giving them a one-note character.

High distortion, port noises, and shallow slopes can lead to sub-woofer localization.

Many sub-woofers aren't good matches for smaller rooms.

Pressure sources have increased output as frequencies drop bellow the room's fundamental resonance (the speed of sound which is 1130 feet/second or 330 meters/second for the metric crowd divided by twice the room's longest dimension; 57Hz for a small 10' long room, 28Hz for a 20' room); with an infinitely rigid room producing 12dB/octave. The excess low-bass from a sub which is flat below the room's fundamental resonance can make a system sound slow. This could be fixed by a sub-woofer with a higher mechanical high-pass frequency (which wouldn't sell well, because consumers buy based on frequency extension) or an electronic filter.

Some placements are problematic.

Bass source and lister locations determine what room modes will affect you. Big room modes (you can have over 10dB, or 10X the acoustic power) at the wrong frequency (I've found the 70Hz height mode to be especially noticeable) can produce a one-note sound.

Parametric equalization can fix it for one location, but audiophiles often aren't into that sort of thing.
Most people over use their subwoofers. Used properly- a high quality subwoofer will help 90% of the speakers out there. As a rule I say cross over between 60-80 and turn the volume down a bit and enjoy

Thanks for the input. The volume setting on the sub is 2 out of ten in a room 24X18. (Very low)

I have bass traps and other room tuning devices properly set up. I have run various room set-up CD's from the likes of RIVES etc. I really do think it was set up pretty close to perfectly.

The sub seems to have a great reputation by owners and the industry.

I simply found it did "mess with" both mids and highs in my home. A good audio friend also went through the same situation and turned off the sub for better sound. I heard his sytem with and without the sub and agreed with him.

Proper set up and room interaction etc... all serve up a very tricky situation , at best, with a sub.

All I know is when I played the sub all by itself I was amazed how how little it was actually doing. One would think a sub set-up to be so tame could never negatively impact mids, imaging, highs etc.. However,it did.
I bought a Martin Logan Dynamo subwoofer (sealed design) recently because I thought that it would be a very musical sub. I did my best to integrate it with my speakers (Quad 12L2). I spent a lot of time on that until I thought I had it set up just right. Then I decided to try it with the subwoofer was much better! The Quads put out lots of bass for their size and a little bit of corner reinforcement and it just sounds a lot more integrated than I could ever manage to get when using a sub. So I am totally off of subwoofers now.

With all that said, I was a little limited in where I could place the sub. Perhaps there is a way it could have sounded better. But I don't believe you can improve the integration of bass, midrange, and treble by adding another speaker to the mix. It only introduces new variables and new issues to deal with. In all liklihood it will sound worse, if you are lucky and/or know what you are doing it may sound just as good with a bit more added low end.

I will be moving to a bookshelf speaker with a 7 or 8 inch driver in the near future, to get something with the integration I am looking for and a bit more bass weight and sense of scale.
Well grannrig I'm stumped. I guess I'd have to hear what your hearing to be of any real help. What ever sounds best to you is all that counts. - jim
What one person might perceive as weight, another might perceive as bloat.
04-01-10: Gunbei
What one person might perceive as weight, another might perceive as bloat.

That sums it up pretty well Gunbei. Some folks enjoy the additional bass weight, which is fine. Whatever gets your toes a' tapping.
The designer Joachim Gerhard (Virgo,Caldera,Medea) keep away from 'enything' below 40Hz in the mentioned loudspeakers. But for those that parsist on organ music he produced some subs...
Maybe that the 40 Hz 'bondary' was some kind of 'idee-fixe'
for him but this is realy hard to belive.

Lowest bass string is 41.2Hz. 5 or 6 string bass guitars are used for easy of playing only. Piano goes down to 27Hz (A) but it is not very often used. There are organs and big drums but there are also neighbors.

My speakers go down to 30Hz while my room amplifies 38Hz (1150/15'/2=38Hz) - no problem with 41.2Hz. If I decide to get sub it will be one like JL Fathom 113 that self adjusts/equalize itself with microphone.

My speakers could possibly go lower but most likely were tuned for lowest distortions and not for the extension. Quality of bass (attack, decay, tone etc) is more important than quantity or extension.
Nandric writes:
>The designer Joachim Gerhard (Virgo,Caldera,Medea) keep away from 'enything' below 40Hz in the mentioned loudspeakers. But for those that parsist on organ music he produced some subs...

It's about trade-offs.

At the same efficiency, a speaker which extends to 20Hz instead of 40Hz must be 8X as big.

At the same size, a speaker which extends to 20Hz instead of 40Hz must be 9dB less efficient. Assuming a 100W amp provided enough head-room with the 40Hz speaker, you'd need 800W in a perfect world without thermal compression.

Given the dearth of musical content at 40Hz, it doesn't make much sense to go for the extension unless you're using an electronically assisted alignment such as a Linkwitz Transform (the Ultimate Monitor BOMB would be one commercial example). With such a configuration you can have good sensitivity from a small enclosure where there's musical power, and just pay the price in the last octave where peaks are 10-20dB down from the rest of the spectrum meaning you can apply substantial equalization before running out of headroom.
Hey John,

My problem is that depending on mood and music I tend to vacillate between favoring weight or abhorring bloat, heheh.


There are now class D amps. Let's say 2 or 3 subs times 1kw per sub amp. You never run out of headroom.

Bosendorfer Imperial Grand goes an octave lower than the standard '88'.
I have an early CD by Telarc, CD-80040 which shows the instrument off to best advantage.ösendorfer

Low pedal tone on a pipe organ goes to about 16hz.

But, you are correct in that unless you are a pipe organ fan the very low extensions don't do much or any good. Indeed, I had a preamp which featured a 'rumble' filter and my old NAD had a 20hz lowcut on the backpanel for the same reason.
Magfan - thank you for the link. I didn't realize that ocatve down requires 97 keys.
Hi Kijanski&Drew, I am an admirer of Gerhard and enjoyed Virgo 2 and Calderas very much. The Medea was an very confusing loudspeaker to me; never heard something similar.
But those were to expensive for me so this problem was 'solved' anyhow.
But I am not an 'technical guy' so I was glad to see some explanation from knowlegable persons. Thanks! But whay is Stereophile so persistent with 20 -20.000 Hz?

I cannot speak for others, of course, but my experiences with subwoofers have all been unfavorable. Mating one with a speaker system, especially horns or electrostats is all but impossible. Typically, after much trial I simply give up.

I have a Zu Method that I just bought and am going to give it a try, as it is reportedly much faster than others as it is to mate with the Zu horns.

I should say that I have no home theater system and no intension to ever get one.
Tbg-when you tried intregrating with stats were you using a passive or active and was it larger than 12 inches?
I mated a chiro c120 passive to my soundlab m2's and the results are pretty stellar;I found anything larger seems to be sluggish and just can not keep pace with the panels.
Rleff, well with some I really don't remember. My Infinity ServoStatics had a feedback subwoofer, which may have been larger than 12". It was, of course, really a woofer, but it never really mated with the electrostatic panels. The second was an Epps 12" isobarik design that was 8' tall. I had 800 watts per side on it but perhaps not a great crossover. I used it with the Soundlabs A1s.

Most of my experience was with using subs with horns. Again with my Beauhorns, I used the Epps with no greater success. I should say that I could shake the house with the Epps.

I am trying a Zu Methods with my dynamic Tidal speakers, but I have yet to get it working. I will crossover at 40 Hz.

What bothers me is that the subwoofer seems like a separate speaker playing music. This may be the slope of the crossover, of course.
Most subwoofers are a total design compromise thus many not so good for music. But infra bass systems do exist that do justice to music reproduction, stay clear of little cubes with massive power and large excursions. Look for bass towers, bass horns, massive bass systems.
It all depends on the system. For example, the powered subwoofer of the Infinity Prelude MTS is perfectly integrated. However, this is an exception not the rule.
TBG try center placement of your subwoofer. Also try moving forward and back this might reduce the localization effect. Of small subwoofer. Massive design just produce pressure and detail to bass, small forced designs bloat notes can be located in sound stage, to me at 40hz or lower you shouldn't hear where sub is but standard designs are easy to hear where they are. Maybe cabinets vibrating at frequency that are locatable and higher up than crossover point crossover might not have proper filter so frequency above cutoff come through.
TBG-I have no experience with horns;what kind of problems do they present;one day I may wander into this area of audio;it seems interesting especially with SET amps.Seems like Johnk has some good ideas for you to try if you have not already.
One could argue that only audiophiles should use subs. As has already pointed out, mating subs with standard speakers is a challenge. Who else besides an audiophile would be willing to spend the money and the time to do it right? After the expense, perhaps the biggest problem is the room. How many of us have a room that can truly handle extreme low frequencies with out serious room treatment or correction? In as much as perhaps 80% of musical content is in the mid-range, this is the high end, shouldn't we have access to all that is available on our recordings? I enjoy the foundation of appropriate low frequencies and miss it when it's inappropriately missing.
Ericjcbrera, there are plenty for full range speakers available.
Nandric, Stereophile is fixated on 20-20K because that's the limit of the recording mediums available to us. It is felt (ha!) that frequencies below 20 Hz such as the pedal tones of some organ music is felt through one's body rather than heard through one's ears. I wonder if most of our listening rooms rattle might swamp these frequencies if they were indeed available.
>04-07-10: Unsound
Nandric, Stereophile is fixated on 20-20K because that's the limit of the recording mediums available to us.

CD is good down to .0002 Hz assuming you fit a full wave on a 70 minute CD.

20Hz-20KHz is generally regarded as the limits of audibility
+/- ?
I remember going over to put my ear next to the Vandersteen 2wqs to see if they were on, they were, but you could hardly tell, only when taking them out of the system did you notice what they did for bass. The Vandersteen subs with the 3A or 2C blend seemlessly. Great bass should be like that, you don't notice it till its gone. But that is a sub/tower combination designed as a single speaker system.
Drew, Thanks! It's funny how the longer one belives something the more firmly one believes it. Thanks for setting me straight. Live and learn.
I have vandersteen 5a with built in subs, great speakers for many reasons the sub that is tuned to the room is one of them. Bi amping big amps to handle base, subs what is the difference. I have installed plenty of subs into 2ch systems, some speakers and set ups need other do not. It is that simple. You want a tiny pair of book shelf speakers that is great but get a sub you need to move air it is that simple you have big floor standing speakers with plenty of power a sub may not be needed.
Hi all, My reference to Joachim Gerhard was not accidental.
Those guys by Sterophile are reviewers not designers of
loudspeakers. Whom are you believing more? Every single
model of Gerhard was an great succes. If one considers how
difficult it is to design an good louspeaker then it must be obivous that this guy is some kind of an genius. But he intentionaly designed his louspeakers in such a way that they had an limit by 40 Hz.To me,even if I not an technical guy, perfectly clear. For the organ music? This organ instrument is to me more an 'torment instrument' that has nothing to do with music. No wonder you see them primaraly in some churches... It is some kind of combo between 'screaming sopranos and thunder'. Why worry about? Only if you realy hate your neighbours you may have some reasonable excuse.
Then while an three-way system is already very complex why
should an 'amateur' think that he can improve 'the whole' by adding one more?
BTW I never meet an person who was able to hear 20.000 Hz.