Do I need a subwoofer?


Hopefully I’ve framed this in a way to help people answer. Up until recently I have had a combo 2-channel/home theater system (Krell preamp with home theater bypass, Bryston 5 channel amp, PSB Synchrony 1s bi-amped speakers, Marantz home theater receiver, Power Sound Audio XV15 subwoofer, Oppo CD player). I wanted extra oomph for surround sound movie watching and occasionally some rock music, hence the sub. I was never really impressed with the XV15 sub (have it for sale now). It is insanely large and I wasn’t sure it was adding the oomph I expected, even after having a local hifi shop owner come out for a listen and tune.

What’s changed: A few weeks ago I inherited my late father’s B&W 801 speakers circa 1980, which I have put in place of my PSBs and am enjoying thoroughly despite the age difference.

My questions: (1) would a sub still be of value in my setup (I still like a lot of bass) and (2) what might folks recommend?

 

Thank you.

olfac87

The B&Ws will be doing most of the work for the bass you like to hear but subs will fill in that lower frequency weight that subs do well. Stereo subs facing forward are the way to go if you don't want to spend the money on a set of woofer towers. It's up to you as the B&Ws are still pretty good with subs. 

@russ69  Someone said with stereo subs I should do two versus the one big one I have now? They seem a lot smaller, too, which would make the wife happy. If I am understanding what stereo subs are (did a quick Google search).

Actually running three subs would be best.  Every room has cancelations from reflections and by using multiple subwoofers you can overcome the room issues.

The good news is that doesn't require the most expensive subs and they really only fill in for room acoustics.

http://www.gedlee.com/Papers/multiple%20subs.pdf

In addition to adding bass, properly set up subs will also greatly improve imaging and expand the soundstage.  I’d recommend trying a pair of SVS SB1000 Pro subs you can get for under $1000 (they were running a sale recently but not sure if it’s still going) that are relatively small but will still get you down to an honest 20Hz and also offer integration software to help you get them dialed in properly.  And yes, you want two, not one sub — huge improvement.  SVS offers a generous and truly risk-free, in-home trial so if they don’t transform your system you can simply return them but highly doubt you will.  Hope this helps, and best of luck. 

Those 15" woofers ought to be giving you plenty without potentially adding mud.

Perhaps, if space allows, go for the non-directional multi-sub ’swarm’ solution. Then you add a room filling BASE of bass, which transcends up to directional bass from those 15" woofer’s emanation of low primary and their overtones which reinforce directional cues.

You might think: add the sub(s) ONLY for Video. My small HT, not what you are dealing with, I have a single self-powered sub, I keep the crossover set low, essentially just add something for Jurassic Park Dinosaur Stomp, not aware of it unless it is off.

On for music, no room or budget for swarm, a stereo pair of self-powered subs, no ports (or front port only), located adjacent to the mains.

 

All - this is super helpful. I am enjoying being back in the research game after years doing nothing to my system (looking to replace my preamp, too - that's a different story). The SVS line looks like a good place to start.

@erik_squires That was a nicely written piece. Very informative. Room treatments has been something I have lacked in.

I would use at least 2 subwoofers for the best ultra low bass that even the B and W's are missing. SVS is a decent sub, but I would not get anything less than the 3000 series and I'm partial to sealed or servo controlled subs. You can get SVS with a return window in case you don't like them. What is your room size? In general the more subs you have the fewer the null or dead zones in the bass. I agree with the need for room treatment.

There is a lot of information in the bottom octaves that are related to soundstage and ambience, and other spatial cues.

As decently low as those B&W,s go on their own, adding good quality subs, will create a more open, larger soundstage, than without.

This tends to be more obvious with music that is recorded, with all musicians playing at the same time, and in the same acoustic space, such as: classical or jazz. But all types of decently recorded music will benefit

 

I just added a 2nd SVS SB2000 to my system and it's so much more balanced now. I'm running them as a stereo pair right next to my mains. I'm able to run them at a lower power compared to the one single so it doesn't excite the room modes nearly as much and still fills in a lot more evenly across the board with easily reaching into the upper teens . It takes a huge amount of the congestion out of the lower octaves that I never knew were there previously. As for your choice, I'd recommend sealed are definitely the way to go unless you have the space to do full open baffle servo subs.

Hello olfac87, Like you I found myself back in the research game about 12 months ago. I had to start from scratch and didn't even know what a dac was. Imop a sub can enhance any system and enjoy one myself. A friend once said to me "for food to taste good when cooking you have to f...with it." Again imop if you add a sub you should be committed to being an active participant with your system and willing to adjust levels depending on the production of the recording. If you do this it can be most pleasurable.

For my AV system I'm using two B&W 608 small subs along with  B&W 603 S2 towers, B&W Center channel and B&W 607 surrounds to make a 5.2 AV system.

This is completely separate from my 2 channel music system.

This little 5.2 manages to seamlessly meet AV surround stage for the most demanding sound tracks.  Point is 2 small subs are more than sufficient in a large room and easy to set up.

@olfac87 Firstly, I wish to express my condolences to you on your loss.

I also have just inherited a pair of B&W 801 Matrix S2s of roughly the same era from my uncle who is moving to senior living.

Agree 100% with elliottbnewcombjr and simonmoon

And what danager said is absolutely correct. In particular:

The good news is that doesn't require the most expensive subs and they really only fill in for room acoustics

I will add that they can also vary in size, manufacturer, etc.

I hear that active subs can also be thrown in to the mix.

So I put the 801s in my 15' x 19' (9' ceiling and wall to wall carpet) where I have a multi-sub swarm. I wanted to listen to these wonderous new speakers by themselves for a while.  Haven't owned speakers anywhere near this big in decades and these 801s just brought back many found memories.

After turning on the subs and some minor gain and frequency adjustments there was a very noticeable improvement as others have mentioned. 

The bass had more detail and finesse. But this improvement extends upward into the midrange as well. Bigger and more enveloping soundstage. Everything was just more convincing.

But for lack of ways to further (better?) describe the experience, I will just say that I really enjoyed listening more with the subs on.

Definitely worth your while to consider.

 Good luck and have fun with your search!

I have B&W 803 D3. I don’t really need a sub for my stereo listening. But I do have a B&W DB2D. It blends with the 803 D3 perfectly with the app. I just selected the model of the main speakers, run the room correction with the app. Set up is done in  few minutes. 
 

key to good bass for B&W speakers (other brands too) is using good power amp. I run it with my Macintosh MA462 (450W per channel). 

Yes, especially for movies. And also for music if you ever in the past listened with loudness control on and you liked it. 

Citing the type of application and music preferences you have indicated, if you are truly looking for that extra lower octave O -O - M - P - H as you have stated, do yourself a favor and look seriously at the entire lineup of REL subs. For dynamic audio reproduction or that extra "kick" you seem to lack, REL will provide exactly what you are looking. You can also contact one of their audio specialists and describe your interests and equipment setups and they will recommend the exact model that will offer the greatest reward. You might even consider a balanced pair.

Just be certain you have the amplifier connectivity to set up the sub(s) at a "high level" (speaker level) connection. This should be no problem with the equipment you have indicated. REL will walk you through the proper way to connect and integrate seamlessly into your system.

@olfac87 Hi, I'm a long-time lurker here. Your post prompted me to respond as I went through a similar thought-process recently. I have owned a pair of B&W 801 Series 2 since the early 90s. These are fantastic speakers. Those who say B&W speakers are bright have not heard these speakers, the last ones designed by John Bowers. Your father chose well: I suspect you may have the first iteration of those Matrix speakers, the 801 Series 80. 

 

The 801 Matrix works really well in solid rooms. I had them in three houses that had solid brick walls and concrete floors and never felt the need for a subwoofer. However, when we moved to Northern Ireland into a property built in 1865, the basement room that is now my dedicated "music room" had a dance floor suspended on joists, with parquet flooring installed by the previous owners. The 50cm thick main walls were covered by plaster board to for a clean look.

 

In that room I never could get the 801s to sing, the last octave of bass had gone missing. I tried everything I could think of: I had my Krell KSA-250 recapped. I upgraded the XOs on the 801s. I bought a better preamp. I moved the speakers around all over the place. All to no avail: low bass was still AWOL.

 

At that point I realised that perhaps it wasn't my equipment but the room that might be causing the issue. Perhaps the plasterboard walls just absorbed bass below 40hz. So I lugged one of the dual BK XLSS-400DF subs from our living room system downstairs and hooked it up. That was quite a bit better. Then the other one came downstairs as well. After a bit of fiddling with the set-up of the subs I had a Eureka moment: wow! The bass was back.

 

Two new subs were ordered and delivered last month and after switching from using the line level inputs to high level/speaker inputs the system now sings.

 

Integrating two subs in a two channel system is not entirely straight forward but it's not rocket science, either.  With full-range mains like the 801s it is best to think of the subs' crossover frequency control and the gain as a pair (or more accurately, a quartet) of parametric equaliser curves that you can adjust independently of each other. The ability to position two subs in non-mirror imaged positions also gives you more flexibility to tune them to the room requirements. To give you an idea: the subs' crossover frequency is set at 45hz which means that they only start augmenting the bass from about 35hz on down. The best way to judge whether the crossover frequency is set correctly is to listen to male voices: if someone sounds unnatural/speaks with a somewhat boomy voice, the crossover is probably set at too high a frequency. If you can hear a sub over the main speakers, the gain is too high.

 

I had an audiophile friend over yesterday. When I invited him, I only said, "I've made some changes. I think I've got it sorted now. Let me know what you think." He came down, sat down, and we listend. He started smiling as Hotel California started spinning on the Funk Firm Vector V. He looked around the room and said, "ah, I see - new sub!". "Not quite", I replied, "two new subs." He hadn't noticed - or heard - that there were two subs playing (one is out of sight from the listening position). "That's the best I've ever heard your system sound", he said. "It's true what they say about a good sub installation: not only do you improve the bass but you also get more transparency and resolution at higher frequencies. That 2M Black just sounds amazing." I was quite chuffed when I heard that.

 

@axpert's recommendation of REL is a good one. High level inputs do make the seamless integration of multiple subs easier. Alternatively, give Tom at BK a call to check about shipping to the US. REL used to subcontract the assembly of their early subs out to BK. The company still constructs speakers on an OEM basis for several well-known UK manufacturers. The built quality is exemplary, the veneer looks classy, and special orders are easily facilitated: my new mahogany XLS400s came with an auto-on/off circuit added at my request. I have no connection to the firm other than being a happy customer. 

 

Good luck!

+1, @soix 

Yes, you need subs for movies. Two subs will always pressurize your room and address bass nodes better than one giant single sub. Also look into REL HT/1003 or if you can extend your budget for HT/1205. IMO, REL are much better subs when it comes to 2-ch stereo and HT applications. 
 

Go directly to REL.  Do not pass GO.  Do not collect $200 (you'll need it).  Start with one and see where that takes you; don't assume you need more than one until you've spent the time to properly locate the sub in your room and dial in the gain and crossover settings.

These are a bunch of great posts. Glad to hear other 801 owners' experiences, and appreciate the REL suggestion. I will look into all this.

I very highly recommend a REL sub!  I currently have Zu Druids as my mains because I love them for music, but they don't create deep bass.  Plus I have a totally suboptimal, fairly large, open, irregular room.  I have experimented with a variety of subwoofers in an attempt to give some depth to music, and impact to movies without breaking the bank or taking up half my room.

A couple months ago I picked up a pristine used REL 212 SE hoping that the 2 -12 inch active, and two passive drivers could do the job in an acceptable footprint.  I had been reading great things about REL subs and figured this would be a great way to try them.

Make sure to read this all the way to the end....Because I initially connected the 212 the same way I had my other subs through the LFE on my preamp. and it sounded better, but not overwhelmingly so. I figured I had just reached that diminishing returns line for the room I have.  Though I was still hopeful things could get better once I connected the REL the way the manual recommends. 

The Speakon arrived a few days later so I had time to listen without it, and as previously mentioned, the 212 sounded good, but not enough different to justify the price jump over the SVS subs I had been using.  

Once I made the Speakon connection though I immediately heard a massive difference!  My entire system seemed transformed!  The bass was all I ever hoped it could be for music.  I played some favorite bass heavy music streaming through Tidal, and couldn't believe the difference.  Next I put on Deadpool Blueray to see what would happen with movies and I could feel my pantlegs flapping, and stuff on my shelves rattling the way I've heard other people describe!  And if that's all that happened I would have been very happy.

The totally surprising part was how much the soundstage widened and deepened.  Literally defies description.  It must be heard to be appreciated.  

But wait, there's more!  Seriously though, More!.  Having the REL connected through the Speakon connector and to my amp the way they recommend made the mids and highs sound better too.  Noticeably, obviously better.

I have been playing with a pretty wide variety of decent quality components over the past couple years and the REL 212 SE has overwhelmingly made the biggest upgrade in the sound quality of both music and movies for my system!

I cannot recommend any sub more highly than a REL!

REL is a good choice, SVS not so much for a music based system. The other good choice is Rythmik. Even their ported models are graceful enough for music systems but their sealed models are simply sublime. Especially check out the G22 (dual 12") and G25 (dual 15") models. You want subs that don't sound like subs but rather like extensions of your existing speakers and either of these brands are capable of doing that, and yes, you definitely want two. Budget for two from the get-go, don't "try" one and see where that gets you. And yes, three or even four are even better, but two should get you where you want to be. 

REL is a good choice, SVS not so much for a music based system.

Really @shooter41? What’s your experience with sealed SVS subs? My experience with my SB2000 in a fairly high-end, 2-channel setup is pretty damn impressive and I’d think adding another would be even more so, so I’d be interested in what specific experience you have to say this? Yeah, I’d probably prefer Rythmic or maybe even Rel, but they’d both cost much more for similar performance so for the $ the SVS subs get you pretty damn good performance. Maybe you could share what their shortcomings are, because failing a direct comparison to pricier subs I’m at a loss for criticizing them for bass speed, musicality, or depth. Please explain.

I knew someone would get their feelings hurt. I tried SVS SB3000's first with my Kef R900's and they certainly went low but they still sounded like subs and were not what I was looking for. Rythmik was suggested to me so I tried a pair of G22's and found exactly what I was looking for. Seamless integration. I don't fault SVS for any measureable performance metrics and for home theater use I have no doubt they'd fill the bill, they just don't sound as musical to me, or most any other person that's tried Rythmik or REL.

I do think it's strange, though, that you're using an SB2000 in a "fairly high-end" system. You need to increase your sub budget, there's much better performance available for (in Rythmik's case, at least) not much more money.

danager came closest, and torquerulesok darn near put his finger on it.

The solution to subs and getting SOTA bass was discovered in a research paper more than 20 years ago. Since then it has been used by Audiokinesis in their Swarm subwoofer system, and written up extensively here. Every single one of us who tries it raves about how well it works. Audiophiles however are slow, painfully slow, when it comes to understanding new technology.

Torquerulesok sort of noticed but drew the wrong conclusions. Bass energy does get absorbed into the room. Walls, ceiling, floor, the whole room. Which then this energy has to be dissipated, a lot of which goes right back into the room. One of the bigger lesser appreciated factors in muddy bass. People who do notice try and suck it up with tube traps. Trying to get rid of the problem they themselves created with the one big powerful sub in the first place.

Or they try and EQ, making a bad situation even worse. Because EQ has to boost bass even more, and it can sound flat in one spot but that extra energy goes into the whole room making the bass smearing problem even worse. More own goal, more tube traps. Thank you sir, may I have another?

The solution is more subs in more locations produces more smaller modes resulting in bass that is powerful and deep yet clean and clear. It works because with 4 each one needs only 1/4 the output, meaning the lumpy modes are only 1/4 as big, meaning way less excess energy going into the room. This is why everyone with a DBA reports not only exceptionally smooth powerful bass but greater natural ease and detail all across the range.

Do a search. This has been explained countless times. Every single one of us who has done this knows just how well it works. The search bar is your friend. Distributed Bass Array, DBA, Swarm. 

I do think it’s strange, though, that you’re using an SB2000 in a "fairly high-end" system. You need to increase your sub budget, there’s much better performance available for (in Rythmik’s case, at least) not much more money.

@shooter41 No, my feelings not hurt in the least. I transported my SB2000 from my HT in my family room just to see what it might add to my 2-channel system that consists of a Musician Pegasus R2R DAC, Bryston BP6 pre, McCormack DNA-0.5 RevA amp, and Soliloquy 6.2 speakers. The bass foundation was obvious, but the expansion of the soundstage in all directions along with improved imaging even with the one sub properly dialed in was pretty amazing and adding another I’d have to assume would improve things further still. I’ll take two SVS SB1000 Pros for significantly less $$$ over one comparable Rythmic or REL any day as I think two “lesser” yet still very capable subs trump one “better” sub, but you’re certainly entitled to your opinion.

Agreed, two subs are usually going to be better than one, even if that one is generally a more capable model, but with the rest of your system you really owe it to yourself to step up to a better pair.

Gee Scooter, thanks so much for your prized advice.  I’ve reviewed high-end audio for about 20 years, so when I’m ready to add a couple, or even better a swarm, of subs to my 2-channel setup I think I’ll be ok.  But thanks so much for your thoughts. 

@soix Dude, you asked. I had no idea I was advising audio royalty. 🙄

@shooter41 I didn’t ask.  You offered and I responded in kind.  Not royalty, just someone with some experience.  Your move chief. 

@soix What do you call this post, "chief"?

Really @shooter41? What’s your experience with sealed SVS subs? My experience with my SB2000 in a fairly high-end, 2-channel setup is pretty damn impressive and I’d think adding another would be even more so, so I’d be interested in what specific experience you have to say this? Yeah, I’d probably prefer Rythmic or maybe even Rel, but they’d both cost much more for similar performance so for the $ the SVS subs get you pretty damn good performance. Maybe you could share what their shortcomings are, because failing a direct comparison to pricier subs I’m at a loss for criticizing them for bass speed, musicality, or depth. Please explain.

but with the rest of your system you really owe it to yourself to step up to a better pair.

But @shooter41, i didn’t ask for your “advice” such as it is. I just responded with an informed response and you’re defensive and offended despite agreeing with my contention that 2 or more subs are superior to one “better” sub. Why so touchy/insecure? Maybe regale us with your extensive background/credentials in audio? Please share what your depth of knowledge and experience is based on?

@torquerulesok what a fantastic post, bet it sounds wonderful  ;-)

best to you over the pond

Jim

I'm defensive? That's really not how this back and forth is coming across, my friend. You absolutely got your feelings hurt that I don't like SVS subs, no matter what you say. Why do you care so much? Just say "I don't agree with that particular opinion and here's why" Meanwhile, we're hijacking and derailing this thread. I'm a hack and don't know what I'm talking about. My personal experience amounts to nothing. There, feel better? I swear this forum has more crybabies than any other I'm aware of.

Just say "I don’t agree with that particular opinion and here’s why"

Uh, that’s exactly what I did when I said I’d take two good but lesser subs over one “better” sub that you seemed to agree with. If you don’t like SVS subs that’s fine, but you actually agreed with me, so where u going with this?

I swear this forum has more crybabies than any other I’m aware of.

Well, no. This forum just tolerates people who come on here with credible experience based on years of listening and hearing lots of gear in lots of different scenarios. That I challenged you on a fairly minor point and you fail to respond intelligently says a lot about your credibility. But whatever, feel free to keep digging yourself deeper.

@soix I agreed with that one aspect of what you said, that's it. Please re-read and then let it go...

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Well, this doesn’t have anything to do with law but rather experience in audio.  I stand by mine.  What’s yours?

P.S.- I purchased REL T7/i and love it.

Yes to subs always yes lol. 

Saying thank you again. I will definitely look at both SVS and REL, and I've already reached out about room treatments before I do anything else. I really appreciate the input as I put my audiophile research hat back on.

@olfac87 ,


Do you know exactly what series it is? It should be on the back.

The series 80, the first ones, didn't go that deep on the bass, they were 2db down at 37Hz (quick check) and by 20Hz would have dropped a lot. Subs would definitely help for the deep bass.

The series 2 was tuned to achieve much deeper bass. They were flat to almost 20Hz. However, the series 2 to work "properly" required the external equalizer.

I am definitely a subs person, and high pass the mains. It reduces distortion. Would that benefit the 801? It is a trade off. Using the bass of the 801 with external subs will even out the bass at the trade-off of more distortion in the 801s. A challenge and fun experiment to see what you like better. I do recommend for subs learning how to take room measurements. It is cheap and much quicker and more accurate than trying to do it by ear.

Yes to subwoofer(s). My speakers extend reliably to the mid 30s but the additional weight provided by adding two powered subs with 22Hz bass LF extension is substantial. I recommend that you choose self-powered units with built-in room correction for maximum satisfaction.

Yes to the sub(s) they will add serious weight to your sound not to mention enlarging your sound stage.  I am a REL fan but there are other good ones.  Currently using the S/812.  Highly recommended.  

No subs for me please. Have them in the house but after my acquisition of the QLN Prestige 5’s they are no longer in use. 
 

Just my preference not saying anything negative and they worked fine when I was running monitors. 
 

I Robot.

@jerryg123 , the QLN Prestige 5s are down 3dB at 26 Hz at 1 meter which means in a normal sized room at 3 meters they are down somewhere around 10 dB. You still need subwoofers if you want to try duplicating a live performance. 

@olfac87 , two subwoofers is the minimal requirement for decent bass. Cindyment made a very important point. Most people do the cheap and dirty method of integrating subs by using only low pass filters on the subwoofers. Using a full two way active crossover and putting a high pass filter on the main speakers will decrease distortion in the main speakers and add a significant amount of head room to the system.  The ultimate way of integrating subwoofers is with a digital bass management system such as you find in MiniDSP units and digital preamps such as the DEQX Premate, Anthem STR and Trinnov Amethyst. These allow you to adjust your speakers in time so that the sound of the subwoofers gets to your ears at exactly the same time and phase as the main speaker. Using a high pass filter and time correction allow you to put the subs where they work best, in corners or right up against a wall, and allow a higher crossover points further lowering distortion and increasing head room. With the 801s I would not want to cross over any lower than 80 Hz. 

The only commercial subs I like are the Magico Q series units. If you are decent with tools you can build a fine pair of subs from Dayton Kits (partsexpress.com) and save enough money to get a proper crossover, measurement microphone system and a vacation in Tuscany. 

@jerryg123 — I’d rethink that sub decision. Huge fan of ur speaks and ur hawks logo BTW. Lived in Chicago for a bit and sadly didn’t get to see them play in the old arena — one of my biggest sports regrets. Anyhoo, I was listening to an ultra mega system with “full-range” speaks that went down to the low 20s with stereo subs, and when he turned off the subs the whole soundstage collapsed and the dynamics and imaging of the whole thing took a huge step backwards. I was gobsmacked and didn’t wanna listen to his otherwise awesome system without the subs anymore — it was that huge of a difference and truly one of my top 3 AHA moments in audio (even surpassing the incredible impact of the oft-neglected preamp that is likewise HUGE IMHO).  I only say this to say that even with your incredibly awesome speakers I can only aspire to, you might wanna give those subs another crack crossed over suitably low that they don’t eff up all the goodness those QLNs produce. I mean, even Wilson uses subs with their Alexandras, so...