Subwoofer buying tips





Having moved from a very budget sub in my early days (Robertson Audio 12") to more expensive ones as my ability to afford them went up, I have some advice for other bass lovers…. I am not expert, there are many more experienced gurus out there, but I do want to spend the least to get the right sub.


Budget:

Sort that out early at the same time as your other HT purchases. The same principle applies: give yourself as big a budget as possible and buy to the point of pain. It’s no point buying something to a certain budget, then regretting it later on, when it doesn’t meet your needs, then you need to dispose of the first one and spend more on the second…

Second hand or first hand:

The good thing about second hand items is the value and price. You can save a lot when others upgrade. But the downside is subs can be driven hard, and unless you are familiar with the items, or know the owner well, there is an inherent risk.

Importing:

Some more intrepid souls will do mass orders of popular subs, especially those which are not available locally. For those subs which are sold locally, my suggestion is to support the local vendor, unless the markup is outrageous. They provide warranty, product support and these cost money.

The price bands (for new sub prices)

Super Budget subs:

Usually these are under $500 and unless you are coming from a home theatre in a box (HITB), you will quickly outgrow them, so I would advice one to stay away from them.

Low priced subs:

From around 500-1000. Here you can begin to find some value, and subs which can hit below 30Hz. Those subs which can only go down to 40Hz are not real subs and are going to miss the lowest notes which can be important in HT.

Models from Hsu, Velodyne, SVS and other suspects come into this band, for their lower models.

Mid-priced subs

From about 1-2k. Here is real value. You can find many excellent subs, which go low, have impact and also have pace.

Many of the ID (Internet Direct) companies have excellent subs in this range. Look for SVS, Rhythmik, Velodyne, Hsu etc.

Mid-high subs:

Here you are going into solid subs, that have massive power reserves, and are able to give the SPL for larger rooms, and yet remain tight and impactful.

Expect to pay 2-3k.

High End:

Here enthusiasts will buy multiple subs, with high end finish, various hookup options, and also built in auto-calibration or setup.

Beyond that, the other vital choice in this range is customer service. This differentiates the vendors who just want to move boxes, or those who will come round, set the sub up, integrate it and this cost money.

In fact the setup is the key. In order to make subs, be they low end or top subs, they need to be well sited, and integrated into the system. One should not be able to localize the sub or make it so loud that the bass notes overhangs the other frequencies.

What to look for in the sub:

Connection options:

A basic sub will only have a LFE input. Better subs will also have XLR, High Pass Inputs, and even outputs.

Some will give equalization options, and allow you to tweak and flatten bass peaks.

Additional niceties include the auto-calibration, but if you already have this built into your HT system (Audyssey XT 32 with Sub EQ is a good thing to have), it may not be needed.

Other goodies include outputs for daisy chaining subs, phase control, and volume.

Build quality:

A heavy sub is not also good, but it is an indication of what goes into the sub. Big powerful subs need big magnets and amps, plus an inert cabinet. They also have good quality feet so your sub doesn’t walk.


Sealed or ported:

A sealed sub can give tighter bass, which can be beneficial for music. A ported sub is more efficient, and can give higher SPL for the same amp or woofer size. But it maybe a little slower and is usually better for HT. Cabinet size also matters and if you want a small wife friendly sub, then expect to pay more for the same bass extension, since the sub will need a more powerful amp to produce the same depth and impact.

Placement:

This is extremely important, and can make a lesser sub sound better, or you may also wonder why an expensive sub sounds so disappointing in your home. Too many others simply dump their sub in a corner and hope for the best. That can be the worst thing you can do. So talk to your partner, and work out what are the options.

Do read up on “crawling for bass”, boundary reinforcement, and the rule of thirds. They are beyond this article.

Renovations and dampening:

A good sub can make the whole room shake, and that can be detrimental if your renovations don’t cater for this. Imagine if you have bought an expensive sub only to find out that it makes your ceiling rattle so much that you can’t turn it up, or it’s so loud and you have no soundproofing so your neighbors keep complaining.

If you are starting fresh, work with your contractor and a sound expert, add room treatment and work on planning that ceiling.

I have previously posted details on how to make the ceiling rattle free:



Demo:

Hearing and feeling is believing, and one should bring some tracks for demo. I have a list of potential tracks below. Apart from shops, one can also visit homes of other HT enthusiasts, which may be better since the sub is set up in a domestic environment already.


However for many subs especially from ID stores, it may not be possible to listen to them. Reviews from websites are useful and user forums. But users especially those in AVS can be a little over enthusiastic about their new purchases, and sometimes one has to take their opinions with a big dollop of salt.



1) Flight of the phoenix- plane crash (as usual)
2) Streetdance 2   - last dance battle scene
3) Max payne       - Gun shots (forget which chapter liao..)
4)Spiderman3     - think is chapter 5 or 6 or7
5)Rambo4          - last battle scene
6)District B13     - forget which scene liao...
7) Ratoullie (cannot spell - ha ha) (BR)- sewer scene
8.) Superman Returns (HD) - when he goes supersonic / saves the plane
9) Day after Tomorrow (BR) - tornado in LA
10) Ice Age II (BR) - ice melting
11) Top Gun  - sound of jets taking off HD DVD
12) Black Hawk Down - Irene (plus good surround use during street fights) BR
13) Terminator II (BR) - motorbike starting in first 10 mins and generally good surround use
14) Next HD DVD
15) Hot Fuzz HD DVD - mid bass impact
16) 30days of night
17) Hitman -- not deep but every gun shots and punch/kick got got punch combination of deep
18) Bank Job DTS-MA 7.1...
19) Dragon Tiger Gate - DTS -MA 7.1
20) Hellboy2 also not bad   Recent movies I like
21) Kungfu Panda,
22) Hulk ( 2008)
21) Batman dark knight
22) Taken - good luck scene
23) Pearl Harbor- initial attack of the Japanese
24) The Haunting- scene where the lady was on her bed then heard a creaking sound then chased by the monsters ghost( is it how it is called)
25) The Incredible Hulk - scene in the university where Edward Norton was caught in the middle of the glass covered bridge down to the helicopter attach on the Hulk - The scene with the sonic cannons.
26) Kill Bill 1 and 2 scene where the lead star was having a fight with a Japanese lady and scene where the lead star was buried alive
27) War of the Worlds scene with lightning
28) Hero the blue room and the scene were arrows are shot at
29) Behind Enemy Lines where the lead star is being chased and has to go through land mines
30) Inception - Street exploding scene
31) How to train your dragon
32) Unstoppable
33) Skyline
34) Tron Legacy - arena scene
35) X-men First class
36) Super 8 - train crash scene
37) Battles L.A - choppers taking the men to the forward base
38) War Horse - the battlefield scene with the artillery
39) U571 - death charge scene
40) John Carter
41) Battleship
42) Das Boot
43) Avengers
44) Finding Nemo - Darla scene, submarine and whale scenes
45) Top Gun - when Goose hit canopy and plane is spinning
46) Monster inc - sock detonation and Boo laugh
47) Fire of Conscience - teahouse shootout
48) Master and Commander - the ship was shot by the canon scene
49) The Last Airbender - The avatar fighting Firebenders with Earthbenders and the last fight scenes
50) Underworld Series - especially Awakening - final battle
51) Lost Bladesman - Donnie Yen aka Guan Yu flies off the horse with his big blade
52) Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow
53) Thor
54)
- lotsa drums, swooshing drum sounds creating lotsa air volume
55) Expandable 2
56) Total Recall (DTS) - 'The Fall' & all the chase scenes...music beat goes really low
57) Prometheus -  good bass in action scenes and also for ambient surround scenes..
58) Dark Knight Rises (DTS) - 'The Bat' fight scene and Soundtrack is awesome...
59) Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter - 7.1 DTS-MA - good use of surrounds and bass throughout. Not just for the booms.
60) Halo 4 - Forward unto Dawn (episode 1) on BR - Get this at all cost.  Mid and low bass aplenty.  PQ 4 SQ 4.5 Story 3.5 )
61) Brave - very good surround and occasion bass blasts that really shake my sofa!!
62) Dragon Tiger Gate - for mid bass try the fight scene near the end
63) The greatest game ever played , to test the speed of your sub and the integration with your centre speaker.
64) Flash point , to test the air bouncing effect on the punch impact.
65) True legend , very low rumbling together with mid bass punch at the same time.


We are all at liberty to do as we please in our homes. Those with plenty of experience will be tweaking constantly.

If you don't fall into this category, then plan ahead, so it becomes integral in your renovations. For the average HT user, aesthetic concerns override any potential benefits of future add-ons. Furthermore the lady of the house is likely to veto lots of ugly pads, diffusers and other items commonly used in the dedicated dens that enthusiasts use.

For example siting a subwoofer is a big deal, and having a spot or two for it, with some considerations for sound is vital. And plan ahead - eg buy a subwoofer cable long enough to allow variations in position or install the cables into the walls before. Cables can be affordable and allow such flexibility.

So IMO, it is advisable to plan ahead, work with a acoustic expert, and if needed, tweak it later on, but with the aesthetic caveats mentioned above.

YMMV.

My subs:

I have owned in succesion:
  1. that Robertson Audio 12"
  2. KEF 30B
  3. SVS PB 12+
  4. Rhythmik FV15HP
  5. Velodyne SPL 800i + SPL 1000R
  6. JL Audio F113
  7. Hsu MBM MK II

I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

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