How to Get the Best Performance Out of Your Subwoofer

Do what's necessary to get a clear but punchy sound from your subwoofers.

When it comes to sound quality and production, there has always been an exchange between loudness and dynamics. Because low-end frequencies are less clear than mid-range or high-end frequencies, people tend to blast subwoofers for volume. But this habit can quickly drown out audio definition, resulting in bloated or boomy bass.

Luckily, every sound system has a sweet spot—the range where a subwoofer delivers enough punch without overwhelming the gentler frequencies. That sweet spot varies depending on the system and the size and shape of the room it's in. You'll know you have it right when the bass seems to evenly blanket the space but still blend in and maintain balance with the other speakers.

Getting the best performance from the subwoofer involves three key points: placement, connections, and settings.

Subwoofer Placement

Polk Audio HTS Subwoofers
Polk Audio HTS Subwoofers.

Image provided by Polk Audio

Just like in real estate, location is everything. Finding the right place for a speaker is important whether it's a tweeter or a subwoofer. However, subwoofers are often more difficult to position correctly. Follow these basic instructions to find the right place for your subwoofer(s), and keep in mind that extension cords may be necessary. And just because a subwoofer looks good in one spot doesn't mean it will sound good there.

Here are some general positioning tips:

  • Place the subwoofer between the two main speakers and away from the front wall.
  • Place the subwoofer on a side wall, halfway between the front and rear walls.
  • If neither of those positions works, then it's time to get on hands and knees and "crawl for bass." This technique involves moving the subwoofer slowly about the room while listening for the best bass reproduction. This can be difficult because sound waves reflect off of walls and objects. These reflections can reinforce or cancel each other out, and the last thing you'll want is a deadened or amplified bass zone in your favorite listening spot.

Subwoofer Connections

Depending on the brand and model, there may be more than one way to hook a subwoofer up to a sound system. For example, it may have left/right (stereo), "line in," or "sub input" for connections. If a cable has to encounter other wiring, do your best to have them cross at 90 degrees. Generally, there are two ways to connect a subwoofer to a stereo or home theater system.

Subwoofer Settings

Once the subwoofer is in the ideal spot, you'll want to further tune it for the best sound. Follow these steps to ensure the system sounds optimal:

  • Before playing the subwoofer, adjust the crossover. If you are using large floor-standing main speakers, set the subwoofer's crossover in the range of 40Hz-60Hz. If you're using smaller bookshelf speakers set the crossover a bit higher at around 50Hz-80Hz. For small satellite speakers set the crossover to 80Hz-160Hz.
  • Turn on the power and set the subwoofer volume to the desired level.
  • Adjust the phase control if it's available. The phase control compensates for a delay between the subwoofer and the main speakers. Start with the phase control in the 0 or normal position. If the sound from the subwoofer is adequate from the listening position, no further adjustment is necessary. If the sound is thin or lacking bass, adjust the phase control until the bass is satisfactory.
  • Finally, make small adjustments to the stereo audio equalizer for preferred sound.