Subwoofer or not?

By | April 4, 2021


Some believe that a subwoofer is absolutely necessary for a full-fledged audio experience. While others insist that a subwoofer often overturns more than it helps. Something most people agree on, however, is that correctly reproduced bass in the studio, or anywhere for that matter, is rare. That it sounds good where you are sitting and that it is actually good, are two very different things. What is perceived as favorable in one’s own listening environment does not necessarily mean that the reality is the same. Low frequencies are and always have been tricky.

The room
Subwoofers need space to come into their own. Plenty of space. Small and medium-sized rooms have a tendency to amplify, but also to extinguish bass frequencies. Square rooms are west. The base reproduction is simply not correct, even if it may feel that way. This can be partially remedied with careful placement of studio monitors and acoustic treatment in the form of base traps, absorbents and diffusers. Which is a chapter in itself.

Genelec 7040 APM

Negative reinforcement and standing waves
It is not uncommon for the bass to be negatively amplified when using a subwoofer. This means that base frequencies that are already dominant become even stronger, more than if you only use standard near-field monitors. And if you are not careful, it can actually end up with your mixes and masteries getting less bass, than is desirable. When the dimensions of the room correspond to half the wavelength of the frequency and multiples of it, so-called standing waves occur. For example, if there are problems at 40 Hz (which is half the wavelength in a room where a measure is approximately 4.3 meters), there will also be problems at 80 and 120 Hz, albeit to a lesser extent. A base trap that is tuned to 40Hz, was also sold to help with the multiples. As if this were not enough, a subwoofer also increases the risk of phase quenching, which means that certain frequencies simply weaken or disappear completely.

Adam Audio Sub8

Now it may seem that subwoofers only cause problems. That, of course, is not the case. A properly calibrated subwoofer in a good room does more than just fatten up and clarify the bottom package. Something happens in the air, it becomes a kind of pressure that is missing in ordinary nearfielders. The experience of the sound becomes something else. So the question is not really whether you need a subwoofer, but whether a subwoofer benefits your way of working and your own preferences.

With that said, it’s really great to make good mixes with regular studio monitors and headphones – the trick is simply to learn to listen.

Play your mixes in every conceivable sound system and learn a lesson. If in the end you still feel that a subwoofer would facilitate your work, then keep the above in mind.

Here are some popular options:

  • Adam Audio Sub8

  • Adam Sub10 Mk2

  • Genelec 7040 APM

  • JBL LSR310S

  • Neumann KH 750 DSP

  • Yamaha HS8S

Feel free to ask questions or comment on the article in the comment field below, and we will spin the topic together. Or if you prefer to discuss mixing in the “Mixing and mastering” section of the Studios forum here!

Fredagstipset is a recurring series where Studio writer Jon Rinneby shares tips every Friday in, among other things, recording and mixing. Here you will find all Friday tips.