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The problems that you create when using a powered subwoofer

I guess I am old school when it comes to audio. Growing up everyone wanted to have a pair of 12’s or at least 10’s for their speakers. Back then we did not have surround sound, just stereo. Our Televisions had built in speakers and most people never even thought of trying to connect a stereo receiver of any kind to the tv so that the sound could come out of their 10 or 12 inch speakers (or smaller if they even had any).  Today tvs have speakers, but good luck locating them since they are so small. Nowadays we do add a receiver to the tv for surround sound, but typically with small speakers. Usually we run satellite speakers or perhaps bookshelf speakers. Because we use these small speakers they are incapable of producing any really deep bass so we then have to run a powered subwoofer.

Two problems with powered subwoofers:

1) Too much bass with music. I can’t stand booming bass that overpowers the music itself. I want it to all be somewhat balanced.

 2) Too much bass for movies. This can at times overpower the rest of the sound effects found in whatever film you are watching especially if it’s an action, adventure, or sci-fi film where the sub is needed more.

So what then is the solution?

I believe it is all about balance. Balance in the size of speakers you choose to use, balance in the volume you turn up the sub, balance in how much gain you use on the sub. I choose to use 5 1/4″ book shelf speakers for my surround sound because they can recreate almost the full range of sound with the exception of the deep bass. I use a powered sub in one of my surround sound rooms, but with the volume and gain adjusted to give it just a little boom without overpowering everything else. Of course, acoustics matter too so trial and error is needed to get it just right. For music I do not use a sub at all! I use a pair of 12’s or dual 12’s or 8’s depending on what I am listening to and how I want it to sound. Keep in mind that if your goal is just lots of bass a powered sub makes sense. For instance, rap and some hip hop are usually loaded with lots of deep bass if that is what you are looking for.

How do you like to listen to your music? Do you use a powered sub? A passive sub? No sub at all?

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Wall of Bass

As a teenager I moved around quite a bit. At one point I lived in a town home and a had a really cool next door neighbor who baby sat for extra money. She even took me to my first concert back in I think 1991. It was a Queensryche concert. They were promoting their new album “Empire.” During the concert they played all of that album and all of a previous album “Operation Mindcrime”. The band sounded amazing! In fact now whenever I listen to bands play live I expect and am frequently disappointed in how poorly they sound live in comparison to Queensryche. No band I have ever heard sounds as good live as these guys do. Years later I heard them on the radio (yes music used to be played there. Videos used to be played on MTV and VH1 too when I was a teenager). I was listening without any distraction and I noticed for a brief second something sounded off but I couldn’t place it. When the song ended I heard the crowd cheer. The DJ confirmed this to be live by announcing that was a recording of them playing live. This was not one of those live albums where it was created live in the studio; this was an actual live concert recording. I am not a huge fan of the band, but this concert will never be forgotten in my mind nor will how good they sounded years later on a live recording.

The other thing I remember about my neighbor was the constant rumbling of pure bass against the adjoining wall to our town home. How she could be allowed to crank it up while babysitting is beyond me. The bass was so intense that it didn’t just pound a part of the wall it covered the entire wall. Listening closely I could not hear any vocals or instruments just bass. It was not until I cupped my hand around my ear and I think placed a glass cup up against the wall that I was able to determine what it was. The music was almost always Queensryche and not just one album- she celebrated the entire collection! I do not recall her name, but if she has found this posting I just want to say thank you for creating my first moment of real interest in sound and for taking me to my first of many concerts.

Another early encounter with bass was with a friend of mine and his setup. He had a receiver (piece of crap cheap bookshelf system made to look like a mini rack system). Back in the late 80’s early 90’s the market was flooded with these poor imitations of the once great rack systems from the 70’s and early 80’s. In fact the early 80’s models were not as good as the top of the line 70’s models. The reason I mention his setup was because in the 90’s we had portable CD players and the better ones (like his) had a bass boost. Now with a touch of a button we could get rich(er) bass pumping thru our crappy speakers (at lower volumes). This was an improvement for sure and with bigger speakers and a decent receiver it sounded pretty good at moderate volume levels. I was impressed at the time with the bass because I did not have a bass boost. I had a crappy mini rack system and full size cd player.

These experiences later would evolve from just musical sound to movie sound (surround sound) as well for me. Now I focus on how to make movies sound better than before with my custom surround sounds. Today I will discuss how to make your bass much more impressive if all you are after is just pure bass. Today’s posting is about how to create lots bass at home. Have you ever wanted to just crank it up and blast the whole neighborhood? Well now you can with the tips I am about to provide. As a teen I wanted to blast back at her some of my own bass to try to get her to turn it down at times, but was improperly equipped with the right tools to do so. Unlike me back then, you WILL be properly equipped with the right tools to win that bass war against your neighbor!

A few quick disclaimers are in order before getting started:

  • Warning: Cranking up the volume and in effect blasting the immediate neighbor and possibly the entire neighborhood is fun but not wise to do. Both myself and Premium Audio are not to be held responsible for any damage or anger caused by the information provided in this posting. I am merely using this post as an outlet to provide free information on how this loud deep bass can be reproduced. What you choose to do with that knowledge is up to you and you alone.
  • Warning: This will piss of your neighbor and possibly others living or working nearby.
  • Warning: This could and most probably will cause some form of hearing loss and or deafness when done repeatedly for short bursts or worse for hours on end.
  • Warning: When I refer to a “wall” in this document I mean a wall, not a glass door (slider, french doors) or a wall with a window of some kind in it. By definition I refer to a wall as a floor to ceiling height wall consisting of wood (most likely 2×4’s) to hold it together and covered in drywall or lathe (if an older home). This wall as I refer to it is permanently attached to the side of a house. Using any of these tips of mine against anything that does not fit my definition of a wall or is near a window or door with glass in it, just might break the glass. Don’t get cut with glass, avoid glass at all costs.

Okay so lets get started with the details.

This will require very little work to put together and no wiring splicing will be necessary. You will need an entire wall or section of a wall available to utilize this setup. You will also need a powerful receiver/amp/pre-amp, lots of speaker wire, and at least 4 pairs (8 speakers). Other items may be needed too and are listed in this posting. Most likely your receiver will not allow for enough speakers to be connected so two speaker wire selectors (switches) will be needed.

The setup is simply, really. No really it is I promise! 7 easy steps to better bass:

  1. Connect a DVD player, CD player, tape player, turntable, Roku, MP3 player, computer or whatever it is you choose to play your music from to your receiver as you normally would. Simple right?
  2. If your receiver allows for enough pairs of main speakers to be connected then connect them like normal to the receiver and be sure to enable all of those speakers on the receiver. For instance some receivers allow for speakers a and b (others allow only a or b and not a and b together). Please make sure the receiver is powered off before connecting anything to it! To make this wall of sound (or rather speakers) you will need to be able to connect 4 pairs of speakers (8 speakers in all). The speakers cannot be connected just anywhere so if your receiver is a surround sound receiver ignore the center and surround speaker inputs they will not do what we want to accomplish. If you cannot connect all of the speakers to your receiver (which most likely you wont be able to do) get a speaker selector (switch) and connect it to where the left and right speakers are to go. One end of the wire connects to the receiver and the other end goes into the switch. On the switch you want to use the “in” or “amp” portion to connect to the receiver with. From there you will see either a,b,c and d or 1,2,3 and 4 as labeled outputs on the switch. These outputs are where each pair of speakers will connect to. Once connected be sure to enable each pair of speakers on the switch by pressing in the appropriate buttons (a,b,c,d or 1,2,3,4). Hopefully I have not lost you yet.
  3. Arrange the speakers so that you have two rows on the left side of the room and two rows on the right side of the room. One row will sit on top of the other row. In other words you will have 4 speakers on the left in a row with a speaker on top of each one. You will repeat the process the same way for the right side of the room. Make sure the speakers are pressed up against the wall as close to the baseboard as possible.
  4. Turn on the receiver and choose the appropriate input to match the device you connected in step 1 to the receiver. Adjust the tone (tone knob, menu setting, bass and treble knobs or equalizer) to the maximum bass and minimum treble.
  5. If you have a bass boost or loudness switch on your receiver turn it on.
  6. Gradually turn up the volume from zero to no more than half way. Use the remote for this so you are not right next to the speakers if possible. Turning up beyond half way can cause clipping. This will damage your speakers and or receiver. Also, if it is not already obvious the louder it is turned up the more damage you may cause to your hearing. Ear plugs (or at least cotton balls) are a great idea to use before turning it up.
  7. Be prepared for some angry neighbors.

Want more bass? Of course you do! Follow the tips below to make it even more intense:

These can be done in any combination as you see fit to reach your goal of serious bass. So much bass in fact that that is all they neighbors will hear and feel. If you have not already, please get the earplugs out and put them in your ears for safety.

Small Speaker Setup tips:

Please use bookshelf speakers (5 1/4″, 6 1/2″ or 8″) and not satellite speakers. Satellites are tiny and will sound like crap when cranked up! Satellites should only be used for surround sound applications in small rooms or when just starting out and then upgraded when possible. Listening to any music at any volume will most likely result in crappy sounding music too (even with a sub woofer).

If you have not already please connect a powered sub woofer. In most cases a passive sub will not be enough bass. I recently had an 8″ passive sub powered by a 100 watt per channel 6 ohm receiver and it was impressive, but with limits. Even that setup would not allow you to reach your goal of winning the bass war. If you can, connect two powered subs to your receiver.

Powered Sub woofer Tips:

  • Do not connect more than two powered subs as the receiver will not have the power necessary to fully utilize them all. Instead they will all have a little thump instead of the constant booming that you want.
  • Never turn up the volume on the powered sub(s) more than halfway or they can become damaged do to what is referred to as “clipping.”
  • If your receiver only allows for one sub you will need a ‘y’ cable to allow you to connect two subs off of one input on your receiver.
  • Be sure to turn up the sub volume thru both your receiver and the powered sub. Again the volume on the sub woofer itself should not exceed half way. However, on the receiver the sub woofer volume can be turned all the way up. Do not turn up the master volume on the receiver more than half way.
  • Experiment with the speaker size (small vs large) on your receiver. Some receivers dish out more bass if the speakers are set to small instead of large.
  • Most sub woofer manufacturers and receiver manufacturers will tell you to turn off the bass boost or loudness on your receiver if using a powered sub woofer. By leaving it on you risk at high volumes causing clipping to the sub woofer, speakers and or receiver. This can really damage them so turn off the bass boost or loudness switch when using a powered sub or two.
  • Adjust the phase control on your sub if it has it to get the most bass.
  • Sub woofer placement is crucial to your optimal sound.
    • If you have carpet flooring try elevating the subs about 6 to 8 inches off the ground. If you don’t the carpet will soak up some of the bass sound and then it will not be as intense.
    • If you have tile flooring place the subs directly on the floor. The bass will bounce off the floor and walls for a more lively sound.
    • Place the subs about one to two inches from the baseboard or wall.
    • If possible place the subs so they are angled against two walls. More walls to bounce the bass off of makes it appear even louder.

Surround Sound Receivers:

Some surround sound receivers will not enable the sub woofer input in stereo mode. You might have to enable a surround sound to use the sub. If you have to do this do not connect speakers to the center or surround sound inputs. For this wall of sound to sound proper you do not want these other speakers connected. Also be sure to turn off or turn all the way down the volume to the center and surround sound speakers in the receivers menu this way you do not loose sound going to the left and right main speakers and sub. Of course you also want to turn up the sub woofer volume all the way on the receiver  and the left and right speakers. To do this you will need to go in a menu setting on the receiver. Do not turn up the main volume (usually a knob) more than halfway. Start out at a quarter of the volume and test from there.

Large Speaker Setup:

This is really what you want to use. Big old school speakers. I’m talking about 12’s or larger. Sorry, but 8’s and 10’s are not good enough for this application, find some 12’s! Now that you have 12″ woofers you can expect some serious bass, but wait do you have the proper receiver to actually drive the speakers? I learned the hard way in 2010 that 100 watts per channel is not always the same. 6 ohm receivers cannot drive a pair of 12’s very well if at all! 8 ohm receivers are old school and are more powerful (even if both the 6 and 8 ohm receivers you try are 100 watts per channel). It is next to impossible to find 8 ohm receivers new. Find one somewhere (Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, Craigslist, E-Bay, yard sale, wherever you can) and never let go of it. If it sounds good and dies get it repaired it’s a keeper! Better yet find an 8 ohm or higher amp or pre-amp they are even better sounding (usually) then a receiver is. One draw back to amps and pre-amps is that they do not have a sub woofer input. In fact unless your receiver has surround sound it most likely does not have a sub input either.

Advanced tips for even more intense bass:

Warning this will be intense! Try any combination of these tips if possible to really blast the wall with bass and piss off everyone.

  • Just in case you missed this one earlier it is worth repeating. Turn up the bass all the way and put the treble at the minimum setting. This can be accomplished in many ways. If you have a tone knob turn it all the way to the left for all bass. If you have bass and treble knobs (some are inside a hidden flip down or push down front panel) turn the bass to the far right and the treble to the far left. Some receivers have you go thru a series of menus to find the bass and treble. Please consult your manual if needed on how to do this. Once you find the settings put the bass up (highest “+” number) and treble down (lowest “-” number). If you have an equalizer built into your receiver/amp/pre-amp then that’s awesome! Generally speaking most equalizers (EQ’s) have the sliders on the left adjust the bass and the ones on the right adjust the treble. The sliders in the middle adjust either bass and mid range or just mid range. Since EQ’s can come in combination from 3 to 7 bands per side a little trial and error is in order. The good news is it will not take long to test out with music to determine which sliders do what. For the record sometimes an equalizer is labeled as a 10 band or 14 band. This really means its 5 bands to the left and 5 to the right or 7 to the left and 7 to the right. Other times they only show up as 3, 5 or 7 sliders and adjust the sound the same for the left and right speakers. If yours has a left and right make sure to make them match on both sides. Usually only separate equalizers that are made to connect to a receiver have both a left and right set of sliders to adjust. If your receiver, amp or pre-amp does not have an EQ built into it but sounds really good do not bother purchasing and struggling to connect a separate EQ to it. If your receiver does sound like crap either get a better one or connect an EQ to it. Keep in mind when connecting an EQ the settings on the EQ can adjust the tone heard out of your speakers and so can the bass and treble or tone settings on the receiver. This means you can combine them both for more bass. If however you have a crappy receiver and are adding an EQ to it do yourself a favor and turn the tone or bass and treble on the receiver down to the minimum settings (not the natural sound located in the middle). If you keep it in the middle on a crappy receiver you will have enhanced naturally crappy sound that will most likely be worse than if you didn’t have the EQ and just used the crappy receiver. Your best bet for this bass war is to simply get a better receiver, amp or pre-amp. EQ’s can be great for listening pleasure but we are simply looking for the most deep bass at high volumes and an EQ is not the best way to go for this.
  • Bigger speakers just sound better plain and simple than smaller ones do when turned up. Again, grab some 12’s!
  • Place the bottom row of speakers on the floor. Elevating them slightly (a couple of inches) may sound better if on carpet because they will appear louder and reduce the muddy bass sound. If on tile place them directly on the floor (do not elevate them) and they will appear much louder.
  • For even more bass try these variations to how you place the speakers:
    • Turn the bottom row of speakers around so that the front of the speakers face the wall and you are looking at the back of them.
    • Turn the bottom row of speakers into Pseudo Subs. To do this cover over the tweeters and mids (if you have 3 way speakers and not 2 way ones). Be careful not to damage the parts of the speaker when doing this.
    • Still not enough bass? Turn all the speakers (both rows) into Pseudo subs and turn them all to face the wall.

If somehow you think you do not have enough bass still then you are in luck here are my two most advanced tips:

  • If your receiver/amp/pre-amp supports two pairs of speakers that can be played at the same time (as front or main speakers) then connect a second switch to the receiver. In other words if the switch you connected already is connected off of speaker A on the receiver then lets also connect another switch (this time to speaker B) to the receiver. Connect 4 pairs of speakers to this switch. Now you have 8 pairs of speakers (16 speakers total). Setup the additional speakers next to the ones you already connected. Make sure the additional speakers are stacked on top of each other like you did with the speakers you connected before. This means you will have two rows of speakers (4 speakers on the top left with 4 under them and then 4 speakers on the top right with 4 under them). Now you really do have a wall of speakers!
  • For the best bass possible take the top row of speakers and elevate them up all the way to the ceiling. You want them to still face the wall but have the top of the cabinets rest up against the ceiling. I left this as the final tip because most people will have no way to do this especially with large speakers since they cannot be wall mounted. I had a neighbor in an apartment directly underneath me do this and I felt the bass on my floor and my walls at the same time. It took some thought but eventually I figured out that no large speakers even with a sub could shake my floor (their ceiling) unless they placed their speakers this way. You will want only the top row of speakers elevated to the ceiling. The bottom row needs to remain where they already are. This way you combine the bass hitting the top and bottom of the wall simultaneously. Do not worry about the middle of the wall since some sound will trickle down and up from the two rows of speakers to fill in the middle.  You might need to uncover the mids and tweeters on the top and or bottom row (no longer use them as pseudo subs). Experiment for yourself to see if they should remain as pseudo subs.

Congratulations, now you are shaking the entire wall and I am certain you have won the bass war! Hopefully you still have your full range of hearing and have not been arrested and or evicted!

 

 

 

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Down Firing Subs vs Front Firing Subs

Rummaging through my collection of odd speakers that I have accumulated over the years for testing purposes, I recently came across an old Front Firing Sub which brings us to this latest post….

Originally I was going to discuss a completely different topic, but changed my mind. The purpose of this change will make sense hopefully within the next 30 days when something of greater significance in the world of Premium Audio is intended to come to be….. More on that in roughly 30 days (hopefully)!

In the meantime, getting back to this posting….Down Firing Subs vs Front Firing Subs. In testing the down firing sub it became rather apparent just how weak this can be in comparison to the front firing version. Just like how surround sounds keep evolving luckily for us so has the sub woofer.  I tested an old 6.5″ down firing 75 watt powered sub. Despite the engineering department having the great foresight to elevate this sub and have it be attached to a matching wooden board, the sound is still virtually non-existent. With the volume on the sub turned up 3/4 of the way, the crossover set to maximize just how low of frequencies were to be delivered to this sub woofer and of a course a quality sub cable and the volume on the receiver turned up 1/4 of the way there was almost no trace of bass.

No trace at all had it not been for me resting one hand on the woofer while it attempted to shake the walls and floor with some good old fashioned 80’s metal. The result? No shake worth bragging about and definitely no boom. To be certain I tried Nicki Minaj’s Super bass and some other track of hers and a Rhianna tune. Each time the result was sadly the same. At this point I know what you are thinking. You are thinking 1/4 of the way is not enough power. Without the sub plugged in my 10″ two way speakers had plenty of bass. So much in fact, that I had to reduce the bass level to avoid distortion. With the sub I tested with the 10’s and also tried a pair of 5 1/4’s and each time the sub failed to go boom.

Any powered front firing sub I test with results in powerful deep bass. If you can find it there is something actually better than a front firing sub. The best subs are actually a combination of both a front and down firing sub driven at the same time. My old dual 6.5″ (two identical size woofers) with a 320 watt powered amp, now that’s a sub! It had one woofer down firing and the other of equal size as a front firing sub. Turn that sub up just a 1/4 of the way and its presence is well known.

So the point of this post is to pay a little more to get a lot more. Down firing subs are really not so great so why not get a front firing sub instead?

 

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A single Subwoofer, or should I have two of them?

BICRTREV1200

People talk about having a subwoofer all the time when discussing home theatre, but what about two subwoofers? Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s simplify this and make sure you understand what a subwoofer actually is. A subwoofer, or sub as they are commonly referred to as, is a speaker dedicated purely to super deep and powerful bass. A subwoofer is crucial to home theatre. This is especially true if you are running much smaller speakers. A subwoofer, however, is not just a large speaker. No. In addition to being a larger speaker (possibly the largest speaker in your home theatre) it has it’s own dedicated adjustable amplifier to really drive the bass home. Also it includes a bass port (or two) to further enhance the bass tone even more!

Having a single subwoofer is common, however having two of them, further enhances the sound. It will make the bass come from more than one direction to better fill the room and will sound much clearer and louder. Best of all, it will truly shake the floor and walls. Premium Audio highly recommends dual subwoofers for these reasons. In order to hear the difference the subwoofers will each need to be located in different corners of the room.

For detailed placement instructions for subwoofers, as well as all other speakers, please check out this book…. Customize Your Home Theater: 5.1 channel to 15.2 and everything in between.