GILES REAVES: Subwoofers and bass management

Managing the low end in your studio -By Giles Reaves

When talking about speaker systems, once upon a time we would use words like “mono” or “stereo” or even “quad” to refer to how many individual “channels” or speakers were involved. Now instead, we hear numbers like 2.1, 5.1, 7.1, and even 10.2 and beyond

For now, we are only interested in the number after the decimal point. That’s the part that refers to the subwoofer. Later we’ll discuss why it’s called that.

The subwoofer: what is it?

A subwoofer (or ‘sub’) is any speaker (or cabinet containing a speaker) that is designed to handle roughly the lowest two octaves of the audible spectrum, typically from around 20–80 Hz. Sometimes the subwoofer is contained in the same cabinet as the speaker(s) for midrange (called the woofer) and for high frequencies (called the tweeter), but more often it’s in a separate cabinet.

In the music world, the primary function of a subwoofer is to seamlessly extend the frequency range of smaller monitors, creating the effect of a single, full-range cabinet. In home theater and post production for film and TV, its primary function is for effects like explosions, earthquakes, aliens and the like. In this discussion we’ll focus primarily on musical applications—setting up a sub and a specialized Low Frequency Effects (LFE) channel in a mix for post is another story.

A brief history of the subwoofer

In the early days of sound reproduction, the frequency ...

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