SUB WOOFERS: In fact, a proper sub never sounds like it’s even working in the system

I promised in that post to let you in on a secret method to making sure your subwoofer integrates with your system well and it’s a two part solution: start low and start low.

I know, but I couldn’t resist.  The first start low is with the frequency.  Even if you plan on crossing over your sub at a higher frequency, perhaps 80Hz or so, don’t use that as your starting point.  Why?  Because there will be too many variables to get right.  Turn your sub’s low pass filter – this is the filter that rolls off the top of the woofer – to no more than 60Hz, preferably more like 40Hz or 50Hz.

The second keep-it-low is the volume.  Perhaps the single biggest problem I see with sub setups is the volume is just too high.  Start low and creep your way up – if you hear the sub working as a separate entity it’s too high in volume.  Subs should never standout out.

In fact, a proper sub never sounds like it’s even working in the system.  Perfectly setup, a subwoofer is like a behind the scenes coach making the star look great, all the while never taking credit.  This is a careful balancing act to give the illusion that your main speakers go down to subterranean levels and can shake the room on appropriate music – it should never sound like it’s coming from the subwoofer itself.

My favorite setup piece for this sort of exercise is a pipe organ.  Why?  Because it’s a fixed instrument that has specific notes and levels that should reproduce properly in your room.  Other bass instruments that are acceptable to me include a bass drum in an orchestra, such as Mahler’s First  – the one I have included a link to is by the ever talented Peter McGrath and the bass drum whacks on the 4th movement are perfect.  However, I would still stay with the organs because the sustained notes are what make it a lot easier to adjust.  My favorite setup piece is the Boston Symphony Saint-Saëns Symphony no. 3, track 3, but I am sure there are many other greats like Reference Recordings Pomp and Pipes and so on.

Here’s the deal – you need a known reference instrument recorded well to make this work for you – and if you’re sure what you have is authentic and “real” – meaning an authentic instrument of some type that goes down to 20Hz – then that’s perfect.

Paul McGowan / PS Audio

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