We have come to associate subwoofers with home theater, thanks in part to the dedicated LFE (Low-Frequency Effects) channel present on many Hollywood blockbusters and the general expectation of impressive bass in such movies. When it comes to movie watching, we want to both hear and feel the action. But, what about adding subwoofers to your music at home?

A Great Subwoofer Elevates The Listening Experience

If you have experienced a well-integrated subwoofer in a great audio system – you know that the subwoofer’s effect can be profound.

Many people wonder, “Do you need a subwoofer when you already have full-range speakers?” With rare exception, the answer is yes. Adding a subwoofer can provide the most realistic and engaging musical fidelity – resulting in an elevated listening experience.

There are several reasons for this. Perhaps most importantly, we can never separate our music system from the room it is in. The main speakers are best moved away from room boundaries to achieve openness and clarity. This has the corresponding effect of lessening their bass output­—sometimes dramatically. Adding a subwoofer allows you to position the main speakers where they perform best in the room while also finding the optimum location for the subwoofer to produce low frequencies.

It is also true that a well-designed subwoofer with its own dedicated amplifier simply does a better job of reproducing deep bass than the woofer(s) built into passive speakers. Powered subwoofers have super robust drivers with large excursion capabilities. For example, top JL Audio models have an extraordinary 4” of peak to peak excursion. Our proprietarydesign dissipates the high heat associated with producing so much energy, and therefore maintains reliable operation and reduces distortion.

A subwoofer’s electronics, which may include Digital Signal Processing (DSP), can be used to equalize the system with high precision while providing the high current required. Bass, particularly frequencies below 40Hz, requires moving a lot of air. Doing so with low distortion is very difficult, so it’s little wonder that a speaker dedicated to the task does the best job.

Adding a subwoofer to a stereo music system doesn’t merely extend bass response, it also provides a sense of scale and dynamics superior to the speakers on their own. This even applies to music that doesn’t have a lot of obvious bass content. The music comes from a larger, more dimensional acoustic space. By filling in the roll-off of the main speakers, a good subwoofer makes listening at lower volume levels more enjoyable.

If you add a second subwoofer, you will be able to even out the inevitable peaks and dips in room gain at bass frequencies, meaning you will get more even sound distributed throughout the room. Also, two subwoofers will work half as hard for the same acoustic output, reducing their distortion.

Powered Subwoofers with Active Cross Over

For the ultimate in full range stereo sound, a subwoofer should be integrated with your main speakers using a high-pass filter. This means that bass frequencies in the main speakers are rolled off below a specified point where they transition to the subwoofer. While every powered subwoofer has a low-pass filter to limit its upper bass, not all have a high pass filter.

Many of JL Audio models have built-in high pass filters (like the E110 and E112). For even higher performance, an outboard crossover like the JL Audio CR-1 can handle both the low and high pass filtering. When a stereo is set-up with a high-pass filter, the main speakers operate at much lower distortion because they are relieved of the need to reproduce the deepest bass and the same can be said for the amplifier powering them.  The bass drivers in a full range speaker typically operate well into lower midrange frequencies, so any distortion at bass frequencies affects midrange performance. Adding a This creates a listening experience in which the subwoofers and main speakers become one, delivering a more dynamic sound and cohesive musical experience.

The Benefit of Adding a Subwoofer to your Music System

Subwoofers are important because they extend the sound from your music. The low frequencies produced by a subwoofer help produce the full, rich, dimensional sound that so many people love but are not currently getting from their music. Perhaps this will be your best speaker upgrade in the upcoming year.

Doug Henderson

Doug Henderson has had a four-decade-long career in audio. He is JL Audio’s Senior Vice President, Home Audio and the former President, B&W Group North America. Doug believes that music is a limitless passion – whether that is playing the guitar, enjoying a live performance, or experiencing a favorite recording in his listening room. He also has a passion for photography, which can be viewed at www.douglasandrewhenderson.com.