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All about that bass: what you need to know about wireless subwoofers

19 June 2018

If you want to get the best sound from your speaker system a subwoofer is essential. Learn what makes a great sub and what you can do to get the best sound at home.

All of us know that unmistakable guttural vibration that only bass can provide. Thanks to recent technological innovations in home entertainment, it’s something we’ve come not just to expect from cinemas and music venues. Technology has advanced to the point that professional quality bass can be delivered by even our home entertainment systems.

If you want to get the most rich and well-balanced sound from your speaker, a subwoofer is an essential investment. It’s these subwoofers that specialise in delivering deeper, lower-end sounds than a standard audio set-up is capable of producing.

The human ear is most sensitive to sounds between 300 and 3,000 hz. Amazingly, our ears are capable of hearing even wider than that, typically ranging between 20 and 20,000 hz.

Subwoofers specialise in the lower end of that spectrum; for example, Orbitsound’s wireless S4 reproduces sound at between 40 and 185 hz. Since we aren’t used to experiencing such rumbling tones, it can seem like we’re not only hearing the music, but feeling it through our bodies.

Instruments like bass drums, bass guitars, pipe organs and lower-pitched stringed instruments such as cellos are all enhanced by the presence of a subwoofer; rather than blending into the background of the recording you’re listening to, they’ll add considerable presence and power.

What makes a great subwoofer?

Broadly speaking, there are two types of subwoofer available: those with their own amps built in, and those that require separate amps in order to deliver sound.

The former option, which audiophiles refer to as ‘powered’ subwoofers, make choosing the right subwoofer much easier. You only need to worry about buying a single product to get your bass booming, and the amp built into the unit is optimised to deliver the ideal sound frequency for the subwoofer that houses it.

In contrast, subwoofers that require separate amps (known as passive subwoofers) often require expert knowledge in order to pair the speaker with the right external amplifier, and may end up being an expensive way to achieve the same bass that a more affordable powered set-up could deliver.

Another thing to consider is whether you want your subwoofer to be wireless. In this case, ‘wireless’ refers to the relationship that your subwoofer has with the rest of your audio equipment.

By going wireless, you can avoid trails of unsightly cables from snaking their way around your home. It’s by far the tidiest option, with just one cable for power. As we’ll explain, you may want to place your subwoofer in a particular spot in order to achieve the best sound. By choosing a wireless one you’ll have more flexibility when it comes to picking the perfect location for it.

Location, location, location

The advantage of integrating a subwoofer into your home audio system is that you’ll experience a greater variety of sounds (particularly those with lower frequencies) than you would without it. However, by choosing the wrong location for your subwoofer, you may end up affecting the bass-enhancing nature of your speaker.

Bass frequencies are particularly sensitive to room factors – these include the shape of the room they’re in, the types of windows that are present and any furniture that may obstruct or distort the sound being produced. In extreme cases, the wrong subwoofer placement can result in standing waves (where one, booming note overrides the tonal variation of a bass recording) or bass nulls (where sound waves bounce between walls and clash, cancelling one another out).

Luckily, there are some simple ways to ensure that you choose the optimal location for your subwoofer. One common method is to place the subwoofer where you would usually sit or stand in the room, before walking or crawling around the room until you find locations where the bass sounds particularly balanced and well-defined. Make a temporary mark (such as a piece of tape) in these spots – they’ll be ideal choices for the location of your subwoofer.

Unmistakably improved sound

If you’ve chosen a subwoofer that’s well-suited to your audio system and ideally placed within your room, the improvement in sound will be impossible to miss. It’s not just bass-heavy contemporary genres like hip-hop or dubstep that will be boosted with a subwoofer – everything from classical music to jazz, pop and rock can be enhanced by embracing the greater sonic possibilities of powered-up bass tones.

As we’ve mentioned already, choosing a wireless subwoofer means you can be more selective about the placement of your speaker, while keeping a tidy and cable-free aesthetic to your living space. Orbitsound’s subwoofer, the Sub S4, is one such product – by pairing it with a high quality audio hub like the Dock E30, you can fully realise the richness of your listening experience at home.

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