A well-tuned subwoofer can make even a modest music or theater system sound spectacular. On the other hand, a poorly integrated subwoofer becomes nothing more than a distraction. Even the biggest bassheads out there will admit that a properly set up subwoofer makes an outsized difference in your at-home music and movie experience.
With all of that in mind, we're sharing some tips on how to set your subwoofer up to get the most out of your system – regardless of size and cost.
Use Your AVR’s Auto Set-up routine
Most modern AVRs (audio-video receiver) have a built-in room set-up app that will do most of the math and hard calculations for you. To get the best response from your AVR’s set-up program, set the included microphone up on a stand or tripod in your main listening position with no obstructions around it – then leave the room while the program runs. Sophisticated programs will have you do this for each listening position. This also applies if you are using a stand-alone room set-up app such as Audyssey.
If you have to enter them manually, be as accurate as possible when entering the distances of each speaker into the set-up program. With accurately set distances, sounds that are supposed to come from different places at different times will be processed to arrive at your ears when they are supposed to. For example, a helicopter flying from the rear to the front of your room will sound more cohesive if the distances between the rear and front speakers are accurately set. If the distances are not accurate, the sound may become disjointed or disconnected from the video material.
Of course, once you’ve run the set-up program, feel free to experiment to get things dialed in to your taste. You can always run the program again to recover the system-calculated settings if you get too far into the weeds.
Set the Volume Properly
We all appreciate deep, accurate bass, but too much of it can be overbearing. Set the amplifier on the subwoofer (Gain Control) to around 75% and play a song or a scene from a movie you're familiar with (and that has lots of bass). On your AVR’s control menu, set the subwoofer output all the way down (infinity). Slowly adjust the subwoofer gain to the point where you can hear the bass begin to fill in the bottom end – then stop.
That’s it, that’s all the bass you need. It may not be all the bass you want but that’s a personal choice. A properly set up subwoofer will not call attention to itself (meaning you are not directed to the box itself when listening to low frequencies) but will instead be non-directional with bass just filling up the room from seemingly all directions.
Keep in mind: when a song or soundtrack to a film is mastered, the engineers and directors put in the amount of bass they feel is necessary – in relation to all of the other frequencies – to convey the message or emotion of the passage. If you’ve set the subwoofer volume properly, it will be full and subtle, integrating with the entire program or passage as intended.
You can tweak the Gain Control to dial the subwoofer to your personal choice, but the above steps give you a great foundation for proper subwoofer integration.
Set the Phase
Without getting too deep into phase relationships, simply experiment with the phase control on your subwoofer and go with the one that sounds best to you.
As with everything else in the audio world, it’s really all a matter of taste. You may just want to bask in the glory of rafter shaking bass, but if you want a seamless integration of all of your speakers, these tips may help you get even more enjoyment from your system.
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