Back in the 20th Century when Godzilla was still a young lizard, people either watched movies or listened to music using their HI-FI systems or their TVs in-built speakers. While most of these people praised their 5” small woofers for a job well done, all these started changing in the mid-80s and 90s when subwoofers were introduced.
Today, technology has gone to another level where decent speakers have become a bare necessity if you’re looking to capture all the LFEs (Low-Frequency Effects) present in most of your favorite Hollywood blockbuster movies and TV series.
But, despite the subwoofer being an integral part of your home’s overall surround sound system, there have been lingering sentiments especially in the audiophile community about its drawbacks. So, to try and clear the air for you, this post will try and answer the question of whether subwoofers do improve the sound.
In addition to that, I’ll discuss some key reasons for having a subwoofer as part of your home audio system.
They Elevate Your Listening Experience
If you’re an avid movie or music connoisseur, then I believe you’re aware of how a subwoofer handles the low-frequency LFEs to give you more detailed listening experience. This reason alone makes a subwoofer’s effect more profound compared to if you were dealing with midrange speakers.
Sometime back, my neighbor Sarah came over at my place to borrow a menu of a particular dish I had prepared during my son’s graduation party. What surprised me the most the moment she entered my apartment was how my home theater subwoofer blended seamlessly with the rest of the surround sound speakers while accurately reproducing every note in the low-frequency spectrum.
She told me of how her husband was a fun of bookshelf and tower speakers. Regardless of how much she tried to persuade him to add a subwoofer to their audio system, all he said was that their 5” or so woofers produced the perfect bass he needed.
Although he was right at some point, what he didn’t realize is that a subwoofer doesn’t have to add more bass. Instead, subwoofers help to improve your system’s soundstage depth and dynamics leading to a more improved sound. In fact, a subwoofer allows you to open up your room’s boundaries by allowing you to position your main speakers in any location of your choice without affecting the low frequencies.
For the case of Sarah’s husband, moving his bookshelf and tower speakers freely will be impossible because the bass output can easily be affected leading to peaks and nulls in certain regions within the room.
Audio Technology Demands It
There’s nothing as good as enjoying the sound mix of a movie or music at the comfort of your home. In the case of Sarah’s husband, settling for his bookshelf or tower speakers means that he was literally missing a lot. You see, following advancement in technology, most Blue-Ray and 4K UHD contents today have the capability of going as low as 20Hz when watching movies with deep bass tones.
Taking Sarah’s husband as an example, his 5” woofers are not designed to handle such low-frequency movie effects. As a result, cranking up a movie with effects that generate very low-frequency tones means that you’ll probably hear fluttering and barking sounds coming out of the woofers. In extreme cases, you’ll hear high distortions that can go to the extent of blowing off the woofers.
But, with a subwoofer around, these low frequencies are easily taken care of with high precision. Its robust drivers are capable of picking audio frequencies as low as 20Hz without limiting the bass response. This means that you won’t miss any low-frequency effects such as bombs and explosions when watching your favorite blockbuster movies.
Blends Well With the Rest of the Surround Speakers
When most people hear of subwoofers, what comes to mind is the heart thumbing punchy bass they reproduce. But, in the world of audio content, there’s more you might not have known about subwoofers. When you’re listening to music, your brain works by comparing differences in sound waves.
Mid-range speakers produce high-frequency sounds that are directional. Since these sounds have short wavelengths, they’re easy to locate by the ears. But, when it comes to low-frequency bass tones, these ones have longer wavelengths than the space between your ears making it difficult for the brain to locate their direction. That’s why low frequencies are said to be omnidirectional.
So, since the brain cannot determine their direction, it uses visual cues to make smart guesses. What happens is that it assumes the bass tones are coming from the mid-range speakers in front of you. This allows the subwoofer to blend seamlessly with the rest of the mid-range speakers allowing them to sound at their absolute best.
It Frees Up Other Speakers
Another factor that explains how perfect subwoofers are in improving sound is how they free other speakers. Forgive me but let take Sarah’s husband as an example once more. In his case, he’s okay with his 5” tower and bookshelf speakers. When playing music, the woofers will have to struggle to focus on both the mid-bass and the high-frequencies.
Although they will attempt to keep up with the low-frequencies, sometimes as low as 40Hz, the problem is that they won’t manage to produce the best sound that would be reproduced by a subwoofer. Another problem is that trying to push the woofers to reproduce the low-frequencies can lead to “speaker roll-off” where the dB level begins to decrease into oblivion.
To prevent this, therefore, you need to add a subwoofer which will take care of the low frequencies to free up the rest of the speakers. This way, the surround speakers will perform at their best as they will be able to work within their frequency range.
As you can see, the subwoofer is an integral piece of home audio peripheral that works to perfect and upgrade your listening experience. Subwoofers not only focus on low frequencies but they also blend well with other full-range speakers to deliver a more dynamic sound for a more cohesive musical experience. Explore my post on best home subwoofers to learn more.