If your current set of studio monitors isn’t able to deliver the deepest bass frequencies or if you’ve been noticing that your productions sound a little too boomy in rooms other than your own studio, then it’s probably time that, rather than upgrade to a pair of bigger monitors, you expand your set-up with a dedicated studio subwoofer. Read on to find out whether a sub is a solid investment for you and how you can optimally set one up.

Subwoofer in de studio - Wanneer (niet) en hoe

A Sub What?

Chances are you already know that a subwoofer is a low-frequency speaker that’s used to expand the output of a pair of regular nearfield monitors. Most nearfields can’t go any lower than 45Hz, so to get your system to cover those all-important last few frequencies down to 20Hz, the help of a dedicated subwoofer is needed. Two nearfield speakers combined with a subwoofer is commonly referred to as a 2.1 speaker system, where the ‘2’ indicates the two nearfields and the ‘1’ refers to the sub. Adding a sub to an existing 2.0 speaker system is an easy and affordable way to get truly full-range sound from a compact set-up.

Not Just for EDM and Hip-Hop Producers

There’s a reason why most nearfield monitors can’t dive lower than 45Hz. In most cases, this is all of the sonic depth you need, simply because most of the people who’ll be checking out your tracks won’t be listening to them via a full-range speaker system. On the other hand, if you want to know what your mixes would sound like in a cinema or club, you’re going to need access to the lowest frequencies. What’s great about adding a subwoofer is that it’ll not only round out the low end, but boost the performance of your nearfield monitors. Since the sub is specifically designed to take care of the 20Hz to 80Hz frequency range, it takes a load off your nearfields and allows them to deliver only the mid-range and high-end frequencies. Needless to say, it’s not just producers of EDM and hip-hop that would benefit from upgrading their set-up with a sub.

Acoustics First

If your nearfields don’t produce enough bass, it may also be that the acoustics of the room aren’t up to snuff. There’s an easy way to find out if this is the case: play a bass-rich track and walk around the room. If you can clearly hear ample bass in certain areas such as corners, then this means your monitors definitely are able to properly reproduce the low-end. In other words, instead of throwing a wad of cash at a subwoofer, you’re better off treating the acoustics first, possibly by installing a few bass traps and absorbers. A second reason why you should check the acoustics is that in small rooms, it’s usually extremely difficult to curb the low-end. This is bothersome because as a studio owner/producer, you’re looking to get the most neutral sound possible. Here, setting up a subwoofer in a small room isn’t going to help, in fact, this would only worsen your low-end troubles. In this case, it’s recommended that you tweak the low-end of your mixes using a pair of studio headphones or a SubPac. The SubPac is a unique tactile audio system that converts the lowest frequencies of a track into palpable vibrations and can be worn backpack-style or secured to a chair.

Integration & Division of Labour

Since the frequency range of the sub must accurately match that of your nearfields, integrating a subwoofer into your monitor set-up isn’t as easy as it looks. Fortunately, most active subwoofers have a built-in crossover. The crossover is used to determine which part of the frequency range gets sent to the nearfields and which part is to be taken care of by your sub. It’s worth mentioning that many monitor-makers offer matching subs with their series of nearfields. If you’ve already got a pair of monitors, check out the manual to see which sub would be compatible and how everything should be set up.

Subwoofer Placement

As with nearfield speakers, it’s incredibly important that you properly position your subwoofer. In general, it’s best not to plop your sub down in a corner. While this would get you a lot of extra low-end ‘for free’, trust us, that’s not the kind of tight and defined bass you’re looking for. It’s also not recommended to place the sub in the centre of the room or halfway along the length of a wall, since that’s exactly where any acoustic aberrations are the strongest. Granted, off-centre subwoofer placement doesn’t make for the prettiest set-up, but other than that you’ve nothing to worry about since your ears can’t actually determine where a large portion of the low-end comes from (more on this later). Anyway, to make sure that the sound produced by your sub and your nearfields reaches your ears at the same time, it’s important to set the sub up in line with your nearfields. If after doing so you find that there’s a chunk of frequencies missing near the crossover point, you’ll need to reverse the polarity of the sub by flicking the phase/180° switch.

Helpful Visualisation

To help you better understand subwoofer placement, we’ve included a few illustrations below. The little oval in the middle represents you while the two rectangular blocks are your nearfield speakers.

Image #1: To make sure that the sound produced by your sub and your nearfields reaches your ears at the same time, it’s best to set up the sub somewhere along the green line.

Subwoofer in de studio
Image #2: It’s also not recommended to place the sub in the centre of the room or halfway along the length of a wall, since that’s exactly where any acoustic aberrations are the strongest.

Subwoofer in de studio
Image #3: Low frequencies get amplified in corners. Never set your subwoofer up in a corner.

Subwoofer in de studio

One or Two Subwoofers?

In terms of direction, humans can’t tell where any frequencies below the 100Hz mark come from. This is why the average studio is only decked out with a single sub. Adding a second subwoofer just doesn’t improve the stereo audio image. What’s more, if you realise you actually are able to tell exactly which direction your low-end is coming from, there’s something wrong. It could be that the crossover is set to a relatively high frequency and that your sub is only reproducing frequencies that you can detect the origin of – or which direction they’re coming from. It might also be that your sub is overdriving. In that case, the overtones shaped as a result of harmonic distortion lie somewhere in the >100Hz range. So is it ever worth picking up two subs? Well, yes. One reason to go for a 2.2 speaker system is to counter acoustic issues. When all of the low-end frequencies in your tracks are coming from one specific spot in the room, any acoustic issues related to that very spot will be predominant. Here, using a ‘left’ and a ‘right’ subwoofer will give you more balanced bass reproduction.

Struggling with the beefiest parts of your mixes or do you have the low-end fully under control? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!

See Also

» Studio Subwoofers
» Nearfield Monitors
» Studio Monitor Controllers
» Studio Monitor Stands
» Studio Monitor Isolation
» Audio Cables
» All Studio & Recording Gear

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» Studio Monitor Buyer’s Guide
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