Subwoofers are integral in modern home theater systems. Although subwoofers only reproduce about 30 percent of a movie's soundtrack, flaws tend to be more noticeable with music. Bad-sounding subwoofers have multiple causes. Some of these are placement-related, while others are simply setup and user error.
Bass is very sensitive to room placement. Corner-mounting the woofer results in excess bloated bass, possessing a "one-note" quality. However, placing the woofer with an eye for visual aesthetics vs. sound quality is probably the key reason for poor sound quality. Known as room nodes, subwoofers rely on the shape of the room to provide proper pressurization. A proven trick is to walk or crawl around the room, after placing the subwoofer at your primary seating position. Once you find the best sound, place the woofer there.
Phase and Frequency
The various knobs and buttons on the back of the subwoofer should not be ignored. Although most of these are bypassed to one degree or another when you're using a surround-sound receiver, many are not. Adjusting the phase knob to its middle position when it's used with a modern surround-sound receiver effectively neutralizes its effect. This is desirable. Equally, turning the crossover knob all the way to the right essentially bypasses it. Haphazardly adjusting or ignoring these settings results in boomy or inconsistent bass throughout the space.
It's no secret that turning up any amplifier normally results in more distortion rather than more volume. Subwoofers are no exception. Understanding that the volume control on the receiver, the internal subwoofer trim setting and the volume knob on the back operate cumulatively is key. Adjusting the volume knob to its centered position allows the settings in the receiver to operate from a neutral starting point. Use the controls in the receiver to adjust volume, based on the results from an automated calibration routine, or sound pressure level meter.
A subwoofer that is too small for the room causes most users to turn up the volume to compensate. Remembering that bass is a function of air and room pressurization, this has little effect. Most subwoofers' driver diameters (10, 12, 15 inches) and their cabinet sizes no longer have a direct correlation. Therefore, using the largest subwoofer possible probably will not result in a mammoth box in your living room.
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