If you’re musician, producer, or just someone who listens to music at home, you may asking yourself “do I need a subwoofer?” In this article, we’ll break down the different uses in which a subwoofer might come in handy, and suggest some of our top picks for boosting bass frequencies!
- 0.1 What is a subwoofer?
- 0.2 Do I Need a Subwoofer if I’m a…
- 0.3 Alternatives to a subwoofer
- 1 Subwoofer Buying Guide
- 2 So, should I get a subwoofer?
What is a subwoofer?
Before we break down whether or not you need a subwoofer, let’s cover the basics! The pitch of a sound is measured by its frequency, with human ears being able to hear sound from around 20 hertz to around 20,000 hertz. The NPS has a great article that expounds on this!
The lower the frequency, the lower the pitch. A typical set of speakers will be able to produce sounds starting at around 50 hertz, meaning that the lowest of the low pitches will not be heard. You might have experienced this when listening to music on your phone’s built in speaker, which doesn’t produce a lot of low frequencies. Music sounds much different on that speaker compared to your car’s stereo, or a set of studio monitors.
A subwoofer is an additional speaker that is designed to produce low frequencies (typically starting at 20 hertz). Adding a subwoofer to your speaker setup will allow you to hear more detail in the bass frequencies, giving your music or movie that low-end that might be missing!
Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s go over some scenarios where you may or may not need a subwoofer!
Do I Need a Subwoofer if I’m a…
If you’re a songwriter or music producer, I’d put a subwoofer in the “nice to have” category. If you are strictly writing and producing (and someone else is mixing all of your productions), I’d say you don’t need a subwoofer, but I’d rather have one than not have one. If you’re doing any sort of sound design, especially in EDM or pop genres, the way your kick drums, basses, and the low-end of your instruments will need to play nicely together.
I’d suggest getting a subwoofer if it’s in your budget, as an upgrade to your current studio monitoring setup. If you don’t have the budget or space to add a subwoofer to your setup, a nice pair of headphones typically offers a good idea of what your bass is doing. Check out our article on the best open back headphones for mixing to see if that’s a better option for you!
I’d consider a subwoofer to be a “should have” if you’re a mixing or mastering engineer. If artists and producers are paying for you to mix and master their music, you should have a solid grasp of what the bass frequencies are doing in your mixes and masters!
If you find yourself having to the the “car test” (listening to your song in the car to check the mix), chances are you are in need a subwoofer. Once I added a sub to my setup, the car test became redundant, since my mixes were translating better without having to test them on multiple speakers.
When I moved studio spaces in 2019, I didn’t have a subwoofer set up for a few weeks, and I had a hard time getting my mixes to translate during those weeks. It really felt like I was only getting half of the story! If you have a nice pair of headphones and don’t mind referencing on those semi-often, you can get away with not having a sub. However, I prefer to have my mixes sound the same the whole time I listen to them, instead of having to flip back and forth between the “correct” and “incorrect” mix.
Recording engineer/recording studio:
If you’re a recording engineer or recording studio owner, I’d put a subwoofer in the “need to have” category. I can’t think of a time that I went to a professional recording studio that didn’t have a subwoofer as a part of their monitoring setup. If you don’t have a sub, I’d suggest picking up one ASAP!
The only exception I can think of is for engineers who mostly record things like podcasts or videos. Typically, there isn’t much going on in the sub-50 hertz range when recording spoken word, so you can get away without a sub if that’s what you’re recording!
Disclaimer: if your studio’s control room doesn’t have proper acoustic treatment, adding a subwoofer to your setup is just going to throw more frequencies into your untreated room. Proper room treatment is more important than any other upgrade you could make, so take a look at our studio acoustic treatment guide and get that sorted before you upgrade any more gear. Seriously!
If you have a home theater, I’d suggest adding a subwoofer to your setup, depending on what your current setup is.
If you’re using the speakers built into your TV, adding a subwoofer will certainly increase the bass level of what you’re watching. However, adding some external speakers and a subwoofer or a sound bar and subwoofer combo will offer a big jump in audio quality compared to that built-in TV speaker.
If you watch a decent amount of movies, use your home theatre system to listen to music, or just care about audio quality, a subwoofer is a great way to get a more immersive sound out of your home theatre. Action movies with lots of explosions really sound amazing with a subwoofer. It also adds a level of realism to video games. I currently have a 3.1 setup for my home theatre, and I’m super happy with the way it sounds. If you’re more of a passive TV watcher, or don’t have a problem with how your TV sounds, you probably don’t need to add a subwoofer to your setup. However, you might be surprised how much more you enjoy watching TV with a proper speaker system!
Alternatives to a subwoofer
I mentioned earlier that you can use a nice pair of headphones as an alternative a subwoofer, but there’s one other option that you can try! If your answer to “do I need a subwoofer?” is “can I make that much noise?” then the SUBPAC might be a good option for you!
The SUBPAC is a chair-mounted or vest style subwoofer that allows you to “feel” low frequencies as opposed to listening to them. I have a full review of the SUBPAC coming soon, but it’s a cool option for someone who wants to save space or can’t have loud speakers in their apartment.
Subwoofer Buying Guide
When shopping for a subwoofer, there are a few things to consider. While all subwoofers are there to add bass to your speaker setup, there are two main types of subwoofers we’ll be looking at.
Studio vs Home Theater Subwoofers
Studio subwoofers will have XLR or TRS inputs and outputs, allowing you to send audio from your interface to the subwoofer, and then send audio from the subwoofer to your monitors.
Studio subwoofers also have a crossover, which will roll off the bass on your other speakers, so the subwoofer is the only speaker outputting the lowest frequencies.
A home theater subwoofer typically just has an RCA input, allowing you to add it to your existing speaker setup. That means they don’t typically have a crossover.
Which one should I buy?
My Studio Subwoofer Pick: Yamaha HS-8
My suggestion for an affordable studio subwoofer is the Yamaha HS8 Studio Subwoofer! I’ve used it for about a decade now, and it’s been with me in three different studios. It pairs nicely with just about any pair of monitors, fits under most desks, and helps me keep my low end sounding nice and tight. If you’re looking to add a subwoofer to your studio setup, this is a great first subwoofer, and it will serve you well for many years.
My Home Theater Subwoofer Pick: Polk Audio PSW 10
My pick for a starter home theater subwoofer is the Polk Audio PSW 10. I’ve had this subwoofer as a part of my home theater setup for 2 years, and I’ve been very happy with the bass it supplies. When playing music or movies, it’s got a nice, round bass sound that blends in well with my existing speakers, and it’s powerful enough to dial up the bass level to “window-shaking” in most small to mid-size rooms!
So, should I get a subwoofer?
Depending on your use cases, a subwoofer may be an awesome addition to your setup! Whether you’re a producer, recording engineer, or someone who just loves listening to music, a subwoofer is a great way to get more bass in your listening environment! If you’re a mixer and find that your mixes are not translating well when referencing with your car stereo, a subwoofer is a must have.
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