Subwoofers

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A subwoofer loudspeaker operates at the very bottom of the range of human hearing. A "sub" is a speaker that produces very, very deep bass tones, lower even than the bass tones that a big, floorstanding speaker's woofers can produce. The word "Woofer" is audio jargon for a speaker with a sizable cone that pumps lots of air to generate the low frequencies that form the foundation of most popular, rock, and classical music: electric and acoustic bass, kick-drum, orchestral double basses, cellos, big bass drums, tubas, the lowest octaves of a piano.

The question is -- Do you really need a subwoofer, even if you have a full-range of hi-fi speakers that claim to produce deep, powerful bass on their own?

In 1 word, YES!

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Think of the last blockbuster movie you saw in a Dolby Digital, dts, or THX movie theater that featured dinosaurs stomping through the jungle in pursuit of terrified actors? The sounds of those thudding dinosaur footfalls are reproduced not by conventional woofers, but by several very large subwoofers positioned behind the cinema screen.

A domestic subwoofer performs the same function in your living room or den. As your compact (or floorstanding) speakers' bass output begins to taper off, the subwoofer takes over, reinforcing and extending the range of your main speakers to frequencies that are more felt than heard (here come those dinosaurs again!).

It also delivers sonic impact to movie sound effects like explosions and underwater effects. Typically, a sub is a rectangular or square black box normally about 15 x 15 x 15 inches that contains its own powerful, internal amplifier of 100 watts or greater output. The amp drives a single large woofer at least 8 inches in diameter. After all, producing low bass energy that mimics the tread of a dinosaur or the sound of a train requires a lot of power!

An entry level subwoofer produces deep bass to below 30 Hz, which covers low-frequency effects in movies (thunder, crashes, military explosions, dinosaurs), as well as a surprising degree of musical energy (the bottom note on a grand piano is in subwoofer territory--28 Hz) The Bosendorfer, a piano built in Austria, goes as low as 18 Hz.

If you want to hear, and feel, bass that deep or the bottom pedal notes on a big pipe organ, or fill a big room with those home theater blockbuster sound effects, you'd have to go to a larger subwoofer. A 12-inch woofer with a 200 watt amp is ideal for larger rooms.

For "average" living rooms of about 2,500 cubic feet (20 x 15 x 8 feet), a 175-watt amplifier and 10-inch woofer is a good choice.

Although subwoofers are rather plain-looking, the great thing is you can tuck them out of the way in a corner, because deep bass is non-directional and fills the room no matter where you put the sub.

Every sub has a crossover that extracts the deep bass tones from the music or movie soundtrack and sends the remaining musical frequencies to your main speakers, thus relieving your receiver or stereo amp of the chore of powering low bass frequencies.

So there it is. A subwoofer is a win-win device. It fills out the musical spectrum, delivering body and power to all music, and gives your main speakers help where they need it most--deep bass. And they reproduce awesome movie sound effects from DVDs or Dolby Surround videotapes. What is there not to like about having the right sub in the right setting?

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