5.1 vs 5.2: When One Subwoofer is Better Than Two

Around here (and in nearly all home theater communities), the recommendation is to always have two subwoofers. There are a lot of reasons. But rarely is advice universally true, and this is no different. So when deciding between 5.1 vs 5.2, when should you go with one subwoofer rather than two?

Not All Rooms are Rectangles

The suggestion for dual subwoofers is predicated on Harmon’s research. This research took for granted that your room would be enclosed and rectangular. While many rooms fit this description, it is not always the case. As many people choose their open-plan living room as their “theater area,” they find themselves with irregular shapes and many openings. When they are deciding between 5.1 vs 5.2 (or 7.1 vs 7.2), they may discover that a single subwoofer will work better than two. Why?

The Harmon research used a rectangular room because it was easy to model mathematically and because many rooms fit the description. But open or irregular rooms don’t. Dual subwoofers could make the bass more even across all your seats (which is what dual subwoofers do in rectangular rooms), or it could make it much worse. The fact is that you won’t know until you get your subwoofer in your room and start measuring.

Not Everyone Cares about Every Seat

Again, the Harmon research was attempting to create more even bass throughout your entire room. Specifically the seating area. This is so that your room correction can adjust the bass so that every seat has a similar experience. But not everyone needs that. Some people live alone and they only have one seat that needs to have a good experience. For them, two subwoofers are not necessary.

If you have a single seat you care about, you can use the standard subwoofer crawl to place a single sub. This will help you locate the best location for your single subwoofer. You’d then run your room correction program for that one seat. You wouldn’t do the multiple measurements that you might if you had a 5.2 vs a 5.1 system to correct your subwoofer for multiple seats. Since you only care about that one seat, you’d just correct for that one location and not worry about the rest.

Author’s Note: If you are in a rectangular room, your single subwoofer location is likely going to be different than the locations suggested for dual subwoofers. In an oddly shapped room, it could be anywhere. But if you are in a rectangular room, dual subwoofers may make the bass more even in that single seat, so don’t rule it out.

Budget is Often a Concern

It sure is easy for someone else to spend your money! When you are deciding between a 5.1 vs a 5.2 system, getting a single subwoofer does not mean you’ll never get a second. When you are on a budget, starting with a single subwoofer is a perfectly good place to begin. Places like SVS give you up to a year to buy the second one and will still give you the discounted price. Just remember that placing one subwoofer is different than placing two. And, you might think that the second subwoofer reduced the amount of bass at first. It didn’t, but it might sound that way.

Do you have a single subwoofer? Are you thinking of getting a second? Let us know why or why not in the comments or on our Facebook page.

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