Adding a Cheap, Nearfield Subwoofer – Worthwhile or Waste of Money?

The thought process is pretty simple. You’ve got a subwoofer (or maybe two) but something is missing. You aren’t getting that “slam” that everyone is always talking about. That brought about an idea. What if you got a smaller, (preferably cheap) subwoofer and placed it nearfield? Like, right behind or next to your seat. Would that give you the sensation you are after? Let’s discuss.

“You’ll Know It When You Feel It

You’ve been to the movie theater so you know what deep bass feels like. You are certain you aren’t getting that at home. But the Internet insists that it is possible. You’ve bought the popular subwoofer, you’ve got the floorstanding speakers, but still no bass you can feel. You’ve done everything you can think of to optimize your system so now you can only think that an upgrade is in order. Will a cheap, nearfield subwoofer do the trick?


As we’ve explained, those “bass modules” (what you would call a cheap subwoofer) do play down to the “bass you can feel” region. The problem is that they are cheap subwoofers and that the room doesn’t care that they are placed nearfield to your seat. A subwoofer and the room interact to produce the bass you experience. Unlike a traditional speaker, the placement doesn’t really matter in how you experience the overall loudness of a sub. A subwoofer (cheap or expensive, nearfield or across the room) must pressurize the space for you to experience that bass.

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So, getting a cheap subwoofer isn’t going to work (say us). What do we think WILL work? Well, it depends on what you want:

Couch-Shaking Bass

If you are happy with how the bass sounds in your room and all you want is the sensation of the bass shaking your home, you can achieve that fairly easily. What you want is to add some tactile transducers (often called “bass shakers”) to your system. These will work with your subwoofers and physically shake your couch at the appropriate moments. Look into the newest Denon and Marantz AV receivers as these are optimized to work seamlessly (and make setup infinitely easier) with tactile transducers.

Natural Bass That Shakes the Room

If you want the actual bass waves created by your subwoofers to do the shaking of you, your couch, and everything else in your room, you’re going to have to do a lot more research. Chances are that your subwoofers aren’t properly pressurizing your space. This means you’ll either need to upgrade your subs or pick a different room for your theater. Adding a cheap, nearfield subwoofer will not substitute for properly sized subwoofers in your room.

You’ll also want to take a close look at your room acoustics and subwoofer placement. Placing dual subwoofers can be easy in a rectangular room but more difficult in oddly shaped spaces. And, yes, we do mean two subwoofers. If you want clean, even bass, you are going to want at least two (or maybe four).

Take Away

I often tell my kids that any sentence that contains the word “just” as part of a solution is seriously underestimating the complexity of the problem. “Just” adding a cheap, nearfield subwoofer won’t solve your bass woes. The problem is more complex than that and requires a more thoughtful answer. Hopefully, we’ve steered you in the right direction.

1 Comment on Adding a Cheap, Nearfield Subwoofer – Worthwhile or Waste of Money?

  1. JR

    Good article Tom, as always!

    I’ve found that most of the time, the folks recommending these approaches are trying to recreate “car” bass… or the cabin gain they became accustomed to as a kid. it isn’t natural or flat, or what the signal said to do, but after a lot of time living with +10 or +20 dB output from 40-60 Hz, folks tend to think that’s how the music should sound. When their home theater doesn’t sound like that, or Audessey fixes it to NOT sound like that, they blame other things and come up with all these weird approaches. I especially love the AVS crowd that put 8, 10, even 20 subs all over and still say they don’t have enough output. If it’s enough output for Madison Square Garden, it is enough for your basement. 😉

    keep on keepin on Tom!

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