Can A Subwoofer Make Your System Sound Worse?
We love our subwoofers around here. They are great and we think everyone should own a couple. If you read enough about them, you’ll probably get enough FOMO to buy one. Generally speaking, as long as you purchase the right subwoofer, you should be better off. Sometimes, that doesn’t work out. We’ve heard countless stories of people that have added a subwoofer to their system and they think it made things sound worse. Rather than argue with them, we’re going to agree. Adding a subwoofer can make your system sound worse! How can this be? Let’s discuss.
When a Good Subwoofer Goes Bad
Let’s start with a few assumptions. First, you bought a good subwoofer. Not just good as in “from a reputable manufacturer,” but good as in it’s the right size for your room. It can pressurize your space. Heck, maybe you even got two. It doesn’t matter. We are assuming you did your research and you bought a quality subwoofer. We will also assume that you didn’t get a lemon or somehow a defective unit. You’ve got a high-quality, appropriately sized, and fully functional subwoofer.
But it still sounds bad. Why?
Author’s Note: We’ve covered most of these topics in other articles. We’ll link to them throughout this one so that you can read up in more detail. But sometimes you just want the answer to the question first so you don’t feel like a crazy person for not loving your new subwoofer.
Room Modes Are Usually the Culprit
The answer to why your new subwoofer makes your system sound worse is nearly always room modes. Room acoustics is a very difficult concept to grasp and even harder to predict. In general, sound bounces around your room. With most speakers, the closer you are to the speaker, the louder the sound. That’s not the case with subwoofer.
With subwoofers, the wavelengths are so long that they bounce off of one or more walls before you can even hear them. That means that where you are in the room makes a big difference in how you hear the bass. If you think that your new subwoofer sounds bad, it may not be your system but the location of your chair! Stand up and move around the room. Does the bass sound different to you? It very well may (honestly, it should).
The problem here is how the bass waves are interacting. As you move around your room, the bass may sound more pronounced or may completely disappear. This is because of how the waves are interacting with each other. In a perfect room, they wouldn’t interact at all. You don’t have a perfect room. None of us do. So the bass waves interact making some sounds overly loud and others much too soft.
Why Does Your System Sound Worse?
Your new subwoofer made your system sound worse because of the unpredictable way the bass interacted with your room. You never noticed this before likely because you never had such powerful and deep bass before!
By upgrading your subwoofer, you’ve introduced bass waves that tower speakers could only dream of recreating. Subwoofers create waves that are too low for humans to hear or feel (regardless of what people suggest). Your system didn’t sound as bad before because you never had this much deep bass. Now that you do, you are realizing that it comes with a host of issues. You now have to start thinking about room treatments, proper subwoofer placement, moving your seat, tracking down rattles and other noises, getting and using room correction, and maybe adding a second subwoofer to even out your bass.
This is not the article for solutions (though nearly every link above will suggest some) but for explanations. Yes, your new subwoofer seems to have made things sound worse. We get it. But now that you have bass, you are much closer to having GOOD bass. Don’t give up and keep experimenting. If you can’t figure it out, go ask about it on the AV Rant Podcast. They’ll help you out!