How to Get Bass You Can Feel from Your Home Theater Subwoofer
If you’ve ever seen an action movie at the theaters, you’ve probably “felt” bass. Bass so loud that it seems to kick you in the chest. Some of us decide we want that in our homes. So we go out and buy a whole bunch of home theater equipment. We get a big screen, a bunch of speakers, and an AV receiver. You cue up a movie and press play. But where is that deep bass you were expecting? Did you do something wrong? How can you get that bass that you can feel from your home theater subwoofer?
The Common Advice is Wrong
If you head out to nearly any Internet forum or source and every physical retailer, the answer you’ll get is either more or bigger subwoofers. The logic is obvious. If you can’t feel your bass from your home theater subwoofer, you simply need more bass. How do you get more bass? You get a bigger subwoofer or add a second one.
This is wrong and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how bass works.
These same people will extole the virtues of subwoofers that can play lower and louder. But if you followed our guidelines for shopping for a subwoofer, you already have one that can play loud enough for your room. Buying a bigger one won’t really help.
Likewise, buying a second (or third) subwoofer also isn’t the answer. That second subwoofer isn’t to give you more bass (though it can give you a little more output). The point is to provide more even bass across all your seats.
Where is the Bass You Can Feel?
The typical answer you will get blames your lack of tactile bass on how low a subwoofer can play. People on the Internet will reason that the reason you can’t feel the bass is because your home theater subwoofer can’t play low enough That seems to make sense. A very powerful home theater subwoofer can play bass notes that are so low that you can’t hear them. But, you are told, these infrasonic bass notes can be felt. While there is some debate as to whether or not this is true, it is the common mantra.
The problem is that it is totally wrong.
The “kick you in the chest” bass does not reside in the infrasonic range (those sounds below 20Hz). It is way up in the 40-80Hz range. This is where parts of your body experience sympathetic vibrations with the sound waves (60Hz, for example, will physically vibrate your chest). This is well within the 20Hz to 20kHz range of human hearing. Even budget home theater “subwoofers” can create these bass frequencies that you could, theoretically, feel.
How to Feel the Bass with Your Home Theater Subwoofer
First, you need to start with a capable subwoofer. One that can play at reference level in your room. Next, you need to have a way to EQ that subwoofer. If you are using Audyssey, and have a compatible model, you can use their MultEQ-X or $20 app. If you own a subwoofer with a built-in EQ, you can use that. If you don’t have either, you’ll need to invest in a Mini-DSP (Amazon Link). Lastly, most receivers have a manual EQ option. This, unfortunately, usually disables your automatic room correction. You could try it but the room correction is probably going to add a lot of value that you’ll miss. However you do it, you are going to want to boost some of the bass frequencies.
We’d suggest starting with the 40-60Hz range. You may want to bump that all the way up to 80Hz. Start with a 3dB boost in these frequencies and see if you can feel a difference. Increase it and test until you get the sensations you want. I wouldn’t recommend increasing it by any number higher than 3dB an increment.
Remember, you should be testing this at the loudest you are likely to listen to any content. We’d suggest turning your receiver up to 0dB on the dial. Don’t test this at low volumes, dial in your chest-thumping bass, and then turn up the volume. You will certainly risk damage to your subwoofer if you do so.