Stop Putting Two Subwoofers at the Front of Your Room
We’ve railed against the diagrams put out by Dolby. Now it is time for us to confront subwoofer manufacturers. If they are smart, and want to make money, they will strive to sell you as many subwoofers as you can afford. The general advice out there (and we say so as well) is that two subwoofers are best. But placing dual subwoofers correctly in the proper room is what makes them so great. You know what doesn’t make bass better in your room? Two subs at the front flanking your center speaker (see image above). So, please, stop putting two subwoofers at the front of your room. Why? Let us explain!
Dual Subwoofers are Good…Only if Properly Placed
The key to great (and by great, we mean even) bass is properly placing dual subwoofers in your home theater. We’ve talked about it before ad nauseam (really, just use the search and you’ll see). Two subwoofers placed properly can tame room interactions that can have one seat experiencing bass that is far too quiet while the next seat is way too loud. Even bass is good bass.
When you place two subwoofers at the front of your room, you are essentially co-locating them. Bass waves are extremely long (the lowest notes are well over 55 feet in length). By putting the subwoofers so close to each other, they are essentially stacked. There are times to do this, but not if you only have two subwoofers and you are trying to get good bass in your home theater. Putting two subwoofers at the front of your room is essentially creating a single, phantom subwoofer between them. If they are properly placed across the room from each other, that phantom subwoofer is in the middle of the room. By having both subs up front, that sub is…about where your TV lives?
But…All the Pictures!?!?!
Nearly every picture of a home theater, professional or amateur, has a TV in the middle, a center speaker underneath, two subwoofers to either side, and two tower speakers on the other side of the subs. Like this:
Why do you see these images? Why are they so popular? The answer is simple: Manufacturers want you to buy (at least) two subwoofers. Properly placed subwoofers are across the room from each other. You know what is hard to take a single picture of? Two subs across the room from each other. But two subs up front? That’s easy!
People see these images and think that this is the proper way to place dual subs. It isn’t. But there is no convincing them otherwise. They bought two subs, they want to see two subs. Plus, how could so many people be wrong?
The image above is from a reader. What you can’t see is that they have two more subwoofers at the back of their room. That’s right, stop placing two subwoofers at the front of your room…unless you can place two more at the back! This is the best of both worlds! You’ve got the aesthetics of two subs up front, and the even bass of four subwoofers properly placed! Might not be so great on the wallet, but it’ll sound, and look, great.
All things being equal, I agree. But there are other factors at play. In small home cinemas such as mine, there just isn’t room to accommodate a second subwoofer in a different location. Also having just one visible sub at the front of the room looks unbalanced. Room symmetry is quite an important visual attribute. It may just be psychoacoustics, but to me, two subwoofers do sound better than one (even when they are both situated at the front of the room).