Adding realism

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In today’s Ask Paul, the Lowdown on Subwoofers, I give a personal plea to consider the merits of these often maligned, misunderstood, and controversial additions to systems. The vast majority of systems I get to audition or give advice on do not have a subwoofer.

That’s a shame.

Most of us strive for a greater sense of realism in the music we play, and few add-ons enhance spatial realism like a good sub.

I know this can seem counter intuitive—especially if the music you play hasn’t much in the way of low frequencies. Let me offer an example of how this makes sense.

One of my favorite demo pieces was recorded by Keith Johnson. In Red Norvo’s The Forward Look, there are no low-frequency instruments, yet the addition of a subwoofer is critical if you’re interested in preserving the live performance in all its glory. Footfalls, the bouncing wooden stage, the subtle cues of the vibraphone hammers transmitting through the instrument’s carriage, the shuffling of the audience, and the musician’s keeping time with their feet—all are preserved in the low frequencies.

Not music, you say? You’re right, but neither are all sorts of elements in a live performance—cues that convince us we’re there.

If you’re alright missing out on the sense of live…then stay with what you have.

If you’re not…

Here’s something you may not know.

Subwoofers often get a bad rap because they’re rarely setup correctly. If you can hear the subwoofer woofing, it’s wrong. Read that again.

A properly setup subwoofer is never directly heard and never brings attention to itself. Rather, a proper subwoofer enhances the bass performance of the main speakers as if it were invisible.