Subways

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I was mentioning to a reader yesterday that one of the reasons I am so convinced a subwoofer is a critical component in a reference sound system is the ability it offers me to hear the subway rumbling below Carnegie Hall in some of the early recordings.

“Why in the world would you want to hear the subway? It seems nothing but annoying.” In fact, for many recordings “back in the day” engineers would roll off the bass just to avoid the sound of that notorious subway at Carnegie – and some engineers would even schedule night time recording sessions, like those of Jascha Heifitz in his later years, just to avoid this annoyance. But for me, if it’s on the recording, then I want to hear it – not just because I want to hear everything on the recording, but there’s a certain thrill and realism I find in recordings that allow these lower frequencies to come through – and when you’re listening to a soft passage of music and off in the distance you hear a subway car rumbling, it’s nothing short of uncanny how that helps the illusion of realism we all strive for – I just don’t know any other way to put it.

I am a big fan of Harmonia Mundi recordings, in particular those engineered by Peter McGrath, and I can always tell when the recording engineer either had something of importance to record in the low end – or as in Peter’s case – concerned with capturing the entire experience. I can tell this because the lead in to the recording always has an obvious rumble of the room that they needed to keep in the recording to capture the full extremes.

I can tell these things ONLY because I have a proper sound system with low extension in the bass AND separate subwoofers. Yes, there are full range systems that go down very deep and can reproduce these low frequencies in the room, but their placement will almost always be wrong. As I mentioned yesterday, the best place for the main speakers to image is rarely the best place to propagate bass.

And, a number of you have commented to me that “yes we get it that true full range bass is needed, but most subwoofer implementations are more annoying than not, so we just avoid the issue altogether”. OK, that’s fine, but it’s kind of like telling me “sure we know that cleaning up AC power helps but it’s a pain in the arse so we avoid it”.

Achieving audio nirvana in your home and having a system that puts a smile on your face in unexpected ways – that you secretly think about retreating to when you’re in the middle of the world’s most boring meeting or conversation – doesn’t happen casually or by accident. It takes work and planning but the rewards are amazing.

Let’s start tomorrow with my ideas on how to implement a sub into your system and what kind of sub to look for.