The history of subwoofers

May 25, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

17 comments on “The history of subwoofers”

  1. I don’t think subs really took off until CDs became widely available. This is because turntables back then were so susceptible to acoustic feedback. Feedback became a non-issue with CDs and streaming.

  2. My recollection is that subwoofers really started to become affordable (and hence grew in popularity) in the early to mid ’70’s. Miller and Kreisel’s (M&K) iline of passive subs (the Goliath models) and active subs (the Volkswoofers) were examples. Earlier on, companies were producing standalone woofers, like the Acoustic Research AR-1, which I think was the first commercially successful acoustic suspension speaker.

    I had an M&K Goliath II in the mid-70’s. I had no feedback issues using an Acoustic Research XA turntable.

    1. Ahhh yes, the M&Ks. I still have my Volkswoofer 2B SN 801823 from the 80’s. I have had to replace the actual cone once in the early 2000’s while you still could from M&K (it just started to disintegrate). But the sound when it is connected is just so right. It does not draw attention to itself – it just restores the lower 2-3 octaves cleanly to the music (if it is in the music to begin with). Thanks for bringing it up. I think I’ll just keep using it. I used a whole set of M&Ks for my surround 5.1 system for quite a while – loved them.

  3. Actually Paul and everyone else, subwoofers were out before the 1970’s came about.
    Granted now, I don’t remember the man’s name.
    But he invented the very first subwoofer in 1965.
    If you all don’t believe me, then look it up!
    It’s floating around out there, in syber space.
    You will find it on the internet in wickipedia.

  4. In 1976 or 77 Saul Marantz was in St. Louis promoting the Dahlquist subwoofer. I had heard of subwoofers, but that was the first one I heard. It was modest by today’s standards–actually puny–but it really helped the DQ-10s.

  5. Subwoofers can add a little complexity to the set up in a room and take up additional space which is why some people avoid them. Don’t argue over whether you need one or two and don’t avoid buying one if you cannot afford two, especially if you’re using small speakers that have a limited low end. Just get at least one for heavens sake. And get one that is flat to 20hz. It’s not a subwoofer if it’s rolling off at 50hz.

  6. I remember in the early 70s a new Audio salon SUMICO, in the South Oakland foothills, was using a subwoofer just like Arnie’s servo with their Dayton Wright electrostatics to good results.

  7. Mainly for conversation, I have a few questions. What defines a sub woofer? How low must it go playing usefully loudly to be a sub woofer. And how high can the crossover go before calling it a woofer and not a sub woofer? Plus do you consider it a sub woofer if the crossover is passive rather than active since it seems every sub woofer I can think of off the top of my head has an active crossover?

    1. Good afternoon Hayhax!
      I’m gonna try to answer your questions, to the best of my abilities.
      If it goes higher then 30HZ, then it’s a woofer and not a subwoofer.
      Some of them, all depending on how they were designed, they can put out more then 125DB of SPL.
      I’ve never encountered passive subs, all the ones that I know about, are all active.
      But the lowest that some of them can go, is below 20HZ.
      Some that have more then one driver, can go down as low as 8HZ.
      Some of them, use passive radiators to achieve that.

      1. Thirty Hz certainly is a sub woofer but most speakers don’t go that low so I’d expect a higher value for most realistic speakers.

        Also I’d love to know what subs go down below 10 Hz especially with any power. I assume the ones you are thinking of use passive radiators since a closed box would be super huge(although I prefer closed box bass) and the pipe in a reflex box would be big and super long. Of course there is always equalization with tons of power to get low bass although the physical properties of the woofers would have to be heroic to move that much air at super low frequencies.

  8. I built my first sub-woofer in 1974 while II was working on my PhD at Purdue University. It was a sealed-box design that employed a 10-inch speaker with a 3″ voice coil and a rubber surround. (left over from some prototype speakers from Eminence). I build a cross-over to low-pass it at 80 Hz and paired it with a set of AR 3a. Nonetheless, it worked beautifully once I put in a pot to accommodate for the sensitivity differences tween the sub and the ARs. The bloom left the bass and appeared full-throated with total timbre.

    One of the things the sub revealed was the immense presence of bass on LPs if they were engineered well. Conveniently, most of the actual “bass” energy was cut to the center and so is easy to access. The auditory system tends to chase the harmonics for localization of low-frequency sounds and so while Charlie Haden’s or Ray Brown’s may sound as if it’s coming from the left or right speaker, most of the fundamental-frequency energy is cut for the center.

    I hadn’t heard the term “sub-woofer” to that point and regret not trying to copyright the name.

    1. The ear doesn’t just chase the harmonics for location of the bass. It’s the only way the ear locates deep bass. I personally saw listeners stand next to real subs crossing at 65 Hz when deep bass was playing telling the demonstrator the subs weren’t working. All the sound including the deep bass seemed to come from the main speakers feet away. The grills had to be taken off the subs so the listener could feel the woofer pumping away.

  9. Back in 1958-59 I was working as a saleman in an electronics store (also carried HI-Fi stuff) in Iowa City, Iowa. One of my customers had built basically a 16 foot organ pipe (folded of course to fit in a room with 8 foot ceiling). As I remember it was like 3 feet wide 8 ft long and 16 inches deep, and stood long end up. It was driven near the bottom by a ElectroVoice 15 inch woofer. I had heard Klipsch Horms, EV Patricians, Altec Voice of the Theaters, & Bozak Concert Grands, but nothing except actual Theater Organs pipes came close to the low frequencies this home brew sub-woofer produced. It was Mono in those days, can’t image what 2 of them would have sounded like. Earthquakes!

  10. ElectroVoice made the 30W in the mid to late 70’s. The reccomend enclosure was much larger than a coffin. I worked for a company in 1978 that did commercial installations, and one large dance club used two of these behemoth 30 inch woofers. Someone, not versed in the audio department, left the volume up high and literally dropped the needle on an album. Some of the windows were blown out! I wasn’t there, but one of the installers was, and he testified as to the power of moving that much air as an instantaneous BLAST!

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