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  1. #1
    Forum Regular O'Shag's Avatar
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    Are Subwoofers, In General, A Waste of Money?

    I read a very interesting review by Dick Olsher, one of the reviewers I happen to respect. In this case his opinion struck a cord, given my own experience. Dick-O believes that people spend silly money on subs for a problem that they do not address at all. Subs range of operation without significant distortion is up to 125hz -150hz. But where we invariably perceive a lack in bass energy and presence is in the mid-bass region, which the sub has nothing to do with. For music, I've never been able to get a sub to integrate properly, and I've tried. I guess they're fine for movie effects, or if you want to drive around in a low-rider or pimped-out Escalade booming out earthquake sounds that sound more like Zeus farting than anything resembling music. Otherwise the only sub I will enjoy will be from my local deli.

    What do you think?

    Payce

  2. #2
    Ajani
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    I agree.... my experience with trying to integrate a sub into a music setup has been pretty similar... they always drew too much attention to themselves and didn't add much real vaue to the sound.... It's why I've stayed clear of all the bookshelf/sub combos that dealers kept trying to push down my throat and only looked for floorstanders.... I don't need wall cracking bass but I do need accurate and musical bass response... I'd leave the sub for movies and car stereos but never in my 2 channel rig.....

  3. #3
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ajani
    It's why I've stayed clear of all the bookshelf/sub combos that dealers kept trying to push down my throat and only looked for floorstanders.... I don't need wall cracking bass but I do need accurate and musical bass response...
    I have a different take on this based upon the experience with my HT. In fact, I think that arrangement can be ideal if done properly. The biggest challenge as I see it has to do with addressing the unavoidable effect of the room's inherent response peaks and valleys. Ideally, one can do that passively with a forest of bass traps as I have been able to do with the big stats upstairs. Where that's not practical one must resort to EQ. I confess that I am NOT a proponent of using EQ full range because of the sonic compromises. Used on a subwoofer or woofer in a bi or tri-amped system, however, it can work very well.

    I use a pair of mid-fi Polk RTi-35 speakers and Eosone 12" powered subs. Initially, I configured the mains to run full range and attempted to blend the woofers. That didn't work because the anomalies in my room are centered around 60 hz and 120 hz which was in the range of the mains. Instead, I took a completely different tack. I high passed the mains at 120 hz and let the subs (really powered woofers) overlap that range. That allowed me to run a third octave EQ on the subs only to neutralize the response. It required some fairly significant cuts (up to -12 db at 60 and 120 hz) along with some modest boosts elsewhere. The result is a remarkably neutral response without mucking up the sound of the mains.

    It also offloaded the burden of the little 6" woofer dealing with any real bass. That also balanced the power load with 100 watts going to each satellite and 120 watts to each woofer (sorry Pix!). Even if the woofer amps clip, the mains are unaffected. What I really have is a bi-amped three way system and stack the mains on top of the woofers. A pic is available in my gallery if you are interested.

    rw

  4. #4
    Ajani
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    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat
    I have a different take on this based upon the experience with my HT. In fact, I think that arrangement can be ideal if done properly. The biggest challenge as I see it has to do with addressing the unavoidable effect of the room's inherent response peaks and valleys. Ideally, one can do that passively with a forest of bass traps as I have been able to do with the big stats upstairs. Where that's not practical one must resort to EQ. I confess that I am NOT a proponent of using EQ full range because of the sonic compromises. Used on a subwoofer or woofer in a bi or tri-amped system, however, it can work very well.

    I use a pair of mid-fi Polk RTi-35 speakers and Eosone 12" powered subs. Initially, I configured the mains to run full range and attempted to blend the woofers. That didn't work because the anomalies in my room are centered around 60 hz and 120 hz which was in the range of the mains. Instead, I took a completely different tack. I high passed the mains at 120 hz and let the subs (really powered woofers) overlap that range. That allowed me to run a third octave EQ on the subs only to neutralize the response. It required some fairly significant cuts (up to -12 db at 60 and 120 hz) along with some modest boosts elsewhere. The result is a remarkably neutral response without mucking up the sound of the mains.

    It also offloaded the burden of the little 6" woofer dealing with any real bass. That also balanced the power load with 100 watts going to each satellite and 120 watts to each woofer (sorry Pix!). Even if the woofer amps clip, the mains are unaffected. What I really have is a bi-amped three way system and stack the mains on top of the woofers. A pic is available in my gallery if you are interested.

    rw
    Maybe with a properly setup sub combo like that, I'd be more impressed... but the ones I've heard in the stores have always been dissapointing.... and to add insult to injury, by the time I add up the cost of the bookshelfs, stands and sub it is either equal to or more expensive than the floorstanders....

  5. #5
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ajani
    ... but the ones I've heard in the stores have always been dissapointing....
    I seriously doubt they calibrated the settings using even a SPL meter and a test CD.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ajani
    and to add insult to injury, by the time I add up the cost of the bookshelfs, stands and sub it is either equal to or more expensive than the floorstanders....
    If they are powered and you high pass the mains, you get more headroom.

    rw

  6. #6
    Loving This kexodusc's Avatar
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    I use twin, 15" sealed subwoofers with my full tower speakers for music. My towers have a -3 dB point just above 30 Hz, and with room gain could easily be considered full range. I'm not a bass head, the 15" size was chosen for price/performance reasons (a smaller woofer that performs similarly requires more power, and a lot more money - I'm a thriftophile) the decision to run dual subs was to attack in room response and test the notion of "stereo subs".

    I enjoy using the subs for music and home theater for a variety of reasons:
    1) low bass below 50 Hz or so is just a lot better (faster, deeper, more "real") than
    2) by relieving the acoustic burden of the bottom octaves, the 7" woofers seem to perform a bit better in the mid bass and even midrange. Why? The relationships between excursion, transient response, power, and distortion.
    3) My speakers are placed at the best spot for soundstage and imaging purposes. Unfortunately in my room, this is about the worst spot for bass reproduction. Moving the woofers just a few feet on either side smooths out the room induced response variations considerably. You do not have that luxury when using 2 speakers, and you have greater odds of winning the lottery than you do discovering the best spot for bass reproduction in your room is conveniently where your speakers are placed.

    I do use an EQ to compensate for some rather large room induced peaks that just cannot be overcome otherwise, but the EQ only attacks the signal to the sub, the speakers are untouched.
    I also treat my room with acoustic material.

    There is a downside to all of this. I easily spent more learning, testing, retesting, relearning, and bothering a lot of people with a lot of questions than I did on any other area of my system. In fact, I can say with full confidence properly integrating a subwoofer is the most difficult thing to do when setting up a system. Room treatement would be easy if not for bass response. And I'm no pro by any stretch. I think it really could be a lot better, but there's a point where I stop, the music sounds so good I just don't care about incremental improvements.

    It's not for the faint of heart, or those looking for a quick solution. That's why 99.9999% of stores don't do it well. But the results can be worth it.

    Those who suggest that subs compensate for a deficiency in the system that shouldn't be there either haven't heard a proper setup, or just choose to take the easy way out - spend more money.

    I would have to spend an awful lot of money to buy a single speakers system that can keep up with my combination of sub/speaker. It certainly is possible, and I've heard more than a few speakers that can keep up, but I bought a snowmobile instead. In small rooms, or for matters of personal taste, it may even be preferable to avoid a sub. Thankfully, my rooms have been large enough to afford that luxury.

    At best, I think a variety of factors should be considered before making any statements or decisions on the matter.

  7. #7
    Forum Regular O'Shag's Avatar
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    So E-Stat and Kex, are you saying then that the sub can improve mid-bass response by taking away the need for smaller woofers on satellites to do a lot of work in the nether regions below 100hz?

    I'm trying to get a hold of this idea so please bare with me. The Monitor Audio GR60s have two 6" ceramic magnisium woofers per side (and they are identical to the midrange driver). Despite the small drivers, this speaker has a very warm, full and rich bass balance without sacrificing speed and detail, primarily because of its superb mid-bass/bass response given the size of the speaker - it just kicks arse given the small woofers. I do understand your approach, but am failing to see how the mid-bass response characteristic inherent in the main speaker can be compensated adequately by crossing over the subs higher - say at 120hz. The real presence in the mid-bass region (also called low-mid frequency) hovers around 240hz and extends up to around 400hz if I'm not mistaken. this is well outside the range of the sub surely? I do agree that a good equalization system can make an enormous difference. My multichannel system runs through the Yamaha RX-Z9 processor and is equalized using the YPAO process. I then re-check everything myself using an SPL meter. I can hear the difference once the balance has been modified.

    Both your system configurations sound admirable.

    Kex, if you hear really good quality bass response, you can never again do without it. It seems to me that full rich fast detailed bass response really helps make the music sound real.

    How large are your listening rooms by the way?

  8. #8
    Forum Regular O'Shag's Avatar
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    By the way E-stat, I think that you placement of the main speaker on the sub, does much to minimize any coherency / timing problems that is so often problematic with sat sub systems.

  9. #9
    Suspended markw's Avatar
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    I guess it all depends on what those lowest octaves mean to one.

    Assuming we're talking, music I'll chime in.

    My maggie 1.6's are very polite in that what lows they can't reproduce, they simply quietly ignore, and this phenomona starts right around 50 hz or so and gradually fades off into silence. They are run full range. No hi-pass on the sub was needed.

    I use a powered sub, low passed around 50 - 55 hz or so to fill in just the low end. It's positioned just to the right of the right speaker and, of course, it took a bit of experimentation to find it's optimum placement in the room.

    Once the placement, crossover and level were set, it blended in quite well with the rest of the system and was virtually undetectable. It was only noticed on some music with conetent "down there" and even then, moreso when it was shut off, it's lack was noticed.

  10. #10
    Man of the People Forums Moderator bobsticks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by markw
    Assuming we're talking, music I'll chime in.

    My maggie 1.6's are very polite in that what lows they can't reproduce, they simply quietly ignore, and this phenomona starts right around 50 hz or so and gradually fades off into silence. They are run full range. No hi-pass on the sub was needed.

    I use a powered sub, low passed around 50 - 55 hz or so to fill in just the low end. It's positioned just to the right of the right speaker and, of course, it took a bit of experimentation to find it's optimum placement in the room.

    Once the placement, crossover and level were set, it blended in quite well with the rest of the system and was virtually undetectable. It was only noticed on some music with conetent "down there" and even then, moreso when it was shut off, it's lack was noticed.
    Amen, markw...and Kex and E too. No, it's not about recreating the hood-busting Zuesfart of the unlearned and uninitiated or exaggerating unintended thunder, but for legitimately bass heavy music from Saint Saens to Combichrist you notice its absence on the bottom and the resultant clarity in the middle and on the top.

  11. #11
    Loving This kexodusc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by O'Shag
    So E-Stat and Kex, are you saying then that the sub can improve mid-bass response by taking away the need for smaller woofers on satellites to do a lot of work in the nether regions below 100hz?
    No, not "take away the need" I'm saying that when a woofer doesn't have to work as hard, it can sound better. Low bass is the hardest thing for the woofer to reproduce. Most 5" to 8" woofers are also responsible for reproducing some of the bass above 100 Hz while handling low bass, in many cases well into the midrange (2000 hz and higher). At a given volume level, the woofer has to move so far (excrusion) to move the air. As you turn the volume up, this distance increases. It also increases at a given volume the lower the frequency. In other words, lower bass requires the woofer to move more to produce the same output. The further the woofer moves from the magnet, the weaker the "control", the greater the likelyhood of distortion, and the slower the transient response (some might call it timing or pace, yuck). Most speakers are designed well enough that it's not a huge difference, and even inaudible within a certain range. But you'll hit a wall fast where the speaker just doesn't have anymore to give. When you relieve the extra work requirement by shifting the bass duty to the sub, the woofer reproduces the rest of its passband with less distortion. It sounds better. Actually, this is often the reason a 2nd woofer is employed in many speakers - not to oversimplifiy, but 2 woofers working in unison should result in less distortion than 1 working extra hard by itself.

    Also, it's just an acoustic reality that the best position in a given room for reproducing low bass notes is not where you'd ideally place your speakers. So you're killing 2 birds with one stone here. It's a question of compromises. Not everyone can accomodate a sub or two in their rooms. A lot of people might not put the same high value on bass reproduction either when buying speakers. And budget of course comes into play. I don't think there's a definite right or wrong approach, but in audio we seem to have people who insist that there is always the one universal best way to accomplish good sound.

    I do understand your approach, but am failing to see how the mid-bass response characteristic inherent in the main speaker can be compensated adequately by crossing over the subs higher - say at 120hz. The real presence in the mid-bass region (also called low-mid frequency) hovers around 240hz and extends up to around 400hz if I'm not mistaken. this is well outside the range of the sub surely?
    Again, at lower volumes the difference is likely close to non-existant. But increase the volume to a point where the woofer starts noticeably thumping. Distortion's going to start at some point - where it becomes audible depends on the speaker, but let's say your woofers are starting to noticeably distort at 90 dB. Reduce the burden of the low frequencies being fed to the woofer and you allow yourself more headroom for distortion free midrange, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by O'Shag
    Kex, if you hear really good quality bass response, you can never again do without it. It seems to me that full rich fast detailed bass response really helps make the music sound real.

    How large are your listening rooms by the way?
    My room is currently 20 X 24 with about a 10 ft ceiling. I sold my house yesterday so I guess that's about to change. The new media room will be about 16 X 19.5 ft with a slightly lower ceiling. I suspect I'll be tinkering with placement, room treatment and EQing again for the first month or so. A lesson in patience.

  12. #12
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by O'Shag
    So E-Stat and Kex, are you saying then that the sub can improve mid-bass response by taking away the need for smaller woofers on satellites to do a lot of work in the nether regions below 100hz?
    Two different issues. High passing the smaller woofers gives them more headroom. Equalizing the subs run up to higher frequencies flattens the response to counteract the effect of the room.

    Quote Originally Posted by O'Shag
    but am failing to see how the mid-bass response characteristic inherent in the main speaker can be compensated adequately by crossing over the subs higher - say at 120hz.
    If a sub is high passed much lower, then it cannot be used to correct room anomalies found in the upper bass (120-160 hz).

    Quote Originally Posted by O'Shag
    The real presence in the mid-bass region (also called low-mid frequency) hovers around 240hz and extends up to around 400hz if I'm not mistaken.
    As I mentioned earlier, there is no one rule as to categorizing frequencies, but I tend to follow that of both TAS and Stereophile. Indeed 240 hz and up is above the bass range and into the lower midrange.


    Quote Originally Posted by O'Shag
    Both your system configurations sound admirable.
    Thanks. My story just goes to show that what seems to work best on paper does not always in the real world. It took a bunch of experimentation. What helped was comparing it against a far better source, my upstairs music system. There are no blending issues whatsoever with a full range electrostat. Since the perception of *fast* bass is determined by bandwidth, the U-1s are quite fast since the "woofer" extends from 25 hz to beyond 20 khz.

    Quote Originally Posted by O'Shag
    How large are your listening rooms by the way?
    25 x 16 with an additional four foot section of the length extended across the back. The ratio is close to the golden triangle (1.62) at 1.56. The twelve bass traps facilitate an extremely flat response in the critical region from 25 hz to 200 hz.

    Profile over at AA

    There are more details and pics in the link.

    rw

  13. #13
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    Subwoofer ? yes or no

    Hi, well from the many people in the hi fi industry basically say, a subwoofer is not an essential component, however it does have the advantage of taking stress off your fronts regarding the lower frequencies.

    It's basically not into the equation for 2-channel philes. Some people may go as far as getting 5.1 to take full advantage of SACD the 5.1 layer. However the majority of SACD's do not include a 5.1 layer option (or are hybrids that include the 5.1 layer).

    If it's action movies, then the boom you get from the sub can happen. Where you place it is very important. I'd recommend getting a sound meter, or someone who's in the industry to bring one in to locate the ideal spot to place your sub (assuming that has not been done already).

    Some receivers like my yamaha, in the manual contains a section in how to allocate resources to my other speakers. I can + or - my fronts, centre, and everything else.,
    which also conpensates for placement of each speaker. It has helped the listening
    experience greatly. Find out if your amp/receiver has that option. If you are able to change the options, you may be able to resolve the overpowering affect of your sub.

    Also keep in mind some amps have bass extension. It's a on/off option.

    Another thing is that no all dvds, cds, blu-ray etc, are produced the same. Not every movie will give you the ideal listening experience, you may need to adjust settings slightly to get things 100%. You "shouldn't" need to, but action movies usually tend to demand the boom from the bass from explosions etc, which really is the case with other type of
    movies.

    There's a saying, the better the amp, the less dials/knobs, controls it needs, and the
    less adjusting you would need. Majority of 5.1, or x.1 options exist in receivers, but plenty of preamps have 5.1 also.

    Sony have the 6.2 technology, another company claims to change the dynamics of your
    room to experience 7.5. (without the need to buy 5 subs). I'd be interested in a demo of
    that.

  14. #14
    BooBs are elitist jerks shokhead's Avatar
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    If it's setup right, you'll never know you have a sub. Unles your rich enough to have a receiver/amp and speakers that can do the job and most don't, get a sub.
    Look & Listen

  15. #15
    AR Junior Member sgt bass08's Avatar
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    Im a bass head so subs for me are a must.i dont think you can get any speaker to give you bass that will go low as subs and that you dont need to turn up your amp to half way just to get some bass out off your speakers.I think subs are a great instrument i would say to most people get a sub there some awesome subs out there for you bass junkies.but i know the older generation like there music to sound natural .i think subs suit alot off music but there some music that they dont.but subs are great like my motto says i pefer to feel bass on my chest then not to feel it at all. peace !!!!!!!
    I Perfer To Feel Bass On My Chest Then Not To Feel It At All

  16. #16
    Class of the clown GMichael's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sgt bass08
    Im a bass head so subs for me are a must.i dont think you can get any speaker to give you bass that will go low as subs and that you dont need to turn up your amp to half way just to get some bass out off your speakers.I think subs are a great instrument i would say to most people get a sub there some awesome subs out there for you bass junkies.but i know the older generation like there music to sound natural .i think subs suit alot off music but there some music that they dont.but subs are great like my motto says i pefer to feel bass on my chest then not to feel it at all. peace !!!!!!!
    There are some systems out there that don't need subs. With a separate amps driving the highs, two more for for mids, and a third pair for the bass. In the end, these systems don't need subs because they practically include their own subs.
    WARNING! - The Surgeon General has determined that, time spent listening to music is not deducted from one's lifespan.

  17. #17
    AR Junior Member sgt bass08's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GMichael
    There are some systems out there that don't need subs. With a separate amps driving the highs, two more for for mids, and a third pair for the bass. In the end, these systems don't need subs because they practically include their own subs.

    yeah i wouldnt know as i never gone for speakers worth thousands .but yeah theres probly alot of expensive speakers that would push out heavy bass lines.but the speaker wouldnt be happy you would proply blow it up .
    I Perfer To Feel Bass On My Chest Then Not To Feel It At All

  18. #18
    _ Luvin Da Blues's Avatar
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    I use two subs (in stereo) for the odd tunage that has freqs below what my towers produce (43Hz, - 1.5db, metered). Otherwise the sub just sits there doing nothing. Even if the tune doesn't have that low of a freq. response it still would have harmonics that might and I want to hear/feel everything on the tune.

    Of course, like people have said, placement and integration is key. I spend hours with the meter and tones to get what I think is right, sounds great to my ears.
    Back in my day, we had nine planets.

  19. #19
    Forum Regular audio amateur's Avatar
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    Okay, we're talking about relieving speakers from lower frequencies, but this obviously requires high-pass filtering. What is the best/cost effective way to do this in a normal 2 channel configuration? I'm guessing adding this filter results in phase in-coherencies, or maybe not. Thanks for the input

  20. #20
    BooBs are elitist jerks shokhead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GMichael
    There are some systems out there that don't need subs. With a separate amps driving the highs, two more for for mids, and a third pair for the bass. In the end, these systems don't need subs because they practically include their own subs.
    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
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  21. #21
    Loving This kexodusc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by audio amateur
    Okay, we're talking about relieving speakers from lower frequencies, but this obviously requires high-pass filtering. What is the best/cost effective way to do this in a normal 2 channel configuration? I'm guessing adding this filter results in phase in-coherencies, or maybe not. Thanks for the input
    Different ways to accomplish this.
    Active EQing is getting more and more popular in the DIY community.
    Some people wire capacitors in series with the speakers to filter the lower frequencies. I've done this with mixed results. Phase issues aren't necessarily going to happen, but you'll want to experiment. I found best results selecting a target frequency below the -3 dB point of my towers. When it works, it really works! I prefer a steep filter here at least 2nd order, maybe 4th depending on the speaker.
    And of course if you use an a/v receiver for 2-channel stereo you may have the option of using bass management settngs.

    My Rotel integrated doesn't offer me that luxury but my receiver does. Unfortunately lugging two 90 lb subs up and down the stairs has a detrimental effect on my desire to listen to music.

  22. #22
    M.P.S.E /AES/SMPTE member Sir Terrence the Terrible's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobsticks
    Amen, markw...and Kex and E too. No, it's not about recreating the hood-busting Zuesfart of the unlearned and uninitiated or exaggerating unintended thunder, but for legitimately bass heavy music from Saint Saens to Combichrist you notice its absence on the bottom and the resultant clarity in the middle and on the top.
    Damn sticks, this sound like a page from Resident Loser book
    Sir Terrence

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  23. #23
    M.P.S.E /AES/SMPTE member Sir Terrence the Terrible's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by O'Shag
    I read a very interesting review by Dick Olsher, one of the reviewers I happen to respect. In this case his opinion struck a cord, given my own experience. Dick-O believes that people spend silly money on subs for a problem that they do not address at all. Subs range of operation without significant distortion is up to 125hz -150hz. But where we invariably perceive a lack in bass energy and presence is in the mid-bass region, which the sub has nothing to do with. For music, I've never been able to get a sub to integrate properly, and I've tried. I guess they're fine for movie effects, or if you want to drive around in a low-rider or pimped-out Escalade booming out earthquake sounds that sound more like Zeus farting than anything resembling music. Otherwise the only sub I will enjoy will be from my local deli.

    What do you think?

    Payce
    Deep bass in movie tracks is more than a bunch of booming notes. There is texture and detail in the deep bass. There is also pressure differences as well. A high quality sub wil flesh this detail out, a cheap or poorly integrated sub will not.

    In music, the deep bass is individual sets of notes, not just boom.

    I would ask the reviewer would it be more acceptable to have increased distortion during a deep bass passage? This is where main speakers have a tough time reproducing correctly.
    Sir Terrence

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  24. #24
    BooBs are elitist jerks shokhead's Avatar
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    That's why they call it LFE, Low-Frequency Effects . That's different then just deep bass.
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  25. #25
    M.P.S.E /AES/SMPTE member Sir Terrence the Terrible's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shokhead
    That's why they call it LFE, Low-Frequency Effects . That's different then just deep bass.
    Actually its not different at all. The LFE channel is used to augment the amplitude of the bass coming from the main channels. Its has it seperate track, but not usually a seperate sound from the mains. It will usually have the same bass as in the main channels, but amplified +10db for added headroom. That way you can mix +10db more bass in it, than in the main channels. If you attempted to mix a completely different bass signal into the LFE than you have in the mains, all kinds of acoustical issues will crop up such as moment to moment bass cancallations and peaks that oscillate in time, even from the same place in the room. This is a unspoken mixing rule amoug re-recording engineers.
    Sir Terrence

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