The word “graduation” surely means a lot to some folks at this time of year. For many, the word is spelled with a capital G; it’s circled on the calendar and is a major goal, a finish line to cross.
Once you move beyond high school and college, you might notice that the concept of graduation is never truly over. Promotions, purchases and project completions take on the similar feel of impending graduation when you’re in the thick of pursuing them.
Last week, this week and for the next few weeks, I want to focus on graduating to a serious audio system. A guide for “how to listen well,” as I described it last week.
I want these tips to be useful and used, so I’ll stick to major points and recap frequently. Last week, I implored serious listeners to position speakers away from nearby walls.
This week, the message is about sub bass. Not bass, per se, but sub bass specifically, which is sound so low in tone that you can’t really tell where it’s coming from.
We’re all familiar with movie explosions and other synthesized sources of sub bass, but did you know that sub bass is present when you listen to a classical recording? Even before a single note is played by the orchestra, the recording picks up a good amount of ambient sub bass from the large concert hall. It’s created from movement of people, street noise, floor vibrations and overhead HVAC systems, and it is amplified somewhat by the large room’s tendency to resonate at a very low tone.
Without a subwoofer in a serious audio system, playing back that recording will remove a lot of the magic “you are there” feeling. I’ve disconnected and reconnected properly set-up subwoofers in excellent systems more than a few times, and it’s like flipping a switch on the stereo effect, from narrow to wide once the subwoofers are back on.
Asking a pair of standard speakers to reproduce not only the piccolo flute but also the room’s sub bass ambience is more than a lot — it’s an insane request. People all over the world pay huge sums of money for very large “full range” speakers that get close.
The thing is, if you follow a subwoofer manufacturer’s guide to “integrate” the sub properly to merge with your normal speakers, the ambient magic that so much money chases instantly comes within grasp. Depending on the speakers and subwoofer, you can often connect the speakers directly to the sub, which removes the sub bass from their to-do list and gives them a breather. This in turn results in better sound in the range where they are working.
Finally, and tying into last week’s subject, even after pulling the speakers away from the walls, there’s no guarantee that the sub bass sounds best where you sit, coming from the spot where the main speakers are placed. Being able to position the subwoofer for best results in the room, relative to the main speakers, is a huge plus.
All good reasons to add a subwoofer to the mix, if you’re interested in getting serious about this audio thing.