Recording - September 2014 - 40

By David Bryce

The lowdown
on subwoofers
A practical approach to choosing and adding subs to your studio

Subwoofer designs can vary greatly. The ADAM Audio Sub8 (left)
has a driver that fires forward, while the JBL LSR310S (right)
has its driver firing toward the floor.
Audio playback systems that incorporate subwoofers seem to be showing up
more and more-not just in home theatre and automobile environments, but in
project and professional studios as well. Music lovers, performers and creators
are all looking to take advantage of the pleasures and benefits of a full-range listening experience. However, adding a sub to an existing studio monitoring system-or buying a new system that includes a sub-can be a much more daunting proposition than it appears at first blush. Choosing the right brand and
model of sub with the set of features best suited to your needs can be confusing,
and placing and setting a sub correctly usually takes some time and patience.
There have been volumes written by acousticians on placing and dialing in
subwoofers, but in this article we're going to stick to the basics, exploring practical points of view and applications when adding a subwoofer (or two) to an
existing studio. I'll be speaking from my perspective as a tracking and mixing
engineer, studio owner, and 5.1 surround enthusiast who's placed and worked
with a fair number of subs to great effect.
So many subs, so little time
The first thing that has to be decided when adding a sub to a studio is the
purpose of the subwoofer. There tend to be two typical scenarios that lead to
40

RECORDING September 2014

the need for a sub. The first and most obvious is
the desire to accurately reproduce as much of
the audio spectrum as possible, ensuring that all
work leaving the studio translates happily to any
playback system, no matter how big. The second scenario is the studio owner who prefers not
to mix with a sub, but wants to have one to turn
on to add thump for the clients during playback,
to inspire musicians during tracking, or just to
enjoy feeling the low end rattle the fillings in
their teeth.
Neither of these scenarios is right or wrong,
per se-but they can lead to different choices as
far as what sub is purchased, where it's placed,
and how it's set. However, it's important to note
that in both scenarios, taste is an extremely
important factor. If a subwoofer being used for
mixing or mastering is set using a mathematical
formula without regard to taste, it can easily
result in the mixer or mastering engineer making
incorrect decisions in their work that may
adversely affect translation to other playback
systems. In other words, your ears and your
results trump the math!
One of the most interesting facts about subs is
that most people buying one (or more) will
almost always stick with the same brand as their
studio monitors. This is not always the best
choice. Sometimes, subs by other manufacturers
will have features that are desirable such as a
variable Low Pass Filter (which can be invaluable when placing and fine-tuning a sub to work
optimally in your environment), more wattage,
the ability to defeat the bass management system with a footswitch, or even something like a
metal grille over the woofer to protect it from
physical damage if it's located near where people walk around the studio. It may very well be
a pain to audition several subs with your system,
but it's worth the time and effort.
An easily overlooked component is the materials used in the construction of the woofer's cone.
Choosing the right one for your system can be
really beneficial. For example, the ambient performance of a coated paper woofer can be a
nice complement to satellites with Kevlar drivers,
adding some of the natural distortion that the ear
may be missing at higher volumes; or, for those
in search of tighter, more accurate performance,
a glass-coated woofer may be just the ticket. It
should also be noted that because different materials produce varying quality of bass, the specs
on paper of how low a subwoofer goes might
not always tell the whole story.
If you really want to dive down as deep as you
can, frequency-wise, you may think that you need
the biggest woofer you can get. This is actually
not the best approach, as bigger woofers usually
contribute more volume than lower frequencies. In
many cases, better results can be achieved by
using two smaller subs than one bigger one-e.g.
two 10" subs as opposed to a single 15". This lets
you assign each satellite its own dedicated sub,
which will make it more reliable in terms of placement. Some subwoofers even have a "pass-thru"
jack that will allow multiple units to be daisychained, making it much easier to incorporate
them into the average setup.



Recording - September 2014

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - September 2014

Contents
Recording - September 2014 - Cover1
Recording - September 2014 - Cover2
Recording - September 2014 - 1
Recording - September 2014 - 2
Recording - September 2014 - 3
Recording - September 2014 - 4
Recording - September 2014 - 5
Recording - September 2014 - Contents
Recording - September 2014 - 7
Recording - September 2014 - 8
Recording - September 2014 - 9
Recording - September 2014 - 10
Recording - September 2014 - 11
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Recording - September 2014 - Cover3
Recording - September 2014 - Cover4
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