If you’re considering incorporating a subwoofer into your home studio setup, then this guide will help you find the best solution for your needs.
Working with a Subwoofer
When producing or mixing music, it’s essential to monitor your work on quality studio monitors to hear how your next club banger occupies the frequency spectrum so you can make the necessary moves to create a great sounding mix that translates well on all types of sound systems. One of the most challenging steps while creating music is getting your low-end right. Many home studios have smaller near-field monitors that have limited bass response making it hard to manage low-frequencies properly.
Those who use smaller driver monitors may have come to the crossroad on deciding whether to add a subwoofer to your studio setup or not. There are many conflicting theories about what is needed for monitoring in the home studio. Adding a subwoofer to your studio is a much-debated subject, and there are some important things to consider before spending big bucks on a studio sub. Every home studio offers a different set of problems that can affect how a subwoofer sounds such as problematic acoustics, environmental noise, available physical space, and speaker placement. Depending on your situation, a subwoofer can either help or hurt the outcome of your mixes.
To help you through the decision process, we put together a guide covering some considerations to think about that can help you find the best solution for your needs.
Before investing in a quality subwoofer, it’s crucial to consider the following circumstances:
- Why do you want a subwoofer?
- What type of music do you work on?
- Is your room suited for a subwoofer?
- Will a subwoofer work with your existing monitors and audio interface?
- Are your monitors lacking low-end?
- Do you struggle to hear and manage low frequencies?
- How big of a sub is needed for your listening environment?
- How to properly set the crossover for a more controlled and accurate sound?
- Do you need a subwoofer from the same manufacturer as your monitors?
- Do you need sound treatment?
- Should you have the subwoofer on all the time?
Is a Subwoofer Necessary?
Those who work with electronic music know the kick and bass make up the primary foundation of this type of music. You may want to consider incorporating a subwoofer into your studio system if you monitor on a set of near-fields that lack the bass response needed to make proper decisions when managing low frequencies. Also, if your mixes translate well on your monitors but either lack bass or are bass heavy on other sound systems, then a sub can be very helpful. A Subwoofer will allow you to hear and even feel frequencies that are much lower than those able to be played through your mid-high monitors, which is critical to get an idea of how your tunes will sound when played on big systems. If you’re mixing audio for TV or film, then a multi-speaker monitoring setup with a subwoofer is practically essential, especially if your mixes will be played on surround systems.
Another important consideration is the size of your room. Not every home studio space is suited for the use of a subwoofer. Without getting technical, subs are often not recommended for smaller rooms because they can cause several acoustical problems known as room modes. Smaller spaces may suffer from sonic inaccuracies such as level peaks and dips at different frequencies throughout the room, standing waves that cause various frequencies to build-up or cancel each other out at different locations throughout the room, and unpleasant resonances that skew frequency response. You should also be cautious about introducing too much low-frequency energy into the room which can alter your perception of how much low end is appropriate for your mix.
If you are considering a sub for a smaller room, then try to match the sub driver to the room size. The difference between an eight-inch and a twelve-inch sub can be significant. There’s a relationship between volume and dimensions that you have to consider. A smaller driver will give you sufficient bass response without exasperating problematic inaccuracies.
Acoustic treatment such as bass traps, acoustic panels, and diffusers will help reduce acoustical problems and improve the accuracy of the sound. A room with well-designed acoustics will often be less colored by reflections and allow for a more balanced frequency response. Although a treated room will help absorb or scatter frequencies, still keep in mind that the size of your room will always remain a limiting factor. Treating a room properly is another complex subject that also has many considerations. If you are looking to treat your room, then it’s recommended to consult with an experienced audio engineer or service.
If you are still experiencing acoustic problems in your room, then the chances are that either your monitors are too close to the wall, they are not separated enough, or they are placed at a point in the room where standing waves are causing phase issues. You can often deal with most of these issues with careful placement of your monitors and sub. First, try moving your speakers a foot or so away from any walls to see if you get some of the low-end back. If that doesn’t work, try experimenting with other placements of your monitors and sub. There are no hard and fast rules regarding placement, but be aware of boundaries such as the floor, wall, ceiling, and any other objects in the room that will affect reflections. For example, the closer you place a speaker to a boundary the more the bass frequencies will be exaggerated. Also keep in mind that you can control the amount of bass at your listening position by moving your sub towards or away from a boundary. In addition, proper speaker positioning can also improve the bass response of your monitors, and you may find that you don’t need a sub after finding the “sweet spot.”
The most common placement of a sub is on the floor. You can also try placing a sub on a low stand if you’re experiencing issues with floor reflections. It is also recommended to position your monitors so they form an equilateral triangle with your head at the listening position. For example, position them where they face you and then separate them so they’re as far away from you as they are from each other. This placement will result in the most accurate frequency response and give you a more clear stereo image. Also, monitor stands may help improve the sound quality compared to placing them directly on a desk or mixing console where reflections can reduce the accuracy of your monitoring.
Crossover and Calibration
It is imperative to properly configure a sub to work with your monitors to achieve an accurate sound and reduce any acoustic issues. There are a few things to consider when incorporating a sub. First, set the crossover frequency on both your monitors and sub. Most speakers in home studios have built-in crossover controls that can be adjusted to split the audio signal between low and high frequencies. Having your signal split between two smaller drivers and a sub allows you to find the right balance by directing the appropriate frequency range to its respective driver. In addition, splitting the signal will reduce your monitor’s workload and help control overlapping bass frequencies from both your monitors and sub which can give you an exaggerated sense of bass and cause phasing issues. Also keep in mind that the crossover point between your monitors and sub may cause frequencies to dip where the two filter slopes cross. It’s important that you refer to the manufacturer’s setup guide that comes with the sub for further guidance. There are also several guides online that can assist you in setting a crossover that works best for your room and setup.
It’s also important to be aware of how your monitors interact with the sub. Most studio quality monitors and subwoofers have additional controls such as a phase switch and a gain adjustment. For example, when the monitors and the sub are moving out of sync with each other, they can produce overlapping frequencies that cancel out each other. In this case, the setup is out of phase, which is bad and will cause other problems. To get the best bass response, try toggling the phase switch on the sub to hear which position sounds better. Next, adjust the gain until you get a good balance between your monitors and sub to achieve a smoother bass response throughout the entire room.
Calibrating your setup can be a daunting task. If you are unsure or having trouble setting up your sub, then try using an SPL meter or other ways that measure your sound to find the smoothest output response. There are several guides online that can assist you through this process.
Before you make the leap, ensure your current setup has the necessary output connections, and you are aware of what type of cables are needed for connecting a sub. Double check your audio interface outputs to see if you can connect a sub. You can also check to see if your monitors have connections for adding a sub if you can’t use an audio interface.
It is also highly recommended to set up a switch that allows you to turn off the sub and simultaneously bypass the crossover on your monitors to A/B your mixes. Think of a sub as a reference tool; it’s not always recommended to keep the sub on the entire time you’re writing a track or mixing. Many quality subs are equipped with a foot switch connection that allows you to quickly turn them off to hear how your track sounds with and without a sub. This method is great for getting an idea of how your mix will translate on multiple sound systems.
Finally, you may ask if you should buy a sub from the same manufacturer as your monitors. The simple answer is no. However, many speakers lines have matched subwoofers that integrate flawlessly and usually produce the best results. Mixing and matching speaker series will take longer to dial in, and the crossover points may not even line up. You may also experience differences in tonality.
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