You’ve done it. You’ve finally taken the plunge and bought a subwoofer. And now, you can turn your lowly stereo into a sound system fit for the gods. The only problem is, once you’ve got the subwoofer out of the box and ready for set-up, where do you put it?
It turns out, placing a subwoofer in the best position isn’t as simple as most people make it out to be. It depends on the dimensions and shape of your room. As well as what else is in your room, and crucially on the type and number of speakers that you’re going to pair your sub with.
Therefore, I decided to discuss subwoofer placement in detail and suggest the best layout depending on your system.
What is a Subwoofer?
Before we get too far away from ourselves, let’s talk about a subwoofer and what it is supposed to do in your stereo system.
While whales and elephants communicated in ultra-low frequencies, the human ear can detect and discern sounds at frequencies from 20-20,000Hz. However, as we get older, we all start to lose the high-end frequencies. Generally speaking, subwoofers handle the lowest frequencies from about 20-200Hz.
This means heavy thumping sounds from bass-heavy music, the kick drum, bass guitar, and other low musical instruments, explosions and other sound effects in movies, and a whole lot more. The subwoofer helps to expand the dynamic range of any recording so that you hear (and feel!) the full range of sounds the producer intended.
And that’s not all…
Adding a subwoofer to your sound system is going to make another big difference. It allows you to put less of a burden on your other speakers. Whether you’re running through a soundbar, floor standing, or bookshelf speakers, their woofers are handling all the low-end.
With a sub, the pressure’s off for them to perform, and they can be used to focus on the higher low-end and the mids. So, where should you place a subwoofer?
Top Tips for the Placement of a Subwoofer
- Only place a subwoofer in a corner if it’s paired with large, powerful speakers.
- Place a front-driving sub in front of you and a down-driving sub near your seating area.
- Never put a subwoofer in a cabinet.
- Put your sub in the center or off to one side when paired with a soundbar.
- With larger speakers, keep the sub off to one side but within four to five feet from one of the speakers.
- Keep rear or side-ported subs away from walls at a distance at least double the diameter of the port.
Let’s now get into more detail about your specific room, speaker, and subwoofer challenges…
One theory for positioning a subwoofer is the old “anywhere is fine” philosophy. Really? Well, initially, this sounds at least somewhat reasonable. After all, bass sounds are far more diffuse than mids and lows. They have longer wavelengths and spread out across any room with more of a rumble than a piercing, directed shriek.
The problem is that the qualities of a subwoofer are exactly what make it very important to position correctly. If you don’t, you’ll find that you get a wimpy, overly diffuse sound or else the opposite – too much bass that’s muddy and directionless.
Ok, well, so much for anywhere goes…
Sub in the Corner
There are different opinions on putting your subwoofer in a room corner, just like there are different theories on how to discipline naughty children. Your sub hasn’t been naughty – it may just not be performing its best. Hmm, that’s a lot like kids, actually!
What’s the effect of placing a subwoofer in a corner?
On the one hand, you get a lot more sound reflection off both of the walls, and this gives you a bass boost. That can translate to more sound overall or more power from a cheaper and weaker speaker.
On the other hand, one advantage of putting a subwoofer in a corner is that it focuses attention on it as a point of sound. This is especially true if it’s quite far away from your other speakers. The booming bass will stand out rather than blend in with your overall soundscape.
This might make for an interesting effect, but it’s going to be nothing less than distracting when you listen to music and movies. With larger speakers, the sub might not stand out so much. But when paired with smaller speakers, especially under six inches, you’ll find it stands out as a totally different and competing sound source.
Different Subwoofer Designs
Well, indeed, this is something that needs to be considered. Different subwoofers are designed in different ways, which will give you something else to consider when looking for the best placement for subwoofers.
Most subwoofers combine two elements into one boxy cabinet. First, you get your driver, a large speaker cone that can normally range from 8 inches to 12 or even 14 inches in diameter. This driver is paired with a sound port, which for lack of a better explanation, is a hole in the cabinet.
The sound port allows the bass-compressed air in the cabinet to escape and re-enter, releasing a good part of the big booming sound of the sub.
Front, rear, and down-facing ports
Rear-ported subs need to be away from walls to let out their sound, with a distance of at least two times the diameter of the port. So if the port is six inches in diameter, for example, you’ll want it at least 12 inches from a wall.
Down-firing or bottom-firing subs have their drivers pointed down into the floor. Their ports are usually found on the bottom as well, like in the Acoustic Audio PSW-10, or else on the side of the cabinet.
What’s the difference between front-firing and down-firing subwoofers?
For sound quality, there’s not really any difference. You get thick, deep, omnidirectional bass out of both. However, front-firing subs push the air forward. Therefore, they can be placed in front of the listener, such as near your console.
Down-firing subs push the sound down into the floor. So, they’re used to much better effect when they are close to the listener. There they can rumble your belly and shake the floor without diffusing the sound too much.
Best Subwoofer Placement with a Soundbar
By now, you’ve hopefully got a good idea of how subwoofers work and some of their limitations. Now we’re going to look at the best placement ideas for subs in combination with different speakers.
Combining a subwoofer with a soundbar
A soundbar is a strip-shaped speaker that’s designed to sit under a TV of about the same width. Normally, a soundbar contains left and right pairs of tweeters and woofers to create a 2-way or even a 3-way speaker system.
Combined with a subwoofer, you get what’s called 2.1 or 3.1 sound. The first number is the number of driver types; the number after the period is the number of subwoofers.
Many manufacturers are already selling soundbar + subwoofer packages, like the Klipsch Cinema 600 and Samsung’s HW-Q60T. The idea is that you’ll put the soundbar under your TV and then place the subwoofer on the floor either under your TV cabinet/stand or else off to one side or the other.
Positioning is still important
To keep the sound coming from what seems like a unified front position, it’s best not to place the sub more than four to five feet away from the soundbar. At least for a front-driving sub – down-driving subs can be farther away and close to the seating area.
It’s not a good idea to place the sub itself in a cabinet. This will stifle the sound and turn your boom into a whimper. It can also introduce and amplify unappealing rattles from loose connections in the furniture.
Best Subwoofer Placement with a Pair of Speakers
Instead of a soundbar, many stereo systems still use either floor-standing speakers like Sony’s SSCS3s or bookshelf speakers like the Klipsch RP-600Ms. In both cases, the separation of these two main speakers is critical. They should be set up according to the ideal suggestions of the manufacturer.
Once that positioning is set, it’s time to find the best placement for your subwoofer. The room shape and dimensions can make a big difference. If you have a long and narrow room, the best choice is probably to put the sub in the center of your console. Between the other two speakers or even under a TV if that’s your audio focus.
If you have a short and wide room
You’ll likely get a better sound from placing the sub to either side of the room’s focus. This will pull the bass sound back and allow it to diffuse and blend in better. Don’t go too far away – again, four to five feet from the nearest speaker is a good limit to ensure the sound blends well.
In both cases, if you have a down-firing sub, you want it close to your seating area. However, it will almost certainly have to be off to one side or the other. No one wants a subwoofer cabinet as a coffee table. And having the sub behind you will create confusion in sound sources that will distract from your listening experiences.
Looking for a Great Subwoofer or Other Speakers?
We have a good selection to help you find what you need. Check out our in-depth Klipsch Sub-12HG Review, our Klipsch R-10B Review, our Fluance Signature Series HiFi Review, our Sony HT-S350 Soundbar Review, our Cerwin-Vega SL-28 Review, and our Polk Audio TSi500 Review for amazing items currently available.
Also, have a look at our comprehensive reviews of the Best PA Subwoofers, the Best Powered Speakers, the Best Bookshelf Speakers Under $500, the Best Wireless TV Speakers, and the Best High End Home Theater Speakers you can buy in 2021.
And don’t miss our handy guides on the Difference Between an Active and Passive Subwoofer, Why Do Some Subwoofers Have Left and Right Inputs, and How to Connect Speakers to your TV for more useful information.
Subwoofer Placement – Final Thoughts
Once you get a great subwoofer, you can push your sound system to another level. However, even the best subwoofer in the world is going to be disappointing if it is in the wrong position.
To avoid wimpy, overly-diffused bass or muddy, overbearing booms, follow our top tips on how to place your subwoofer in the perfect spot. Don’t be afraid to experiment and move things around until you find the very best place. Once you have that sweet spot, your listening experience will never be the same.
So, until next time, let the music play.