Adding a subwoofer to your home audio system is kind of a big deal for everyone trying to improve one’s listening experience.
When a moment like this comes, people usually focus on getting the best possible subwoofer, they read a bunch of reviews, specifications, etc. Once they buy the device and bring it home, they simply put it on the floor, left or right to the other speakers, and think that is where the setup ends.
Unfortunately, this is one of the most common and biggest mistakes because there is no subwoofer in the world, regardless of how good it is, that can compensate for the wrong placement.
Want to know where to place your subwoofer and how to place it correctly? We’ll go into more detail below, but here’s the answer in short:
The sound will be better if the subwoofer is elevated, but the device itself will be safer if you put it on the floor.
Stay with us to learn why we say this, and you’ll be enjoying some amazing bass from your sub soon!
First Things First – What Are Subwoofers and How Do They Work?
A subwoofer is a woofer (aka large speaker driver) placed in a vented or sealed loudspeaker enclosure. It is part of a speaker system in charge of the reproduction of low-frequency tones (usually lower than 100 Hz or at least 80 Hz). These frequencies are what we commonly call “the bass” and the essence of every rock or hip-hop song, electronic music in general as well as every explosion or crashing sound in an action movie.
Creating such low tones requires a lot of power and a lot of air to be moved. As a result, subwoofers create many vibrations during the sound reproduction and this is exactly why we usually say that those deep sounds are rather felt than heard. This is also one of the reasons that make subwoofer placement a bit complicated.
Should a Subwoofer Be Placed on the Floor or at the Ear Level?
As we have said, most people place their subwoofer(s) on the floor. They may push them a bit aside, place them closer to a corner, etc. but they generally do not pay as much attention to them as they do to the other speakers.
The main cause is all the instructions explaining how to place the elements of your home theater system that focus on other speakers and dedicate only a few sentences to subwoofers. They usually claim that, unlike loudspeakers that produce unidirectional sound, subwoofers deliver omnidirectional sound waves (these are the waves that travel in all directions).
We cannot say this is not true and we do agree that placing loudspeakers is much more demanding because they have to be placed at the right place for the system to work properly and create great surround sound effects.
However, this does not mean that we can completely neglect subwoofers just because a human ear cannot detect the direction the sound is coming from. On the contrary, subwoofers are very important for the operation process and, although it does not look like that, they can improve the audio reproduction of the entire system and make it sound incredible or completely destroy your listening experience.
The fact that subwoofers send the sound in different directions tells us that we do not have to place them at an ear level or in a way that makes them face the “sweet spot” (listening position).
So, should we simply put them on the floor? Is there a better option?
As you can conclude from the introduction, placing subwoofers on the floor is not the perfect option. It may be more practical than placing them at an ear level but, in order to achieve the best possible audio reproduction, it is not enough to simply put a subwoofer on the floor and forget about it. Here is why.
First, we have mentioned the vibrations subwoofers create while producing the bass. The more powerful the bass, the more intense the vibrations. As much as they are great for your listening experience, they are not great for your floor, your family members, or your neighbors.
This may seem silly but these vibrations can be transferred to other rooms in your house or through your floor to the ceiling of your neighbors living in an apartment below.
Plus, they can get annoying not only for other people but also for you because they can cause specific rattling noise, especially when standing directly on a wooden floor, and that could completely destroy the sound quality.
Placing the subwoofer directly on the floor may cause some unwanted vibrations (image provided by Fluance)
Second, there is the room response, which is basically the response of a room where speakers are placed to the sound they deliver. Room response is actually closely related to room acoustics and the distribution of elements that reflect (glass doors, bare walls, windows…) and absorb sound (carpets, curtains, furniture…). Their disbalance creates too boomy or completely inaudible bass and you want neither of these.
Every single piece of furniture as well as rugs, windows, and curtains can affect the room’s acoustics (image provided by Klipsch)
What you can do is – try to improve your room acoustics and make the distribution of bass more even. The first problem can be solved by creating the perfect balance between the reflecting and absorbing elements, while the second is directly related to the subwoofer placement.
Considering that subwoofers pump out a lot of energy, they create high-pressure waves. If you place them directly on a bare floor, the pressure will be higher in the lower part, which means there will be less bass in the upper part of your room and this does not sound very good.
So, what can you do to eliminate or at least minimize all these negative effects?
Where Should I Put My Subwoofer?
So far, we have cleared that neither floor nor ear level is the perfect position for a subwoofer. But, which one is better? Is there, maybe, a third solution?
In fact, there is. You do not have to elevate your subwoofer to an ear level. It can be less elevated, standing on a table or on a shelf. The only problem here, just like with the first option, is safety. It is not very safe to leave a subwoofer there because a shelf can be too fragile or the subwoofer can fall from it. Plus, there are those vibrations that the subwoofer can still produce because it stands on a wooden surface. The good news is those vibrations can be reduced with the help of vibration pads.
On the other hand, the floor is the safest place for any subwoofer. The sound may not be perfect but your device will definitely be safe. What you can do to improve the sound quality, reduce vibrations, and prevent potential problems with bass reproduction and with your neighbors is to decouple the subwoofer from the floor with vibration dumpers or a specially designed subwoofer box with the inner side of walls covered with some soft material that will additionally dampen the vibrations.
To conclude, none of the options is perfect and each has its upsides and downsides. After all, customers get to choose how and where they want to place their subwoofers depending on the space available, interior design, and personal preferences.
The sound will be better if the subwoofer is elevated but the device itself will be safer if you put it on the floor. Whatever you choose, the best option is to move your subwoofer around and hear and feel what is the best position for it. Don’t trust us – trust your ears! The best way to find the perfect spot is to experiment.