For many audiophiles, the subwoofer is the difference between an excellent and a poor home theater setup. This got me wondering whether I was placing my subwoofer correctly to get the most from it.
So which way should a subwoofer face in home theater? Here is the short answer.
For the best sound quality, the subwoofer should be placed with the speaker facing out to the room, and the port should be away from a wall. Bass waves travel in all directions, but it’s important to have the speaker facing your main listening area.
I’ve always felt that subwoofers are often the most overlooked part of a speaker system, but in mind are the most important. Pretty much any device with audio output comes with speakers, but it’s the subwoofer that really enhances your listening experience. I decided to look some more into the best placement of a subwoofer, and why it’s so important.
You may like to check out my top recommendations for subwoofers for every budget based on actual testing in realistic home environments.
Where Should You Place A Subwoofer In Your Home Theater?
I’ve spent plenty of time messing around with my subwoofer to find the best placement for sound quality and richness of bass. The subwoofer I own is quite powerful, but the advice listed here is applicable for any size subwoofer.
While the following information is given as general advice, it might not be applicable to your situation. It’s best to use this information as a starting point, and then to experiment with your own placement to find the best sound. When it comes to moving your subwoofer around, just remember that more bass doesn’t always mean better bass.
Consider the following tips when placing your subwoofer:
- For the most part, corners aren’t really a subwoofer’s friends. Placing your subwoofer in a corner causes the bass waves to bounce off the wall in different directions, often crossing over each other on their way back. This can result in muddy bass tones, which no one wants.
- The same is true for walls. Placing your subwoofer right against a wall will cause bass waves to reflect, which leads to rumbling sounds and harsh bass tones. Also, there’s more chance of the bass reverberating through the wall, which might not be your neighbor’s idea of fun.
- This is probably the most limiting factor when it comes to placing your subwoofer. Most will be connected to the receiver with wires, so you’ll be constrained by where you can actually place it. If you have a wired subwoofer, look for the best place without leaving any wires for people to trip over. An alternative is to buy a wireless sub.
- If your subwoofer is a port design, it’ll have a small hole in the back to allow air to flow through. Ideally, your subwoofer should be placed a distance of 1-2x the diameter of the port away from a wall. For example, if your subwoofer has a 6” port, it should be placed 6-12” away from a wall.
For the most part, the best way to find the correct placement for your subwoofer is trial and error. To do this, put on an audio track with plenty of bass, and then move yourself and the subwoofer around the room until you find a placement you’re happy with.
The bass is never going to sound the same around the whole room, so make sure it’s optimized for your favorite seating area.
Where Should I Not Place A Subwoofer?
Let’s be real here. Sometimes you’re limited as to where you can place your subwoofer, whether this is by space, wires, or neighbors.
I’m quite lucky in that my home theater setup is in a large room, and the only connecting rooms are my own. This means I can have as much fun as I want with my subwoofer, and don’t have to worry about upsetting anyone.
However, not everyone has free reign over where they place their subwoofer. That said, you’ll inevitably have some level of control over its placement, so consider the following tips for where NOT to place it:
- As I mentioned above, where possible, avoid placing it against walls or in corners. Both of these hinder the omnidirectional bass waves, and will increase the possibility of bass carrying through the walls.
- Whatever you do, avoid putting your subwoofer inside a cabinet. This is easily the worst place to put it, and essentially voids any money you’ve spent on decent audio equipment. Bass waves need to bounce around, and putting the sub inside a cabinet will cause them to be dull and muted, if you get anything coming out at all. In my article on subwoofer placement, I describe in detail how to do this.
- Try to avoid putting the subwoofer under a table or other piece of furniture. While this isn’t as bad a move as putting it in a cabinet, it will cause gaps in the sound as the waves are absorbed by the dense mass. This again pretty much defeats the purpose of getting a subwoofer.
If you do have to put your subwoofer in a corner, there are a couple of things you can do to make it better. If you have a sealed subwoofer, your problems won’t be as bad as with a ported subwoofer, and if this is the case, simply move on.
However, if your subwoofer is of the ported variety, first try to get it as far away from the wall as possible. A good rule of thumb is around 6” from a wall or corner, or more if you can get away with it. Other than that, a good suggestion is to plug up the port with something, such as socks or soft balls. This will obviously affect the quality of your bass, but will reduce the amount of reverberation into the wall behind.
Do You Need To Adjust Settings When Moving A Subwoofer?
So you’ve covered the basic issue of which direction the subwoofer needs to be facing, and spent plenty of time finding the right place for it in your home theater suite. Now you might be wondering whether you need to adjust any settings to optimize the bass output for your subwoofer’s new home.
The answer to this is that it won’t do any harm to play around with your audio settings to see if you can stretch just a little more out of your subwoofer.
Many A/V receivers will have some kind of room correction setting on them, which automatically detects things like speaker distance and placement to provide the best sound quality, but they usually lack when it comes to crossover settings.
In simple terms, audio crossover refers to a function that splits audio into two or more frequencies. While the definition can be made much more technical, for the purpose of this topic, two frequencies are enough: bass and everything else. Crossover will define when audio switches from speaker output to subwoofer output.
Choosing to manually set the crossover point for your subwoofer is the best way to get the most out of your device. I found that automatic room calibration works absolutely fine for the rest of my speaker system, and I essentially haven’t changed a thing, but manually changing your subwoofer settings is for the best.
The first thing to do is find out what your speakers are capable of putting out. As a general rule, the smaller the speakers, the higher the crossover frequency is going to be. You should find this information in the manual, or online. To get the right frequency for crossover, simply take the frequency your speakers can put out and increase it by 10Hz.
Next, you can either set the crossover dial as close as you can to the desired frequency, or fall back on the trial and error method. This is what I did with my subwoofer, and it worked absolutely fine, it just requires a bit more attention.
All you need to do is turn the crossover dial to its maximum setting, and then play a bass-heavy audio track. Simply fiddle with the crossover dial until you’re happy with the balance between speakers and subwoofer.
If you notice audio “blind spots,” you might need to go back and adjust the crossover frequency. Other than that, it’s simply a case of playing around until you’re happy with the sound.
Final Thoughts On Where Subwoofers Should Face
Setting up your subwoofer for optimal bass is one of the most important parts of building a home theater setup. As I realized, the subwoofer is fundamental to good audio, and if you don’t use it to its full potential, then you might as well not have bothered with one.
As I pointed out, placement should depend on a few things, but if you’re not able to put your subwoofer in the sweet spot, just make sure you’re not making matters worse. If I can only impart one piece of knowledge on you, let it be this: subwoofers need room to breathe, so don’t suffocate them by hiding them in a cupboard or under a table. Other than that, trial and error is your best friend!
Check out my top recommendations for subwoofers for every budget based on actual testing in realistic home environments.