Subwoofer placement is critical for getting the best sound output from a home theater. So, it is important to know whether the subwoofer should be placed on the floor, which is the most convenient option. If not, can a subwoofer be placed up high on a shelf or hidden behind a couch?
If you have been experiencing boomy bass coming out of your subwoofer, there is little reason to be frustrated because this is a very common problem which can be fixed.
When I first bought a home theater, I knew nothing about how bass behaves in a room and what factors govern the quality of sound coming out of a subwoofer.
There are a few things which you would need to do to improve the quality of bass in your room. Getting the subwoofer placement right is one of them.
As far as placing the subwoofer on the floor is concerned, the quick answer is that this is not the best option. Ideally, it should be elevated for the best sound output.
But, elevating the subwoofer is not always practical. So, let’s see why the subwoofer should not be rested on the floor, what are the ways to isolate a subwoofer from the floor and how we can get the best performance of the sub if keeping it off the floor is not feasible.
You may like to check out my top recommendations for subwoofers for every budget based on actual testing in realistic home environments.
Should the Subwoofer Be Placed Up High Near Ear Level
A subwoofer is one of the most important components of the home theater system. While the placement of center, front and surround speakers are pretty straightforward, it is the subwoofer which needs to be given adequate thought.
The sound waves from other speakers of the room are mostly unidirectional. This is because these speakers handle sound waves of mid and high frequencies which travel in straight lines. As the frequency reduces, it is difficult for sound to travel in one direction.
As the low frequencies are handled by the subwoofer, almost all sound waves coming out from it will be omnidirectional, which means that their travel will be in all directions.
That is why you don’t require to place the subwoofer high at ear level or facing the listening position.
Why The Subwoofer Should Not Be Placed On The Floor
So, if the line of sight is not a problem, then why should subwoofers not be placed on the floor?
There are two main reasons for this.
- Room Response
Subwoofers are the workhorses of entertainment systems as they handle low frequencies which require substantial power. The speaker cones are larger and move at a higher rate and energy as compared to other speakers. As a result, there are a lot of vibrations created in the subwoofer enclosure itself.
If you put the subwoofer on the floor, the vibrations will be transferred to it causing the floor to vibrate. Now, that’s what we don’t want, from soundproofing as well as acoustic perspectives.
From the soundproofing perspective, any vibrations on the floor caused by the subwoofer will get transferred to adjacent rooms or the room below. No matter how much you’ve spent on deadening your floor, the vibrations are powerful enough to get transmitted outside the room
From the acoustics perspective, these vibrations would cause some rattling which would be more prominent in wooden floors and mess with the sound experience.
For these reasons, a subwoofer should not be placed on the floor.
Room response is a complicated issue which can not be easily understood if you’re not very familiar with room acoustics. But, it is definitely worth knowing some of the important aspects as these could be beneficial in improving the acoustics of your room.
When it comes to bass in a room, there are always peaks and nulls created which affect the listening experience. Without getting too technical, peaks and nulls are created because of interference of sound waves and this could make the bass sound too boomy (peaks) or inaudible (nulls).
Obviously, we don’t want our bass to sound either boomy or dull. The reasons for peaks and nulls to build up in a room are many. They can be reduced to a minimum by:-
- Improving room acoustics.
- Even distribution of bass in a room.
Improving Room Acoustics
The number of peaks and nulls can be kept to a minimum by reducing the sound reflections in a room. Drywall rooms are less reflective as compared to concrete rooms, so it’s a good idea to have your walls and ceilings made of drywall.
Another way to improve room acoustics is the installation of bass traps. Bass traps are highly beneficial for sound absorption and are a necessity for home theater rooms.
So, by improving the room acoustics, the room response would be better.
Even Distribution of Bass in the Room
This has to do with the placement of the subwoofer and our area of interest in this article. We have to remember that the subwoofer is a high-pressure device.
The driver of the subwoofer is pumping out high energy and low-frequency bass all the time. There are high-pressure waves that are being created whenever the subwoofer is in operation.
If the subwoofer is placed on the floor, you are having an uneven pressure distribution in the room wherein, the maximum bass is in the lower portion whereas there is comparatively less bass in the upper portions of the room.
The job of a subwoofer is to fill the room with bass. Even if you have a high powered subwoofer which can easily fill your room with bass, it will still be uneven if it is placed on the floor.
So, for an even distribution of bass in a room, the floor is not the ideal location for a subwoofer.
Best Options For Subwoofer Placement
We have seen why the subwoofer should not be kept on the floor. But I’m not suggesting that it should be elevated and kept halfway between the floor and the ceiling.
The most important thing is that it should be decoupled from the floor. What this means is that the vibrations that are transferred from your subwoofer to the floor should be minimized.
Placing The Subwoofer On A Table
You can place the subwoofer on a table to elevate it but there is a catch. The table has to be really heavy. Heavy enough to not rattle or move when the subwoofer vibrates.
Placing The Subwoofer On A Shelf Or In A Cabinet
If the subwoofer is front firing, it can be placed on a shelf or in a cabinet. The same rule of heaviness applies here. For decoupling, vibration pads can be placed beneath the shelf or cabinet so that minimum sound vibrations are transferred to the floor.
A word of caution for placing subwoofers on tables, cabinets or shelves. You have to be cautious and make sure that they are heavy enough to protect your subwoofer from falling off.
What I Would Recommend
There is no doubt that an elevated subwoofer (near ear height) will produce better sound as compared to one that is placed on the floor. But, elevating them may not be always practical especially in case of large subwoofers.
Aesthetically, a subwoofer may not look great on a table or on a shelf. In addition, there is always the tension of the subwoofer falling off and breaking.
What I would recommend is elevating the subwoofer by about 12 inches. For my subwoofer, I built a box 12 inches high, lined the insides with double plastic protective layer and filled the box with sand.
The sand made the box heavy and does very well in damping the vibrations of the subwoofer. I experienced a very noticeable difference after decoupling the sub from the floor and this is what I would recommend.
To summarize the important points brought out in this article, we can say that subwoofers should not ideally be placed on the floor. However, the floor is the most convenient and safest place for it.
Elevating the subwoofer is beneficial but has its risks as brought out previously. What you can safely and definitely do is decouple the subwoofer from the floor by using vibration dampers or a box filled with sand as described in the article.
Also, make sure that the subwoofer is not placed in any corner of the room which will cause the bass to sound boomy.
The best location can be found using the crawl and hear method. Place the subwoofer at the listening position (where you will be sitting) and play some bass heavy music. Then, crawl to all parts of the room. The place where the bass sounds the best is the ideal location for your subwoofer.
After you have decoupled the sub and placed it in the best position, you’re done!
Check out my top recommendations for subwoofers for every budget based on actual testing in realistic home environments.