Upward vs Downward Firing Subwoofers

Upward and downward-firing subs are nothing new because they all work under the same old rules — spewing powerful beams of sound in all directions. If you’re weighing the pros of an upward-firing sub, perhaps this might help:

An upward-firing subwoofer blasts the sound waves towards the roof. A downward-firing subwoofer channels the sound waves towards the ground. Though based on a similar working principle, upward and downward-firing subwoofers mainly differ in the direction the sound goes.

Upward vs Downward Firing Subwoofers

There’s not much difference between upward and downward-firing subwoofers. However, in this article, we’ll guide you through the subtle differences to consider when making your decision.

Also read: Velodyne vs. SVS vs. Klipsch Subwoofers – Which Is Best?

Upward vs Downward Firing Subwoofers

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Often when making a buying decision, you’re going to look for something that yields results. Downward and upward-firing subwoofers vary in performance based on the direction of the soundwaves.

The difference between upward-firing and down-firing subwoofers lies in the driver orientation. Up-firing subwoofers have the driver installed on the top surface of the sub’s enclosure. Downward-firing subwoofers have the driver installed at the bottom of the enclosure.

The driver orientation (top or bottom) affects the subwoofer’s performance. Other than that, up-firing subwoofers are far more common in-car audio, while down-firing subs dominate the home entertainment world.

What Exactly Do Upward Firing Subwoofers Do?

As the name implies, upward-firing (up firing) subwoofers are based on the concept of reflecting sound off of a surface and back at the listening area.

A simple home setup may include a 5.1, 7.1, or 9.1 channel system with up-firing subwoofers mounted on top of the front-right and front-left speakers.

Upward firing subwoofers direct sound waves at the ceiling and back at the listening area. The ceiling reflects these soundwaves at the listener. Of course, the subwoofers would have to be tilted at an angle for a more immersive experience.

Up-firing subwoofers usually go in the truck or the rear windshield dash in a car setup. The up-firing drivers can face the rear trunk or be angled towards the hood (it all depends on personal taste).

But, if you really want to add something to the jam, you’re better off with a Dolby-enabled speaker with both front-firing and up-firing drivers in the same cabinet.

Upward-firing subwoofers use powerful, precisely-angled cones to direct sound beams towards the roof. The sound bounces back from the ceiling and kind of “rains” on the listening area.

You can add a few up-firing speakers to play the frequencies that were not played by the sub for a more complete experience.

The biggest challenge with aiming sounds towards the ceiling is the loss of accuracy that comes with it. Up-firing subwoofers experience a critical loss of sound accuracy, especially on the high frequencies.

Ceiling speakers can help rectify the issue. After all, the sound will be traveling from the ceiling to the listening area. That’s only half the distance compared to what the up-firing speakers would achieve.

What Do Downward Firing Subwoofers Do?

downfiring sub

Down firing subwoofers have the drivers pointed towards the ground. The enclosure goes all-round the driver, with a big cutout at the bottom of the sub. Downward firing subwoofers work in a way similar to the front and up-firing subwoofers.

Down-firing subwoofers smash the sound against the floor, which then bounces back up to the listening area. These subwoofers have their cone at the base of the sub, aimed directly towards the floor. Smashing the sound waves against the floor at a close range achieves deeper bass effects.

Perhaps the biggest advantage with down-firing subwoofers comes in the distribution of sound waves across the entire room in a somewhat better manner than the front and up-firing subs.

By directing soundwaves towards the floor, the floor acts as a surface where these waves travel further and wider.

Do Subs Sound Better Facing Up or Down?

If you’re thinking about the perfect orientation for your subwoofer, you’re not alone. The subject has been in a hot debate, with many DIYers going at it alone with a little experimentation to find out what works and what doesn’t.

When picking the right direction to point your subwoofer, you want to listen closely to where it sounds best.

Subs sound better facing down. However, this largely depends on what you want to achieve. Down-firing subwoofers distribute the bass across a fairly wide listening area, depending on where they were installed. If the intended result is a ground-shaking bass, the subwoofer should face downwards.

Besides, every home and car subwoofer has a sweet spot, which you have to find before making your conclusion. Generally speaking, downward-firing subwoofers are more popular when put up against up-firing subwoofers.

A good reason you would want the sub to face the floor is the rumbling effect it brings to your movies and games. For example, an explosion in a movie scene would sound great if the actual sound came up from the ground and not the ceiling, right?

Up-firing drivers are excellent for dispersing sound fairly across the room. And yes, you don’t have to worry about an up-firing sub shaking the windows, tables, or shelves inside your house the way down-firing subs would.

Which Is Better: Down-Firing or Up-Firing Subwoofer?

Technically, there shouldn’t be a difference between these two subwoofer types. After all, both subs aim at bringing out clear, immersive basslines.

However, depending on your taste and placement preferences, you may have to perform thorough testing to hear the differences between down-firing and up-firing subs.

Down-firing subwoofers are generally better for the overall effect they have on sounds. Unlike up-firing subs, which only hit at a certain angle, down-firing subs fill the room with soundwaves. You can place yours virtually anywhere and get the same rumbling effect for your entertainment experience.

Secondly, other advantages of down-firing subs come in terms of flexibility when it comes to placement. You can practically place them anywhere as long as it is near the listening area and get decent performance. Some can even be put up against the wall without obstructing the sound quality.

Upfiring subs, on the other hand, have to be angled toward a specific point in the roof. This limits your placement options.

When it comes to car audio, up-firing subs have a greater advantage. First of all, you don’t need to worry much about the available space.

Most car owners fit their subwoofers in the trunk or under the rear seat. You can also find smaller subs that can be slipped under the seats facing upwards.

In terms of safety, downward-firing subwoofers are more protected than upward-firing subs. Downward-firing subwoofers have the driver installed at the bottom.

The enclosure covers everything else. This means that the driver won’t be exposed to more damage risk factors you would have to deal with if it was placed at the top or on the front side of the sub.

The Dos and Don’ts of Upward and Downward Firing Subwoofers

If you’re not getting the most out of your subwoofer, it doesn’t matter which way the driver is facing. The good thing is, you always have room for improvement. Just remember the following tips:

  • Watch out for the listening angle. When dealing with an up-firing subwoofer, you want it angled precisely so that the sound always hits back towards the listening area.
  • Don’t max out the volume. Downward-firing subs can get loud. If you have neighbors living on the floor right beneath you, maxing out the volume on your downward-firing sub may get you in trouble. Lower the volume or get a front-firing sub.
  • Don’t invert the subwoofer. We can’t stress this enough. If your subwoofer was originally designed with a front-firing driver, facing it downwards does not make it a downward-firing subwoofer. And neither does facing it upwards make it an upward-firing subwoofer. If you invert the sub for a purpose it was not intended for, the massive cone gets more exposed to damage, sugging, and ruins the sound quality.
  • Account for the height of the room. We’ve got to admit, up-firing subs can create quite an experience. The only limiting factor is the height of the surface that’s supposed to reflect sound waves to the listening area. An 8-foot (2.4 meters) room isn’t too small to start. Avoid going beyond 10 feet (3 meters).

Lastly, don’t put your subwoofer in another cabinet. Cabinets protect items from dust and collisions, but that’s not where you want your subwoofer to wind up. Apart from the unforgiving heat your subwoofer would have to put up with on a hot summer day, external cabinets vibrate way too much. Instead, you want your subs touching the ground. Let them shake the ground instead.

Final Thoughts

Bass is omnidirectional, meaning that the human ear cannot clearly perceive where it’s coming from. Subs happen to be the best at creating bass frequencies. But to get the spectacular performance you’ve been dreaming about, you need to blast the soundwaves in the right direction.

So long as your speakers are perfectly placed, upward or downward-firing should no longer be a concern.


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