Wireless Subwoofers – How Do They Work?

Wireless Subwoofers – How Do They Work

A subwoofer is a vital part of any media room, but having it would mean that you’d have to deal with another cable that will run through your wall or on the ground, right? Well, yes, but that was before we had a wireless connection for sound systems.

Nowadays, you can pick a spot for your sub even hide it from sight, without having to worry about messy connection cables.

Wireless subwoofers often come with an amplifier, a transmitter, and the sub itself. You can configure it independently to adjust settings and create harmony with your setup. It receives audio signals through various connections, such as radiofrequency, infrared, Bluetooth®, and even WiFI.

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The process seems simple, but the configurations that happen before you can use a wireless subwoofer can be complicated. Stick around if you’re planning to go wireless with your sub to learn more about it. We’ll discuss everything in great detail, including the things that you must consider before buying one.

The Basics of Wireless Subwoofers

A wireless subwoofer works almost the same as wired subs, except for one thing—method of transmitting audio signals.

When you’re using a wired sub, you only connect it to the amplifier with a connection cable responsible for sending data. These cables can be HDMI, optical, auxiliary jack, RCA, or coaxial, but the point is that it needs a physical connection to work correctly.

You can run these cables behind the wall, on the ground, or just leave it as is, then use an acoustically transparent screen to hide your cumbersome sub. Being creative is the key to getting a wired sub in a place that doesn’t clutter your media room. It’ll take a lot of time for planning and effort for execution.

It’s doable and, sometimes, fun to set up a clean, clutter-free wired subwoofer. However, if you’re going to use a wireless subwoofer, you don’t have to worry about the connection cables.

You only need to connect a transmitter to your amplifier, then connect the receiver to your sub. Audio signal transmission happens over-the-air through various connections, then gets delivered straight to your sub for output.

Since there’s no need for a physical connection, you can keep your sub hidden from sight. Depending on the mode of transmission, your sub will receive the signals regardless of where your transmitter is. This feature frees you from most of the troubles that you’ll have to go through when trying to set up your sound system.

Now, the question is: if you were to use a wireless subwoofer for your sound system, will you get the same audio quality?

A wireless and wired subwoofer with the same ratings, power, and output will produce the same audio quality. But things get a bit different if we are to factor in the mode of transmission that your wireless subwoofer uses.

Transmission Methods for Wireless Subwoofers

Klipsch 12" 400 Watts Wireless Subwoofer Brushed Black Vinyl (R-12SWi)
Klipsch Wireless Subwoofer

The method that transmitters use to send audio signals to a subwoofer varies. The sound that your sub will produce depends on the efficiency of transmission. It’s important to understand these transmissions if you want to create a true wireless sound system that can deliver audio output that is comparable to wired subs.

Radiofrequency

This transmission uses radio signals to transfer audio files from the transmitter to the receiver. The frequencies that subwoofers use are often within 300Mhz to 1000Mhz, with the most common being 900Mhz.

Unfortunately, most of the devices that we use today for communication also use radiofrequency to send signals through the airwaves. This transmission makes your wireless subwoofer susceptible to interferences when transmitting data over the same frequency.

So, the more devices you have that use radiofrequency to transfer audio signals, the higher the chance that you’ll experience interference. But as radio technology progresses, we’re getting better subs that utilize frequency hopping, shielding, and spectrum technologies to eliminate or minimize interference.

One reason why radiofrequency is still a common method for wireless audio transmission is that it offers the best reliability. It’s not prone to signal drops even when connecting a subwoofer and transmitter that don’t have a direct line of sight.

When setting up your sound system, it’s normal to run through a few obstructions such as metal, plastics, electronics, and cement. All of these materials can affect the transmission of signals, but not if your subwoofer is using radiofrequency.

Infrared

Infrared uses light to transmit audio signals from the transmitter or player to the receiver or subwoofer. This transmission method is ideal for small media rooms because it needs a direct line of sight that doesn’t exceed 20 feet to establish a reliable connection.

Unlike radiofrequency subs, subwoofers with infrared won’t experience interference from other devices. However, anything that isn’t 100% transparent that blocks the direct line of sight from the transmitter to the receiver will terminate the connection. Even colored translucent items can affect the transmission of audio signals.

If you were able to set an infrared subwoofer correctly, it’d provide you with better reliability than radiofrequency. If for some reason, you need to place your subwoofer away from the direct line of sight, you can use an IR repeater like the BAFX Products IR repeater kit (Amazon).

BAFX Products (Infrared) IR Remote Control Extender or IR Repeater Kit - Control 1 to 8 Devices (Expandable to 12!)
BAFX Products IR repeater kit

 

However, you have to remember that you still need to maintain the direct line of sight with your transmitter, receiver, and all of the repeaters.

Bluetooth®

Bluetooth® is the technology that we use in many devices to transmit data without wires. Even subwoofers utilize this technology to establish a connection with your transmitter. It’s less prone to interference and works better than infrared when setting up a connection without a direct line of sight.

However, it has a higher latency than both radiofrequency and infrared. The further your subwoofer is from the transmitter, the more likely it is to drop the signal.

One reason many subwoofers use this method for transmitting audio signals is that it’s a perpetually evolving technology that gets better over time. That’s why many manufacturers use this technology when designing subwoofers, which, in turn, gives it the highest compatibility with most transmitters.

So, even if you take an external subwoofer and wirelessly connect it to your existing sound system, there’s a huge chance that you’ll be able to do it using Bluetooth®.

Qualcomm® aptX™

Bluetooth® is great for establishing a wireless connection, but it’s not refined for audio transmission. That’s part of the reason why a lot of subwoofers suffer from high latency when using this method for transmitting signals. Qualcomm® aptX™ uses the same framework as Bluetooth®, but it’s more refined for establishing an audio connection.

Another advantage that aptX™ has over other connections is that it can connect to transmitters that only support Bluetooth®, making it compatible with most devices that we use for music.

Many people consider it to be the best option for wireless subwoofers because it has very low latency, reliable connection, less susceptibility to interference, and without the need for a direct line of sight.

It’s far from being the perfect connection for wireless subwoofers, though, because the range for transmission is limited. You can use it to establish a connection without a direct line of sight, but it’s already limited range will even be less if you’re placing your subwoofer in a spot with objects that can interfere with the transmission.

WiFi

WiFi is the least common option that subwoofers use to transmit audio signals wirelessly. Unlike all of the options that are available for subs, WiFi doesn’t have any disadvantages in terms of connectivity, range, and transmission.

It’s also free from any interference because the transmitter sends all the signals through a WiFi network, then the subwoofer downloads it for output.

The only disadvantage that you’ll get from it, and possibly, the only reason why WiFi subwoofers aren’t as popular as other options is latency. Since the transmitter and subwoofer are both connected to the same WiFi network, the speed of transmission will depend on the speed of your internet.

Since the performance of a WiFi subwoofer depends on a 3rd-party service, consistency and reliability can be unpredictable. So, even if it offers the best connection for subwoofers, it’s still prone to a huge disadvantage. Latency can be a deal-breaker, especially if your sound system relies on real-time transmission hi-res audio files.

Advantages of Using Wireless Subwoofers

Roku Wireless Subwoofer (for Roku Smart Soundbar or Roku TV)
Roku Wireless Subwoofer

If you think that the only advantage you’ll get from wireless subwoofers is the freedom from connection cables, read on. You can get a lot more from it than just freeing your media room from additional connection wires. Here are the advantages that you can get from a wireless subwoofer:

  1. It can remove the hard cap in your subwoofer’s performance. If you’re using a high-end subwoofer, a physical connection can limit its performance because wires can’t support a lot of frequencies, which are vital for a subwoofer to reach its full range.
  2. It lets you build a more sophisticated sound system. If you’re using a wired subwoofer, the number of connections that you can make will depend on the slots that your amplifier has. However, if you’re using wireless, you have the freedom to build a more sophisticated sound system with several speakers and subwoofers working together.
  3. It costs less to install and configure. The bigger your media room gets, the more expensive it is to use wires for connection. Not to mention the added cost of trying to run the cables through the wall. All of these won’t be an issue if you’re using a wireless subwoofer, as long as it stays within the range of reliable transmission.
  4. It’s easier to upgrade any part of your sound system. If you’re using a wireless subwoofer, every speaker you have may also use the same wireless connection. It’ll be easier to upgrade any part of your sound system because you can bring in an external speaker and still seamlessly connect it to your transmitter or amplifier.
  5. You don’t need the technical know-how when configuring your subwoofer. Most of the wireless subwoofers that we have today can connect seamlessly to other devices. That’s why you don’t have to go through the hassle of figuring out which connector goes into the right slot.

Disadvantages of Using Wireless Subwoofers

Wireless subwoofers are great for many people. It has excellent reliability, connectivity, and may even unlock the potential of your sound system. But all of these may not be for everyone, and some people may even experience different issues when using a wireless sub, including the following:

  1. You need a more expensive subwoofer to get the same performance. Wireless subwoofers will always deal with bandwidth limitations. There’s only so much data that we can transfer through the airwaves, and a cheaper subwoofer has limited capacity when receiving audio streams. So, if you want to have an excellent sub that works in harmony with your system, you need to invest more for a high-end sub.
  2. The further your subwoofer is from the transmitter, the more susceptible it is to distortion. Regardless of the connection that you use, there will always be a limit on your sub’s range of transmission. If you have a large media room, you have to be creative to avoid distortion, degradation, and even drops in signal.
  3. It won’t make your media room 100% free from wires. Wireless subs aren’t really wireless because you still need to connect it to a receiver, amplifier, or an external power source. It can minimize wired connections, but it’s still far from being 100% wireless.
  4. It’ll be more challenging to set the subwoofer crossover. The subwoofer crossover is a vital configuration that you need to do to create harmony in your sound system and make it sound as if it’s coming from one single entity. However, if you’re using a wireless subwoofer, finding the best overlap for your low-pass and the high-pass crossover can be difficult.

The Importance of Placement for Wireless Subwoofers

One crucial factor that you have to consider when using a wireless subwoofer is placement. Even if you have a high-end sub, it will underperform if you place it in the wrong spot.

Here are three places that we highly recommend for subwoofer placement:

  • At the corner, but give it some room to breathe. The corner is, perhaps, the best place for your subwoofer. However, you must leave enough space to serve as a breathing room. Remember, a subwoofer is a non-directional low-frequency speaker that will underperform when crammed. So be sure to leave at least 8 inches of space in between the wall and your sub.
  • Close to the center of your room with enough distance from the wall. Measure the size of your room from the door to the adjacent wall. Take out a third of that size, then use it as a distance from your subwoofer to the wall.
  • Let the room decide where your subwoofer should be. If you place your subwoofer exactly where your sitting chair is, then play a familiar sound; your sub will sound different in various parts of your room. Find a spot where you think you hear the best sound, then place your subwoofer at that exact location.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wireless Subs

To provide you with a better understanding of how wireless subwoofers work, here are some of the most frequently asked questions that we hear from people:

  • Do you need a direct line of sight when using wireless subs?

The connection that you’re using for your sub will determine whether it can maintain the connection without a direct line of sight. However, most wireless subs that we use today only get a reduced range and won’t drop the connection or experience interference.

  • Will a wireless subwoofer work as an in-wall subwoofer?

A wireless subwoofer will work inside a wall, but it doesn’t mean that you should. In-wall subwoofers require a more complicated installation process. You also need a high-end sub with a special box to make sure that it works as well as it does when outside.

  • Do I have to set the crossover in a wireless sub?

Most wireless subwoofers that you’ll find today have a built-in smart equalizer that automatically adjusts the subwoofer crossover. However, if you’re using a sophisticated sound system, you may have to configure it manually to work in harmony with other parts of your system.

  • Can an AV processor fix the latency for a wireless sub?

AVRs are capable of fixing the latency that you may experience when using a wireless subwoofer. You can also reduce the latency you’re experiencing by keeping the subwoofer within 25 to 30 feet away from the transmitter.

Conclusion

A wireless subwoofer is the final piece of a truly wireless sound system. It can bring life to your media room that is never possible if you’re only using speakers with built-in subs. However, you have to make sure that the type of connection you have for your sub works well with your setup and room design.

Wireless subs are more expensive than wired subs, but it frees you from all the costs of installation and hassle of configuration. So, it’s an excellent choice for those who want to create heart-pounding sound effects without the complexities that we encounter when using wired subwoofers.

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