Home Theatre Subwoofers

Written by Serena Berger
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Home theatre subwoofers may seem to be rather strangely relegated to a .1 designation in surround sound packages. While they are not strictly necessary, and don't have a partner like the front and rear speakers, they are a very powerful addition to a great speaker package, not to be minimized by a decimal point. Calling a surround sound system 5.1 channels is really misleading, since the subwoofer is actually the sixth speaker, and one with a very dramatic effect on what you hear.

There are a couple of companion reasons why home theatre subwoofers get that .1 label in the surround sound packages. First is that they are not actually powered by the amp or receiver (they have their own power source), so the channel designation essentially refers to the number of speakers the amp has to power. Furthermore, .1 is particularly apropos because just about one-tenth of the notes we hear are in the range that the subwoofer picks up.

You set your subwoofer on the floor, and it plays only low notes and deep sounds, the kind that shake the floor and rumble through you if your body is in contact with anything else touching the sub. No other speaker can play these notes as well as a subwoofer, because other speakers have to provide balanced equalization (i.e. perform well in all ranges), and bass notes are picked up best by a speaker with more specialized construction. Home theatre subwoofers contain large woofers and separate amplifiers, as well as internal chambers specially designed to give you resounding bass.

What to Look for in Home Theatre Subwoofers

One of the most important attributes of a good subwoofer is how effective the power is at stopping the sound. As moving and thrilling as the rumbling bass is, it can easily sound muddy and detract from your listening or viewing if the subwoofer can't control the sound or cut it off when it's supposed to. Many people find that they are most aware of a good subwoofer when watching movies (particularly action movies), but music, too, tends to be more physically affecting when the bass is boosted and taken over by a good sub, which allows the rest of the speakers to be equalized to do the rest of their jobs even better.


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