Whether you are recording, mixing, doing voice-overs, or working on a background score, a studio monitor is a must-have piece of equipment. From modestly furnished home studios to acoustically treated commercial studios, you tend to see studio monitors everywhere. But do they all have subwoofers?
Studio monitor speakers with subwoofers are relatively rare, especially in home studios. Subwoofers are used to increase the lower range of your studio monitors. Most monitors have a lower frequency range of around 45-50 Hz and above.
This is enough for most mixing and recording jobs. But when you have to work with very bass-rich sounds, subwoofers are important. They can bring the lower frequency range to as low as 20 Hz, which the lower limit of human hearing.
Why Do I Need a Subwoofer?
This is a question many studio owners ask. After spending a substantial sum on a good studio monitor, do you really need to spend more on a subwoofer? The answer can be yes and no. It depends mostly on your use.
In mixing, very few scenarios could warrant the need for a subwoofer. This is because a decent pair of studio monitors is usually enough to handle the bass response you need in most music-making and mixing situations.
If your monitor is lacking the lower limit you need for your bass-rich sounds, you will need a subwoofer when you are working on background scores, or mixing music with very high bass. The subwoofer can extend the lower frequency limit of the audio that you are able to hear.
But in most cases, studio monitors can work just fine without a subwoofer. Most home studio owners actually refrain from adding a subwoofer to their setup because the small dimensions of a home studio and less adequate acoustic design usually render the accurate reproduction of low frequency sounds useless.
When you are working with bigger spaces, like in a commercial studio, you might need far-field studio monitors. Monitors like that usually have a great low-frequency range. For example, the Genelec 1236A, which has a lower frequency range of 21 Hz. If you have a monitor that can handle such lower frequencies, a subwoofer would just be an additional expense.
Choosing a Subwoofer
If you definitely need a subwoofer, there are a few things you need to know before choosing the right one:
The first thing to consider is not about the subwoofer at all. It’s about the space you have in your studio. Low frequencies can be a real pain to handle in very small rooms. On the other hand, a very large space means you need a high powered sub.
Before choosing the subwoofer you have to know your space. Acoustically treated rooms are best, but in home studios, even the placement of your furniture can affect the sound. You can use room acoustic software to check beforehand how your room will handle the low frequencies that your sub will produce. The software may also help you find the sweet spot for your listening of high basses.
Size of the Subwoofer
Once you have gone over your space, the first variable to consider while buying a subwoofer is its size. As you may already know, low frequencies mean larger woofer diameter. Thus a subwoofer, that is specifically designed to handle low frequencies, is usually big in size.
A subwoofer can be anywhere in diameter from 8-inches to 20-inches. Larger diameter often translates to lower frequencies. Combined with the enclosure, the subwoofer can take up as much space as one of your monitors.
Subwoofers are flexible in terms of placement. They can be placed anywhere you find they have the best response. Choosing the right size thus depends upon two main factors: Your low-frequency need and what your room can handle.
Power of a subwoofer is also an important consideration. Most subwoofers have a power output of 100-150 watts, based on their amplifiers. The power is directly related to the space you have. The 100-150 watts sufficiently covered medium-sized rooms and studios, but for bigger spaces, you will need subs with more power.
Most subwoofers are active (Just like active monitors, they have their built-in amplifier). This is good because the amplifiers are perfectly matched with the subwoofers. This means they would provide optimum sound without the need for tweaking.
Subwoofers are directional. In the sense that the sound they produce can either be front-firing or down-firing. Let’s consider the subwoofer in a rectangular box. Front-firing subwoofers are those with one side open, and the driver directed out from there.
Down-firing subs have an open base, and the driver directed downwards. The type of subwoofers you choose mostly depends upon where you would be placing them. If you are mounting them away from your speakers and higher than your listening position, down-firing would be the better choice.
If you are placing them near you or under, the front-facing sub might provide better listening. This is something you need to hear before deciding. The good thing is that low frequencies don’t need to be super directional like higher frequencies. So, unlike near-field monitors, subwoofers do not need to be directly pointed at you to be effective.
Another factor to consider in choosing a subwoofer is its enclosure. Subs usually come with two kinds of enclosures: Sealed or Ported. Sealed enclosures are tight and produce a more accurate bass response, at the cost of more energy consumption.
Ported enclosures have a vent for reinforcement of low frequencies. They are energy efficient but not as accurate. For acoustic music like classical or jazz, the sealed enclosure would be better. For hip-hop or hard rock, ported would be preferable.
Setting a Subwoofer
When you are done choosing the right kind of subwoofer, another important part is the correct setup. Placement of subwoofer doesn’t need to be directional, but it should be open. Subwoofers placed near walls or brackets will produce a louder but less accurate sound.
Proximity to walls and nearby objects is important. Keep it in an open space, or figure out the right sweet spot according to the frequencies you need your sub to handle.
An important part of setting up a subwoofer is the crossover. Simply put, the crossover is a frequency filter. Installed for a subwoofer and monitors, it directs certain frequencies to the sub and others to the monitor.
For example, your monitor has a lower range of 45 Hz. But anything below 60 Hz doesn’t sound as good as it should. So you set your crossover at 60. It will pick off where your monitor stops. Crossover is very important because without it, the sound would be muddled at lower frequencies since both the monitor and the subwoofer would be producing the same sound.
Fine-tuning your sub will especially help it adjust to the space of your studio. It will also help it produce the optimum sound at the frequencies you got it for.
Some Good Subwoofers
Here is our list of some of the good subwoofers you can add to your studio.
1. Yamaha HS8 Studio Subwoofer
Yamaha’s 8-inch subwoofer, with a frequency response range of 22 Hz to 150 Hz. This sub comes with a 150W amplifier and an especially designed enclosure. They are especially compatible with the HS series studio monitors.
2. KRK 10S2 V2 10″ 160 Watt Powered Studio Subwoofer
This 10-inch woofer is made with glass aramid composite material. The frequency range is from 34 Hz to 130 Hz, which can be brought as low as 28 Hz. Class D amplifiers enable a powerful bass output.
3. JBL LSR310S 10″ Powered Studio Subwoofer
In addition to making great studio monitors, JBL also makes this amazing subwoofer. With its own patented port design, this sub can handle deep low frequency down to 20 Hz. LSR310S is a down-firing sub.
4. PreSonus Temblor T10 Powered Studio Subwoofer
Closing the list is the 10-inch T10. It houses a powerful amplifier of 250-watt rating. The sub is front-firing by design and can handle frequencies as low as 50 Hz.
Studio monitors are important music-making tools. They can be augmented with subwoofers for better low frequency handling. Choosing the right subwoofer, however, is very important. It would also be better to acoustically treat your studio to better handle the low-frequency, bass-rich sounds.
But if you do all these things right, you will be able to handle the bass of the music you are producing in a spectacular way.