Tag Archives: subwoofer

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Can work either way..

Subwoofer connections

For more than three decades I have strongly advocated the high-level connection of subwoofers—where we connect the output of the power amplifier to the input of the subwoofer.

What amazes me is that still to this day, that viewpoint is considered radical.

The vast majority of subwoofer manufacturers would have you connecting their subwoofers through low-level inputs as supplied by your preamplifier. Their reasoning is simple. The output of a preamplifier is cleaner and more direct than what happens after a power amplifier has processed it.

My good friend, John Hunter of REL subs is one of the few subwoofer manufacturers agreeing with me.

And here’s the thing. The majority of subwoofer manufacturers are correct. There’s no argument that the output of the preamplifier is cleaner, purer, and more direct than the output of a power amplifier.

So why the debate?

Because they are missing the point. Subwoofers should not stand out in the system. The whole point of a subwoofer is to augment the performance of the main loudspeakers. We don’t want to hear the subwoofer. We want to pretend as if it were a perfect appendage to the main speakers. To make that happen we need to do whatever we can to get closer to matching the sound of the main speakers—a perfect pairing.

We want the characteristics of the power amp to color the output of our subwoofer in an effort to more closely integrate it.

Hope that helps.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Spiral journey

For many years I got frustrated in my stereo journey because it felt like I was moving in circles. In my quest for greater dynamics and realism, I would move from speaker model to speaker model and always wound up back in the same place. Forced to add a subwoofer to augment what I had.

This was years ago before I came to the understanding that all full-range systems require subwoofers—either internally or externally. Back then, I had wanted a single loudspeaker system that kicked ass on all fronts: transparency, dynamics, depth, width, realism, full range.

Out of those years of effort came an interesting observation. Though it felt like I was endlessly circling back to the same place I started—a desire for a single-speaker full range experience—what I began to notice is that at the end of each cycle I had made overall progress.

I was not in a circular pattern, but rather a spiral, constantly moving up the improvement ladder.

With every attempt and failure, we grow and learn so that the next round is better than where we started.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

It’s ok to be different

I sense a growing aversion to being different and that concerns me.

Of course, it’s nothing new to seek acceptance. We all want to be part of the group of people others trust and respect. But, what about different?

Is it alright to speak differently? To act differently? To think differently?

Are we afraid to celebrate our differences?

Being careful about how we act and what we say makes sense. If our words or actions stray from being constructive, generous, supportive, and helpful, then perhaps they’re going in the wrong direction.

But different? I think it’s good to be different, like the first time I saw Martin Logan defy convention by integrating a subwoofer and an electrostatic panel I was thrilled. Thrilled because it was different, brave, and bold.

We are each different.

We should celebrate those differences.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Working together

I am pretty certain few rooms support perfect bass. It’s not that rooms are particularly biased against low frequencies, the problem is those pesky long wavelengths.

Consider that a 20Hz wave is 51 feet in length. A 30Hz note is 38 feet long and even a 60Hz note is just under 10 feet in length.

These long wavelengths mean they don’t fit into most rooms, so, with nowhere to go they bunch up like the bellows of an accordion. This squeezing of sound creates hot spots and dead spots within the room.

What to do?

The easiest is to find where in the room you can sit that has the smoothest response for the greatest number of frequencies. That, coupled with moving your loudspeakers without mucking everything else up (like imaging and tonal balance), is the best way to make the most out of a tough situation.

Indeed, there are other means like adding digital correction and, if your bass is generated out of a subwoofer or separate woofer enclosure that can both be moved as well as digitally manipulated, then that’s a positive step forward.

What I don’t advise is to digitally manipulate anything other than bass frequencies—something requiring a separation of the woofer from the rest of the speaker.

As I cover in The Audiophile’s Guide, finding the best spot in the room for bass is a bit of a compromise, but it’s better to work together with the problems than wage war upon them.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Janszen

In yesterday’s post, I reminisced about my first experience with a subwoofer. And boy, not just any subwoofer. Lucky for me, I got a taste of the mighty Cerwin-Vega 18s, then the biggest, baddest subwoofer yet made. In fact, even today there aren’t many that can match what those beasts were capable of producing.

What I failed to mention that was sitting directly atop those woofer boxes was another breakthrough product, the world’s first “full-range” electrostatic loudspeakers, double stacked JansZen 1-30 4-panel arrays. Here’s a picture of those bad boys sitting atop a pair of ARs.

Arthur Janszen founded Janszen in the mid 1950s and I don’t know much about him other than to relay what my former partner and founder of Infinity, Arnie Nudell, told me. That Art was a physicist (as was Arnie) that had to stoop to the level of engineer to get his work done. Indeed, it was said somewhat tongue in cheek but I suspect deep down Arnie had just a wee bit of contempt for anyone not studied in the arts of physics.

What an amazing experience I had that first day of being exposed to a true high-end audio system. I suppose it had on me a lifelong impact that to this day has set the course of my life.

It’s perhaps good to remember that every time we have the privilege of showing for the first time our systems to newbies, it may be an event that sparks their passion for a lifetime yet to come.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Amen to this and most folks I know don’t have a lot of options when it comes to loudspeaker placement. I do and have the marks on the carpet to prove I’ve tried a bunch of different locations and it seems each speaker is different. Sometimes, changing electronics has me change things a bunch.

However, as I get older, I justs want to listen and where my Daedalus Ulysses speakers are now, works great, so I’m done…Probably…

Speaker placement

There’s perhaps nothing more important than speaker placement. Where those two boxes sit in the room vs. where you the listener sits, largely determines how your music sounds.

And here’s the sticky part. There are multiple right places, each sounding quite different.

I have watched many an expert set up speakers and each has a completely different approach that results in very different placements. If one watches Wilson Speaker setup expert Peter McGrath work, you’d notice him first walking the empty room clapping his hands and speaking into the air to find the best starting point for the setup. Contrast that with REL Subwoofer owner, John Hunter, who starts with but one channel and spends hours moving it about the room discovering the best place for bass.

At the end of each expert’s process, the sonic results are wonderful yet sonically night and day different.

Now think about your own best efforts at speaker setup. No doubt what you have achieved sounds different indeed from what they would have come up with.

I am in the middle of writing the first in a new series of books called The Audiophile’s GuideThe Stereo offers a detailed step-by-step setup guide for getting the most out of your 2-channel audio system. Following my instructions, there’s no doubt your system will take a leap forward in performance.

But, here’s the thing. My setup methods are different still than experts McGrath and Hunter. And so, yes, once set up, music and its image on the soundstage will be different yet again.

I think the point of this post is to point out just how much difference setup makes.

It’s easy to imagine otherwise.

 

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

On a carousel

Remember the old Hollie’s hit, On a Carousel? They were one of my favorite groups and, when Graham Nash left the Hollies to join Steven Stills and David Crosby, I was at first bummed but later fell in love with CS&N.

Being on a carousel, or as we Yanks might call it, a merry-go-round, can be frustrating. It sometimes takes a lot of energy to get off the rut we find ourselves in and make a change, but change is typically better than going round and round without forward motion.

I remember well when I was first hooked on electrostatic speakers. Man, I was on an electrostatic merry-go-round and for years no one could get me off of it. It had all started with my first listen to a pair of Quads. Holy crap! The transparency and window-like qualities of those speakers were magical. The fact they were extremely directional, had no bass, no volume, nor dynamics didn’t phase me in the least. I was hooked. If they didn’t have what I wanted, I could just go bigger.

Jim Stricker’s Acoustat electrostatic loudspeakers were my next acquisition and they solved the loudness problem because of their enormous size. Still, they had the head-in-a-vice directionality problem, no bass nor dynamics—but volume, clarity, and transparency were abundant. I even tried to add a subwoofer to these tall panels but back then, the subs were awful: slow, sluggish, and did not blend.

For me, the electrostatic merry-go-round was slowing down but it hadn’t yet stopped. After meeting Martin Logan founder, Gayle Sanders, I had to give it one more spin. Gayle’s electrostats were big, curved, and augmented with a built-in dynamic woofer. Nirvana! They could play loud, they had a bigger sweet spot, and by God, they had bass from that subwoofer. Still no dynamics. Still had to hold my head in a vice when listening, but….

Then the merry-go-round stopped and I stepped off into the magic of planars and lightning-fast dynamic woofers compliments of both Magnepan and Infinity.

I haven’t gotten back on the electrostatic carousel since. But, this isn’t a post about electrostats. It’s a post about being stuck on carousels.

If you’re stuck on a merry-go-round and everything you try doesn’t get you where you’d hope to be, consider hitting the emergency stop button and regaining your balance.

It’s better to go forward than in circles.

 

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

The old saw, there’s no free lunch, has been both a curse and a blessing to me. A curse because I’d rather have 100% benefits without dealing with consequences. A blessing because knowing the flipside helps decide how much cake I can have and eat.

Take for example subwoofers. If you place a subwoofer in the room’s corner you’ll enjoy greater output because the corner acts as an acoustic amplifier. That’s the good news. The bad news is that’s exactly the position that will activate every unwanted room node possible. More gain, more problems.

On the flip side, placing a subwoofer in the center of the wall has the least amount of unwanted room interactions. That’s the good news. The bad news is you’ll lose output and perhaps struggle with getting solid bass at your listening position.

Everywhere else is a compromise for best performance at your listening position.

Like the game Whack a Mole, there’s pretty much nothing you can do in your system’s setup that doesn’t have a consequence elsewhere. The same is true for most things in life where we have to consider the choices and weigh the consequences.

That said, we shouldn’t let the cost of lunch stop us from sitting at the counter. We shouldn’t forego the good because we’re anxious of the bad.

What’s important is understanding the potential consequences of our actions, then making the right choices.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Likely outcomes

Engineers are like doctors. They mostly spout facts and figures and answer specific questions with specific answers—helpful if that’s what you are looking for, but rarely do they give you the big picture.

For example, if we’re in a discussion about designing a practical subwoofer system and I say, “It seems this driver is really inefficient. How many watts are we going to need to drive this thing?” That’s a very specific question with a much broader implication. One engineer might answer “4,000 watts” while another might respond, “4,000 watts, which of course is not going to work because you cannot get that out of the wall socket”.

Adding that last little piece of information, which tells us specifics followed with likely outcomes, is the key to understanding, yet so often missing in today’s world of hyper information.

If you’re visiting your doctor because you have a cold and ask, “is it alright to take this medicine?” many will give you a straight yes or no. The better answer might be, “sure, though it won’t help curing your cold.”

How often do I get asked if this or that is the right amplifier for them? “Is the BHK the best amplifier you know of?” An easy reply is “Yup”, but a more helpful answer might be, “Yup, depending on what you’re trying to achieve.”

Doing our best to rise above the specifics to understand the big picture is often tiresome, but always worth the work.

 

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

A very good explanation of bass!

Thud

Isn’t it interesting that bass slam and quality comes not from woofers but instead from above?

Here’s what I mean by that. If you take a 3-way system like the IRSV, where the middle frequency drivers reproduce frequencies down to 100Hz, what you find is that bass impact and speed is determined not by the woofer towers, but rather the midrange drivers. Which is why we can accurately evaluate the bass performance of a power amplifier without that amplifier powering the woofers.

This applies not just to big systems like the IRSV. Just about any 3 or 4-way system will work the same way. Listen only to the woofers while music is playing and what you hear on a plucked bass note is little more than a dull thud. There’s no slam or impact to that sloppy thud because the frequencies that give the feeling of speed are much higher than the lower notes.

You can also listen just to the output of a subwoofer and get the same result: whoomp, whoomp, thud, thud.

It’s the upper ranges of bass that give us the impression of a fast woofer.