Calling all home theater nerds - subwoofer question

A friend of mine is offering me a subwoofer (Pioneer SW-8) for cheap. Right now I have a 7.0 system using a Pioneer receiver (VSX-31), older Energy small tower speakers for mains (e:XL-26), matching center channel (e:XL-C2), and cheapo surrounds (Insignia in-walls). So, I figure why not bump my system up .1 for full bragging rights.

However, I checked the specs on the subwoofer, and it only goes down to 38 Hz. My mains apparently go down to 37 Hz. Does this mean the subwoofer is pointless since there’s complete overlap? Or will routing lower frequencies to the subwoofer improve performance overall? More importantly, can I finally get the boomy thunder all the cool kids get when they watch explodey movies? Thanks for any advice…

Yes if you want the boom get the sub.

Like Marcus says, a subwoofer makes a lot of difference, you will get a lot more oomph to use the scientific term.

38 Hz is pretty high for a sub (it’s possible that it’s not a very good sub), but yes, you will likely notice a difference anyway. If it’s free, then there’s no reason not to try it out.

My suspicion is that you’ll get thumpier bass, but that the sound quality will actually be worse – e.g., if you’re listening to music with bass in it, it’ll sound sloppy and boomy.

How can it not be a good sub? On the back it says it was designed by Andrew Jones, Pioneer’s Chief Speaker Engineer! He signed it and everything!

Sounds like this sub would be ok but is nothing to write home about. Is there another, better, REASONABLY PRICED sub I should be looking at instead? People seem to like BIC subs. Thanks for the advice.

I have a BIC sub, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to match it in that price range. I listed to quite a few subs before deciding on that one, and nothing else even came close.

I think it depends on how much boom you want. I have a Samsung 8" sub, probably no better than that Pioneer, and it works fine for what I need. For movies in an average sized living room I use maybe about half the power I could get out of it. I watch a wide range of movies and tv though, lots of them aren’t even in stereo. For someone who was watching more modern movies, more ‘spectacle’ type movies, a quality sub would get a better workout.

And if what you want is a subwoofer for explosions, that’s pretty easy. It’s when you want a subwoofer for, say, organ works that you really need to start spending the cash.

That’s where the BIC sub shines, IMHO. Yeah, it can shake the house when things start exploding in a movie, and that’s great and all, but it’s a lot more impressive when it’s just adding subtle depth to music or a TV show or whatever you happen to be listening to. It’s not the sort of thing where you’d be like “Wow, listen to that sub!” But if you turn it off, you instantly notice the difference.

Get the sub, yo.

No sub woofer makes audio man sad. Just having one on my computer adds huge amounts of fun to my gaming.

Yes, but your computer “subwoofer” is going less deep than the dude’s regular speakers already go. Without the “subwoofer” on your computer, you’d be missing a lot of midrange and upper-bass stuff, because those little satellites crossover at a pretty high point (250Hz?).

But if you have good full range speakers (mine, for instance, are -10dB at something like 28Hz), the impact of a subwoofer is a lot more muted – the speaker can already reproduce stuff solidly down well into the proper bass regions, so you only need the subwoofer for extreme volume and to augment that sub-30Hz stuff. A subwoofer that can’t do that is literally worse than nothing.

I’m doing this from memory because I’m on my phone but a sub should always improve your music and theater experience if it’s set up correctly. Don’t let the Hz fool you as there are other factors like dB output at specific frequencies. A sub should be on a separate channel with a crossover to filter higher frequencies, and your mains should be on a high-pass filter, preserving those low Hz to your sub and freeing your mains for better performance with higher frequencies which is what they’re good at. That’s all handled by your amp, as they should allow you to specify whether or not you have a sub attached, and whether it should switch on the HPF for the mains.

The db output is what I’m talking about when I say “extreme volume.” If you have a set of main speakers that gives you a flat frequency response down to n Hz at the volume you want to listen to, then you only need a subwoofer to fill in frequencies lower than n Hz.

If n is a pretty high number, or if the speaker is flat to n at low volume, but only flat to m at high volume, then yeah, a subwoofer will be hugely important. Otherwise it’s more of a nice-to-have.

The “freeing the mains for better performance” thing always sounds like a bit of a myth to me; your speakers have crossovers inside them that direct the low frequencies to the woofers already, so it’s not like adding a crossover before you get to the speaker frees the tweeters from reproducing deep bass; that was already out of their purview.

If you don’t have enough power in your receiver/amp, the subwoofer can certainly help (because it’s self-amplified, so doesn’t need any of the receiver’s power); but if you’re sending plenty of good power to the speakers, and they’re competently designed, they should already be able to handle full-frequency signals just fine.

But to be clear, I’m not arguing against getting a subwoofer. I think there are strong cases for subwoofers, and in particular, I think it’s often more practical to get decent bookshelf speakers (ones that go down to, say, 50Hz) plus a subwoofer. I just don’t think that adding a cheap subwoofer to a system with good, full-range speakers is going to be a good idea.

Also, for movie purposes, you may want/need a subwoofer for the LFE channel, which is intended to be IN ADDITION TO flat full range speakers, and can add up to 6dB of extra volume to the bass frequencies. So if your full-range mains can handle bass flat at 6dB higher than your preferred non-bass listening level, then you’re still good, but that is adding some extra demand there.

Bass speakers live and die with /without an amp. Does this sub come with its own internal amp or do you need to go buy one? Don’t try to run this on your receiver’s power supply. You will only be disappointed.

I think I am going to go with the BIC V1020. 12" is overkill for my smallish room. This goes down to 26 Hz, gets good reviews, and isn’t any bigger than the 8" Pioneer I mentioned up top (although it is substantially heavier).