Subwoofer placement is a system of trial-and-error. We can’t tell your the “best” location for your subwoofer, but we can help you find it with some simple instructions.
A subwoofer provides bone-rattling bass and fills in the low-mid detail that’s often missing from stereo speakers. It’s an essential addition to any home theater or hi-fi audio system, but unfortunately, finding a place to stick your subwoofer may be easier said than done.
Unless you live in a padded box, your room has an incredibly large impact on speaker quality and directionality. Sound waves bounce off the walls, leading to standing waves (frequencies that resonate and sound loud, harsh, or boomy) and phase cancelation (a loss of audio information).
Audio can also be absorbed by furniture, carpeting, curtains, and other soft surfaces. And it can rattle objects in your home, such as windows or lightweight furniture.
All of this movement—reflection, absorption, and resonances—must be acknowledged when placing speakers in a room. And this is especially true when finding a location for your subwoofer, as bass frequencies are somewhat omnidirectional. They kinda go everywhere, and they tend to pile in the corners of a room, creating muddy and boomy frequencies.
That said, the ideal subwoofer placement will vary from room to room. Something that works in your buddy’s house may not work in yours, and if you rearrange the furniture in your living room, it may affect your audio system’s sound quality. (You’ll also find that your room has a “sweet spot” where the audio sounds best. Speaker placement will affect the location of the “sweet spot.”)
Also, compromises are inevitable. Your subwoofer might sound amazing in the middle of the room, but you can’t leave it where people might trip. Cable length may also dictate subwoofer location, as will the complaints of your family members. You may need to settle for something that’s less-than-perfect.
I’m not telling you to become an audio scientist or to learn about all this junk. I’m just trying to illustrate that subwoofer placement is a complicated topic. And the best way to find your ideal subwoofer placement is through trial and error.
Finding your ideal subwoofer placement requires some testing. That means connecting the subwoofer to your soundbar or receiver, placing it somewhere, sitting down in your usual seat to listen for a bit, and repeating the process with a different subwoofer placement. (Be sure to turn off any audio-enhancing or audio-correction features on your subwoofer, soundbar, or A/V receiver before beginning this process.)
Subwoofer placement is very loosely defined and can vary wildly. That said, subwoofers are usually placed across from or next to the listener—if possible, I suggest testing both of these placements first, as they’re effective and convenient. (Once you’ve tested these placements, move the sub a few feet and try again.)
Do your initial testing with music. Pop songs made in the last 30 years should get the job done, though you’ll need a decent variety, as certain bass notes may sound better or worse in your room. Sit down in your chair and try to listen for anything odd, such as a bass note that sounds too muddy or too loud.
If you notice anything unpleasant, let it sit for a moment so you can get a sense of what you’re hearing. Then, get up and adjust your subwoofer a bit. Pulling it further from the wall (or other objects) can reduce standing frequencies and resonances. Sit back down, listen closely, and see what’s changed.
Once you find a subwoofer placement that sounds good to your ears, mark it with painter’s tape (or take a photo) so you can continue testing and come back to it later. You’ll eventually narrow things down and find your ideal subwoofer placement—put the subwoofer where it sounded best and run it through its paces with a modern movie or TV show (assuming that your subwoofer is for a home theater, of course).
At this point, you can make fine adjustments to your subwoofer. Move it an inch forward or backward, pivot it diagonally, and perform other tiny changes just to see what happens. Adjust its volume to a comfortable level, and be sure to test out any audio-enhancement or EQ features available in your sound system.
Bass frequencies are great at traveling through objects, including walls and furniture. For this reason, some people get a bit too creative with their subwoofer placement. Unfortunately, some common subwoofer placements should be avoided.
Your subwoofer doesn’t belong in a cabinet, for example. Trapping a subwoofer in an enclosed space will create a muddy, uneven, boomy sound that lacks any detail. And unless your cabinet is ridiculously heavy, the subwoofer will make it vibrate, producing more nasty frequencies and reducing the cabinet’s structural integrity.
Also, your subwoofer shouldn’t be touching any walls or furniture. Give it a few inches of clearance, at the very least. If you need to shove a subwoofer against the wall, consider plugging up the port (the big empty hole) in its backside. Some manufacturers sell plugs specifically for this purpose, but you can achieve a similar result by gently stuffing the hole with socks or t-shirts and turning down its volume. (Some subwoofers, especially smaller ones, lack a port hole.)
Placing your subwoofer under a couch or table isn’t always a bad idea. That said, this placement can reduce your sub’s low-mid frequencies. If the other speakers in your home theater are relatively small (or if you’re just using a soundbar + sub combo), you should probably let the subwoofer breathe those low-mid frequencies into the open air.
As I mentioned earlier, your subwoofer’s placement will be partially dictated by forces beyond your control. You can’t just toss a subwoofer in the middle of a room, and if you live with family, they may complain that certain subwoofer locations are annoying or ugly.
Chances are, you’ll end up trading a bit of audio quality for convenience. That’s why I suggest testing your subwoofer in whatever locations are the most convenient—it will probably end up in one of those locations, so why overcomplicate things?
Well, some people have a bit more freedom (or perfectionism) than the rest of us. They want the best possible audio quality with little regard for convenience or aesthetics. If I’m describing you, dear reader, then it’s time to try the “subwoofer crawl.”
This is a pretty straightforward and effective maneuver. Basically, you’re going to perform the same tests that were mentioned earlier in this article. There’s just one big difference—you’re going to swap places with the subwoofer. It will sit in your chair, and you will crawl around the room, listening for the best bass response. (If your subwoofer’s cables are too short, find longer audio cables, or buy some new speaker wire, or get an extension cord.)
I’m serious; this is a time-tested method for speaker placement. Crawl all over the room, pointing your ears toward the subwoofer to see how it sounds. When you come across a location that sounds good, mark it with painters tape so you can come back to it later.
You will eventually find a spot on the floor where your subwoofer sounds amazing. Place your subwoofer in this location, sit back down in your chair, and see if it still sounds great. Then, make fine adjustments. (If you have kids, ask them to participate in this activity. It’s a very interactive learning experience.)