How to set up home theater subwoofers

A home theater sub-woofer set up will involve getting several things right namely:  the connection, placement, and calibration. Calibration and placement are the two most important things that you should pay attention to in a home theater set up for a refined bass experience.

Placing your sub-woofer at the front of your room facing the sitting position will help the low frequencies travel easily in all directions.

However, you can always play around with different placement positions to get the perfect sound quality. Sub-woofer placement can break or make your listening experience but is often overlooked when setting up a home theater.

In this guide, we are going to take a deep dive into the subwoofer set up to help you get the most out of your sub.

1.      Sub-woofer connection

There are two connections that you will need for your sub-woofer;

  • Power
  • Audio signal

For the power, you will need a power surge protector and a nearby power outlet and the connection is pretty straightforward. However, this will only apply to active subwoofers that have their own amplification. Passive subs will be powered by your receiver or amplifier.

For the audio signal, you will need an LFE (Low-Frequency Effects) cable, stereo RCA cable, or speaker wires depending on your port selection.

On your receiver/processor, you will see an output port labeled as “SUBWOOFER” or “SUB OUT” and using your LFE cable, connect to the subwoofer input port labeled as LFE Direct or Bypass.

How to connect a subwoofer to a receiver using speaker wire or Stereo RCA cable

Sometimes your receiver or audio processor may not have an LFE sub output or the sub may not have an LFE input port. In this case, you will need to use either RCA cables or speaker wires.

Behind your sub-woofer, you will see line-level input ports for both the left and right channels. The ports are meant for an RCA connection. You will need a Y-cable (split into left and right on the sub-woofer connection end and one end for connection to the receiver). Plug in the left and right end of the cable to the respective ports on the sub and the other end to the receiver.

Your receiver may also have both the left and right RCA subwoofer connection ports and you will need an RCA cable that is split into left and right on both ends.

For speaker wire connection, your sub may have spring-loaded clips or binding posts.

The spring clips can be connected using a bare wire or flexible pin connectors to the right and left inputs (R and L) and connected to the left and right channels on the receiver. Flexible pin connectors are more secure (less likely to fray).

For a binding post, you can use spade connectors or banana plugs to do the connection. Remember to connect the right and left channel wires to their respective output ports on the receiver and inputs on the sub-woofer. You can also use bare wire for the binding post but I would not recommend it.

2.      Home theater sub-woofer placement

As I mentioned earlier, the best placement for your sub-woofer is at the front-facing your main listening area for a rich and high-quality bass.

However, there are a few considerations that you need to make depending on your situation;

  • Placing your subwoofer at the corner can result in a muddy bass. This is because the sound signals bounce off the walls crossing over each other.
  • When you place the subwoofer close or against a wall, the low-frequency waves bounce off the wall which results in a harsh and rumbling bass. The vibrations may also reverberate through the wall and be a nuisance to whoever is in the next room.
  • Wire length constraints may also be a limiting factor to subwoofer placement. The alternative to this is using a wireless sub or a long audio cable or wire. However, long cables can reduce audio quality and even be tripping hazards.
  • If you also have a ported sub-woofer, the hole may be at the back of your sub. This is a consideration that you should make when you are looking for the best subwoofer placement. Ideally, you want the sub-woofer to be at least 2x the distance from the wall as the diameter of the port. So, if your sub has a 5-inch diameter port, the distance from the wall to the sub should be at least 10 inches.
  • Keep your sub-woofer about 4 feet to the front of your speakers to create the illusion of the bass coming from your speakers if you have small speakers. Put the sub too far from the speakers and maintaining this illusion will not be possible. You will need to experiment a bit if you have larger speakers for a balance of the highs, mids, and bass.

How to find the best subwoofer placement position

Finding the position where you get the best bass from your sub will require trial and error. But you have to consider the length of your audio cables, the size of the room, and whether or not you have neighbors that can limit you.

Here is what I recommend you do:

Place your sub in the listening position and play a song with a nice bass to it.

With your head close to the floor, crawl around the room (yes, literally crawl) and find the position where the bass is balanced. Experiment with different positions until you find the perfect place for you.

Once you find the spot where the bass is rich and even, move your sub-woofer to the position and place it facing the listening position.

However, this may be a bit selfish since only the person sitting at that position will get to hear the rich bass. With that said, other people that are not audio nuts may not take issues with this.

But if you care about other people and the quality of bass they get, you will need to experiment with different listening positions. Do this until you find the best spot for the placement of your subwoofer that will not compromise other people.

Placing the sub in a media cabinet is not a good idea and spoils the fun and purpose of having the sub.

There are also some quality in-wall subs for custom installations. However, placing your sub-woofer inside the wall will require you to have building and drywall skills.

Should you combine two sub-woofers for your home theater?

Yes, having two subwoofers in your home theater is a great idea, especially if you have a large room and for an even bass. You can place one sub-woofer at the left-front and the other in the right close to the front-channel speakers but away from the wall.

This is far better than having one sub for better and consistent bass but will be costlier.

If you have a bigger budget, you can go for a 4-sub woofer set up with a sub at each corner for an evenly distributed bass for a larger room. You may need to purchase a Y-adapter if your audio processor/receiver does not have the port selection needed for this kind of set up.

3.      Tweak the settings and calibration

For a complete home theater sub-woofer set up, you will need to play around with the crossover frequency, volume level, phase setting, speaker settings, and the acoustics.

Some high-end-receivers these days have automatic calibration for channel level, speaker distance, and room correction but they are often inaccurate in determining the cross over frequency settings. There are also EQ automation softwares that can do a fairly good job but I would recommend doing it manually by yourself.

Crossover settings

Crossover is the functionality that splits audio signals in two or more frequencies. Receivers do not often have the best cross-over setting while others do not even have automatic cross-over settings.

Either way, it a great idea to do the crossover settings by yourself.

To get the most out of your subwoofer, you will need to ensure that you correctly set the crossover point.

First, you will need to determine your speaker’s lower frequency response by looking online or the manual and increase it by about 10 hertz. However, this may not be great for less powerful or basic subs.

You can also start with a crossover of 100 Hz and experiment adjusting down to a frequency of 60 Hz. Starting with a low crossover frequency and making slight increments until you find the frequency that is the best for your system.

Experimenting with different frequencies will help you find the sweet spot depending on your sub. However, you should make sure you cannot locate the position of your sub by just listening. I always find a frequency of 80 Hz works out great for me but remember this is very subjective.

The general rule of thumb is making sure that you are not hearing your sub as a separate entity.

Phase and volume settings (level settings)

If your subwoofer is out of phase, can toggle between the 0 and 180 degrees depending on whether the sub and the speakers are on the same plane to see what gives you a better bass.

Most subs will have an independent volume control knob. You will need to make sure that the sub and speaker volume are similar. The volume level will also need to be moved up or down depending on the music you are listening to and from one movie to another. Most subs will have a volume sweet spot of “12 o’clock”. Make the adjustments that will best suit you.

Final thoughts

For the best home theater bass, you will set up your sub in a way that you get the most out of it during the installation process.

Placement and making sure that all setting is correct will go a long way in getting you that clean and rich bass for your home theater. Do not hide the sub under the couch, table, or in a cabinet as that will defeat the purpose of having it in the first place.

Making minor adjustments and experimenting with different positions and settings will go a great way.

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