For such a simple question, I am surprised there is more than one answer. And thanks to these answers, they may really confuse someone who has just bought a new subwoofer to supplement their home theatre system. Don’t get annoyed, this is actually the fun part of owning an HT system, every new audio component you purchase, will give you new knowledge and a greater understanding of how your home audio system works.
So should a subwoofer be on the floor? The answer is a yes and a no at this point. Why is it so, you might ask. I am going to unveil information that will improve your knowledge and this will also help with your understanding of how subwoofer works. I have my own answer which you can find in the last section of the article but I earnestly implore you to read the whole article first.
The sound wave of a subwoofer
As you can already tell, a subwoofer looks quite different from the rest of the speakers, its role in your home theatre system is unique too. Usually, speakers are designed to reproduce a broad frequency range but a home theatre subwoofer is built to reproduce low frequency bass and also subterranean bass that can go as low as 15 Hz. A sound wave from well-built speakers almost only travels in a straight line which is towards the listener. This is why you need to place the speaker’s tweeters at ear level and toed them in.
The sound waves made by the subwoofer are mainly low frequency bass which will radiate omnidirectionally, this is why there’s no need to level a sub to ear level. You can hear the bass from almost anywhere in your room. Just for added info, subwoofers used in a live music festival or other live events, are altered by the sound engineers to have directional bass which is aimed towards the audiences. This is to prevent low frequency sound from reaching the stage and outside the event space.
Now we know that the subwoofer reproduces low-frequency sound waves and travels in an omnidirectional way which also means the walls and floor of your room will reinforce the bass. Does that mean you should always place your subwoofer right at the center of your room and at an elevated position? The answer is a simple no. When manufacturers built their subwoofers, they have already taken into account of bass reinforcements of a typical room. Of course, their calculations will be far from perfect since room sizes vary and the furniture in a room will vary as well. That is where calibration software and method like subwoofer crawl comes into play, I will further elaborate on them later on.
Placing a subwoofer away from walls does not mean it’s going to sound good or will give you that rumble and bass impact. Most subwoofers are usually recommended to place at the corner of the room so to make use of the walls, basically to make use of the bass reinforcements of your room. As to the floor, the majority of the sub owners will use carpet as the flooring to minimize unwanted bass reinforcements and some even go a bit further to include spiked feet.
Improving Bass Performance of your Subwoofer
You can start by doing a subwoofer crawl. Place your subwoofer at the most common location of your listening area e.g. your couch, your chair, etc. Play a soundtrack that is bass-heavy and turn up the volume. The next step will be getting yourself onto your hands and knees to prepare for some crawling actions. This is when you start crawling around the listening room and to find out which spot your subwoofer sounds the best by hearing of course.
Once you found the sweet spot, place your sub as close to it as possible. You can start calibrating your system with either the inbuilt software of your AVR (Audyssey) or your subwoofer (D.A.R.O.). Some sub owners will leave out this step, this is entirely up to you.
One more thing, if it is a brand new subwoofer, you will need time for the subwoofer to break in. Once the subwoofer has break in, it will sound even better than before. You will need to redo the bass improvement methods mentioned above if you have already done so or choose to only do the above methods after your sub have break in. Break in period usually takes about 100 hours of playing and you will start to notice the improvements along the way.
Nearfield Subwoofer Placement
If for any reason, you are unable to use the above methods to improve your sub’s bass performance. Maybe lack of space or do not have a subwoofer calibrating software or just budget reason. Don’t be dismayed, you can still try this as it may be the best option you got. Place the subwoofer near to you, the bass should be tight, accurate, and bass clarity. This is what I am doing as well for my PC gaming setup, I am using a WHARFEDALE WH-S10E in my small computer room, it is placed right behind my sitting area roughly a meter apart. It is very close to the back wall too which reinforces the bass to give me more impact.
Putting a sub near you enables the bass to reach you before getting too affected by your surroundings which will give you a more boomy and less detailed bass. Still, it has its flaw, I did a subwoofer crawl and found out that I’ve been missing out on the midbass punch and bass impact. Even though I have found the sweet spot, I am unable to place my sub in that area as it is completely inconvenient.
The floor does affect the bass quality but can be easily overcome with just a carpet. It is not necessary to place the subwoofer on higher platforms such as inside a cabinet as the vibrations may create unwanted noise from the cabinet itself. If a subwoofer was not meant to be placed on the floor, then why haven’t the manufacturers made dedicated subwoofer stands like the bookshelf speakers in the market. I am referring to their own proprietary speaker stands that are designed and built for a specific model, which I don’t see any for a subwoofer.
To get a ‘subwoofer stand’ either custom made or using a heavy table may be very costly and most likely will introduce more acoustical problems rather than helping. Take for instance, Q Acoustic Concept 20 stands, which are designed and built to be a perfect fit for their Concept 20 bookshelf speakers. This is a pair of speakers that have won many HiFi awards and is still affordable for most consumers. You’ll be assured this particular stand will definitely help to bring out the best of Q Acoustic Concept 20, and not making it worse.
And so my answer to this question, should a subwoofer be on the floor? My answer is yes. As mentioned earlier in my article, the fun part of owning any home audio system, is the exploration and the process of enhancing the sound quality which suits your taste. If you don’t think a sub should be placed on a floor and a heavy table will work as a subwoofer stand, then go right at it but please be careful when handling a subwoofer since it is very heavy and you might hurt yourself. Check out this article about subwoofer stands as it may come in handy.