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My Golden Age of Subwoofers

rdale

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I bring you what I am calling my 'Golden Age of Subwoofers', which is my subwoofer story..

I have three different HiFi systems with pairs of subs, one in a small room, the second one in a middle sized room and the third in a quite large room. All three systems integrate the subs successfully and sound great, although they all sound different. People often ask about adding subs to their systems, and I thought it would be a good idea to group all my thoughts and experience about subwoofers into a single post, rather than attempting to explain my subwoofer philosophy in individual replies to other threads.

Expanding on the descriptions in my signature, here is a summary of the three systems:

Small Room System
--------------------

* Hugo/Miniwatt N3/Modified Tandy LX5/REL Tzero subs
* The system uses REL Tzero Subwoofers with a very low power valve amp (3.5 watts per channel) and REL's high level connection. The mains go down to about 70-80 Hz, and the subwoofers handle the range below that. The REL Tzeros don't go down as low as larger subwoofers certainly, but the quality of the bass in terms of clarity and dynamics is pretty amazing.
* I have nine Vicoustic foam bass traps in the front corners of the room, and the rear corners at ceiling height.

Medium Sized Room System
----------------------------

* (Stack Audio Link/MoOde;2Qute; Gyrodec/SME V/Hana SL/EAT E-Glo Petit; Magnum Dynalab FT101A) > PrimaLuna Evo 100 > Modified Klipsch RP600M/REL T5x subs
* The system uses REL T5x Subwoofers with a PrimaLuna valve amp and REL's high level connection. The mains go down to about 40 Hz, and the subwoofers handle the 30-40 Hz or so range.
* I have an assortment of bass traps, but the two most important from the point of view of the subwoofers are a pair of GIK Scopus T40 tuned membrane bass traps, tuned to 40 hz, where the largest rooim mode that needs controlling is at 42 hz.

Large Room System
--------------------

* KEF LS50W/R400b subs
* Room size: 10m long x 4m wide x 3m tall
* The KEF system in the larger room is all active with a high pass filter that rolls off the bottom end of the stand mounted LS50Ws, and a low pass filter for the subwoofers that makes the subs come in fully at about 60 Hz.
* I have seven GIK Tri-Traps in the front and at the sides at ceiling level, with another two half height Tri-traps, two stacks of three Vicoustic Super Bass Extremes at the front, along with four GIK Scopus tuned membrane bass traps which are particularly effective in the frequency range where the subwoofers operate. A large room needs a lot of bass traps to get the room modes under control.

Summary
---------

Here are some things all three systems have in common:

* The subwoofers are in pairs, as I believe pairs of subwoofers are better than single subwoofers.
* The pairs of subwoofers are positioned near the pairs of main speakers
* All the pairs of subwoofers are in white finish, which I find more attractive than black or wood grain finishes
* All three rooms have acoustic treatment, which includes bass traps.
* I use Duelund DCA20GA cable to wire up the subwoofers.
* I have found the best bass traps at subwoofer frequencies to be GIK Scopus tuned membrane bass traps:
- https://gikacoustics.eu/product/gik-acoustics-scopus-tuned-bass-trap-t40/
- The 'T40' Scopus is tuned to 40 hz, but you can get 70 hz or 100 hz ones, or order custom frequencies from GIK

I regard treating the room modes with bass traps as an essential part of installing subwoofers, and would not think it a good idea to put subwoofers in normal untreated and boomy room. If you do that you need to move the subwoofers around to avoid either being in a room mode null or a room mode peak. I prefer to fix the room modes in order to be able to position the subwoofers near the speakers where they look tidy.

This video and transcription of the talk by Dennis Foley of Acoustic Fields is a really good summary of what treating and tuning a room is about. He likens it to a three layer cake, with the bass frequencies at the bottom, and the mid frequencies sitting on top of the sound field created at the low end, and the treble frequencies sitting on top of the mids:


I think this explains very well why when you improve the bass of your room via bass traps and sub woofers, it improves the mid range with better imaging and sweeter sound, and often you will be able to hear that improvement more than changes in the bass itself.

Cables
-------

I changed the cabling of my KEF R400b subwoofers from Chord budget C-sub cables to Duelund DCA20GA based cables the I made up, and there was quite a good improvement in mid range sweetness and clarity, even though clearly they weren't handling mid-frequencies in any way. This does suggest that better cables give tighter clearer bass, that you hear as a sweeter mid range.
 

tuga

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The KEF system in the larger room is all active with a high pass filter that rolls off the bottom end of the stand mounted LS50Ws, and a low pass filter for the subwoofers that makes the subs come in fully at about 60 Hz.

Is the high-pass filter an option available on the LS50W software?
That is a huge advantage.
 

dave

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Interesting write up. I have as my main rig a steroided version of your small room setup. I have a small tube amp running my ehem "LX5's" with a line level cap in to the amp, 10n polystyrene iirc, to roll them off at around 200Hz. This benefits with increased headroom and cleaner sound due to the small tubes / cones not having to process the bass as well. My recent development is using a DCX 2496 to handle my upper and lower subs, the top one 200-70Hz and the lower one 70-20Hz. The DCX allowed me to do some pretty extreme filtering and eq to get nice near field responses out of the (modded fairly cheap Yamaha home theatre ) upper and lower subs. Still in progress but quite happy with the results. A pre with tone controls is helpful to reign in some of the variance of recording EQ, to much bass, can be too much...
 
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rdale

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Interesting write up. I have as my main rig a steroided version of your small room setup. I have a small tube amp running my ehem "LX5's" with a line level cap in to the amp, 10n polystyrene iirc, to roll them off at around 200Hz. This benefits with increased headroom and cleaner sound due to the small tubes / cones not having to process the bass as well. My recent development is using a DCX 2496 to handle my upper and lower subs, the top one 200-70Hz and the lower one 70-20Hz. The DCX allowed me to do some pretty extreme filtering and eq to get nice near field responses out of the (modded fairly cheap Yamaha home theatre ) upper and lower subs. Still in progress but quite happy with the results. A pre with tone controls is helpful to reign in some of the variance of recording EQ, to much bass, can be too much...
You should be able to get a lot more volume with your LX5 based system. But even using a very low powered valve amp with inefficient speakers, my system sounds dynamic because of the subs.
 
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tuga

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Interesting write up. I have as my main rig a steroided version of your small room setup. I have a small tube amp running my ehem "LX5's" with a line level cap in to the amp, 10n polystyrene iirc, to roll them off at around 200Hz. This benefits with increased headroom and cleaner sound due to the small tubes / cones not having to process the bass as well. My recent development is using a DCX 2496 to handle my upper and lower subs, the top one 200-70Hz and the lower one 70-20Hz. The DCX allowed me to do some pretty extreme filtering and eq to get nice near field responses out of the (modded fairly cheap Yamaha home theatre ) upper and lower subs. Still in progress but quite happy with the results. A pre with tone controls is helpful to reign in some of the variance of recording EQ, to much bass, can be too much...
Can you not have two or three presets on the DCX?
 

dave

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Can you not have two or three presets on the DCX?
I could but I don't really want to go through my collection and calibrate each recording, although that would be satisfying on some level. If I had a sound server, which I don't, I would rather EQ the miscreant rip.
 

MF 1000

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Even with my setup I do find that some recordings etc require more or less eq at times ……realistically you need to find a happy balance of eq to suit all genres and recordings …..if not it’s audio nervosa time 😱
 

rdale

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What size were the 3 rooms please?
The small room is 2.8m wide x 4m deep x 2.75m high:


IMG_20220419_125333.jpg



The medium room is 2.9m wide opening out to a kitchen area 4.8m wide half way along x 4.8m deep x 2.75m high
IMG_20220911_192913.jpg


The large room is 4m wide x 10m deep x 3m high, with a kitchen area 6m wide at the other end of the room from the HiFi System: IMG_20211219_110519.jpg
 
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hearhere

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I think this explains very well why when you improve the bass of your room via bass traps and sub woofers, it improves the mid range with better imaging and sweeter sound, and often you will be able to hear that improvement more than changes in the bass itself.
Thanks for describing your sub experiences. I'm always rather sceptical regarding subs in 2-channel (music only) systems, but your write up sheds light on this (for me) use of unnecessary extra boxes cluttering up rooms that are usually designed for something other than just listening to music!

My own opinion is that well-chosen main speakers with decent sized bass drivers should be able to fill a room with superb sounds without subs. I note that you use small stand-mount speakers even in your large room. One could say "not surprising you needs subs"! Every speaker I've used over the dacades has included single bass drivers of between 9 and 15", or twins of 10" or 12" and I've neber thought I would be better off with a sub or two. I wonder if you have ever tried big full-range main speakers without subs? I’m not challenging your choice, but to ask if alternatives to subs have been seriously tried. Thanks.
 

rdale

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Thanks for describing your sub experiences. I'm always rather sceptical regarding subs in 2-channel (music only) systems, but your write up sheds light on this (for me) use of unnecessary extra boxes cluttering up rooms that are usually designed for something other than just listening to music!

My own opinion is that well-chosen main speakers with decent sized bass drivers should be able to fill a room with superb sounds without subs. I note that you use small stand-mount speakers even in your large room. One could say "not surprising you needs subs"! Every speaker I've used over the dacades has included single bass drivers of between 9 and 15", or twins of 10" or 12" and I've neber thought I would be better off with a sub or two. I wonder if you have ever tried big full-range main speakers without subs? I’m not challenging your choice, but to ask if alternatives to subs have been seriously tried. Thanks.
I did used to have a pair of the original Tannoy Cheviots which have a 12 inch driver, driven by a pair of Woodside Radford MA50 mono block 75 watt per channel valve amps. But that was a long time a ago in a different room, and it is hard to compare my memory of what the bass sounded like compared with my current systems.

I suspect that the combination of modern subs with bass traps as acoustic treatment would have higher resolution bass than the Tannoys, and if I had a similar Tannoy system again I think I would pair the speakers with subs. I think it is quite hard and expensive to get the same bass dynamics with floor standing speakers and passive amplification, and many people think the effect of a well done subwoofer system improves the whole sound not just the bass even with large floor standers.
 

Nifkin

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I agree with the idea that sorting out the low end first before the rest of the frequency range is important. I found a marked improvement to both mids and highs when I put a set of isoacoustics Gaias under my speakers: taming the low frequencies' transference to my suspended wooden floor brought everything from bass to treble into sharper focus
 
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