♫ Episode #21 – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Subwoofers

By Kirk on October 7, 2016

Doug and Kirk had some questions about subwoofers. So they invited Andy Doe to explain how they work, how to set them up, and why we might want to use them.

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You’re listening to this at home for your own pleasure, it doesn’t actually matter if it’s accurate. What matters is that you like it.

This week’s guest:

Andy Doe, Proper Discord

Show notes:

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  • Hi, enjoyed the podcast as ever. One question, if you need a big driver to get the low frequencies, how do my sound magic e10 earphones manage to get down to 15hz (tested with the online tone generator to confirm the manufacturers claim)?
    Thanks
    Neal

    • I hope I can answer this satisfactorily.

      It is an oversimplification to say “you need big speakers to make low notes”.

      Tiny speakers can reproduce very low frequencies, but their design typically means that they can only produce these sounds very quietly.

      This is because the amount of energy in a sound wave is a product of its frequency and its amplitude. As the frequency lowers, the amplitude must increase in order for the amount of energy to remain constant.

      Making low notes sound just as loud means moving more air, and there are two ways to achieve this: you can make the speaker bigger, or move it further (the distance it can move is called “excursion” in acoustics). Typically, we do both.

      In tiny headphones, it is possible to produce a deep bass response because it doesn’t have to be very loud. High end in-ear monitors use three or more separate drivers so they can have a dedicated long-travel woofer that produces really punchy bass.

      We talk about frequency response a lot when describing speaker performance, but another important element is how they handle sudden unpitched sounds or “transients” (things like hand claps, the very first audible part of a drum hit, or a plosive vocal sound). These are often very high-energy signals, and they’re not always reproduced brilliantly, even by speakers that can happily reproduce a sine wave of any audible pitch.

      You’ll hear this most obviously in drum tracks that have not been heavily limited in mastering.

      • Hi Andy,
        Thank you for taking the time to supply such a detailed response. Intuitively I thought it must be because the speaker is closer to the ear but I didn’t know the science. By the way, after appearing on the podcasts I tracked down your blog and spent this morning before I went to work trawling through the pages. I very much enjoyed your writing.
        Cheers
        Neal