Do You Need a Subwoofer For Music Production & Mixing?

Do You Need a Subwoofer For Music Production & Mixing? | integraudio.com

This article will discuss if you need a subwoofer for music production and mixing and the pros and cons of using a subwoofer in your studio or monitoring setup.  

Subwoofers are part of the monitoring system, and they produce or reproduce sub-bass frequencies, that is, frequencies ranging from 20 Hz to about 80 Hz, depending on how you calibrate them. The upper limit of the frequency range that a subwoofer outputs is called the crossover frequency and is set by a crossover system, and it’s usually between 60-150 Hz, depending on the room and the monitors. 

Later in the article, we will see how to set up the crossover frequency. Subwoofers are widely used in consumer audio high-fidelity equipment like home theatres, car speakers, etc., and in movie halls, theatres, concert halls, festival speakers, club speakers, etc

Sub-bass frequencies are usually felt in the body and not heard. However, these inaudible sub-bass frequencies still impact your audio greatly, especially during live performances, events, and films. Unfortunately, messing up low frequencies and muddying your audio is easy, as the low-frequency range is a sensitive area. So let’s understand all that and answer the main question. 

Do You Need a Subwoofer For Music Production & Mixing?

It’s not mandatory, though,  if you are a musician/producer whose songs get played in club/concert-type environments, subwoofer comes in handy. If you’re mixing/doing sound design for films, ads, etc., that get played on a surround sound (5.1, 7.1, 9.1, etc.) medium, then it’s recommended to have a subwoofer.

However, to be able to use a Subwoofer, you need to calibrate and fine-tune your monitoring system properly, have a room that allows for subfrequencies to be heard and felt without any masking or muddying up of the mixes, and either have adjusting neighbors/family or no neighbor/family at all in the surrounding area. 

So let’s start with talking about surround sound. The “.1” in the 5.1 or 9.1 surround sound system is called LFE: Low-Frequency Effects (3-120 Hz). Doing sound design, scoring a soundtrack, or mixing for films that are consumed in theatre requires you to have a subwoofer. 

Secondly, if you do game sound design, EDM, or club-based songs, especially genres like R&B, Hip-hop, Pop, etc., having a subwoofer helps you with the right sound selection across various frequency ranges. So even in a stereophonic monitoring system, installing a subwoofer for the abovementioned purposes is good. 

Thirdly, if you have a space or a monitoring environment that cannot produce frequencies below a certain threshold of low end, installing a subwoofer will give you great clarity and transparency of low end. Let’s go more in-depth over a few things to keep in mind while dealing with subwoofers. 

Calibration

You can benefit from a subwoofer only if it is calibrated correctly with the speakers. Let’s talk about stereo speakers only. Let’s say you want to benefit from the low-end clarity that a subwoofer offers. Setting up the crossover frequency can be tricky, and it’s important to use acoustic measurements

You must listen to your room carefully to understand where the room is losing low-end clarity. One way is to play pink noise from your sound system. You need to set up a flat frequency response of your entire monitoring system across the entire range, so you filter each frequency on the pink noise and measure it with an SPL meter.

It’s a rule of thumb to monitor subs 3dB below the level set otherwise. So, for example, if you’re calibrating your monitors at 80 dB SPL, you need to calibrate your subwoofers at 77 dB SPL. The rule of thumb is important because sub-bass frequencies take up much space and energy, and you don’t want the subs taking over the rest of the mix. 

Placement

Placing the subwoofers in the right position is another important concern and a tricky process. It’s a good idea to place a mono subwoofer in the middle of the left and right channels and at the bottom. However, there’s another rule of thumb that you can follow. 

The second process includes listening to well-recorded bass notes chromatically in a range of at least two octaves, setting a lower and upper limit, and finding a spot where the notes are the most consistent and where resonances, standing waves, etc., are the least

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Choice of subwoofers

Many people prefer using stereo sub-woofers. However, theoretically, a mono subwoofer must be sufficient, as low frequencies travel farther due to longer wavelengths, and due to the reflections from all over the room, it’s hard to localize the subwoofer sonically in the space. A good quality subwoofer will give you no idea where the device is located.

You don’t want bad-quality sub-woofers producing mid-range frequencies that mask your entire mix. Instead, a high-quality sub-re-generating speaker will have a good driver size of at least eight inches, a well-built low-resonance enclosure, and good frequency response with a lower limit of at least 40Hz.

Some great studio monitor subs are Yamaha HS8S, Mackie MRS10 MK3, KRK 10S V2, etc. You can read the entire list here

Subwoofer
Size
Power
Low-Frequency Limit
Price
PreSonus Eris Sub 8
8 inches
100 Watt
30 Hz
$199.99
KRK S10 G4
10 inches
160 Watt
30 Hz
$429
Adam Audio T10S
10 inches
130 Watt
28 Hz
$399.99
Yamaha HS8S
8 inches
150 Watt
22 Hz
$499.99
Dynaudio 18S
18 inches
500 Watt
16 Hz
$1178

Room

An acoustically treated room is the most important consideration before installing a sub-bass frequency monitoring system. While it’s important to consult an acoustics professional/engineer, there are a few things to remember. The first thing is that a square or rectangular room is not an ideal place, as the room will produce standing waves that will mess up your monitoring. 

Secondly, the room should be big enough to let at least the low frequencies, if not sub-bass frequencies, complete their cycle, and there should be just enough absorption panels not to absorb the subs too much. Although, if your room swallows low-end, then sub-woofers will greatly help! If not, here’s a guide to acoustic treatment that you can study. 

Alternatives

Sub-bass frequencies are felt and not heard much! So such devices like SUBPAC let you feel those frequencies in your body. It’s essentially a portable and wearable jacket created for producers, sound designers, engineers, musicians, and consumers, which connects to your audio system, has a frequency range of 1-200 Hz, and lets you feel sounds while saving your hearing. 

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Pros & Cons of Using Subwoofer For Mixing & Mastering

Pros

  • Complete Range Coverage
    Using subwoofers is not necessary when mixing in stereo, but it’s almost essential in surround sound. When using it, you can cover the entire spectrum of frequency without leaving anything behind while knowing how each range interacts with the other. Also, that gives you an idea of the complete stereo imaging too.
    Hence, it has that extra low-end coverage and depth that stereo monitors are missing.
  • Helps with absorption-heavy rooms
    If you have a room in which low-end is not that audible, gets swallowed by the surroundings, or has too much absorption due to faulty acoustic treatment, then subwoofers can help you with a clearer and more audible bass sound.
  • Necessary for bass-heavy mixes and songs
    Some genres of music are made to be played in clubs, with big speakers and heavy bass-driving systems. On the other hand, many dance songs depend on subs, and it’s necessary to understand how that frequency range sounds clearly. In that case, you should consider mixing and producing with sub-woofers.

Cons

  • Subwoofers can exaggerate low-end in acoustic songs.
    Genres like jazz, acoustic pop, folk, choral, ballads, etc., do not have much information in the 20-100 Hz range. However, the coloration added due to sub-woofers while creating that kind of music may lead you to mix in a way that isn’t natural or organic. For example, you may unnecessarily boost high mids or highs to compensate for the overwhelmingly heavy bass sounds in the output.
  • Takes time to get used to
    You must adapt your ears while using sub bass and know how the sounds translate to the external environment and other sound systems. That, however, takes time to get used to, as you may leave too little bass in the mixes or end up masking the entire mix with bass frequencies.
  • Difficult to manage
    Subwoofers are difficult to calibrate and dial with stereo monitors, as setting up the crossover frequency is tricky. Secondly, positioning them correctly is also another hassle. Finally, the room has to be treated or adjusted to the sub-bass sounds, has to be big enough, and ears have to get used to it too.
    You may also need soundproofing, as the sub-bass frequencies and the disturbances caused by them may disturb your neighbors, roommates, family members, etc. 
  • Subwoofers are a big investment.
    You have to spend money to have a good subwoofer with a good SPL rating, resonance cabinet, and low-frequency extension. Cheaper alternates are available in the market but may ruin your monitoring system. Hence, everyone may be unable to afford subs; more importantly, that investment may be better spent elsewhere

Conclusion

There are lots of things to be considered, lots of research to be done, and a lot of theoretical knowledge required to be able to install and use subwoofers, as placing them, listening to them, and mixing on them is as much as an art as it is a science. 

Besides, there’s only little study material and online resources available to learn how to mix and produce with subwoofers. However, the fact that they are necessary for film music, club music, and even game sound, you cannot ignore it. 

So we have covered all the necessary information for you to know about sub-woofers and covered the pros and cons of installing them. Hope the article is of help. Thank you for reading. 

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