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How to choose a subwoofer

What do subwoofers do?

Subwoofers are speakers that are dedicated to producing low frequency sounds. This can be anything from the booming symphony timpani to an explosion in Die Hard 2.

Subwoofers typically add sound from 20 Hz to 200 Hz depending on the crossover. The crossover filters out the higher sounds and only allows the low frequency sounds into the subwoofer.

Subwoofers augment a bookshelf system by adding the bass a small woofer can't reproduce and by allowing the 4, 5 or 6 inch mid-woofer do a better job of handing critical mid sounds like vocals and acoustic instruments.

Adding a subwoofer to floor standing speakers can add the extra oomph that fills out the soundstage.

How do subwoofers work?

Low frequency sounds take a lot of air to be created. So Subwoofers work by moving a lot of air! The bigger the speaker, usually 8 – 12 inches the more air it can potentially move. Many LFE (Low Frequency Effects) found in today’s action movies can produce some serious LFE.

How much power does a subwoofer need?

To more lots of air subwoofers require lots of power. As a rule of thumb for each octave you go down you need 4 times the amount of power to create significant volume for that frequency. This does not mean you need a 400 Watt amp for a subwoofer to be effective but this is why subwoofers are equipped with their own amplifiers. In most cases unless you want wall shaking volumes 100 -150 Watt amplifier in a subwoofer will suffice.

Where should I place my subwoofer?

Subwoofers only reproduce low frequency sounds which are omni-directional, which means you can’t tell where they are coming from. This allows you to place your subwoofer almost anywhere in the room you’d like. They also do not produce stereo sound so you only need one.

Types of subwoofers

Down firing vs. side firing. Most subwoofers have one speaker but some have two smaller ones. There will be almost no difference. Some subwoofers have down firing speakers and some have front firing speakers. Again there is little difference in performance. Which you choose depends on the sub's design and on your personal preferences.

Why add subwoofer to my stereo?
As mentioned earlier, if you have large floor standing speakers with a 8 or 10 inch woofer in them you might not need a subwoofer unless you want to hear floor shaking bass a subwoofer can deliver, especially for movies. In most cases if you have a bookshelf speaker system with 5 or 6 inch mid-woofers you will benefit by hearing more of the music or sound effects and free up your bookshelf speakers to do a better job of producing the mid-range music and vocals.
Things to consider when buying a subwoofer
  • How much space do I have to place one?How large is my room? Small rooms 12 X12 or less won’t need a lot of power, 100 Watts should do.
  • Does it have a variable crossover? Most do allowing you to decide what frequency range the subwoofer should handle.
  • Will it bother your neighbors or frighten your dog?
  • Did you check with your spouse? (really, trust me!)

How to choose an iPod Speaker Dock

Below is a short list of items to consider when choosing a speaker dock for your iPod. It is not all inclusive but it is a place to start. Feel free to add your comments and suggestions.

Choosing and iPod speaker dock based on Power Requirements
  • Does the system run on batteries and AC (plug in the wall)?
  • Does the iPod speaker dock recharge your iPod?.
  • Will the iPod dock work with Rechargeable batteries?
  • If it uses rechargeable batteries will they change in the dock when it is plugged in?
Choosing an iPod speaker dock based upon Features
  • Does the iPod Dock come with remote control?
  • Does the remote control control the iPod Menu system? Some only control next song, back a song and volume
  • If it is a portable iPod Speaker system does it include a travel bag or kit?
  • Does it have a auxiliary in port so you can use other non-iPod mp3 players with it?
  • Will the size of the unit fit the needs of your living environment?
  • Does it include a radio? Does the iPod dock include both AM and FM radio?
  • Do you have any special needs like water resistant for a bathroom, kitchen or poolside music listening?
  • Does the IPod dock include a signal out jack to send the iPod signal to your stereo?
Choosing an iPod speaker dock based on Compatibility
  • Does the system work with your favorite iPod? Most will but make sure it has a iPod video out if you plan on using it for video
  • If you have an older iPod will it work? (what generation is my iPod?)
Choosing and iPod speaker dock based on Sound Quality
  • Will it get loud enough for your environment? Small speaker docks can pleasantly fill a small kitchen, for larger environments choose a dock with larger speakers.
  • Look for an iPod speaker dock that includes a separate subwoofer if you want significant bass.
  • Does the speaker dock have tone (bass and treble) controls? Important if you’re fussy about your iPod sound
Choosing an iPod Dock by Price
  • How much do iPod docks cost?
  • $29-69 you can expect to get a small clock radio or a plain iPod doc with small speakers and reasonable sound. At this price point don't expect much bass if any at all. These are OK for kids rooms, bed side alarms that don't need high quality.
  • $70 - 120 you will get more features like a remote control that will likely only control the volume, track forward & back and on and off. You'll get more volume and some additional bass but still not much. These are good for kitchens and bed side.
  • $120 - 200 you start to see iPod docks with more flexible remotes and usually much better bass response. Sometimes you might even find speaker docks with subwoofers that really improve the bass. At this point the systems start to have a considerable up-tick in sound quality and features.
  • $200 and over. Once you reach the $200 and above level for an iPod dock you'll start to really hear the difference. The feature set will be more robust, like the remote controlling the iPod menu system. You'll also start to see separate subwoofers with their own amps. This group usually has the best sound that can fill a medium sized room.

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