Add a subwoofer or get "full range" speakers? Performance and cost considerations.

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by snorker, Sep 21, 2016.

  1. snorker

    snorker Big Daddy Thread Starter

    My old B&W DM604s only have a frequency response down to 44Hz, and I definitely feel I am missing some low-frequency information. I'd considered replacing them with full-range speakers, but when I started looking at the cost of true full-range speakers I started wondering if--despite whatever setup hassle a subwoofer adds--it is better and/or more cost-effective to just add a good subwoofer and then eventually upgrade the speakers to something that isn't quite full range (like a Harbeth 30.1, or even Super HL5 Plus) for less than the cost of a true full range pair.

    Can anybody tell me the pros and cons of these two approaches? While I prefer the simplicity of just two speakers, I'm not sure two speakers can deliver the full range of sound for less than $15,000 (maybe more).


    Edit: The amplifier is a McIntosh MC275, version VI. My full equipment profile has been filled out if you want/need to see the rest of the gear.
  2. SamS

    SamS Forum Legend

    Unless you're going to use a dedicated subwoofer DSP to integrate crossovers, delays and levels, I think you're playing with fire, trying to spitball tune in a sub by ear.

    My vote is for full range.
  3. Leigh


    I've had ProAc Tablettes (small British monitors; I currently have the latest Anniversary edition) powered by tubes (currently Decware ZMA) as my main amplification for about 20 years. I have had a few different subs throughout the years; I currently have a SVS PBS 12 Plus. I like this combo just fine. I am pretty used to it by now. I find small monitors like the ProAcs image like nothing else, and matched with the tube amps I've had is just an extraordinarily engaging experience. And now I have a dedicated listening room (more on that in another post...).

    So the solid state powered sub handles everything below 60 Hz or thereabouts. One nice thing about this kind of setup (a form of biamping, really) is that the tube amp (mine is no slouch but still) doesn't have to power huge drivers since that's being handled by a 800 W amp dedicated to amplifying low frequencies. So you have a bit more power available than if you had more drivers to power with the tube amp alone.

    I don't worry about phase issues between the sub and monitors. The sound bounces around the room a lot anyway and the low frequencies aren't directional, so I just don't worry about it. I haven't heard anything that suggests I have issues with phase. There is a control for that (it's DSP) but I've never played with it.

    There are some "in your face wall of sound" things you sacrifice with this kind of setup (as compared to tall floorstanders), but what you lose in that you gain in other things. But it's all subjective.
    basie-fan, mds, SandAndGlass and 2 others like this.
  4. snorker

    snorker Big Daddy Thread Starter

    Thanks. That is certainly my preference, all things being equal. What frequency floor is considered "full range?" I had read 30Hz, but a lot of speakers don't go down that low. For example, the Harbeth 40.2 only go to 35Hz and those retail for about $15,000--twice what the Super HL5 Plus goes for, which only go down to 40Hz.
  5. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    At a very limited 30K foot kind of level:

    Pros of a sub set up -- you can position the speakers and configure the crossover to minimize speaker boundary interference issues -- crossover at a frequency that keeps the sidewall SBIR not problematic with your mains and position the sub so there are not SBIR problems with the frequencies it hands -- and you can use the amps of your choosing for bests/different performance with the different speaker, so if you love the way the tubes sing with the mains but want solid state current deliver for the bass, no problem.

    Cons -- can be a pain to set up for both time and frequency response alignment (use real time analysis software, don't do it by ear), adding more gear and connections and crossovers and cables.
  6. jupiterboy

    jupiterboy Forum Residue

    Buffalo, NY
    I got a pair of stand mounts that go down to 35Hz and I really like them. By the time the room adds a little on the low end, it all comes out fine.
  7. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

    What size is your room?
  8. snorker

    snorker Big Daddy Thread Starter

    It's a rectangular room, 21'x16', 10' ceiling, in the lower level of the home. Carpet over concrete floor. The arrangement of the room requires that the system be placed along the center of the longer wall.
  9. snorker

    snorker Big Daddy Thread Starter

    This is what I'm afraid of. I generally prefer to keep it simple.
  10. SamS

    SamS Forum Legend

    Probably best to ignore the frequency range/number. Real bass needs a large enclosure, large (effective) woofer diameter, and lots of power. So figuring out the right combination of those 3 things is more important than just look for 30Hz vs. 40Hz.
    snorker and Jimi Floyd like this.
  11. The Pinhead

    The Pinhead SUDACA ROÑOSO

    Yes to all. Floorstanders that go 38-40 hz are not hard to find at good prices but they can't reinforce the low frequencies that are faintly mixed-in on lots of old or rock, or low budget recordings. That's where the sub comes in handy (most of my records) My towers reach 39 hz (I run them full range) and my sub 25. But on lots and lots of recordings the bass is so rolled off I turn on the sub to reinforce the 25-90hz frequencies.

    And man do I get good results. Adjusting by ear is possible, inaccurate, but not difficult. If it pleases my ears regarding getting as close as possible to the sound of the real instruments I know so well, them I gladly throw maths in the wind.
    Classicrock, Jrr, trd and 4 others like this.
  12. slovell

    slovell Retired Mudshark

    Chesnee, SC, USA
    Get a sub.
    Manimal and The Pinhead like this.
  13. Spin Doctor

    Spin Doctor Forum Resident

    I'm with Waxfreak. Just get a sub do some research and adjust it till it sounds real. There's no need to agonize over all that ****e people are telling you to agonize over....

    The trick is that you don't really want it to sound like you have a sub. You just wanna feel it.
  14. gd0

    gd0 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies

    Golden Gate
    Rob a bank.

    Then get full-range speakers.
  15. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Well, selecting the best speaker and listening positions and minimizing SBIR, and dealing with low frequency standing waves, etc..... all of that stuff is really something you need to do with any room set up and it's a pain and to do it right requires positioning leeway, room treatment and measurements. In some ways you have more leeway with a satellite/sub(s) set up than with a single pair of full range speakers, because you can move low frequency SBIR problems away from areas low frequencies that are hard to treat at the side walls.

    In any event if you're going to have frequency response down to at least 30 Hz (which you probably will want), you're going to confront issues. FWIW, you can spend way less than $15K to get full range speakers, including things like the Golden Ear Triton 3's that have built-in powered subs and have a claimed FR to 21 Hz. The real trick is that in our typical domestic listening environments, room modes and bass standing waves dominate frequency response below around 150 Hz, so to get decently flat response at the listening position down to around 30 Hz without big peaks and nulls, you really need to deal with the room itself, not just the gear.
    Dorian75, jimbutsu, basie-fan and 4 others like this.
  16. RiCat

    RiCat Forum Resident

    CT, USA
    I do not know what stores are near you. If you want to try the sub way (lol) I suggest a REL (S5/SHO) comes to mind. There are online dealers who offer a 30 day no questions full refund return. Besides the the very bottom do you like the sound of your speakers? If so then try the sub. There is no reason to get all bent up over the perfect setup. You can find several techniques of varying complexity online as to how to adjust the sub. REL has a very good routine for their stuff as well. Yes I know everything has got to be perfect or else it is not perfect and o.c.d. sets in. If you want new speakers be aware that getting a pair that extends below the mid 30's will be very expensive. From my own recent shopping I would say you can get very good sound with a bottom end solid in the mid to low 30's under 7k. However one of the benefits on many subs is that they excite a greater volume of air in the response range than does most full range speaker. This can really improve an already good setup. Many will also say you must run two subs for the best result. Maybe, depends on the room and your existing speakers. You just have to try it and see if you get what you want. Total +1 to all who say try it.
    basie-fan, snorker and The Pinhead like this.
  17. snorker

    snorker Big Daddy Thread Starter

    Thanks for the feedback. That is actually one of the subs I was considering.
    The Pinhead likes this.
  18. snorker

    snorker Big Daddy Thread Starter

    True. The room is always an issue, but I was just thinking the sub would add an additional variable and make it more difficult...but maybe I'm wrong about that!
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  19. RiCat

    RiCat Forum Resident

    CT, USA
    The room is not an issue. The room is part of the system. SYSTEM! There is, for me anyway, also considerations of furnishings, life style and sharing the space with my wife. We all love to tinker is is part of the audiophile DNA. Every room presents several positions for our speakers. We all try to find those we can accommodate and that provide the best and balanced listening experience. No matter if you do frequency sweeps, use DSP, room treatments, construct a custom space or just rely on what sounds best to you (you are part of the system). The goal is the same. I do not think I am alone in the experience of finding speaker spots as an example that give the best low end but not the best sound stage or the opposite. We look for the best overall presentation of the music. In the case of a sub system as designed by REL (yes they are a big favorite of mine) the sub is meant to seam with the system to provide what the speakers can not. Many subs are meant to replace part of the full range output of the main speakers and this is a different approach. For me using a sub is one way to make better use of the opportunities the individual room provides for placement to get the best overall sound. It is quite the rabbit hole. Say you are willing to spend 5k-6k on new speakers. You get pretty good low end to the mid 30's and very good to just below the 40's. Now you go out and add a sub costs maybe another 2k-3k. Add a pair and you just went to maybe 5k extra. You might ask yourself what full range could I but for 8k-10k and not use subs. Comes back to how happy you are with the existing speakers and how much you might want to spend to the upgrade.
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  20. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Chicago metro, USA
    Deep bass requires a lot of power and if you don't have at least 150 watts per channel I would not recommend full range speakers.
    The best advantage of a good subwoofer is a good dedicated internal amplifier. a 500 watt internal sub amplifier is not unusual or over powered. As others have mentioned, you can put them in the corners or other areas away from your main speakers to reinforce bass response.
    You can successfully integrate subwoofers seamlessly IF you buy the right subwoofer that has the right adjustment features.
    Things to look for-

    -A flat frequency response in the useful range. Many subwoofers have an inverted U shaped frequency response which tends to give a peaky, one note emphasis and is very difficult to integrate. These usually call attention to themselves and never disappear. Go for models that specify a flat frequency response from the low end to beyond the crossover region- e.g 20Hz to 120 Hz.

    -A continuous phase angle adjustment. You use this feature to eliminate bad interactions with your main speakers- meaning phase sums that cause response peaks or phase cancellations that show up as holes on the response. Nearly impossible to seamlessly integrate a subwoofer without this feature.
    Shawn and Kyhl like this.
  21. snorker

    snorker Big Daddy Thread Starter

    Thanks. Any you can recommend with those features?
  22. RiCat

    RiCat Forum Resident

    CT, USA
    Already have :) As to you need at least 150/w/chn maybe you should talk to some tube gear owners.
  23. Bill Mac

    Bill Mac Forum Resident

    So. ME USA
  24. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Well, you can rotate the sub. It is possible with a low-pass filter/high-pass filter crossover and with positioning to seamlessly integrate a subwoofer. You may be best off with the subwoofer rotated some degree from front firing, but it's absolutely possible to have no apparent discontinuity between mains and sub and relatively flat frequency response with such a feature if you have leeway with position and you're willing to use it -- sometimes people are stuck with equipment that has to be in one position of another in a room because it's a multi-use room or something. But it's pretty much impossible -- with subs or with full-range speakers -- to avoid notches in frequency response in the 40-150 Hz range without treating a room.
  25. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    My experience is very much the opposite -- the room, both in terms of flutter echo above but especially in terms of standing waves below the room's Schroeder frequency, overlays the system and really kind of swamps it, especially in the bass, leaving you with frequency peaks and nulls, and overhanging resonances. If you want to hear the room you're in, first and foremost, that's fine. If you want to have a room that's a kind of living space with audio in it but not optimized for audio, that's fine too. A lifestyle choice. But if you want to hear the room the music was recorded in, and you want to actually hear what's happening in the recording in terms of what's taking place below middle c and also in terms of inner detail, you really need to reduce the boomy, bloomy masking effects of standing wave reinforcement and nulls and uncontrolled decay times that are inherently problematic in our rooms. It's a little off topic, which is just the OP's question about sub/sat vs. full range speakers, except that one of the potential advantages of a sub/sat set up is the ability to place the speaker(s) handling frequencies from, say 80 or 60 Hz down, in a different location relative to room boundaries from the speakers handling frequencies above that and set up to provide stereo imaging, and that can be a plus in terms of certain elements of room interactions relating to boundary reinforcement and nulls.
    Leigh likes this.

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