SUBWOOFERS: PART ONE
"It is easier for a Camel to pass through the eye of needle than
to get a subwoofer to interface optimally with speakers"
Gizmo of Aramathea, 67 AD
Before you start reading this series of articles I suggest you first read Franz Kakfa's short story, The Hunger Artist. It will give you great comfort to know that audio artists, like us, are not alone in our love of suffering.
Because you have higher IQ, and understand the multi-dimensional existential complexities of the audio arts, you know that subwoofers are not just electro-mechanical devices for producing the lowest frequencies of music, they are the perfect tools for delivering the suffering we need.
Is there any music maniac happy with their subwoofer?
No audio device seems so simple, but is more challenging than subwoofers, especially since the information about how to get them to interface properly in our music system is the best audio pulp fiction available.
Subwoofers can be either exciting tools in the creation of our optimal aural matrix, or a one way trip to the audio asylum for electric shock therapy.
If I had a dollar for every subwoofer I owned I would now be in my tree house in Jamaica .so I feel you pain.
DR. GIZMO'S META-REFERENCES
Those of you who were smart enough to read my book, The Search for Musical Ecstasy, know that while on a camping trip on the top of Mt. Washington, the highest mountain in the East, I got caught, at night, in a terrifying lightening and thunder storm, because God in Her Infinite wisdom wanted me to hear true state of art subwoofers. What could be better than when the bass note is as dynamic as thunder, and literally knocks you over?
Or..shouldn't a subwoofer be able to accurately reproduce the eruption of Mona Koa volcano?
Or..shouldn't a subwoofer be able to tune into the Big Bang that happened right after The Twang..that started the universe?
It makes perfect sense to me that we music making humans have been trying to duplicate the BIG physical effects of nature, from thunder to volcanoes, for about 100K years, and that should be the standard for judging the competence of all subwoofers. Anything less is wimpy.
WHY WE NEED A SUBWOOFER
For the same reason that real men need mud, loud mufflers, and beer.
WHAT WHALES KNOW ABOUT SUBWOOFERS
Whales are very smart and very musical, which explains why they create those subsonic sounds that travel across oceans to make contact with each other.
Unlike the sounds from your woofers, midrange and tweeters, the energy from your subwoofers travels great distances and that means there is lots of energy to be dissipated and potential for storage.
WHAT IS A SUBWOOFER?
It is your whole house, or apartment, and by that I mean every single room, including the construction of the walls, windows every piece of furniture and the construction materials everything is an intrinsic part of your subwoofer.
To avoid bafflement over this assertion try this experiment: take your subwoofer outside, and play it. Not heard to do and a great lesson in the inseparability of the subwoofer and its enclosure which your entire living space.
For example: When I was living in a huge ten room apartment in NYC my custom made horn loaded 18 inch Hartley subwoofer couldn't be heard in my living room, but the bathroom at the back rear-end of my apartment had the best bass response I ever heard I could tell by which windows were rattling in which rooms where the low frequency standing waves were optimal.
HOW BIG IS A 20 HERTZ SIGNAL?
Or, how do we produce a signal that is 32 feet from top to bottom in a room whose ceiling is nine feet high? The answer is with lots of distortion. Does this mean that it is impossible to produce accurate low frequency sound waves in our living relatively small living spaces? Does this mean that we are not getting accurate information about the limitations of subwoofers?
BAD NEWS: VINYL FEEDBACK
Using a subwoofer when playing vinyl is double dangerous.
Notice how the wraps in your records are making your subwoofer cones flap in the wind and cause the type of low frequency sound waves that are fed back into your tonearm and record. Here is a good demonstration: put your tonearm on your record, while it is not moving. Connect the output of preamp to an oscilloscope. Then connect a CD player to your system and play a CD that has lots of low frequency information. Look at the oscilloscope's screen, and how the acoustic feedback from the low frequencies is exciting the tonearm and record and generating a big signal. The record is like a drumhead.
As you know most tonearm/cartridge systems are unstable at low frequencies which aggravates this problem.
GOOD NEWS: DIGITAL
All of the above vinyl problems are not present in digital audio systems that don't have to sorry about electro-mechanical feedback/instability problems.
DR.GIZMO'S MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH
In the next part of this series I will tell you way you need to use a subwoofer stand to get your subwoofer off the floor and why subwoofers are good for your tube amplifiers.
e-mail Dr. Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg: firstname.lastname@example.org
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All the material contained within the above articles may not be reproduced without his express permission.