Understading Home Theater Subwoofers

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When you see a home theater system or a home theater speaker system referred to as 5.1, 6.1, 7.1, 9.1, etc, the .1 stands for the Low-Frequency Effects (LFE) channel of a multi channel Dolby Digital or DTS soundtrack. DVD players and high-definition tuners send the bass information to your surround sound receiver, which sends this information back out to the powered subwoofer through the subwoofer output jack on the back of your receiver.  Bass management controls, such as crossover frequency, on either the receiver or subwoofer will allow tailoring the sound to your room.

On a 5.1 surround sound system, 5 speakers will get their power directly from your receiver through speaker wire.  Powered subwoofers for home theater have their own built-in amplifier dedicated solely to moving the sub woofer that’s mounted inside the subwoofer cabinet. It takes a lot of watts of amplifier power to move a large woofer.  With your subwoofer powered on its own, it frees up your receiver to just have to focus on driving the rest your surround speakers, just the high-pitched/highest frequency and midrange sounds.

In general, the more watts of power a subwoofer’s amplifier puts out, the cleaner the sound quality of bass output from your powered subwoofer.  Believe it or not, a larger woofer cone is not always a better choice, although the bigger the size of the woofer, the more air it moves.  Bass notes are just very low frequency sound waves moving through the air in your living room.

All else being equal, a 12” powered subwoofer will not produce as much bass or as deep of bass response as a 15 inch powered sub woofer.  However, the smaller subwoofer’s bass output might sound “tighter” or more accurate than the large sub.  The other major factor that effects the quality of bass is subwoofer placement.

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