Everyone loves a good, weighty sound on their listening setup – from those home cinema arrangements with a 5.1 subwoofer arrangement, to the taxi I took last week which boasted so many subs in the boot there was no room to put a record bag in there! A good club system, too, will probably have a whole armoury of dedicated bass-bins. So it makes sense for you to write your tracks with a sub-woofer, to make sure you can monitor on the sort of system people will be listening with – right? Well, sometimes. But it’s not always that simple – so read on, as we look at a few of the pros and cons when it comes to adding some extra power to your monitors…
A good subwoofer, well installed and configured, can show up plenty of extra detail at the low end, as well as being somewhat more fun to write with. But if it’s installed incorrectly, or it’s just not a very good sub to begin with, you’ll find that you can create a lot more problems than you solve. It’s a complex business.
To start with, you need to think about what sort of speaker to get. It’s fair to say that you should be getting something that will match up to the rest of your monitoring setup. If you’ve got some decent nearfield monitors, then attaching a cheap, low-grade subwoofer will simply compromise the overall sound – you’ll be in danger of getting a woolly, indistinct bass with no dynamics. And that’s important; in dance music, where so much rests on getting a good kick drum and a chunky bass sound, the dynamics and impulse response time are crucially important. Good studio monitors should have all this covered – adding in a lower quality woofer will work against that.
But even where good quality subwoofers are concerned, you should think about the state of your room and listening environment first, as this can hobble even the best monitoring hardware. A full rundown on how to set up a studio for best mixing practise is not something we’ve got space for here – whole books have been written on the subject – but the upshot is that if your room has some serious acoustic issues, again, a subwoofer might just make them worse. So make sure that the issues you’re looking to address with a dedicated low end speaker can’t be solved by adjusting your listening position, speaker position, or maybe making some bass traps. It’s cheaper than buying a good speaker, and will probably be more beneficial to your mixes into the bargain!
If you do go down the subwoofer road, placement will also be an important aspect to consider. Just because the human ear is not very good at locating lower frequencies, that doesn’t mean you can just plonk a sub anywhere and it will be fine. This goes back to the issue of making sure your listening setup is good – having your speakers in the wrong place can really affect the monitoring environment. As such, a well known technique for placing your subwoofer is to plug it in, put it on the chair where you normally listen, stick some tunes on that you know very well, and then crawl around the room sticking your head in corners and places where you might want to put the woofer. When you find the place where the bass response sounds best, that’s where to put the speaker. You’ll find that the bass is louder when you’re closer to a corner – correspondingly, the effect will be the same if the speaker is in the corner and you are on the chair.
You’ll also need plenty of practise writing and mixing with a subwoofer, and time to adapt. This is something you’d need to do with any significant change to your monitoring arrangement – new speakers, a different room, whatever. The most likely issue is that you’ll start mixing things either bass-light – because your beats now sound so heavy you start turning down the bass on your mixes – or even go the other way, having so much fun with all the low-end weight that you crank it up even more!
Ultimately, if you’re struggling to get the bottom end of your mixdowns right, or just want to have a bit more fun while you’re writing those booming basslines, then a good subwoofer may be the right way to go. But you may be able to get the same effects cheaper and more quickly by looking at the other factors in your studio. So make sure you look at these first – and if you do decide to go down the extra low-end route, be sure you’re not going to annoy the neighbours too much!
Categories: Tech Talk