Putting in a subwoofer is one of those seemingly simple upgrades that offer unbelievable improvement for your audio quality. There’s something totally satisfying when tinny treble sounds are finally accompanied by booming bass tones that thump your heart and rattle your teeth. Movies at home sound better too. That’s why many people want to learn how to install a subwoofer.
Why Do You Need a Subwoofer?
It’s true that you can buy huge floorstanding speakers equipped large drivers to give you the booming bass you want. But that’s the old, inefficient way of doing things.
Now with a separate subwoofer, you don’t need large and expensive speakers at all. You can get smaller ones, and get them in sets of 5 or 7 speakers to enjoy a truly surround sound experience.
Subwoofers are smaller too, so you get a lot of space savings. Not only that, but the smaller size reduces the material that can vibrate with the bass. This lets you hear the music and the audio, and the buzzing wood of your speaker.
Finally, subwoofers give you a huge level of value for your money. Its addition elevates the quality of your music and movie sound, yet the improvement is attained at comparatively little cost.
Should You Install This Yourself?
Of course, there’s no absolute need that you do the subwoofer installation yourself. You can always find a professional audio installer, or even just a handyman to do it for you. Heck, visit a local high school and find the teacher in charge of the local AV club. You can get teenage experts who know how to install subwoofers efficiently.
Hiring a pro to install amplifier and subwoofer for you offers several advantages. The work goes faster, and you save yourself a lot of frustration, time, and effort. The sound quality that a pro can get you will also be more likely better than the result you get for yourself.
For many DIY newbies, though, it’s a fun challenge. Self-confessed audiophiles also like to handle this issue themselves just for the heck of it. You do need to understand that the problem can be rather complicated with some technical details, but if that doesn’t deter you, then let’s continue.
Warning: You Need Great Subwoofers
Just because you install your subwoofer properly doesn’t always mean you get great sound. Sure, you can optimize the sound quality of your subwoofer, but maximizing the sound you get from a crappy subwoofer from some no-name brand won’t get you a great sound at all.
So if you want great music and a fantastic home theater experience, you need to get a great subwoofer. You can check out various best home theater subwoofer buying guide reviews written by customers and experts to get a better idea of what’s available out there for your money. You can’t just settle on something cheap, as invariably you get cheap quality in return.
On the other hand, you don’t have to spend a ton of money either. There are great options available that won’t bust your budget, and the best budget subwoofers can give you a lot of bang (literally) for your buck.
Home Installation: The Importance of Subwoofer Placement
You need to think about where you place the subwoofer you install because the bass frequencies can be very sensitive to room characteristics. The walls can be the biggest detriments to subwoofer sound quality, in particular. The bass sound waves bounce all over the wall and the rooms, and then you can get 2 main problems.
One main problem is called standing waves, when you have too much bass energy bouncing around. The walls reinforce a particular low frequency so that you end up with an unpleasant “boomy” effect. The bass seems stuck on a single note, without definition and tightness.
The other main problem is its opposite effect called bass nulls. The reflecting waves actually manage to cancel each other out. This leaves you with a dead spot that makes your audio incomplete.
To deal with this problem, experts can try to place subwoofers properly while they may also put in acoustical treatments for the room. Another option is to use fancy software like equalizers to help correct the audio flaws. For most people, the best solution is to start with proper subwoofer placement first.
Where to Place the Subwoofer at Home
The basic rule of subwoofer placement is that if you out it in the corner or near the wall, you’ll get more bass. However, do keep in mind that more bass doesn’t always mean better bass sound.
So if you have tiny subwoofers with low power (like soundbars and the ones you generally see home-theater-in-a-box systems), you’re dealing with small drivers and low-powered amps, it may be a bit nice to have the meager bass reinforced with walls when you place the subwoofer in a corner. On the other hand, you’re just doubling the same kind of crappy bass all over the room.
In other words, corner placement is an easy decision to make. But it’s not the ideal solution. So what is?
Well, you can improve things for yourself by picking a subwoofer with larger drivers and more powerful amps. They don’t need wall reinforcement. In fact, they sound much better if they’re about a foot off from any sort of wall. They also should sound better in the front half of your listening space. Put the subwoofer near the front channel speakers so you don’t get as much timing delays and phase cancellation.
Placement Suggestions from Experts
Subwoofer placement is a topic that sometimes generates a lot of heated debates.
Many experts disagree with each other. In some cases, the proper placement is mentioned in your subwoofer manual, and so you may as well heed the recommendation.
Here are some placement options, along with explanations and tips:
You can put it anywhere. Some people say that if your subwoofer is large enough, then you can really just hook up subs anywhere you want. Just get it away from the walls and you’re good.
But if you have free rein over the placement of your subwoofer, here are some steps you should take first:
1. Remove the chair or lounge where you usually sit from its usual spot.
2. Put the subwoofer in that particular spot.
3. Use the subwoofer to play some heavy bass music (Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust will do).
4. Walk around the room, and note the spots where you get the best definition for your bass sounds. It’s not just about the deep thumping you get in your chest. It’s about hearing the texture of the bass notes and the tonal quality.
5. Mark the spots with a bit of tape, and see if you can find 3 or 4 of these spots.
6. Now bring back your favorite chair to the usual spot, and check out the sound when you put the subwoofer in the spots you’ve marked. One of them will be ideal.
The rule of thirds. Place the subwoofer about a third of the way into the room as measured from the nearest wall. This should be a good spot as this spot minimizes the chances of standing waves and nulls.
Put it in the corner. If you have a tiny subwoofer, you may have no choice but to pick a corner spot to reinforce the bass waves. But here are some tips to minimize the drawbacks:
- Is the subwoofer ported at the cabinet rear? If so, stuff the port with small rubber balls and tennis balls. Even rolled up old socks will do. This will seal the cabinet and keep the bass from interacting with the walls behind it. You may even try buying custom plugs to help with the sound.
- Move the sub about 7 inches or so out from the corner. Now get a buddy to help by moving the subwoofer a few inches here and there to find the best sound, while you sit in your favorite spot and check the audio quality.
- Under the table or couch. This can work, but there will be a noticeable gap in the sound when you have very tiny satellite speakers. These speakers may rely on the subwoofer for frequencies over 120Hz.
- Within a cabinet. This is the worst possible placement. Putting it inside a cabinet pretty much defeats the point of having a subwoofer in the first place. The omnidirectional low frequencies need space to travel, and you’ve just trapped these sound waves in a cabinet.
- Within the wall. An increasing number of people are opting for this placement. But you should only try this with actual in-wall subwoofers designed for this placement. These special subwoofers custom-made for in-wall installation can be very expensive, however.
Connecting Your Subwoofer to Your Receiver
If you have a home theater system at home, then you most likely have an AVR (Audio/Video receiver) to help manage and set up your audio system. In general, this device lets you connect your various music and sound sources (DVD player, game console, CD player, or even turntable) and then the AVR converts the signals and then sends the data to your speakers.
You will then need to connect your subwoofer to your AVR, once you’ve picked the spot where you want to put it.Fortunately this is simple and easy in general. Most of the time, you just need to peek at the rear panel and you’ll find a dedicated subwoofer connection port.
It will be labeled as “Subwoofer Out” or something similar. In many of the newer AVRs, you even have 2 of these subwoofer outputs.
For new AVRs, you generally use an RCA cable connection to connect the subwoofer to the AVR. However, it’s possible that if you have a really old AVR you need to directly connect the speaker wire of the subwoofer to the speaker terminal of the AVR’s “Subwoofer Out”.
Either way, you should use cables that are specifically meant for subwoofers when you install amps and subs. These will be shielded and uses heavy gauge to give you a cleaner audio signal without too much noise.
Automatic Room Connection
Now once you’ve connected the subwoofer to the AVR, you will then need to go to the AVR setup and adjust the settings for your speakers and subwoofer. The best AVRs have automatic room correction that can automatically adjust the optimal settings for you. This can be done manually, but it is best done by an experienced expert.
Installing a Subwoofer in Your Car
Now car subwoofer installation is a lot more complicated. In fact, if you’re not a DIY enthusiast then it’s probably much better for you to just hire someone to install the subwoofer for you. It’s not an expensive service, and you save a lot of time and effort trying to learn how to install a subwoofer in a car. You get the best results too, especially since you’re not a DIY expert.
But if you think you figure out how to install subs yourself, here are some considerations for you:
There are the tools you need to have at the ready should you wish to install a subwoofer in your car yourself:
Flat blade screwdriver
Needle nose pliers
Panel tool / retaining clip remover
Electric drill and bits
Heat gun (though a hair dryer will do)
Heat shrink tubing
Right angle Phillips
That’s a very long list of tools, and it can take you a lot of time to get them all if you’re starting from scratch. Your lack of tools may be another good reason why you’d want to get a pro to do this for you. They already have the tools ready, and they may get the job done in less time than for you to finish getting the tools you need.
Basic Subwoofer Installation
While subs come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, the most typical type is one that’s an unpowered component subwoofer.This doesn’t have the amplifier as a built-in power source. This means that you must connect a sub to an external amplifier to draw electrical current.
Most will also need a tough enclosure for the subwoofer to work properly. Fortunately, there are lots of ready-made enclosures available for various sizes of subwoofers.
When you install subwoofer and amp the most important basic element is a snap. You first have to have a proper enclosure for the subwoofer, and you can mount the sub by connecting the leads to the terminal cup. You can then use mounting screws to set it in place securely. This will only need a few minutes or so.
Afterwards, run the wiring to a nearby amplifier and you have your choice of wiring method. You can maximize output by wiring in parallel, or you can wire in series for a higher impedance setup or for multiple subwoofers.
These are subwoofers that have already been installed inside their enclosure. These things make the entire process much easier. All you really have to do is to get one that matches your available space in the car and it also matches your amplifier. Pick one in the style you like, and you’re good to go.
You’re also not limited to just having a single subwoofer within the enclosure. You can install subwoofers in a car, as some enclosures have 2 or even 3 subwoofers inside.
If you have a sedan (4-door car), your readymade subwoofer is often placed inside the trunk (or the boot, if you’re a Brit). You just need to make sure that you’re juicing the subwoofer with enough power so that it can produce bass that’s strong enough to go through your back seat.
You only need to connect the speaker wires from the amplifier into the subwoofer, and then you set the enclosure in place with brackets and straps. Obviously you shouldn’t place the subwoofer in a spot that can keep you from accessing your spare tire. You may need to drill holes for your securing brackets, and when you do you have to check that you don’t cut through a brake line or the gas tank.
Some of these readymade subwoofers also come with a built-in amplifier. This means instead of connecting speaker wires you need to install a patch chord tap into your speaker leads to get the input signal. You’ll need to have an amplifier wiring kit for ground, power, and turn-on leads, and you’ll have to run the connecting wires under the car seats.
A lot of people like this type of subwoofers because they’re essentially portable subwoofers. They’re already amplified so there’s no need to attach them to the car amplifier.
They’re very handy if you drive a rented vehicle as you can just connect this to the car audio system.Even if you do own your vehicle, a subwoofer like this doesn’t take as much space as a subwoofer and a separate amplifier.
Some of these subwoofers can work simply by putting them under a car seat.But you should still try to anchor it properly, because it can cause injury when you make sudden stops and it flies out of its place.
Buying Separate Prefab Subwoofer Enclosures
Yes, it’s true that with readymade subwoofers you minimize the installation work. But you do limit your subwoofer options.
For most people, the best course of action is to get a separate subwoofer and then buy an enclosure that’s appropriate for the subwoofer size and shape. This way, you get the sound you want. The nice thing about buying prefab subwoofer enclosures is that most subwoofers have firm recommendations regarding the kind of enclosures you need to get.
You will need to buy your own screws to secure the subwoofer, as these subwoofers typically don’t come with their own screws. You also have to buy the appropriate hardware and speaker wires to connect the speaker to the terminal cup found in the box. Then you also have to use straps and brackets to secure the sub installation.
Wiring In Your Subwoofer
With car subwoofers, you need to consider which wiring setup is best for your system when you’re figuring out how to wire a subwoofer. You can check out the various possible wiring diagrams and see which one is the most suitable. The right way to hook up a subwoofer will depend on several factors:
How many subwoofers are you putting in? (This can be 1, 2, 3, or 4.)
How many channels does your amp have? (1, 2, or 4)
What is the lowest impedance your amp can handle? (1 or 2 ohms, with 2 ohms the most common answer)
Do you have a single voice (SVC) subwoofer (4 or 8-ohm) with 2 wiring terminal posts (positive and negative)? Or do you have a dual voice coil (DVC) subwoofer with 4 wiring terminals (2+, 2- )?
It’s common for a car stereo amp to sense an impedance of 4 ohms. If an amplifier is supposed to be stable down to 2 ohms, it means that this is the minimum impedance it can deal with n 2-channel stereo mode and not mono mode.
The lower the impedance load or resistance the amplifier senses, the more power you get from it. Consequently, you’re able to play your music
When you’re going about hooking up your sub and amp, you can wire your speakers in parallel to get your 2-ohm stable amp to produce extra power at lower impedance. Parallel wiring for sub and amp installation always lowers your impedance. Series wiring always raises it.
So how do you wire a sub and amp in parallel?
Connect the positive (+) leads of both your car speakers to the positive (+) terminal of the amplifier.
Connect the negative (-) leads of both your car speakers to the negative (-) terminal of the amplifier.
Boost the bass impact dramatically by connecting 2 subwoofers in parallel to each of your amplifier channels.
After the wiring for the car sub and amp is done, you need to break it in first. Use and play the subwoofer for 20 hours at low volume for proper conditioning. Only then should you begin to turn up the volume, though you should gradually do this too over the course of a week. This gradual break-in will help with the lifespan and performance of your subwoofer.
Step by Step DIY Subwoofer
Here’s a simple, foolproof way to install a subwoofer with an enclosure you can make for yourself:
1. Gather your tools to hook up a subwoofer in a car:
- 3/4-inch-thick medium-density fiberboard
- PVA glue
- A terminal cup (this is a plastic cup with terminals to connect the speaker wires to the speakers)
- Speaker wire
- The subwoofer you bought
- Tape measure
- Soldering iron
Measure the space where you want to install a subwoofer. This is where you’ll put in the subwoofer box, and the subwoofer you buy must fit nicely in that enclosure. Usually, this space will be in the trunk. You’ll want a simple rectangular box and the speaker-mounting surface should be raked back on an angle. The flat rear surface of the subwoofer enclosure should sit against the back of the car rear seat. The speaker should then be facing outward.
- Measure the front face of the enclosure to size using the measurements you took. Leave at least a few inches above and below the outside diameter of the speaker.
- Cut the remaining 3 sides of the enclosure to size.
- Use the speaker as a template to create the opening for the subwoofer. Mark out the drill holes for your mounting screws.
- Cut the hole for the speaker using the jigsaw, and then predrill the mounting screw holes to a slightly smaller size than the actual size of the screws.
- Predrill and cut a hole in the rear or side panel, with the same diameter as the terminal cup. The placement of the hole depends on where you want to lay the speaker wires.
- Fit the terminal cup. Use the silicone to seal and secure it in place.
- Glue and then screw in the panels of the box (front, back, bottom, and side) together. At this point, the speaker shouldn’t be installed yet.
- Use silicone to seal all the joints so that the box is airtight.
- Cover each panel with glue. Then apply the carpet by pulling it tight and spreading it across the surfaces of the back, side, and rear panels.
- Cut the carpet into segmented sections for the speaker holes, instead of cutting a hole for a neater finish. Fold the segmented sections and glue them to the inside of the enclosure.
- Now apply glue and carpeting to the front section of the box.
- Run the subwoofer wire from the speaker through the hole in the front panel of the box.
- Solder the wires to the back of the speaker terminals and the inner terminals of the terminal cup. Make sure you’re joining negative to negative and positive to positive.
- Set the speaker in its place and secure it with screws.
- Put the speaker cover on the speaker, and then secure it in place in your car.
- Connect the wires from your sound system or from your amp if you have one, to the subwoofer.
That’s it. You’re done with the install sub job. You’ve now learned how to install a subwoofer into your car!
As you can see, installing a subwoofer can be a fun experience for DIY enthusiasts. But just remember that lots of things can go wrong if you’re still trying to learn how to install car amplifier and subwoofer.