Setting Up Your New Subs

One thing I love about what I’m doing is that when people do end up getting a quality set of subs, they are usually thrilled with the results. That said, an incorrect setup can completely diminish the effect. Running a crossover at 40 Hertz is cutting off 40 hertz total out of the 60 Hertz range that the sub does best at (20-80) eliminating 2/3 of the sub’s designed purpose, and that has nothing to do with the sub itself. This video might help you with your initial adjustments, and from there your own flavor is what really counts.

You want to have a tape measure and decibel meter, even if it’s just a free app on your phone. For sure, an actual decibel meter is better, and a UMIK-1 along with Room EQ Wizard is the best, but it does come with a learning curve. If you want to adjust your subs after that, a mini DSP is good for resolving peaks, but not for boosting dead spots. More on that another time.

Follow manufacturer recommended initial settings before turning them on, and take their advice over mine. After you have subs connected, either through individual LFE channels for .2 receivers (7.2, 9.2 etc..) or by running a Y splitter from the amp, power them up checking for lights and proper gain setting. This varies, it could be only 1/4 gain (9 o’clock) or half (12 o’clock).

More advanced subs can have different EQ’s, Q control, and different port configurations, and have warnings about certain combos. Be sure to pay attention so you don’t pop your new babies. Some models are more plug and play without such concerns. Leave crossover to the AVR, at least for now, disable it on the sub (on a 40-160 hertz dial, turn it to 160). Set Phase to 0 instead of 180 for now.

If you are running a single sub, consider a sub crawl, placing the sub at the main listening position and crawling around to find the subs best response location. Honestly, I was never able to get this to work perfectly, and dual subs eliminated the need to even bother with a crawl for me. Have I mentioned that dual subs are the way to go?

Make the room quiet. Turn AC off, no PlayStation 3 fan running at full blast, no barking dogs (best to have them out of the house, even I detest the sound of it running) and any foreign disturbance during the test (like a ringing phone or doorbell) would be best handled with a re-sample.

Set the gain to the same spot on each sub. Run room EQ (like Audyssey) with as many sample points (where you sit with the mic pointed at the ceiling while the awful test tones play) in actual listening positions. (where your ears will be) Hold the mic away from your body and don’t block the mic from the speaker being sampled. You can even go fancy and use a tripod to hold the mic in place. Or you can go extra not fancy, slouch way down in the chair and put it on your head. Extra points for looking super cool while doing it. If you are not using a tripod, breathe as quietly as you can.

I’ll sample my own chair 2-3 times. More info for the room EQ to make it’s adjustments with is usually better. If you have 8 different listening positions, then there may be no need to double sample. I tried it with a single sample once, and the results were lackluster, so more samples appear to be better.

Go back into settings after room EQ setup is finished:

You may want to turn off “Dynamic Volume”. Dynamic EQ is what you’re after (or not if you prefer no EQ), but Dynamic Volume tends to fatigue my ears quickly and sounds artificial.

Crossover at 80-110 depending on taste and main speaker abilities, but generally nothing under 80, even with towers, at least to start. Some speakers, like Ultra Towers, will benefit from a lower crossover since they have more substantial bass output. You can change this if you want and run it lower later, but run it at 80 at least for initial setup to get a feel for the subs when they are getting their meat and potatoes. My personal flavor is 90, but that doesn’t make it right. 

Edit: After getting the Prime Towers, Center, and Ultra Surrounds, anything over 80 hertz now sounds overdone. My estimation is that if your main speakers are not very good at bass, you may need to run the crossover a little higher as I did, which is OK when you are running duals since there is less subwoofer localization. (being able to close your eyes and tell where the bass is coming from)

Audyssey almost always drops the crossover too low, especially with good towers, so watch out for that.

Set speakers to SMALL. Running speakers as Large ruins the bass balance and deprives the subwoofers of signal. Large setting removes the subwoofer from the equation, and getting an outstanding tower to produce 22 hertz with the same authority as a quality subwoofer is not a fulfilling endeavor, considering most subwoofers available can’t even do that.

True “full range” speakers are rare and expensive, and you probably don’t have one. If you do, you’re probably just here for sport. Remember, setting speakers to Large will keep signal from getting to the subs. So it really is best to keep it set to Small, even with some 6 foot towers. The only time to really set speakers to large is when they are truly “full range“, meaning they go down to 20 hertz “with authority”, which requires gobs and gobs of power, and probably aren’t going to score WAF points.

Yes, this means that even some $3,000 towers probably need good subs, including some that have integrated powered subs already. For purists, a 2.2 setup (2 towers, 2 subs) would be full range (20-20,000 hertz). 2.1 is incomplete, as the bass signals reaching the ears are not nearly as even and full as they should be.

Match decibels for each main driver using an actual SPL meter, UMIK-1 (both C weighted) or phone app in a pinch (UMIK-1 preferred, the phone app will not be able to measure low frequency very well). Select “Test Tone”, which produces white noise. Fronts, Center, Surrounds should all be producing about the same DB at the “sweet spot” (the single most central listening area), like 75 decibels, just for an example. The decibel number does not matter so much, so long as they are the same level and at a decent volume. I wouldn’t worry about matching the subs to the main speakers.

Sometimes with an odd configuration, you may need to run a channel hotter to get it decibel matched (if one surround is further away than the other for example) only to turn it back down later because you “hear it” being hotter than the rest. This highlights the challenges faced when home theater is in your living room.

My Def Tech center produced much higher decibels than everything else, so I had to turn it down to get it matched, and everything sounded better to me at that point.

Running the center hotter is common and probably the best solution for weak dialogue. I personally prefer mine balanced, but who knows what I’ll like next week. That’s the “flavor” I was talking about, and you can expect your own tastes to change as you go. Some movies have weak dialog, while movies like Avatar are near dialog perfection, so it’s not always your settings. In my case, running better speakers that are all voice matched (same maker, same line) did a lot for getting everything to play nice.

Ensure speaker distance settings seem correct according to your tape measure. Subs may be a little off (15 feet when they are only 12 feet), and the distance can be used to “tune” by adding and subtracting distance. Not having the distances right on your mains can make everything sound garbled and unmatched, especially if one surround is further away than another. Running the subs next to the fronts really simplifies things when it comes to settings like this. Having one sub 8 feet away and the other 15 feet away is bound to create a tuning challenge, and makes REW more important. Not having them separated could also diminish the dual sub effect.

Find a piece of music that you are familiar with, something like Norah Jones can be good, although “Heart of Mine” is a little heavy, (Edit: this can be because of your main drivers as it’s at the 80 hertz range, the problem with this particular track went away with SVS Prime speakers) but so long as it has good bass and is still very musical you should be able to adjust it.

Norah’s “Cold Cold Heart”, “What Am I To You” and “Turn Me On” are great to tune to. If you are too heavy or too light, it will be easier to identify than during a movie. Decaf White Clouds will expose a weak sub for sure, but provides little else in the spectrum to adjust levels to.

You are trying to blend the mains with the subs, and this is where your ears really count.

Turn subs way down on the AVR, (Audyssey almost always turns your subs down, which makes me think is just a clever way to get you to do this) and slowly turn them up to “complete” the sound, being careful not to overdrive the bass. My own taste varies by 2 points. Normally my Subwoofer Level is -2.0, but sometimes -.5 or 0.0 for movies with less intense bass, or down for movies like Ragnarok. I can tell when it is just .5 off.

These specific numbers should mean nothing, -7.5 or +4.0 might be the correct level based on where your sub gain is, which would indicate being turned up too much or not enough. The gain on your subs are good when it sounds “correct” close to 0.0 on your AVR, and it takes time to get it dialed in. Small adjustments are usually good.

It’s normal to turn the subs down within about a month after getting them set up as they break in and get a little louder.

Dolby II Music and Cinema are both decent listening modes for their given task, though some will tell you it must be direct with no EQ. Experiment to see what you like rather than suffer while trying to be “correct”. Some settings like “Pure” on the Denon kill bass, which can be verified with Room EQ Wizard.

Star Trek: Into Darkness“, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “Cosmos” should be at the top of the list for a test drive. Movies like Ragnarok, known for gobs of bass, can be overpowering, leaving you feeling like the subs are too much, so source content can really color interpretation of performance.

Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” will not likely thrill with bass, it just wasn’t recorded like that, while Metallica is quite lovely if you enjoy their delicate sound. Eric Clapton’s Remastered Unplugged “Old Love” seems to be on loop at my house, along with Pink Floyd’s “On The Turning Away”. It’s not all about the bump and boom, and reaching the deepest depths. For me it’s about being able to when necessary, while still sounding appropriate with “normal” content.

In fact, I dislike BOOM. I like E-40, B-legit, and Wiz, (not for sensitive ears, FYI) but not “boom” so much. There is a difference there, and I suppose I try my best to tune out the BOOM, which is what quality dual subwoofers seem to do. If you want to insult me, and I’m sure some will jump at the chance, tell me my setup sounds like a nightclub. I suppose I want a level of refinement and capability without breaking the bank, or at least breaking it a little more gently.

Machine Gun Kelly “Til I Die” hits around 25 hertz, but the track itself sounds like a stressed sub, and I’m not sure how to quantify that. Never the less, it’s a different experience with subs on “The List” compared to more common subwoofers.

You can find all kinds of content on my Spotify and Youtube channel, see enjoying your gear for more. Not all of it will test a subwoofer’s limits, but most of it will have decent low frequency.

None of this is set in stone, nor could it possibly be complete or definitive in any way, but these settings are a just good starting point for those who aren’t already sure how to adjust these settings, which is the theme of this website. It’s OK to be new, and I’m doing my best to offer shortcuts.


4 thoughts on “Setting Up Your New Subs”

  1. Can you confirm the “c” weighting is the way to go when testing speaker loudness? Seems most of the SPL meters default to “a” weighting. Thanks

  2. C weighting will measure down a bit lower than A weighting, so I usually go with C. There are some cases where A might be more useful, but I usually just use C.

  3. Hi,

    I just bought an SVS PB 2000. When I run calibration, my receiver sets my fronts and center to 40 hz. It sounds fine with the bass and all (good oomph on the gunshots and explosions). But if I set the crossover to 80 hz, particularly on the fronts, there is a certain frequency in the bass which is a bit in it doesn’t sound in tune with the sound and kinda drills into the head…maybe its the room acoustics?

    Is it better to adjust the cross over to 80 and lower the sub volume to maybe get rid of that jarring sound? or just keep the fronts at 40 hz as the calibrations set it. Currently the woofer is in the corner and after calibration the level set at is 0 db, which I presume is good. I did put it up in front against the wall but I think that jarring frequency is still there.

    Looking forward to your advice!

  4. You could have a couple issues happening here. I can’t stress the importance of duals, as you may be experiencing a peak or mode (loud spot) in your seat, super common with single subwoofers, no matter how awesome they might be. If you move to another spot in the room, that peak at that frequency might be less. 2 matching subs reduce this problem greatly, and it does a LOT for the overall experience. You might also be over driving the sub, and my video on adjusting the subwoofer by ear might help you find the right level. I like to see my AVR Subwoofer trim lower, usually under -5.0 or so, and I go into why in the video. Hope that helps!


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Bass defines your home theater