What are the Differences Between a Subwoofer and a Speaker?

So let’s turn now to the differences between a conventional speaker and a subwoofer. And the context of that differentiation is important. There are people who, and many of them are pretty knowledgeable, but they’re not necessarily thinking about the effects of the room and the placement of a speaker within a room and how damaging that can be to the potential excellent sound of a speaker. So we’ll get into that a little bit.


So what occurs with a speaker is you have a variety of drivers typically, and they’re running what I would describe as limited bandwidth, meaning that even a pretty good sized, very expensive speaker, because of the way that you need to place it to optimize all the different functions within a room, you’re getting only a certain amount of bass extension in particular. You can with placement options and things, you can get a really well-placed image.


You can get, you know, highs to mids, mids, to lows, pretty well balanced and really focus up a big stage. And here’s the problem, when you start talking about wavelengths that are multiple meters long, tens of feet long all of that goes out the window. What I mean by that is that the room itself is the single biggest enemy the people who build speakers and design speakers face. At some point you need more horsepower and you need things that are really developed, very precise things specifically to deal with bass frequencies.


And I’ll say roughly 40 Hertz and down maybe 50 Hertz and down. An old friend of mine taught me something many, many years ago, and he said, John, I don’t care how big the speaker is, I don’t care how expensive it is. Every speaker above 50 Hertz is a small speaker. And what he meant by that was, and you look at these magnificent speakers, they can be 100, 200, $300,000.


But if you actually study what they’re doing, ultimately, all the magic that occurs in those things is typically a six and a half inch two-way maybe a five and a quarter inch two-way that’s capable of reproducing the spoken and sung language, the high frequencies, the air in a concert hall. That’s all, the rest of the two meter tall behemoth, that weighs 600 pounds, you know, 250 kilos is just trying to deal with bass. And how they do that is entirely up to the person installing it in your home. And if they’re an incredible artist, you may get good results.


The problem is is that the room itself can be so destructive to bass frequencies and unevenly you wind up with these huge peaks and valleys and you’re going, oh my gosh, I just spent massive sums of money potentially on a very, very uneven sound. Subwoofers are designed with only one mission right. The other guys are trying to reproduce 20 to 20 kilohertz, which is a bit of a fool’s errand when it comes to frequencies below 50 Hertz, nothing against them. They’re brilliant.


But what, what you find with a great subwoofer is it’s designed with massive amounts of horsepower. Typically far more than you would normally throw at the main speaker. Why? Because it takes a huge amount of current to both start and stop a really fast bass driver. Our smallest unit in the home theater specific range, for example, is 300 Watts and then they get powerful and they do that because they’re asked to do so much. In theater, those .1 special effects are massive.


You can’t cheat. You have to have huge amounts of power and you have to have drivers that can literally handle that power. And it’s expressed fundamentally as stroke. So you have stroke being the ability for the driver to move in and out. So if you’re talking about a driver that has to move two inches in and out, that takes huge amounts of power handling and it takes huge amounts of power. That cannot be replicated casually in an all-in-one box. Just doesn’t work out very well.


Even at the ultimate levels where you start comparing what a great 100, 200, $300,000 speaker does. And you compare that to what we can execute with say a six pack of No. 25’s . It’s an entirely different level. We’re able to actually get in, sublimate underneath it, and produce this really deep structural, foundational bass effortlessly. Get it tuned to exactly where it will blend perfectly with the main speaker such that you don’t hear a REL Stack and a speaker.


You just hear a huge, huge, beautiful soundstage until you shut the RELs off. And then you go, oh okay there was a huge difference there. My God, put it back in. So those are some of the real differences. It comes down to power. It comes down to very specific filters. We won’t get into too much detail about that, but the way that we cross ours out is a bit of an art form and it comes down to driver development.

July 26, 2021 - Posted in: Q & A With John Hunter, Videos