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Home theater subwoofer setup

Tips to help you tune up your bass

By

Jeff Miller

Seven years of experience in the Crutchfield Contact Center give Jeff Miller a valuable perspective as an A/V writer. Having steered scores of Crutchfield customers through challenging situations, he's well prepared to lead readers through unfamiliar territory. Jeff is an explorer in the frontiers of streaming audio and video. He looks forward to helping you discover new ways to enjoy music and video in this brave new connected world.

More from Jeff Miller

Couple enjoying their home theater.

Tight, well-defined and, yes, DEEP bass is a key component of any home theater. A powered subwoofer is a must for bringing those explosions, crashes, and other big-time action to life. Lots of people just put their sub anywhere, connect it to their receiver, and leave it at that. But a few key adjustments can help dial it in. Read on to learn everything you need to know to get the most out of your sub.

Where should I put the sub?

Typically you should try and put the subwoofer near your front speakers. But let’s be honest: most people put their subwoofer wherever they have room. And that’s not necessarily a bad idea.

Subwoofer placement illustration.

The low-frequency waves we hear as “bass” are less directional than higher frequencies generated by full-range speakers. That means that even if the subwoofer isn’t close to your TV, your ears will have trouble telling the difference.

Need help choosing a sub? Check out our Subwoofers buying guide.

Some manufacturers recommend placing your sub in a corner. The walls can help bounce more waves back toward the seating areas. If you’re after very full, exciting bass response, this is a good option.

If you have a few placement options, you’ll want to experiment after your subwoofer is connected. So, on to the connections…

How to connect your subwoofer

All powered subwoofers require two connections: power and signal. For power, you just need a nearby outlet. We highly recommend plugging your sub into a power protection device to guard against surges.

For the signal connection, there are three options. Let’s start with the most common connection.

LFE connection to a home theater receiver

This is the simplest and most common connection. It works for any receiver or amp with a dedicated subwoofer output. Use a subwoofer cable  to connect your receiver’s subwoofer output to the LFE (low frequency effect) input on the sub. Many stereo receivers and amps also have subwoofer outputs for these connections.

LFE connection to a home theater receiver.

Don't have an LFE option? Scroll to the bottom of the article

Crossover — the "traffic cop" of your system

You want to make sure low frequencies are sent to your sub. This allows your front, center, and surround speakers to play only the frequencies they can handle to help prevent distortion. The crossover lets you determine which frequencies go to which speakers. 

You’ll find crossover settings on both your sub and in your receiver. We typically recommend using the one on the receiver. But before you dive into your receiver's menu system, follow these other steps first. They may take care of everything for you. 

1. Auto-calibration

Your receiver may include a calibration microphone to optimize the performance of your speakers. Usually, these room correction systems do a very good job of adapting the sound to your surroundings.

But what if your receiver doesn’t have auto calibration? Or you’ve tried it and still aren't impressed with the bass? You can make some manual adjustments.

Read our Home theater receiver setup guide for more information.

2. Setting the speaker size

Go into your receiver’s settings menu and find the speaker setup.  There will be a size setting for your front left and right speakers. This actually has less to do with the physical size of your speaker. It's more about bass management.

Set the speakers to “small,” even if you’re using floor-standing speakers. That’s because the “small” setting will send the low frequencies to the subwoofer. This is good for three reasons:

1.            It frees up your front speakers to focus on midrange and high frequencies.

2.            It allows your receiver to devote more power to midrange and high frequencies.

3.            It can prevent low frequencies from damaging your speakers.

3. Crossover settings

Once you’ve set the speakers to “small” you may not need to fine-tune the crossover. But if you want to dial it in more precisely, you can set the precise crossover point, measured in Hertz. All signals below the crossover point will be sent to the sub. For bookshelf speakers, you’ll want a higher crossover frequency – about 120 Hz . For large tower speakers, try 60 Hz. Most receivers default to somewhere in the middle, usually around 80 Hz.

Finalizing your subwoofer's placement

If you have several options for placement, now you’re ready to pick the ideal location. You’ll want to fire up some music with some good bass. Then sit in your primary seat and listen. Does the bass sound weak? Or maybe too boomy?

Now move to a couple of different spots and listen. You’ll probably notice that the bass can sound very different as you change locations.

Illustration of room with alternate sub placements.

If you used auto-calibration to set up your home theater system, remember to rerun it every time you move your sub.

To tailor the bass to your “sweet spot” use the popular method known as “crawling.” Start with the subwoofer at or near your primary listening position. Then move to different spots the sub could go and listen to your chosen sample music, listening carefully to the bass. When you find a spot where the bass sounds just right, that’s where you should put your sub.

For some suggestions and diagrams of speaker setups for different floor plans, check out our article on home theater speaker placement.

Final tweaks

Phase switch — If your sub still feels a little off, your subwoofer may be out of phase with your speakers. Most subs have a two-position phase switch on the back. Toggle it to the other setting and see if you get better bass.

Level control — Most subs have independent volume controls. It’s an easy way to get a little more oomph or dial back a particularly loud soundtrack. You may need to make adjustments from movie to movie.

What if my receiver doesn’t have a sub output or my sub has no LFE input?

Don’t worry – you can still connect your sub using one of the following two options:

Diagram of connection for pre-out/main-in.

Or you can use speaker wire to connect to your sub's speaker-level inputs:

Diagram of connection for sub's speaker-level inputs.

Not enough bass? Try two

If you have a very large room that’s bass challenged, we recommend adding a second subwoofer. It’s the best option for evenly distributing bass response in a large space. Most newer receivers offer a second subwoofer output for connection. Or you can simply use a Y-adapter.

Illustration of room with two subs.

Our tech support team is here to help

Of course if you purchase your home theater gear from Crutchfield, our Virginia-based Tech Support team can help you with setup, connections, and fine-tuning. Give them a call at the phone number found on your invoice and shipping confirmation email.

Need help choosing a powered subwoofer? Contact one of our Advisors via chat, email, or phone at 1(888) 955-6000.

Last updated May 06, 2016
  • Russ from Soddy Daisy

    Posted on 7/22/2015 12:09:59 AM

    I have a receiver with one LFE OUT. Currenty I am running one sub, but have another that I am adding to my system. I split the connection with a Y female to two male with a L & R in to the current sub. I am wondering how best to add the new sub. A diagram would be very helpful. Thanks!!

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/22/2015 9:56:32 AM

    Russ, Powered subs vary all over the map with the type of connections they offer. Most that have a right and left line input don't usually require that both inputs are connected when using a mono LFE connection from your receiver. In fact many, like this MartinLogan Dynamo 500, reserve either the right (as in the case of the MartinLogan) or left line level input specifically for the LFE connection. You can probably just use one leg of your Y-adapter to connect your first sub, and the other leg to connect your second sub with an extension cable to reach it (unless your sub has a line out connection, as well, in which case you can just daisy chain the two subs together).

    I'll admit it can get a little tricky because of all the variation from brand to brand and model to model. If you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help hooking up your subs. Otherwise, it might be a good idea to check with the sub's manufacturer for specific advice.

  • Butch Repa from granger, tx

    Posted on 8/1/2015 12:36:10 PM

    I have an old school RCA 120watt sub from 10 yrs back and have checked numerous Places and they all told me that the newer stereo system s don't have the sub input mine hasso what exactly can I doit also has A 2 terminal connection for high level and low level input connection of speaker wire . can I use those to hook up and do receiver or am I just out of luck?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/3/2015 11:37:23 AM

    Butch, I found an owner's manual for a 120 watt RCA powered subwoofer. I don't know for certain whether this is your exact model, but with any luck it might shed some light on your situation.

  • shannon from new port richey

    Posted on 8/23/2015 8:33:14 AM

    I connected my sub to my receiver with an RCA cable as recommended. I tried connecting the cable from the left and right output on the sub to the sub output on my reciever and no base at all. I am not sure if I have to change somethiing on my receiver to get the base to sound from the sub. I believe it is connected correctly. I do not have the remote for my receiver and it seems as though I may be able to scroll through more options on my receiver if I had the remote. I tried changing the settings on the receiver, but can only go from having the speakers all on or off. What am I doing wrong? Thanks for helping shannon

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/24/2015 9:53:51 AM

    Shannon, It's possible you may need to access your receiver's speaker configuration settings in the setup menu to tell it that you have a subwoofer hooked up to its LFE (Low Frequency Effects) output. If it doesn't think you have a sub connected, it won't send any signal through that output. Accessing those settings without a remote may be difficult. You might try referring to your owner's manual, or check online at the manufacturer's website if you don't have one. Good luck.

  • Victor from St cloud

    Posted on 9/30/2015 6:17:31 PM

    I recently purchased a marantz 1506 with 2 klipsch R26 towers, 1 R25 center and a SW10 sub for a 3.1 setup. I have all my connections set correctly and used recommendations via audessey . Yet my sub keeps popping almost out of sync. I don't have space to add SATs. Any advice?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/1/2015 9:24:59 AM

    Victor, if it's an "out of sync", or phase, issue (basically, where the subwoofer's cone is moving in the opposite direction from the main speakers' woofers), try switching the "phase" control on your sub (if it has one) to the opposite setting. If it's more a matter of the subwoofer's cone actually popping or bottoming out, turn it down! Every subwoofer has its limits, and you may have just discovered yours.

  • Phillip Jost from Houston

    Posted on 11/5/2015 12:20:23 AM

    I have a set of Polk Audio RTI A9's powered by an Emotiva XPA-2 300x2 RMS amp (not bought from Crutchfield :(, sorry). My Def Audio SC4000 Subwoofer is connected through LFE to my Pioneer VSX-1124 receiver. The problem I have is the SC4000 is clipping at high volume when the towers aren't. Any recommendations?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/5/2015 1:05:39 PM

    Phillip, Is it possible for you to turn down the volume level of the sub, either from the receiver's settings menu or on the back panel of the sub itself? If so, that's what I would do. Either that or get a bigger, more powerful sub that can keep up with your amp/speaker combo. If that doesn't work, you can also get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details.

  • Tim Dillenbeck from Santa Monica

    Posted on 12/24/2015 6:55:13 PM

    Re: shannon from new port richey "I tried connecting the cable from the left and right output on the sub to the sub output on my receiver and no bass at all. " It's not surprising to have no bass at all if you connected the sub's left and right OUTPUTS to your receiver's subwoofer OUTPUT. Try connecting your sub's INPUT to the receiver's sub OUTPUT. Chances are that should correct the problem. Preamp outputs to amp inputs; never preamp outputs to amp outputs. If your sub has L and R outputs, it likely also has L and R inputs. The sub outputs would either go to: (1) L & R satellite speakers, if the sub has additional built-in amp channels to power them, or (2) the L & R inputs of an external power amp driving unpowered satellite speakers, or straight to active powered speakers, such as found in many computer desktop systems. In either case the sub's outputs are usually high-pass filtered to screen out those low frequencies handled by the sub. Check your sub owner's manual or find a copy online. One last thing. Don't forget the subwoofer Polarity (0 to 180) switch. The wrong setting can often reduce the apparent bass response of a system, giving you the impression of "no bass at all." Good luck.

  • mark from cincinnati

    Posted on 1/10/2016 11:26:06 AM

    I have an infinity primus ps38 for about 8 years and now it sounds like wind is blowing through it I'm unsure as to what it is maybe you can guide me on the matter do I scrap it for a new one or can it be fixed.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/11/2016 11:20:18 AM

    That's a tough one, Mark. Of course, if you purchased it from Crutchfield you can always call and talk to our techs to see if there might be a simple fix. If it's an extensive technical issue, I'm thinking that the cost of out-of-warranty repair may make it more logical to consider a replacement.

  • Ed Rieth from Phoenix

    Posted on 2/4/2016 8:29:18 PM

    About 15 years ago, LaserDisc was all the rage in my house and in my estimation, provided great audio. At that time, I ran the Pioneer LaserDisc player through a Pioneer receiver. The speakers were a small center and small rear satellites with two large floor standing cabinet speakers for the fronts. These were comprised of a tweeter, mid and 15" subs. Since that time, I've changed to a Sony Blu Ray player that runs through a brand new Denon AVRX2200 and the speakers are Boston Acoustics MicroSystem 9000II, with a single 10" powered sub. I just cannot seem to replicate the same bass "punch" while watching Blu Ray as I realized when watching movies on LaserDisc. I know it's not an issue with the receiver; it's far superior. Is the audio quality between LaserDisc and Blu Ray just that different or am I comparing apples and oranges between the two 15" woofers in the cabinets and the 10" powered sub? Any recommendations? I've just completed all my calibrations and am running the powered sub on LFE and it's set at 120Hz through the receiver. Thanks!

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/5/2016 10:07:54 AM

    Ed, I believe you summed it up perfectly: this is an apples and oranges situation. I'm quite certain that the Blu-ray format is capable of providing bone-crushing bass! My guess is that your 10" powered sub is simply not moving as much air as your old floor-standing speakers. A larger sub is probably the answer. Please get in touch (call, chat, or email) with our advisors for recommendations.

  • Mike from Long Island

    Posted on 5/16/2016 4:14:54 PM

    Hi Dave. I'm thinking of treating myself to a MacIntosh preamp soon. The speakers I have are Definitive Tech BP2000s with their own powered subs & LFE inputs. The Mac preamp doesn't have a LFE output. How would I go about hooking that up ? Also, I have an old Scott Stereomaster receiver that I use in my garage. How would that get hooked up to the BP2000s ? Thanks !

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/16/2016 5:35:22 PM

    Hi Mike, While a McIntosh preamp would certainly be a treat, I'm not entirely sure where or how you would plan to install it in your system. I'm guessing you must have a power amp? Would you be using your old Scott receiver as the power amp?

    I'm not familiar specifically with the Definitive Technology BP2000s, but if they're anything like DT's other powered towers, the LFE input is strictly optional. In fact, DT usually recommends connecting their powered towers using only the speaker-level inputs, rather than line-level or LFE connections. Please give our advisors a call to discuss the connection options for the Mac and your towers.

  • Mike from Long Island

    Posted on 5/17/2016 10:21:10 AM

    Sorry for the confusion, Dave. I have a B&K AVP 1000 preamp & B&K ST3030 amp. When I bought the speakers, the salesman asked how I would wire them up. Half jokingly, I said "with 14 guage Radio Shack wire". He then questioned my intelligence under his breath & gave me a diagram & coincidently also sold me some Monster cables to hook up with...Both B&Ks are on their way out, having been in & out of the shop several times, hence the new Macs... Finally, I just wanted to know if it was feasable to hook up an old Scott receiver to those BP2000s, as a stop gap when the B&Ks blow up again. Thanks again !

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/18/2016 9:04:38 AM

    No problem, Mike. Please check your Definitive's owner's manual (or possibly directly with them), but you should be able to dispense with the LFE connection altogether and go straight speaker-level in from your amp. I see no issues with using your Scott to drive the BP2000s. If it's a vacuum tube model (you're lucky!), there may be multiple speaker taps so be sure to use the ones that correctly match your speaker's impedance. If it's solid state, just hook it up as you normally would with most newer amps. Best of luck!