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Bass Management & Subwoofer Connections

When it comes to home theater, nothings more confusing than hooking up a powered subwoofer and configuring the "speaker set-up" or "bass management" functions of a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital processor. We conducted a survey of home theater owners and were shocked to learn that over 30% are confused by these settings, or at least not sure whether they are getting optimal performance from their systems. Is this you? If so, we now present what we know about the subject. But first, some caveats:

  1. If you're really happy with the way your system sounds and hate messing around with audio hardware, skip this article and put on some nice music. But if you're a tortured soul who just has to know you're getting 100% of the performance you paid for dang it, read on:
  2. If you really just want to know what to do and don't care about all the theory behind it, skip right to the section below that best describes your system and do what we advise and trust that we actually know what we're talking about.
  3. Feel free to experiment.
  4. Audio is not rocket science, there is no "right" answer. Do whatever makes you happy and you'll get no judgmental jive from us.

Subwoofer Hookup The easiest method to hook up a sub with a Dolby Digital or DTS Surround receiver is to connect the "sub out" to the "LFE" input on your subwoofer using a single subwoofer cable. An audio patch cord or interconnect will work, it does not have to be specifically labeled subwoofer cable. If your subwoofer does not have an LFE input, use either the L or R line input (a Y splitter is optional) then turn the "low pass" control as high as it will go.

Next we have to adjust the receiver's crossover frequency. Depending on what kind of main speakers you have, will determine the appropriate crossover frequency. Small satellite style speakers should use 120-150 Hz. Bookshelf speakers 80-100 Hz and tower speakers 60-80 Hz are usually good crossover frequencies to use.

In the receiver's speaker configuration menu, we prefer to set the front speakers to "small", even if you are using larger floorstanding speakers. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. The subwoofer is specifically designed to reproduce bass. This frees up the main speakers to work on the highs and the mids. The entire system is able to play louder as well as cleaner.
  2. If the main speakers are producing bass at the same time as the subwoofer, at some points the bass will reinforce each other. At other points the bass will be cancelled. Allowing only the subwoofer to reproduce bass will yield a smoother response throughout the entire room.
  3. In most instances, setting the main speakers to "small" will allow the subwoofer output to remain operational when the receiver is in 2 channel (stereo or direct) mode. If the subwoofer turns off if you put the system in 2 channel mode, an alternative hook up method may need to be used. If so, please contact our Technical Support department below.

After you're done all this, read this article for tips and pointers on tweaking the subwoofer for maximum performance.

Still Have Questions?

Polk’s customer service/tech support gurus are standing by (Mon-Fri 9-5:30 PM EST) to help you get the highest performance from your audio system and reach inner peace. Call (800) 377-7655 option 1 for enlightenment or email us.

This article was last modified Apr 19, 2014

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