Monday, June 18, 2007

Mono subwoofer versus stereo woofers

This topic has been done lots of times by different people, but I think it deserves to be revisited as there are a couple of things that often seem to be overlooked.

SPL, maximum loudness and whatnot...

This angle is usually pretty well covered. If you want lots of bass, then you need to work out how much air a speaker can move. As a rough indication, multiply the surface area by the maximum linear displacement, usually referred to as Xmax. However, exactly what constitutes "linear" is debatable. One person's 10mm Xmax might be another's 2mm, depending on the amount of distortion they're willing to accept.

Here's a hypothetical example comparing the displacement volume of dual 25cm (10") woofers with a single 30cm (12") woofer:

A modest 0.5cm Xmax * 330cm2 * 2 woofers = 330cm3

0.7cm * 540cm2 * 1 woofer = 378cm3

However, as they say, "actual performance may vary". There are numerous other criteria to consider so it'll be far more accurate to do a simulation, especially since the peak displacement levels appear to be pretty similar at first glance.

Down-mixing a stereo signal to mono

This is where it gets tricky. Most music sources consist of more than just one channel, so if you're building an active crossover, or at least some kind of gain control, and you want to produce a mono signal for a subwoofer then you're likely to encounter a few unexpected issues. Contrary to popular belief, it's not as simple as taking a stereo signal (from a CD source or whatever) and summing the amplitudes. Why not adjust the gain by 0.707 so that the output powers are summed? Well that doesn't work either.

Well, what exactly is the problem? Take for example a pair of bass speakers placed 1.5m apart:

Initially only one of the speakers is plugged in, then the second one is connected and fed exactly the same signal. What happens then?

Well it depends on the frequency. At some frequencies the average acoustic power delivered to the room will double, while at extremely low frequencies the amplitude will be doubled (almost). The lowest frequency that can undergo strong cancellation is approximately 340/1.5/2 = 113.3Hz, where the 1.5m distance corresponds to a 180 degree phase difference. Below that frequency, the speakers will begin to undergo constructive interference that exceeds the average power doubling that occurs at higher frequencies.

This means that a pair of woofers are acoustically coupled together below a certain corner frequency, which produces a natural 3dB bass boost. The corner frequency is inversely proportional to the physical distance between the woofers. However, a mono subwoofer doesn't have that effect at all.

While there is no right or wrong answer, mono subwoofers aren't hot-swappable with large stereo woofers in full-range loudspeakers. Equalization and level-matching in active crossovers can be a tricky issue that is influenced by the satellite placement.

No comments: