The Beginner's Guide to Bass

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Ed Gillett

Caitlin Scott

With Sub and Sub Mini, Sonos makes it easy to add pulse-pounding bass to your music, gaming, or home cinema setup. But what exactly is bass? What does a subwoofer do? And do you really even need one? Read on to find out.

Imagine the moments when you’ve been truly overwhelmed by sound—the rumble of an explosion in an action film, the beat dropping on your favourite song, or the subtle details of a faint whisper—and you can bet that bass played a part in that experience. Bass itself adds depth and power to your sound, while a dedicated bass speaker (also known as a subwoofer) helps deliver a richer, more balanced listening experience.

Adding the right subwoofer to your sound system can make your music feel more detailed, your movies more immersive, and your games more thrilling. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of bass, answer some of your most commonly asked questions, and help you find the subwoofer that’s best for your Sonos system.

Let’s start from the beginning. What is bass?

Bass is the low end of the sonic spectrum, stretching from the lower limits of human hearing at 20Hz up to around 100Hz. It’s the rumble you can feel in your chest when listening to music or watching films, like the deep rhythmic pulse of a reggae bassline or the hulking drone of a massive spaceship overhead.

Bass, and the low frequency soundwaves that produce it, carry an immense amount of power. That’s why it moves you so viscerally, and why it can be heard from further away (or through walls and other surfaces) where higher frequencies get dulled and muffled.

But bass has always presented an age-old challenge to sound designers and engineers alike: Most people can’t accurately experience bass the way it was captured and recorded in the studio because it requires an equally powerful speaker to reproduce it. The solution? A subwoofer.

What is a subwoofer?

A subwoofer is a separate, dedicated bass speaker (or ‘woofer’) designed to focus solely on reproducing powerful bass sounds. By splitting the audio signals and sending the lowest frequencies to a subwoofer, you can experience deeper and more powerful bass, leaving your paired speakers to focus on mid and high frequencies, delivering a wider range of sound with no loss in quality.

Sonos offers two subwoofer options: Sub and Sub Mini. Both are designed specifically to handle bass frequencies, and also form the .1 in a 3.1 or 5.1 sound system. You can learn more about how to build a surround sound setup in our Ultimate Guide to Home Cinema.

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Do I really need a subwoofer?

In short, yes. A standard two-channel speaker comfortably delivers the full range of sound down to 50Hz, but begins to lose power and clarity beyond this point. By offloading the lowest frequencies to a subwoofer, you can experience richer and bolder bass than you would with just a standalone speaker.

But adding a subwoofer doesn’t just help produce lower lows, it also allows you to experience higher highs. It lessens the load on the rest of your system so your speakers can focus on the frequencies above 50Hz—like the sound of a whistle or hiss of a snake—creating improved detail and less distortion in the mid and high-pitched frequencies. This means that a subwoofer doesn’t just benefit those who love high-intensity action films or bass-heavy electronic music, but instead balances and improves your overall listening experience.

Aren’t subwoofers big and boxy? Where should I place it?

Both Sub and Sub Mini are designed to deliver bold bass without standing out or taking up space. You can neatly tuck Sub under your couch or TV stand, while Sub Mini is designed to sound great no matter where you place it. They also connect wirelessly to your Sonos system, meaning that you can place them anywhere within reach of a power socket rather than having to worry about audio or Ethernet cables.

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Won’t a subwoofer shake the walls and floor?

While subwoofers are known for emitting so much power that they can shake pictures hanging on the wall, Sub and Sub Mini were specifically designed to minimise the vibrations associated with traditional subwoofers. The holes (aka ‘tunnels’) on both Sub and Sub Mini aren’t just for aesthetics, they house dual-facing woofers that help eliminate any unwanted rattling and shaking. So you can experience rich, bold bass without disturbing your neighbours.

What if there’s too much bass?

Whichever setup you choose, you can customise the sound to your exact liking using the Sonos app. Precise EQ and volume controls allow you to set the level of bass to match your listening preferences and acoustic environment, making sure that your subwoofer works in perfect harmony with the rest of your system.

Which Sonos subwoofer is right for me?

If you live in a smaller space, like an apartment, then we would recommend Sub Mini and pairing it with a compact speaker or soundbar, like One, Ray, or Beam. But if you have more space to play with and are looking for a more premium sound experience, then adding Sub to a powerful soundbar, like Arc, is going to take your sound experience to new heights. You can even add a second Sub—yes, two Subs—to feel bass unlike ever before. (But this is a beginner’s guide, after all. More on that later.)

Like all Sonos products, both Sub and Sub Mini are easy to add to your existing system with a little help from the Sonos app. Just plug it into power, connect to WiFi, and the app-guided instructions will walk you through setup.

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Bass is a vital part of sound, and a physical feeling as much as something we hear. Whether you’re after all-powerful bass or subtly sharper sound, adding a subwoofer like Sub or Sub Mini to your Sonos system can bring out the full range of experiences from your music, films, and games, helping immerse you in them more powerfully than ever before.

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