Ahhh, the subwoofer. What a modern miracle. It is up there as one of the best inventions ever, in my book (others might be the wireless remote control, the drum set, and the inline six cylinder from BMW, but I digress…).
1981: Life as a teenager. I remember it like yesterday. As a kid growing up in Florida I was able to pursue hobbies at the encouragement of Mom. I went through the typical boyhood distractions: model trains, aquariums and pets of all kinds, drums; but the fire took with audio gear. I really liked the sound of (real) drums and being in the school band I was regularly close to the sound of real instruments, naturally. Not to mention Dad played trumpet and always had music playing at home on his hi-fi.
So, music was in my blood, but the means was through hi-fi. I poured all my extra time into it, between homework, chores, and earning money cutting lawns in the neighborhood. (Good business in Florida for a kid). I was a teenager, learning all the technical terms and merits of great audio, loitering in hi-fi shops, as I sought great sound for my own music. I devoured the monthly issues of High Fidelity, Stereo Review, Audio, and yes, Speaker Builder. Julian Hirsch was like, my favorite great uncle. But I had to go to the public library to read some of the publications. Of course it made a positive impression that I was really into my studies. Hah. I subscribed to many of the mags, but Mom got a little suspicious with all these hi-fi magazines showing up in the mailbox... “Mark, what are you getting ready to buy now?” This was in a disapproving tone. I heard that a lot. I quickly figured out how to get UPS to deliver the goods to my buddy’s address, and then strategically sneak it home
I was always seeking the bass response for my music that hit hard like, well, drums! On MY budget for gear… it wasn’t happening. I distinctly remember reading this how-to article about building your own “Sub-woofer”, in a late ’70s issue of Speaker Builder magazine. “What the …..?” It made me scratch my head. “Hmmm….. I know what a tweeter is, and a woofer; I even know what a squawker is. But what the HECK is a sub-woofer?? Coool……It sounds…. dangerous!” Just what it takes to get a teenager’s attention. This thing just might deliver Neil Peart’s kick drum, and also test the structural integrity of our house. It’s like a science project-- that I would actually get into.
Oh yes, my instant fascination with the concept of a dedicated-to-deep-bass-only speaker system led me to build my own eight-cubic-foot box with a Radio Shack 15” woofer. By then I was in high school, and I recall my buddies saying, "What the hell is a subwoofer??" Come on by after school and I’ll show you!
The track that made them say, “OHHH!” was “Analog Kid” from Rush’s “Signals” album. The deep Moog Taurus Pedal synthesizer notes rattled the freakin’ front door, 80 feet away. It wasn’t very accurate especially by today’s standards, but the laws of physics played out with a big box and big driver when that bass note kicked in, and, well, have you ever heard the term, “brown note”? ;)
Speaking of “Brown”… my brother John was then working at UPS, pre-dawn shift, so he slept in the afternoons. Yeah….that collided with my “concerts” after school. He wasn’t so enthusiastic about Rush, or subwoofers, or me as a brother. “Sleep-deprived Brown” wanted to regularly kick my ass. (We are best of friends now. He does think of me when he hears Rush.)
Little did I know then what an enormous impact the device called a “Sub-woofer” would have on sound systems everywhere, mediocre and great ones all.
The fact that a sub can even attempt to reproduce the huge wavelengths of bass at realistic decibel levels is ambitious to say the least. Some are better at it than others of course. I don’t care, I love ‘em all
I will get into more of what makes them so cool next time. Feel free to tell me via e-mail, why YOU like subwoofers! email@example.com