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Subwoofer Setup for Apartment Living

A major challenge for music and movie lovers who live in an apartment, or an adjoining property is striking the balance between getting the full experience from your audio system and being a good neighbour. While it’s not easy – and certainly not perfect – there are a few things you can do to minimise neighbour disruption that may also result in a better sounding system for you.

Some of these tips require a little more effort than others, and none of them alone will completely solve the problem of your bass invading your neighbour’s property, but you can try them one at a time until you find the setup that offers the best harmony for you and your neighbours.

When it comes to performance, a proper setup – especially in a small and unforgiving space – can do wonders even with a moderately priced system, and you just might find that a system that is running at peak efficiency is less likely to send energy through your walls and floors. Of course, if you listen at powerful levels, nothing will really help much, so the best tip, in that case, is to invite your neighbours over for movie night as often as possible.

Set the output volume properly

If you can hear your sub as a separate audio component it is either in a problematic position or the levels are set too high. Getting your sub balanced correctly will increase the quality of the overall sound and it may reduce the energy escaping into your neighbour’s space.  

For music and movies, generally, you should not necessarily hear your sub as a separate component in your system. You should feel and sense the sub is there without your attention being drawn to it. When setting your volumes for music, start with the sub at its minimum and slowly raise the volume until you can localise it. At that point back the volume off slightly until the bass is in the room evenly without a noticeable origin – this is when the sub becomes ‘omni-directional’. As you raise and lower the overall system volume the sub output will be smooth and succinct with the focused soundstage of your system.

What to consider about positioning

Most modern subwoofers will have adjustments built-in for boundary proximity placement, whether in a corner, against a solid or internal wall, or even situated within a cabinet – nearly all KEF Subwoofers offer this feature. These settings allow for your preferred placement both aesthetically and acoustically whilst making the necessary automatic adjustments to the response curve that are affected by the boundary lift.

Once you’ve located the optimum position which offers the best integration with your main/surround speakers (bass is even, precise, clear, and with good presence) in relation to your main seating position, you are able to sit back and listen critically to well-known tracks or movie to lock-in the final destination of your subwoofer. Small adjustments may be required to fine-tune this to really drill the performance down.

How about floor types?

Naturally, wooden or tiled floors will offer very little in terms of bass management as the reflective nature of these materials usually increase lower frequency draw-out within the space. Using bass absorbers/traps can help in this instance to assist with the overly reflective surfaces. Ideally, a well-damped environment with carpeted floors or heavy drapes will assist with containing the bass energy within the room allowing for easier control and tuning to the space – this will also reduce the amount of wasted bass energy spill into adjoining rooms/dwellings.

What about products designed to reduce vibration?

If your subwoofer is a down-firing model, the energy will be transferred directly through the floor below, especially at a higher crossover (like listening to a conversation through a wall). There are devices you can use to mitigate this effect though they will not fully resolve the problem. Isolation platforms can retain the bass energy to the sub with minimal affect on the in-room response. If this is a potential issue for your set-up, simply look to use a front or side firing subwoofer so the soundwave is not forced directly into the floor.

A solution?

Small, multiple subwoofers (yes, more than one) will work better in a medium to larger space than a single large sub. By positioning in opposing corners with one at the front and one at the rear of your room or on either side (highly dependent on the individual room) will smooth out the bass waves and half any ‘null issues’ usually offered with a single device. These would also allow for less physical volume/gain for more evenly balanced bass energy and performance albeit at a lower level.

Common sense tips

Use the night setting on your receiver after a certain agreed hour. Invite your neighbours over (seriously – that may really help a lot!)

Get your system running at a level that is slightly higher than what you normally listen at and ask your neighbour if you can listen at their place. This will give you an idea of where the volume is when you’re doing normal listening and it may go a long way to letting your neighbour know that you are trying to minimise any disturbance to them.

Films generally contain short bursts of bass energy and may be less annoying for your neighbour to listen to than a steady beat from music. With that in mind, you could play your movies at a pretty strong volume and back off on the music volume a little. If you want to listen to a lot of music at a high volume, set your system’s crossover very low so the subwoofer is only getting the very bottom end of the programme while your speakers take care of rest of the workload.

Of course, it’s all up to you. Maybe your neighbours are nice enough to put all of this effort in on their behalf but even if they're not, some of these tips may make your system sound better to you too.
Looking for more tips to get the most out of your system? Read our guide to integrating your subwoofer and speakers to elevate your home theatre experience.
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