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High-End Down-Low

Audio Brands Tailor Subwoofer Designs to Changing Demands of Homeowners

It’s a universal trend (well, at least as far as the custom install community is concerned): the dedicated home theater room is going out of style. As new technologies like ambient light-rejecting screens and more compact and versatile projectors have gained momentum, so too has the inclination to integrate two-piece projection into main, open living areas in the home. Good news for video; but for sound, not so much.

Instead of placing speakers scientifically around a room, integrators are forced to compromise some performance for aesthetics–and perhaps no auditory element is as difficult to stuff into this mold than the bulky, emotion-driving anchor of the system: the subwoofer.

“As home theaters make their way from the basement to the living room, there’s an increased need to design products that blend into the environment, not stand out,” said Noah Kaplan, president of Leon Speakers. “At Leon, it’s always been our vision to mix design with technology, and we let that vision guide all of our product development, including subwoofers.

To that end, Leon has recently launched the Aaros A8-200 subwoofer that’s designed to capitalize on popularity of powered audio products with an enclosure that’s just 7 inches deep. Ever the custom specialist, Leon offers it in several styles for a contemporary home theater. “Whether you’re looking to match a specific color or hardwood, or if you need an ultra-thin option that can be discretely tucked away, we offer a variety of models that can meet the design needs of any space,” Kaplan said.

Another company built on a foundation of custom solutions, James Loudspeaker has also put a lot of consideration into its subwoofers’ footprint. “Homeowners, architects, and designers want to deploy technology–they want great sound, they just do not want to see it,” said Keith Parke, national sales director. “As a result, the focus at James Loudspeaker has been to develop a wide range of in-wall and in-ceiling subwoofer products that can be concealed yet still deliver superb performance.”

James Loudspeaker offers three series of architectural subwoofers: PowerPipe and Small Aperture solutions with discreet 3-inch and 4-inch customizable grilles–designed to virtually “disappear” in a room–and its new, high-output QX Series of in-wall subs engineered to deliver high-output, detailed bass response for home theater systems from a standard 4-inch stud bay. “These three product lines give integrators the options and form factors they need to satisfy clients in just about any scenario,” Parke said.

Like James, Monitor Audio has also been attuned to the growing demand for custom-install theater speakers. “Because of this, we are striving to create subwoofers that are more discreet, yet deliver the same punch as the older and larger products,” said Mike Benedetto, VP of sales and business development. “We do this by fine-tuning the acoustic parameters so that our drivers and cabinets are working in perfect harmony.

“Our considerable experience with designing subwoofers for home cinema means that we know how a subwoofer should perform. We have taken that knowledge and applied it to our discreet in-wall and in-ceiling subwoofers, the IWS-10 and ICS-8.”

According to Benedetto, the IWS-10 fits a 10-inch subwoofer driver into a 90-millimeter-deep cavity using the RDT sandwich cone developed for its Platinum range to achieve a rigid, flat diaphragm. The ICS-8 makes use of a tuned bandpass enclosure to integrate with the CF230 discreet aperture speaker, and can be run passively or managed with an active crossover.

The heightened focus on discreet speaker placement can have adverse affects–particularly in rooms where hiding wires in walls isn’t easy. Fortunately, the engineers at Harman have considered this scenario in their design process. “Customers desire small-footprint in-room and in-wall subwoofers that minimize space and visual intrusion into the room; this supports the use of multiple smaller subwoofers to achieve smoother in-room response versus a single large subwoofer,” said Lou Schreurs, VP connected home and luxury audio at Harman. “Wireless connectivity optimizes placement flexibility allowing consumers to position subwoofers in the ideal locations.”

New from Harman is the Revel Concerta B8 subwoofer, featuring an 8-inch down-firing woofer and a 200-watt RMS amplifier in a sealed enclosure. Notably, it integrates a wireless transmitter as well as LFE and stereo L/R RCA audio inputs, enabling it to be placed in the ideal location in a room. “Our new Revel B8 offers powerful output from a stylish, compact enclosure complete with wireless connectivity,” Schreurs said. “It is ideal for use in pairs in music and movie systems.”

According to Ron Rouse, VP of sales at Wisdom Audio, the trend of minimizing the size of loudspeakers isn’t confined to living room-type spaces. “Even in dedicated theaters, the days of hiding large, deep, subwoofers behind a screen-wall are far and few between,” he said. “This means that we as manufacturers need to provide more stealth solutions; however, ‘stealth’ does not always equate to high performance.”

Rouse said that Wisdom’s goal was to devise a low-frequency system capable of sustaining the dynamics and low-frequency coloration of its high-end planar magnetic transducers, but in a slimmer package. The result is the company’s Regenerative Transmission Line (RTL) subwoofers, which utilize the acoustic output of both sides of the woofer diaphragm to drive the same internal transmission line. “By doing so, we are able to realize a type of transitional labyrinth that uses both sides of the diaphragm to alternate back and forth, enhancing the output of the system over a broad frequency range in a multi-modal manner.” Another benefit, Rouse said, is that it can be placed in a variety of locations–in-wall, in-ceiling, in-floor, behind a screen, or even ported–allowing it to serve the widest possible range of uses.

Klipsch has tailored its latest subwoofer offerings to a slightly different trend in the custom installation industry: whole-home control integration. “Our new C-Series subwoofers–high-performance, compact, piano-gloss, triple-driver models–actually have an Ethernet input for full IP control from Control4, Crestron, Savant, and RTI,” said Michael Buratto, product manager, component audio for Klipsch Group. “This will allow full selection control over balanced, unbalanced, speaker level, and even wireless inputs.”

Complementing this compatibility is Klipsch’s new LowControl app for iOS and Android devices that offers five-band parametric EQ, phase, and gain control for its C-Series subwoofers, as well as automatic room calibration using the device’s built-in microphone. “Subwoofer settings are especially sensitive to source material and room setting, so being able to control these parameters from anywhere in the room is a real game-changer for high-end cinema and audiophile listening,” Buratto said.

So, whatever the trend–and however unconventional the listening space–there’s a subwoofer that’s right for the job: churning out the thick, stirring bottom end that music and movies just can’t do without.