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Fixing Bass in My Two-Channel HiFi Audio System

by March 29, 2021
Fixing Bass Legacy Speakers

Fixing Bass Legacy Speakers

It’s been almost a year since my story about the last speakers I’ll ever own I’ll re-cap it in a few quick sentences here, and spare everyone the re-telling of the entire saga. (Phew!) Briefly: I contacted this company Legacy Audio and struck up an acquaintance with the owner/head designer. Having been in the high-fidelity speaker biz myself for several decades, Legacy’s owner and I soon established a nice digital rapport as we discussed loudspeaker design in general and some of the specifics related to his products. Eventually, he offered me an “insider’s deal” should I ever want to purchase some Legacy speakers.

I took him up on his kind offer and bought myself a pair of Legacy Signature SE’s—a very nice floorstanding speaker some 4-feet tall, weighing well over 100 pounds each, with a list price of a good used car. I have a special music room in our house, blessed with almost perfect acoustic room dimensions. I further optimized this room by adding sound-absorbing room treatments in certain critical places, thereby reducing the echo-y, blurring sound reflections that usually occur in a normal, untreated room. Man, what a good-sounding room this is. Those Legacy speakers, as good as they already are, really sounded great in this room.

Also, the cabinetry work on the speakers is exquisite, easily the equal of the best wood-veneered fine furniture. They are so nice-looking, in fact, that my wife said, “It’s a shame to hide them in here. Plus, they sound so good, we should move them out into the large family room.” Wow. That’s the very first time any of my audio equipment was invited to be on “public display” by my wife.

We have the typical New England colonial house. There is a “bonus room” over the garage that is our family room. It’s a big room—24 x 24’—and it’s open to the 14 x 23’ kitchen. Acoustically, it’s a big space. Usually, square dimensions mean less than stellar room acoustics, because the same frequencies are reinforced by both the L and W dimensions of the room. Here, however, the situation is mitigated to a large degree by the fact that this is a tall tray ceiling, so there is not the preponderance of parallel surfaces to exacerbate standing waves, as would be the case in a square room with a flat ceiling. Also, the kitchen “L’s” off the family room, effectively negating the family room’s equal dimensions. It actually sounds very good. It’s just very big.

In that room was a typical 3-section wall entertainment unit with a 55” Panasonic large-screen TV in the center section. I had an audio system in that room as well—a pair of small but very high-quality Boston Acoustics VR-M50 bookshelf speakers and a Boston Acoustics PV-1000 subwoofer. This system was perfectly fine for moderate-volume listening, background music, providing music when we had guests over for dinner, etc. It didn’t have quite the firepower for ultimate, high-volume critical listening, but for 95% of the time, it was fine.

VR-M ent unit in Fm Rm.JPG 

The Boston Acoustics system + entertainment unit w/55” Panasonic TV, originally in family room

My wife has a great eye for decorating and visualizing how furniture will look in a given space. She came up with the idea of swapping the audio systems and their associated furniture between the two rooms, feeling it would be an aesthetic upgrade, a way to freshen things up a bit and also give the house the benefit of the Legacy’s great sound. All good. However, moving the music room system and furniture out to the larger family room would necessitate the purchase of a new larger television for the family room, since the TV in the music room (hardly ever used) was a comparatively diminutive 40” Samsung that we acquired when clearing out my mom’s residence after she passed away a few years ago.

Legacy SE's in original music room.jpg 

The Legacy Signature SE’s in their original music room home

The furniture moving itself was quite the daunting task. First, I had to disassemble both AV systems and put the components on the floor in their new respective rooms. Yes, I actually know where every single wire and cable goes, in what order, to which box, so I didn’t have to take any pics or write anything down. Then after the AV stuff was dismantled, my wife took out all the tchotchkes and pictures and put those aside.

Ent unit being moved.jpg 

The entertainment unit being disassembled for the move

Next, we moved the furniture. Between very careful use of a large, old dolly that belonged to my wife’s grandfather and the fortuitous purchase on our part of some furniture-moving discs (you put these discs under the four furniture legs and it slides easily along either the hardwood floor or the carpeting), we managed to move and position these big, bulky, heavy pieces in their new homes. We’re no spring chickens. Moving these pieces was probably not the smartest thing for us to do. Young, strong friends, neighbors and kids were certainly available. But we wanted to do this when we wanted to, and not be beholden to someone else’s “I’ll do you a favor” schedule. We did it without mishap, sprain or other injury, and nothing was dropped or damaged in the process. We were actually quite impressed with ourselves!

With the big pieces in place, attention now turned to reassembling the AV systems.

AV sys disassembled.jpg 

Legacy Signature SE system, waiting to be reassembled in family room

Like I said earlier, I know exactly where every wire, connector and component goes. I actually had to resurrect an old Parasound speaker switcher that I had in the basement, because the two integrated amps have different speaker switching and sub-out capabilities. Without going too far into the weeds, I had to use the NAD and Kenwood amps in the opposite room than I had originally planned. That was the only set-up wrinkle, outside of the usual frustrations over snaking wires and cables through tight spaces and uttering dramatic expletives when a speaker wire would jump off a rear panel terminal after everything was pushed neatly into place on the shelf.

All set. Everything connected and positioned. Time to fire ‘em up, make sure everything works, the CD players sound good, the cable TV sound is properly piped through the two audio systems, speakers “2” and “3” are functioning correctly in the dining room and in the three-season room, all that good stuff.

First, I played the secondary system in its new home, the music room. The BA VR-M50 + PV-1000 subwoofer system sounds great here. No surprise. They are more fittingly at home in the smaller space and the room is so inherently good-sounding anyway, so it’s a very satisfying result. Plus, for whatever reason, the Panasonic TV actually seems to have a better picture in this room than it had in the larger family room. Perhaps it’s because our viewing distance in now only about 8 feet away, compared to almost double that in the larger room, so we’re seeing more detail now. Whatever. It looks better and we’re pleased.

VRM and Pana 55 in Music room.jpg 

The Boston Acoustics system + entertainment unit w/55” Panasonic TV, in their new music room home

We bought a new 65” Samsung for the big family room. It’s a newer television than the Panasonic and the picture seems a bit brighter and more detailed. I think the Samsung is an LED TV and the Panasonic is an LCD. Whatever that means. I can’t really say definitively that the 65” size seems oh-so-much bigger than the previous 55”. I guess it’s a little bigger. It’s a TV. It plays the news, History Channel and Everyone Loves Raymond. That works for us.

But….how does the audio system sound in the family room? This is the big one, the reason we did all this in the first place. The supporting electronics behind the Legacy speakers are a Parasound 2100 pre-amp and a Parasound 2250 power amp, THX-certified, 380 watts RMS/ch into the 4Ω Legacies at <.05% THD 20-20kHz, plus an NAD CD player with SOTA Burr-Brown DACs. This is really, really good audio equipment—far better built and better sounding than the usual junkerino offered at the Big Box stores and far better sounding than the crapola that most young-ins readily accept as “just fine” these days.

New Room, Less Bass? OH NO!

Parasound PreampThe family room is much, much larger than the music room that the Legacy speakers were in previously. From a cubic foot perspective, the new space is well over ten times as large, especially when considering that the family room is open to the large kitchen, and therefore it’s all one acoustic space. The Parasound amplifier’s ample 760-watt power was ridiculous overkill in the 17 x 14 x 8-ft music room, but I wondered if it would be adequate here. Also, in the music room, the Legacy speakers were situated about 2 or 3 feet from the room’s sidewalls, but here in the big family room, they were now a good eight feet away from the sidewalls. This is an important consideration, because the room’s walls, ceiling and floor act essentially as “acoustic mirrors,” reinforcing the speakers’ sound, especially in the bass region. Being farther away from the side walls’ reflecting surfaces means that there would be less bass sound reinforcement, and I wondered how that would be.

Parasound 2250 AmpI put on my first CD and hit “Play.” The first thing I noticed was that the overall sound was somehow “bigger” and more spacious. The larger listening space allowed the sound to really blossom out on a grand scale and fill the room with a spectacular three-dimensional soundscape. It was quite striking, actually. The next thing I noticed was that even in a space 10 times larger, the Parasound amplifier had more than enough sauce. Tons. Not even close to running out. The last thing that made itself known was decidedly less positive. Although the overall tonal signature and the grand scale of the presentation were quite excellent, the very deepest bass seemed a bit lacking compared to the sound in the other room. Specifically, on a few CDs that I know quite well where there is very deep bass (below 25 or 30Hz, which is about as low into the bass as recorded music ever extends), the bass was less impactful and less powerful in the family room than it was in the music room.

Rats.

What should I do? What could I do? The bass tone control on the Parasound 2100 pre-amp is a conventional tone control. It does not have a low turnover frequency, which means you can’t goose up the really low bass without also boosting the mid/upper bass, which would lead to a bloated, artificially heavy sound. I certainly wasn’t going to move everything back to their original rooms. That was totally out of the question.

So what’s the remedy if you need some additional low bass but don’t want to ruin that critical bass/upper bass/low-midrange balance?

How to Fix the Bass: Adding a Powered Subwoofer

SVS SB-3000 subYou know where this is going. Of course—you add a powered subwoofer! It’s both expensive and technically difficult for a conventional speaker to truly handle the lowest bass with power and authority, so there are a plethora of separate subwoofers available to do the job. There are a lot of excellent subwoofers from great brands out there: PSB, Monitor Audio, Polk, Revel, Atlantic Technology, REL, Hsu Research, Outlaw Audio, Paradigm, JBL, Definitive Technology, Martin-Logan, Monoprice and many others. Designs using every approach imaginable—sealed enclosures, vented enclosures, passive radiators, Class D amps, Class AB amps, multiple small drivers, single large drivers. It’s a universe of overwhelming choices and innumerable excellent options.

As always, the user needs to define their requirements accurately. What was I looking for? The deepest extension into the bass region or maximum loudness (SPL) capability? A small enclosure that didn’t draw undue attention to itself or were size and visual impact unimportant considerations? Price no object (within sane limits) or keep it reasonable?

Well, I wanted that deepest bass that I felt was missing from the Legacies in their new room. I wasn’t looking for the absolute loudest sub I could find because I don’t watch movies at theater-like loudness standards nor do I throw hip-hop dance parties at eardrum-breaking levels. Really deep bass at moderately-loud levels would do the trick.

I decided on the SVS SB-3000 sub. SVS is a highly-respected audio company whose subwoofers have garnered a reputation for superb performance, accuracy, deep response, good looks and terrific customer support. The SB-3000 is a sealed box design (“SB”), which matches up nicely with the sealed box design of my Legacy speakers. Many knowledgeable audio professionals and enthusiasts—myself included—feel that matching the bass loading principles of the subwoofer and companion main speakers (sealed and sealed, vented and vented, but not mixing the two) results in a far better overall sound, seamlessly integrated, where it sounds like one smooth, authoritative full-range speaker system, not like a pair of speakers with an obviously patched-in separate subwoofer thumping away in an audibly-disjointed manner.

The Parasound pre-amp’s low-pass filter sub-out slope is 12dB/oct, the perfect reciprocal to the 12dB/oct LF rolloff of my sealed Legacy Signature SE’s. And being sealed, both the SVS sub and Signature SE propagate all their bass energy directly off the front of their woofer cones. No widely-spaced ports randomly facing front and rear, no mis-matched 12 and 24dB/oct slopes, no inconsistent port tuning issues, no strange phase artifacts between the sub and mains, etc. Also, being sealed, both the SVS and Legacies will have essentially identical transient and group delay behavior to each other. Note, please, I am not promoting the superiority of sealed vs. ported or vice-versa. But I am saying that sealed + sealed or vented + vented is very likely the best way to go for optimum sub/mains integration. And I’m not alone in that opinion.

I ordered the SVS sub directly from the company’s website. They promised Fed Ex delivery in two days and warned that, “Transport and set-up of this subwoofer is a two-person job, due to its bulk and weight.”

SB3000 team lift.jpg 

Top of SB-3000 carton saying, “Team Lift”

It was there two days later, as promised. It was big. The carton was bigger than I’d envisioned and bigger and heavier than I could handle by myself. Now, I must admit something here: My wife was out of town for a few days. I wanted this sub in and set up without her knowing anything about it beforehand. She’d likely notice that there was a new black box sitting in her family room that wasn’t there before, but in all honesty, it’s not that big or obtrusive, it doesn’t ruin the looks of the room and actually, there is a slight chance she may not even notice it at all.

 SB3000 in garage.jpg

SVS SB-3000 subwoofer carton in garage

But all those plans would be totally shot to hell if I couldn’t get the blessed thing up from the garage and into the house. By myself.

Note to SVS: When I was at both Boston Acoustics and Atlantic Technology as the head of Product Development and Marketing, one thing we did at my insistence was cut hand holds in the cartons of our larger products. This makes all the difference. It’s not really much more expensive to do that—maybe 50 cents or a buck a carton for the cutting die—but it’s a great thing to do. SVS probably just didn’t think of it. You’re welcome. No charge for the consult.

Well, like I said, we have this old-style dolly, a hand truck that must be 100 years old. I think it was my wife’s grandfather’s hand truck. It’s made from solid coated steel, has big rubber tires that spin with the smoothness born from days past when they used to use a lot of ball-bearings and they really knew how to put things together. In and of itself, this hand truck is a thing of functional beauty. It will survive the apocalypse.

Down to the garage I go, accompanied by the dolly. I slip the floor-level lip under the SVS carton and tip it back. I seem to have control of the package. I wheel it from the garage onto the driveway, then to the front walk that leads up to our front door. There are three steps to go up from the driveway, and I successfully navigate them, one << thunk >> at a time. Now I’m on the main walk, heading towards the front door. I’ve already opened the door and I get the box and truck up the three front steps, like I did up the steps from the driveway.

SB3000 + hanndtruck at walk.jpg 

SB-3000 with hand truck by my front steps

I’m in the house! This is a huge accomplishment by myself.  I wheel the sub from the front door, through the kitchen, over to the family room. The family room is one step up from the kitchen, so I simply rock the dolly forward and the SVS carton rolls onto the family room floor by itself, no lifting of the carton by me required. The box itself slides easily on the carpet, over to its position across the room. I cut open the carton, rock it over so the open side is facing the carpet and lift the box off the subwoofer. Success. The sub is in and positioned, all done solo. Now it’s a matter of connecting and snaking the AC and RCA cables to their appropriate places. Hookup, I can do, no sweat. I’ve already decided to use the SB-3000’s “crossover bypass” mode and do the low-pass from the Parasound 2100, which has that capability (sub out with a 20-140Hz dial, continuously adjustable). I decide on starting at around 50Hz.

SVS, SE  Sam65 Fam rm.jpg 

SB-3000 with Legacy Signature SE’s and new Samsung 65” TV in their new family room home

The End Result: Sonic Perfection, Musician Happy

Michael BreckerI play the system with the sub. It sounds great, just freakin’ great. It’s an amazing sub—fast, deep, articulate, musical, athletic, powerful, whatever juicy audiophile adjectives you want to haul out, this sub is it. The character and quality of the bass between the SB-3000 and the Signature SE’s aligns perfectly, both literally and figuratively. This is top-notch bass. As I listen more critically—having gotten over the initial “Wow!” phase—I decide to lower the crossover frequency from 50Hz to about 40Hz and kick up the level just a smidge. It seems just right now. The sub is absolutely, completely inaudible as a separate entity. The blend is totally seamless.

As I listen to disc after disc, all my favorite so-called “test” discs, I am amazed. The bigness of the sound in the new big room is now accompanied by the powerful deepest bass that was originally missing in the pre-SVS days. The system sounds so good, I am moved to tears. There I am, listening alone and tears are running down my cheeks because the music is being reproduced so beautifully.

Is it the emotional impact of the music itself? I am a life-long musician, jazz and classical, and I’ve played professionally with some truly world-class players and groups. Music affects me deeply.  So much so, that I would gladly trade this system for a $69 CD boom box with 2” speakers if that was the only way I could hear Michael Brecker playing Chan’s Song again.

Is it the profound personal satisfaction that comes from choosing and assembling your own audio system, a one-of-a-kind? Only a truly dedicated audiophile understands this deep, soul-level satisfaction and contentment. The fact that you put this system together, you conceived it and designed it is a feeling like no other.

Or perhaps it’s because my dad is there with me in spirit. He was pretty much the greatest guy ever—smart as a whip, warm and compassionate, funny as all get-out—and we were so incredibly close. He was also an audiophile of the highest order, and the two of us shared countless hours together listening to music and talking audio “shop.” My dad is the reason I love music so much and he’s the reason I went into the business of speakers and electronics for my career. I know how much Dad would’ve loved listening to this with me, and he’d have been so happy that I had a system like this.

The tears were likely a result of all those reasons coming together at the same time. I am very, very happy. I just hope my wife doesn’t kill me.

 

About the author:

Steve Feinstein is a long-time consumer electronics professional, with extended tenures at Panasonic, Boston Acoustics and Atlantic Technology. He has authored historical and educational articles for us as well as occasional loudspeaker reviews.

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Recent Forum Posts:

Gmoney posts on April 10, 2021 20:40
shadyJ, post: 1474669, member: 20472
It's a good thing we have so many guys in here advising the author of loudspeaker placement, because the author, an industry veteran loudspeaker expert, would surely have no idea of the behavior and acoustic effects of loudspeaker placement or of the compromises involved in their chosen placement. It's like watching random guys off the street giving Lewis Hamilton tips on driving.
Who' s thread is this again? and why do AVR's have room correction management in the first place?
shadyJ posts on April 10, 2021 19:27
It's a good thing we have so many guys in here advising the author of loudspeaker placement, because the author, an industry veteran loudspeaker expert, would surely have no idea of the behavior and acoustic effects of loudspeaker placement or of the compromises involved in their chosen placement. It's like watching random guys off the street giving Lewis Hamilton tips on driving.
Pogre posts on April 10, 2021 18:52
Gmoney, post: 1474657, member: 89454
You do have Tower speakers right? Those SVS Towers with that umm 10“ or 12” driver mounted on side of the speaker. I myself run my mains at Full setting for 2.1 use. I then set my Sub at where my mains just start to roll down at. I set my sub trim at 0.5+ I than set my sub gain at about 12: 00 o'clock I than set Hz maxed out on the back of my Sub. I than use PEQ setttings and I start at 32 hz with a boost up. I'd have go back into my settings on my V6A or my 7790 for more detail of my settings for 2.1 set for music only. Now remember Pogre, I gotta cheap really cheap Monoprice sub
I get a much better, more linear bass response setting speakers to small and using a crossover. I'm +/- 2 dB from 16 to almost 200 hz.

46513

That's about as good as I can get it. I have issues dialing it in that well with a lower crossover due to room modes. I have more flexibility with the subs.
Gmoney posts on April 10, 2021 18:39
Pogre, post: 1474622, member: 79914
I'd set it just like I said for 2.1 music only. Small setting, 80 hz crossover. Let the avr handle bass management. I'm listening to music that way right now.
You do have Tower speakers right? Those SVS Towers with that umm 10“ or 12” driver mounted on side of the speaker. I myself run my mains at Full setting for 2.1 use. I then set my Sub at where my mains just start to roll down at. I set my sub trim at 0.5+ I than set my sub gain at about 12: 00 o'clock I than set Hz maxed out on the back of my Sub. I than use PEQ setttings and I start at 32 hz with a boost up. I'd have go to back into my settings on my V6A or my 7790 “black book” for more detail of my settings for 2.1 set for music only. Now remember Pogre, I gotta cheap really cheap Monoprice sub
Pogre posts on April 10, 2021 16:51
Gmoney, post: 1474621, member: 89454
You covered both Music use and HT use. Now how about just 2.1 use for music only use or just say a two channel setup with bass only Management for the Sub? Would you set the Sub at where your Towers or Bookshelf speakers start to roll off or would it be better to just leave setting in AVR to handle that bass management.
I'd set it just like I said for 2.1 music only. Small setting, 80 hz crossover. Let the avr handle bass management. I'm listening to music that way right now.
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