Is it OK to Put a Subwoofer on its Side?

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Where to Put a Subwoofer

If you have a small room, you might want to consider putting a subwoofer on its side. To answer the question of whether it’s OK to put a subwoofer on its side, you have to first understand a few basic concepts about subwoofers.

Subwoofers usually have floor space requirements comprised of three basic elements: back, side, and height. To know if it’s OK to put a subwoofer on its side, you have to know the space requirements recommended by the manufacturer, like any other component that is housed in a cabinet. But here’s the trick: the best way to make sure a subwoofer fits in your room is to give it all the space the manufacturer recommends and then try to squeeze it in. If you find a bunch of room to maneuver, then no worries, you can put the subwoofer on its side.

If you have a subwoofer that is designed to be placed on its side, try that setting. Many subwoofers are designed like bookshelf speakers and have all the electronics on one side. If you put the subwoofer on its side, you run less chance of skewing the electronics. However, always follow the directions in your owner’s manual.

Corners

In my experience, as an audio engineer and a DJ, the most common place you find subwoofers are on the stage, on speaker stands, and occasionally on a table but never on its side. Never! I would even venture so far as to say that if you set up a subwoofer on its side, you are asking for trouble, or rather some very dreadful sounding bass from a subwoofer, which can be a unique kind of trouble all on its own.

When you place your subwoofer in this position, you are putting it into an environment that is radically different from its normal, safe location. Subwoofers are incredibly vulnerable to mechanical changes, so they are designed and reviewed with great care. This is especially true for sealed subs since the problems are even more pronounced and harder to fix.

Center of the Wall

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone come in with a subwoofer and ask where they should place it. It’s a simple question that requires a simple answer: it doesn’t matter! The frequency response is symmetrical about the Drivers' Axis, so you can place the driver in any orientation, regardless of where the physical driver is located.

Many manufacturers recommend placing the driver on the "Wall Plate" (wall directly behind the driver) or the floor. This is usually to avoid woofer chuffing from wind loading. There are no objections to being "upside-down", as far as the acoustical and the electrical response it's all good.

A general rule of thumb is to make sure the subwoofer is on the same side of the room as the majority of the listening area. This is more important for boundary gain than for phase shift. Listeners should be free to move around the room, particularly to move to the opposite side of the room from where the subwoofer is located. This is because bass frequencies may reflect from the back wall and back into the listening area.

Rule of Thirds

The best way to level your sub is by using the 3-2-1 method. This method will ensure that you get the lowest bass response possible, and will also help you to avoid damaging your subwoofer or your floor from the strong vibrations.

Start by placing your subwoofer on the ground, preferably on top of something soft like a mat or carpet. Mark the corners of the sub on the ground, using your measuring tape or a can of spray paint.

Now measure the side of your subwoofer (usually its depth) in inches. Let’s say it’s 12". Measure the height of your subwoofer in inches also and place your measuring tape or can of paint at the same height as the sides. Mark this on the ground as well.

Next, use your measuring tape or can of paint to connect your markings. You’re done with the 3 parts of the leveling process.

Now it’s time for level 2, the second round of leveling. You need to move your sub up or down to meet the length of the sides with the height of the subwoofer.

To get the level height, add the measurement of the height of the sub to the measurement of the side of the sub. The final measurement should be 3”.

How to Put a Subwoofer on Its Side

Typically, your subwoofer should never be used outside of its case. It is true that most modern subwoofers, with the right cabling, can be placed outside of the cabinet.

However, this can put a lot of stress on the subwoofer. Since the subwoofer is intended to be operated in a confined space, it will produce more power for the same given volume setting when in a sealed enclosure. Placing it in an open environment with the same gain settings will mean it’ll have to work harder to produce the same output and will put unnecessary strain on the driver.

In addition, the limited excursion of a sub in a confined space will make it susceptible to being damaged by over-excursion in an open range. This means that to produce the same loudness in an open space for the same volume setting, the cone must travel further, which could exceed the safe operating parameters of the speaker.

Consider the Shape

Some manufacturers will warn that subwoofers are not meant to be placed on their side. Instead, they seem to suggest that the subwoofer should only be placed on a flat surface and at a specific height. But is there something more to it than that?

If you look closely at the surface of your subwoofer, you will notice that there are protruding parts. These small parts aren’t just there to look good. Instead, it’s possible that having this detail, also called nodes, might be important to the performance of your subwoofer.

When you place a subwoofer on its side, the nodes placed on the side will continue to vibrate, which will in turn transfer vibrations to the other sides of the subwoofer and even affect the stability of the platform.

So while it’s true that subwoofers should be placed on a flat surface, it’s more important to ensure that the platform you’re placing your subwoofer on is also sturdy and vibration-free. If the platform is shaky, it not only affects the sound of the music but might damage your subwoofer as well.

Consider the Size

Some people choose to put a subwoofer on its side rather than using a traditional subwoofer speaker stand. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of doing this, as well as some guidelines for stacking your subwoofer up.

Advantages of Stacking

Lower Cost: It can be much less expensive to stack multiple subwoofers upon each other to create a longer, more massive cabinet than to build a traditional subwoofer box.
Line Array: Stacking the subwoofers can create the capability of a line array subwoofer. This is a subwoofer that beam-directs sound output in a specific direction, as opposed to omnidirectional speakers, which beam-direct sound straight out the back.

Disadvantages of Stacking

Unstable: Stacking a subwoofer on its side changes the weight distribution and makes the subwoofer unstable. This could cause the subwoofer to topple over.

Why to Choose a Subwoofer Speaker Stand

The purpose of buying a subwoofer speaker stand is to safeguard your investment. Buying a subwoofer speaker stand helps isolate the vibrations and prevent them from traveling down to the floor and the sound waves from disturbing/confusing the pets, family members, and neighbors.

Consider the Design

One of the easiest and most affordable ways to get a better sound from a home theater or a stereo system is to add a subwoofer. Sometimes when you purchase your subwoofer, the manufacturer will include instructions on whether the subwoofer can be placed on its side. In most cases, the manufacturer will include clear instructions on how you can optimize the performance of the subwoofer based on how you place it.

If you purchase a subwoofer without these instructions, but with mounting hardware, you may determine the placement of your subwoofer based on the location of the mounting points. If you purchase one that comes without mounting hardware, but with a slot for connecting a speaker wire, then you may be able to determine how to place it based on the wire placement. Most manufacturers should include installation instructions that guide the placement of the subwoofer.

You must ensure your subwoofer is placed correctly for the best possible sound. Contrary to what you might believe, placing it upside down, or on its side, could potentially do a lot of damage. For example, stacking it on top of your TV could ruin the sound quality. This is because of vibrations caused by the sound waves.

Consider What Sound You Want

Wooing the crowd with your automotive sound system was once reserved for the mechanic wizards who work on professional cars for a living. Today, with the advances in technology, anyone can create an impressive, realistic sound experience using the equipment they already own. Even better, sound experts can give your system the upgrade it needs.

The fact that anyone can install a subwoofer in any vehicle has led to a noticeable rise in the number of people who turn their cars into badass bass boxes. And because manufacturers build and sell loads of subwoofers, it’s easier than ever to obtain components for your next project. While an overwhelming number of options can lead to confusion over the best one for your project, you shouldn’t let it.

A proper subwoofer system utilizes a subwoofer in the front of the car to push frequencies below 100 decibels in the car. The rear of the vehicle doesn’t need a speaker to push bass frequencies, because the bass notes will be balanced properly with the front. So this leads us to the question of whether it’s ok to put a subwoofer on its side to get it into the rear of the vehicle.

What to Do if You Can’t Place Your Subwoofer on Its Side

The vast majority of subwoofers that you’ll come across feature a downward-firing port. This horizontal port can be either internal or external, but in either case, it’s not ideal to put the subwoofer on its side. This is because the port is designed to redirect the airflow downward.

In the case of external vertical ports, which are best placed in a corner, the port will either fire "through the wall" (a solid masonry wall for example) or out of the box. The problem with placing the subwoofer on its side is that it’s not facing the right direction to redirect air downward. This causes turbulence and distortion in the sound because the airflow has no way of being directed downward.

In the case of horizontal ports, either internal or external, there are many variables to keep in mind. For example, the internal port can change position and angle, as well as the length of the port itself. The bottom line is that it’s always better to not put a subwoofer on its side. Anway, with many subwoofers, placing them on their side is not an option.

Conclusion

Putting a subwoofer on its side is generally considered a bad idea. When you put your subwoofer on its side, you're essentially daring it to fail. It is like setting a trap for it to fall over.

The right way to place your speaker on its side is to mount it on a speaker stand or put it on top of a box.

Your speaker may last longer if you keep it upright. However, you might be surprised by how well it performs when it's placed on its side. But even if it does work for you, there is a very good chance that the position will cause damage over time, especially if it is in that position for a longer time.

If for whatever reason, you have no other choice but to put your speaker on its side, choose a shorter time than you would with an upright position.

Therefore, is it alright to put a subwoofer on its side? It is not OK.