Can You Put a Subwoofer on Its Side?

In Home Theater Design, Speakers by Jonah MatthesLeave a Comment

There are lots of reasons you might consider putting a subwoofer on its side. Most of the time, this is related to space. Sometimes a subwoofer just fits where you need it to when it’s on its side. But does this impact the sound quality?

You can put a subwoofer on its side. There are, however, some considerations to take into account. You will need to determine whether putting the subwoofer on its side will interfere with its normal use.

Subwoofers generally come in one of two varieties, down-firing and front-firing. Which of these you have will determine what sorts of configurations you can use. Use the wrong one, and you may end up with too much or not enough bass.

Down Firing vs. Front Firing Subwoofers

Subwoofers are either down-firing or front-firing. That is, the sound is designed to come out either from the bottom of the subwoofer, or out its side.

Looking at a few examples, you can tell it’s the driver placement that determines the firing direction. The Klipsch Synergy Black Label Sub-120 Subwoofer (on Amazon) is clearly front-firing, while the REL Acoustics T/5i Subwoofer (also on Amazon) is down-firing, which we know because we can’t see the driver facing out.

A down-firing subwoofer cannot be used as a front-firing subwoofer or vice versa. Front-firing subwoofers are designed to vibrate the air. Down firing subwoofers are designed to vibrate the floor. And as explained in our article about hardwood vs. carpet subwoofer placement, there are other considerations about placement for you to check off your list.

If you switch these functions, a down-firing subwoofer will be too powerful and a front-firing one too muffled. Thus, always make sure that you preserve the functionality of your subwoofer. A down-firing subwoofer is designed to be close to the listening area. Usually, these subs are placed next to the seating area or directly behind it.

A front-firing subwoofer is designed to be in line with the rest of the front speakers. Sometimes audiophiles like to offset their subwoofer slightly forward because of the properties of bass frequencies.

When You Can Put a Subwoofer on Its Side

Front-firing subwoofers, however, can be put on their side provided the speaker is facing the listening area. Thus, you can put it on its side, but you can only rotate on one axis. In most instances, this shouldn’t limit you.

Front-firing subs must face toward the listening area. Putting it on its side so the speaker faces sideways, for instance, will greatly diminish the bass you will hear.

Setting up a front-firing sub like a down-firing subwoofer will greatly muffle your sound. On the one hand, the speaker is not calibrated for floor amplification. On the other hand, it likely does not hold the speaker above the floor to make amplification possible in the first place.

Front-firing subwoofers are designed to be part of your TV console, although they don’t have to be. They are intended to be placed around the same distance from the listening area as the rest of your speakers. Some TV consoles are wider than they are tall.

Because of this, subwoofers sometimes fit inside these better when placed on their side. Be sure to review our article on subwoofer and soundbar placement if you’re trying to figure out a good setup for your space.

When You Can’t Put a Subwoofer on Its Side

It is basically impossible to put a down-firing subwoofer on its side and maintain the sound profile it was intended for. That is, with down-firing subs, you can’t put the subwoofer on its side. 

Down-firing subwoofers are intended to be close to the listening area, not a part of your TV console. Thus, there shouldn’t really be a reason you would want to put it on its side because it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) need to fit into anything.

Bass frequencies move slower and require more power to transmit. As such, the placement and orientation of subwoofers are very important to your overall sound profile.

Down-firing subwoofers can never be placed on their side. They are intended to use the floor to amplify the bass. Orienting them on their side will result in a disproportionate amount of bass being amplified through the air.

Further, because they are intended to vibrate the floor, down-firing subwoofers may use a different frequency range than would typically be heard in a front-firing sub. As a result, your sound may be warped if you put a down-firing sub on its side.

Putting Your Subwoofer on Its Side

In sum, yes in certain instances you can put a subwoofer on its side. If the subwoofer is front-firing, the subwoofer can be placed on its side. This is possible only if the speaker is facing the listening area. Obviously, the speaker cabinet would need to permit the subwoofer to be stable on its side, but most do.

A down-firing subwoofer cannot be put on its side. Because the speaker needs to face the floor, it cannot work properly on its side. However, down-firing speakers shouldn’t need to be set up where space is an issue. They are designed to be near the listening area, not inside a console.

Now you know when you can put a subwoofer on its side. Hopefully, you’re one step closer to setting up your home theater.

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