Subwoofer terminology

Discussion in 'Subwoofers' started by annunaki, Nov 2, 2007.

  1. annunaki Moderator

    annunaki
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    I have decided to come up with an ongoing updatable post intended to be a sticky in regards to subwoofers. It is a list of definitions and concepts. There may be some terms that blend into other areas of audio but help out in general subwoofer discussion. I am putting descriptions in a more simple format so that those with limited experience will still be able to follow. Please feel free to post terms or topics you would like explained so they can be added. If you see any errors point them out. I am not afraid to admit I am wrong. I am going mostly off of memory for this. :)

    Here are the most common items I have seen lately:

    T/S Parameters: Shortened form of Theile Small Parameters. These are the set of electro-acoustical properties of an individual driver intended to give a perspective on how the driver will perform and gives insight into what enclosure will best suit a driver.

    Xmax: How far the subwoofer can move in a linear fashion one way.

    Low Pass Crossover/Filter: A crossover is an electro acoustical filter that allows only low frequencies to be sent to an appropriate driver beginning at a certain frequency (cut-off frequency).

    High Pass Crossover/Filter: Again just like the Low Pass but does the opposite. It sends only frequencies higher than the cut off frequency to speakers.

    Crossover Slope: This is how fast the crossover/filter rolls off frequencies from the cut-off frequency. It is usually listed in X db/oct. or decibels per octave in long form. They are also listed in an order type as well. For example one may have a 4th order crossover slope or network. (see below for further explanation on the bolded terms).

    Octave: The interval between any two frequencies having a ratio of 2 to 1. In layman's terms this is best described with an example.

    500hz to 1000hz is one octave, 250hz to 500hz is one octave. 250hz is one octave below 500hz. 1000hz is one octave above 500hz

    Crossover Order: Crossover orders are as follows: 1st order (6db/oct.); 2nd order (12db/oct.); 3rd order (18db/oct.); 4th order (24db/oct.); 5th order (30db/oct.); 6th order (36db/oct.); ect.

    Crossover Roll off (i.e. SLOPE): This ties into the three above it. It is best explained with example.

    There is a theater system that has a subwoofer crossed over at 80hz lowpass with a 24db/oct. filter. The highpass crossover is also at 80hz but at 18db/oct. There is a fundamental full range signal playing through the system at 100db. This means that the subwoofer will begin cutting back sound at 80hz and will be -24db below the fundamental signal at 160hz or one octave above the crossobver point. The fron center and rear speakers will be at -18db below the fundamental at 40hz or one octave below the high pass crossover point.

    Infrasonic filter (incorrectly known as Subsonic filter): An Infrasonic filter is a highpass crossover that is typically employed at inaudible frequencies (i.e. below 20hz for the normal human). It is most often used with vented or bandpass enclosures to avoid speaker damage. Subsonic refers to the something traveling below the speed of sound. This is not a correct term.

    F3: This is a point in a sub system's response in which its response drops -3db below the reference plane or 0db on a frequency response graph.

    FB: Tuning frequency of a ported/vented/bass reflex enclosure.

    Node, Null or Dip: A dip in frequency response caused by room characteristics. these can wreak havoc on a system as they are very difficult to cure with an eq occur in every room. Careful placement is necessary to minimize them as much as possible.

    Mode or Peak: A boost in frequency response caused by room characteristics Not looked at with as much scorn as nulls modes can be troublesome as well. However they are easier to tame with an eq and can be advantageous with slightly underperforming gear and/or for bass heads who like boom. They have been known to muddy up response as well.

    Enclosure types:

    Sealed or Acoustic Suspension Enclosure: This type of enclosure is completely sealed with no openings into the ambient environment. It is the most forgiving enclosure to build and are usually recommended for their transient response characteristics. They typically have a 12db/oct. roll off below the sealed system's resonance point.

    Vented/Ported/ Bass Reflex Enclosure: This is probably the most widely used design in home audio/theater.This enclosure has a vent or port that allows air inside the enclosure to interact with the ambient environment reinforcing bass response. All vented enclosures are tuned to a specific frequency. The tuning frequency of the enclosure is dependent upon enclosure volume, vent/port length, and vent/port surface area (diameter for round ports). These enclosures, when designed correctly, can substantially lower the frequency response of a given driver vs. a sealed enclosure. When designed correctly they can also have very similar, if not undetectable, transient response characteristcs as opposed to sealed enclosures. They typically are about 25% larger than a sealed counterpart however. They also rolloff at 24db/oct. below the tuning frequency of the enclosure.

    Bandpass Enclosure: This type of enclosure design is all but unused in the home audio arena for the most part. It typically uses a sealed portion behind the driver and a ported portion infront of the driver to create a specific frequency pass band of operation. There are many different designs of bandpass enclosure however. This system rolls off frequencies on the high end and the low end to create a narrow frequency operation window. This allows for very high sensitivity. If done correctly (though very difficult) they can be quite impressive. They have many drawbacks though. They tend to be boomy enclosures due to the fact of peaky type response . Properly done enclosures can exceed ported designs in size by as much as 50%+! As previously mentioned they are very difficult to design and build. Their limits on low end response due to ever increasing size limits them in home theater applications.

    Infinite Baffle: This is not so much an enclosure. One would typically see this design in a wall, ceiling, or floor where the front of a speaker is completely isolated from the rear. This design also require (usually) many woofers and a large space such as an attic or basement to use as the enclosure for the subs. This is not very common and requires a fair bit of knowledge and DIY ability to tackle.

    Compound Compression Enclosures and/or Isobaric Enclosures: These types of systems are nice if slightly inefficient. The benefits are very small enclosures and extended low frequency extension. It essentially uses two woofers that act as one. They also only give you the output of one woofer. However, they typically will play much deeper and more accurate than a single woofer alone in a sealed enclosure. The accurace usually comes from the way the woofers are loaded cancelling any anomalies. The disadvantage here is having to use two woofers and get the output of one and the use of a lot of amplifier power. Given the circumstances the advantages can significantly outweigh the disadvantges.

    Power handling Myths related to subs:

    Underpowering will blow subs. This is totally false. If it were true, everytime you turned down the volume your subs would blow. It is quite silly when one thinks about it.

    Clipping blows subs/speakers. Cliping in and off itself does not blow speakers. It is the extra power created, along with potential odd order harmonics that cause non-linearities in the speaker to fry the coil or go beyond the mechanical limits of the driver. When an amplifier fully clips it will double its continuous output power when taken at .1% thd (total harmonic distortion). If a sub is rated at 100 watts continuous power handling and the amplifier is also 100 watts continuous output, when the amplifier fully clips it sends 200 watts into our 100 watt speaker. This is what causes the sub to fail. The extra power significantly increases heat generated in the speaker. The subwoofer cannot dissipate this extra heat and the coil soon fails. The extra power can also cause mechanical failure by pushing the sub beyond its mechanical limits and tolorances.

    One could have a 25 watt amplifer @.1% thd run fully clipped into our 100 watt sub and never have any damage. When fully clipped, it would only deliver 50 watts of power which are within our sub's tolorances. Sure it will sound horrible but the sub should not fail. Because there would not be enough power to exceed the mechanical limits of the woofer it should not fail there either.

    A 3db increase in output means it is twice as loud. This is just a bit of confusion. To gain a theoretical +3db in output the input power to the sub must double. To gain a percieved doubling in output the level must increase by 6db-10db depending upon the study evaluated. To achieve this power must increase by nearly 10x!

    Sensitivity and Efficiency are the same thing: This is a common misconception. Sensitivity refers to how much output a sub will do with a given amount of input voltage. Efficiency is entirely different the that it is a measure of how much power is used for motion or output and how much is wasted in heat. Most subs are only about .3% efficient. Some of the best are around .6%, the rest is wasted in heat. That means that for every watt you put in 99.7% is wasted in heat. It is no wonder that cooling on a driver is so critical.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2008
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  2. annunaki Moderator

    annunaki
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    Port/Vent Compression- Port or vent compression is when the vent opening ( or the entire vent itself) is constricting the airflow through said vent. This can result in a "chuffing" sound or substantially lower the distortion free output of the system. This compression will typically increase as frequency lowers due to increased excursion. Use of single a round vent is typically the biggest culprit.

    Most standard 12" woofers typically require around 32 in^2 of vent area to be free of vent compression. Most manufacturers will use a single 4" vent (12.57 in^2) or dual 3" vents (14.14 in^2) for many 12" applications.

    Excursion: Excursion is the movement of the driver in an outward fashion from it's "at rest position". Typically the term "excursion", when used by itself, refers to the total movement of the driver. Most of the time referring to forward & reward movement or doubling of the Xmax. Sometimes is referenced as peak-to-peak number which is quite inflated.

    Suspension: This refers to the sub driver's surround and spider which 'suspend' the cone & voice coil assembly in the magnetic gap.

    Spider: Typically made of woven poly, cotton, Nomex, or some mixture of all, it is typically yellow in color (and has ridges in it) and located below the cone and above the motor structure. The spider centers the voice coil former in the magnetic gap and works in conjunction with the surround to enusre it stays centered throughout the stroke of the cone.

    Surround: Refers to the half roll of rubber or foam which allows the woofer to move in & out on it's stroke while helping the spider to center the cone. It is located at the front of the woofer attached to the cone & chassis.

    Motor: The motor is comprised of a few different parts. A magnet, which is sandwiched between two pieces of steel, known as the top plate & bottom plates, and the pole piece. The pole piece runs up the inside of the voice coil former and is, in many cases, a machined piece that is part of the bottom plate. The top plate and pole piece are fairly integral parts in making sure the magnet's force is well utilized over the entire stroke of the cone/voice coil assembly.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2009
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  3. avaserfi Audioholic Ninja

    avaserfi
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    Great post, very informative.

    I don't know too much about compound compression woofers, but perhaps that is another type to explain? I know I would appreciate it ;).

    While this might me viewed as a treatment issue I think it is pretty important:

    Also, it might be important to note as far as room modes and nodes go it is more desirable to have peaks rather than dips as dips are far harder to fix via equalization or even turning the volume down appropriately as can be done with peaks.This is due to the nature of the sound waves produced by subwoofers and their interaction with the room. The way these waves cancel each other out causing dips versus the constructive forces behind the waves adding on to each other causing peaks. Thus cutting power on the peaks allows for a more linear response due to the peak being lowered accounting for the extra output at a given frequency while adding power at a dip can raise the response some, but the cancellation still occurs so a larger increase in power is needed thus possibly straining the amp and woofer.

    In addition, achieving proper bass response can completely change how the rest of your system sounds due to room interaction. Having improper bass response can muddy up the rest of the frequencies output from other speakers in your system.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2007
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  4. annunaki Moderator

    annunaki
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    I have addressed your concerns. Happy now? :D Let me know if that is adequate for the average person.
  5. mike c Audioholic Warlord

    mike c
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    what about adding driver specs terms ...

    like vas, etc.
  6. avaserfi Audioholic Ninja

    avaserfi
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    I believe that falls into the range of beyond the scope of the average person, but I can help out there :D.

    Fs/Fo: Resonance frequency measured in Hz. is the frequency that the moving mass and suspension of the driver is reinforced by cone motion to the maximum amount.

    Bl: Force factor (magnetic strength) measured in Tesla-meters.

    Mms: Mass of everything that moves within the driver, measured in grams.

    Rms: Measurement of the drivers losses in its suspension/moving system.

    Cms: Inverse stiffness measurement measured in meters per Newtons.

    Qts: Combined dampening of the driver - both mechanical and electric.

    Qms: Mechanical dampening of the driver.

    Qes: Electrical dampening of the driver.

    Vas: Free air stiffness, of sorts, of the driver - measured in liters.

    Sd: Effective area of cone diaphragm measured in meters squared.

    Vd: Volume of the displacement measured in liters.

    Re: D/C resistance of the coil measured in Ohms.

    Le: Inductance of the voice coil.

    These are the ones that are more important and I could remember off the top of my head so sorry if I forgot any. I have been reading up on these because I want to make sure the modeling of my DIY speakers goes right! Anyways, these are very simplified ideas of what ach specification stands for if you want more in depth views of the specs check out these links:

    http://www.thielesmall.com/
    http://sound.westhost.com/tsp.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiele/Small
    http://www.the12volt.com/caraudio/thiele.asp
    http://www.members.shaw.ca/LoudSpeakerBuilder.ca/thiele-small.html

    edit: (Yes, I like order and edit the links in a proper fasion after realizing me previous haste!)
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2007
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  7. mike c Audioholic Warlord

    mike c
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    what about the difference between excursion and xmax
  8. avaserfi Audioholic Ninja

    avaserfi
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    As far as I understand they are the same thing which is why I left it out of the list since it was mentioned in the OP.
  9. mike c Audioholic Warlord

    mike c
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    i wasn't sure because some use one way ... some use peak to peak.

    some manufacturers say "useable excursion of 2" " but quote an xmax of 22mm
  10. avaserfi Audioholic Ninja

    avaserfi
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    According to what I can find online excursion, Xmax and peak to peak are all the same thing and relate cone excursion in a linear fashion. There is another specification that I came across referred to as Xmech which is the mechanical peak of the driver before damage can be done. When you see "usable excursion" you are likely seeing something that is balance of Xmax and Xmech where the driver is no longer moving linearly, but has not reached a point to which it will damage itself. From what I have seen with lower frequency drivers a usable throw greater than that of the Xmax is possible without reaching a point of perceived distortion with proper design. Elemental Designs is an example of a company that makes use of this characteristic ;).
  11. mike c Audioholic Warlord

    mike c
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  12. avaserfi Audioholic Ninja

    avaserfi
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    Mike and I have finally figured the situation out in part due to WmAx pointing me in the right direction too.

    xmax is the total excursion in a completely linear fashion, thus no distortion is introduced via the driver moving in a non-linear fashion.

    excursion is the total throw of the driver used in a specific application with a certain amount of chosen distortion (chosen by the subwoofer designer). The distortion is caused by the driver moving in a non-linear fashion and is generally not audible if properly implemented. Many manufacturers/designers have a set given amount of distortion that is allowed in a design caused by allowing a driver to have an excursion beyond its xmax.

    http://www.subwoofer-builder.com/xmax.htm
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  13. annunaki Moderator

    annunaki
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    Mike C is correct. Xmax is a measurable specification. Useable excursion and peak-to-peak numbers are not nearly as accurate as xmax. Useable excursion figures are usually xmax + 10%. Peak-to-Peak excursion is also usually xmax + 10% x 2.

    The reason 10% is usually added is that it is the point at which distortion may just become audible.

    Say there are three woofers. All are rated at 15mm xmax. Company A is conservative and honest and rates the speaker at measured linear, one way, xmax of 15mm. Company B is controlled a bit more by the marketing department and lists excursion at 16.5mm (xmax + 10%). Company C is almost completely controllled by the marketing department and lists excursion at 33mm Peak-to-Peak.

    I theory all the woofers should produce the same output levels assuming they are all the same size and power handling.

    However, If company A has a very linear motor and suspension design They may be able to generate significantly lower distortion at xmax and beyond. Their sub may be good to one-way, linear, xmax + 20% before audible distortion sets in. If company B and C are of standard motor design and are not as linear they could be significantly outperformed by company A's woofer.

    This is why it is important to look at all the component of an individual driver as opposed to just one aspect of its performance.

    Take JL Audio's subs for example. The W7 drivers have been measured in independent reviews to have xmax + 30% for useable excursion! On the 12" model that puts it at 2.97" of usable peak-to-peak excursion or 1.48" one way! The reason they are able to go much further than rated xmax is due to the linearity of the design of the suspension, motor, and low power compression because of patented cooling technologies.. Essentially the woofer has built in headroom which is why they work well for sealed eq'ed systems with loads of power.

    As you can see this topic is quite in-depth and could constitute a thread on its own. :)
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  14. annunaki Moderator

    annunaki
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  15. tokehectic Audiophyte

    tokehectic
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    Thanks for this thread Annunaki , it has cleared up many issues for me and Im sure numerous others.
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  16. KEW Audioholic Ninja

    KEW
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    Could someone explain what extension is and how it is determined?
    TIA!
    KEW,
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  17. annunaki Moderator

    annunaki
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    I assume you are referring to low frequency extension?

    In that case it refers to how low in the frequency bandwidth the woofer can play in a given enclosure alignment.
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  18. audiohonic65 Audioholic

    audiohonic65
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    Wonderful post! Very detailed and explained everything in simple and easy to understand language. Thanks!
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  19. Yancy Sefton Banned

    Yancy Sefton
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    Hello guys!

    I know a few little terms about a subwoofer's specs like xmax, spl, rms...... but what about these
    fs
    re
    qms
    qes
    qts
    mms
    cms
    sd
    vas
    bl

    these terms confuse me a lot and it makes my brain shizzle on itself. I would feel a lot smarter if I knew what they meant. Thanks in advance
  20. Yancy Sefton Banned

    Yancy Sefton
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    Hello guys!

    The term Subwoofer came into common parlance as a result of the need for marketing departments to boost the heavy hitting image of their woofer products. Most such subwoofers are more dependent on the accompanying electronics than on the woofer itself. It was a campaign so successful, it is now as difficult to find a woofer as it is to find a "regular strength" antacid tablet. But as far as describing a particular type of Driver, the term is virtually worthless. The ludicrous extent to which the trend has gone is illustrated in the recent appearance of 4 inch subwoofers...

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