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Selecting Subwoofers for Dubstep and Drum and Bass
As a gig producer, I’m often asked which subs I would recommend. Subwoofers, like main ones, are selected based on the type of music you will be playing and how they will be used. For the purposes of this article, I’ll limit the conversation to Dubstep and Drum and Bass.
Dubstep and Drum and Bass have a huge amount of content in the 20hz – 50hz range, and if you do the math you’ll need around 5000 watts dedicated to that frequency range to produce enough of that sound to be heard with the rest of the music.
My largest setup is (5) QSC HPR181 front end, (6) Martin Blackline dual 18 home and 2 Bag End Dual 18s running 8000 watts through a dedicated ELF processor in the 8hz – 50hz range through a band laboratory amplifier. When playing smaller shows, I just use my QSC HPR181, which is 700 watts each, but good for ultra high volume bass. QSCs are self-powered and take 5 minutes to set up, which also helps. Now I’ve heard the common wisdom, don’t mix subwoofers, but in reality I’ve yet to find a sound manufacturing company that does everything short of a tour package produced for a given show, rather than a type of music (an important distinction). That said, crossover points and keeping each subwoofer and the entire system in phase are very important when mixing subs.
Conventional crossovers, like the very common dBx DriveRack PA, have a good, fairly adjustable crossover that also includes the ability to change the slope of the roll off. When matching and adjusting subwoofer frequencies, I noticed that although the crossover claims to have removed a frequency, some content is still being passed to the subwoofer. Obviously, when two brands of subwoofers generate the same tones, distortion is created. So I separate the frequencies by about 5hz. Visually on the crossover it appears that I am losing musical content, however, with the amplification gain, in fact I am not, and an RTA mic will confirm the setting is correct.
Waterproof enclosures and sub-harmonics
Bag End really is the rendezvous here. There are other subsystems that do subharmonics, but Bag End was the first, so I’m writing about them. The Infra processor, and before Ron Wickersham’s departure, the Elf processor are the two key components. Dubstep and Drum and Bass require huge presence in the 20hz – 50hz range. Most people can’t hear music in this range, but you can feel it, and you can feel the difference between 20Hz and 40Hz when the signal is clear and without clipping. The Infra processor is available in two forms. The first has a flat response up to 18hz, the second at 8hz. 18hz is much more efficient for larger systems. If you have 20k extra to burn, go with the integrator 8hz and (4) dual 18’s. You will also need a substantial amount of AC power to run the amps, typically an additional 20 amp 220 circuit for a Lab Gruppen or four 20 amp 110 circuits for four bridged QSC amps in each sub. My Bag Ends typically draws around 3000 watts per double 18 when generating content STRICTLY LIMITED to the 18hz – 50hz range. I should note that making adjustments to your crossover at full volume can quickly destroy all your gear, so be careful and know your gear’s frequency response and power handling ratings.
Subs vary wildly in price. In the lower price range I heard Peavey’s Black Widows, which are technically louder, but much less musical. When you mix two tracks or quickly switch between them, it’s hard to hear much difference with the Peavey subs, they’re just loud, not so musical. The JBL and Cerwin Vega subs are fart canisters, and I think most people know that. They may rumble and shake, but they don’t have an articulate sound – a low-end clarity that’s badly needed for Dubstep and more so for Drum and Bass.
Some other gear I’ve tried, if you’re rich audioteknic Q2 subs from D&B (not db technologies) are killer, EAW 218z subs are pretty good, McCauley makes a pretty decent sub with some good general specs for Dubstep and Bag Fin kills. However, all of these speakers require extremely expensive amplification. You can get 12,000 amps alone before you can even fire up an average sized system of this caliber.
Another alternative is to build your own box. This isn’t a beginner’s project, but if you love woodworking and have $2,500 to spare, you can build some pretty amazing cabinets. The best way to do this is to go to the forums and look at the designs, then read the threads. Often people post reviews over the years.
Look for a design that has good frequency response down to 40Hz and a driver that has exceptional frequency response. OHM (brand) makes a pretty amazing pilot, and there are a few high end RCF subs that are bad for the bone.
Listen to them before you buy if possible, using a parametric EQ and cutting all frequencies except the 20Hz to 50Hz range – this is Dubstep’s sweet spot that really makes it different from other music similar.
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