Speakers that don't need subwoofers?

I’m curious to know which speakers folks are using that genuinely do not need subwoofers to accurately and satisfyingly reproduce deep, deep bass. They should be able to do justice to modern music without getting wooly or losing the instruments in a jumble of sound, preserving the drive and thrust as well as the delicacy of bass notes.

A few tracks that can be challenging to give bass justice to include:

  • Thomas Dybdahl’s “Fever” (from, “A Little Something to Give”)
  • Chvrches “Good Girls” (from “Screen Violence”)
  • Plant & Kraus’s “Quatro (Worlds Drift In)” (from “Raise The Roof”)
  • M83’s “Earth to Sea” (from “Fantasy”)
  • The Orb’s “The End of The End” (from “No Sounds Are Out of Bounds”)
  • Donal Fagen’s “Planet d’Rhonda” (from “Sunken Condos”)

Does the old adage about “No replacement for displacement” (i.e. large woofers) hold true or can modern slim towers hold their own, with or without significant boundary reinforcement? How much effect does an isobaric design have on this?

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A lot of people tell me that QUAD ESL57s don’t do bass. They’re wrong - my stacked pair do.


Would that fall under the “displacement” theory then?

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Never felt that my DBL’s needed any help with a subwoofer. I do find the bass on DBL’s difficult to categorise and it changes drastically depending on how good/bad the recording is. My bass units have recently been refoamed and I’m hearing bass detail I previously missed. However, I’d not describe the bass as particularly ‘trouser flapping’ or ‘widow rattling’, just incredibly accurate. If there’s a low bass note in the recording the DBL’s will reproduce it. I think this really helps with the speed and shear PRAT that they have. They make my old isobariks sound rather slow and laboured by comparison.


… Which is why I listed a few tracks as a reference. Relying on boundary reinforcement to reproduce bass, in my experience, can be fraught with challenges and create as many problems as it solves. My opinion is different to yours in that I find the majority of speakers unable to convincingly reproduce deep bass without needing external support of some kind.

My isobaric Totem Mani-2s went down to 29Hz, needed a lot of current

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I don’t use subs for more bass, or for bass-heavy music. I use subs for better bass, to improve the overall response. There are a lot of ambient cues in recorded music that can be helped by sub-bass systems. One of the big benefits using subs, especially in pairs is the improvement to soundstage, with improved accuracy and depth.

Listen to a good recording of the Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas for violin both with and without a well-integrated sub system and you’ll see what I mean. That’s exactly how I convinced my wife adding subs is a worthy improvement.

Now I use a pair of REL S/510 with Dynaudio Confidence C2 Platinum speakers (which are -3db at 28Hz). I mostly listen to acoustic jazz and classical. It all benefits from well integrated subs.


As matter of interest, do you know if Naim (or anyone else) can still service DBLs? Are the correct driver units still made?

Yup! I’ve discovered what true full range speakers are like to live with and it would take a lot for me to go back. I’m genuinely interested to know which other true full range speakers folks here are enjoying. Anything else is only reproducing part of the music properly.

ATC can service the bass units but the midrange is no longer available. However, there is a ScanSpeak replacement that measures almost identically. A mate of mine had to replace his and used these. He said that using no-standard grills made more of a difference than the new units.

Tweeters are in short supply though as ScanSpeak have stopped making them. You may still get the odd pair here and there. I’m told by Naim that the x-overs very rarely need serving.

I use a bookshelf/sub combo now due to space constraints but the most impressed i’ve been with the low frequency extension of a single box solution has been when i’ve listened to transmission lines. Its basically a folded pipe (whose length is some fraction of the wavelength of the frequency being targeted e.g. 1/4 wave of 29hz etc.) with various refinements added by the respective manufacturers. IMF were the vintage ones (see pic below), TDL made some budget ones (i had RTL2) and most of PMC’s range are transmission lines. Most consumer transmission line models will extend below 30Hz easily.

Here’s some more technical info… Transmission line loudspeaker - Wikipedia


Fascinating stuff, but Peter Walker’s stroke of genius from 1957 leaves them floundering - in my opinion, of course.

Answer to the question: PMC MB2

I thought the question was to do with capability of doing good bass (which to me means the bottom couple of octaves undiminished), not whether any are designed to need a sub…

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Thanks! That’s a pretty serious looking speaker.

It’s relative. I’d say, given an appropriate sized room to speaker match, any PMC speaker can deliver a “quality” low frequency response that puts them ahead of most others in the price group. However, people out there do pair them subs, including things like the mentioned MB2.

As a result, I’m not sure you’ll ever get a strong consensus. I’d never use a sub with stereo speakers. Yet many users would absolutely swear by them regardless of a speaker’s capability.


I have a pair of Neat Orkestras and the last thing that they need is another sub. They have a down firing sub that operates almost like a separate subwoofer.


I’m curious about Neats and their isobaric designs. There are very few speakers that I’ve retained a distinct “aural memory” of but the original Petites, 30 something years ago, have always stuck in my mind … a speaker that could sound so good without having much bass to speak of, just wow!

I’ve not heard much of the earlier models but the Orkestras have a wonderful deep bass that’s perfect for my kind of listening. It has a start and a finish to each bass note that’s very impressive without being dominating.


So you drive your full range speakers with your Nait 2, or what?

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FWIW I drive full range speakers that go down to 20Hz with a 10w amp. In a largeish room.

It’s really down to the ability and pairing of the amp to speakers as to whether an amp is sufficient to drive them and their bass response.

So regarding a Nait 1 with 18w, 18 is just a number. It’s neither large or small. It’s bigger than 10 and less than 200. More powerful than some, but much less powerful than others. That relativity doesn’t mean much unless you’re trying to drive the same speakers. My full range floorstanders can’t even safely take a 50w amplifier being designed for amps in the 2w to 20w range.

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