Angry New Yorker

Monday, April 07, 2003
Older entries - June 6, 2001

The subwoofer - Worst invention of the 20th Century
What's your nominee for the worst invention of the 20th century? Income tax? The machine gun? That ol' favorite, the A-bomb? While all three are hardly crowd pleasers, I nominate the subwoofer. Time was we all got by happily listening to stereos with regular woofers to handle the bass chores.

But in perhaps one of the most misguided examples of placing commerce before common sense and community, some wise guy invented the subwoofer, which reproduces bass in the sub 100Hz range. Sound below 100Hz is deep and penetrating and travels great distances -- it's how whales and elephants communicate over great distances. But the subwoofer when added to a car stereo is a rolling annoyance, guaranteed to fill everyone, except the driver, with murderous thoughts. The problem is that low frequency sound has tremendous penetrating power. A 20Hz soundwave has a wavelength of 56 feet, which for all those who slept through college physics, means the waves pretty much go through anything. It's why you can hear and feel a car's subwoofer from blocks away.

Life in NYC has never been easy, but over the past few years as car subwoofers have dropped in price life is becoming downright jarring. For instance, just last Sunday morning I woke thinking I was having a heart attack. Some friends of a neighbor's son down the block had driven up in front of his house, and while waiting for the kid to come out their subwoofer-equipped stereo pounded the block like a squandron of Dolittle's B-24's over Tokyo. It rousted me out from sleep and I thought the pounding was in my chest. It was a panic-filled minute before I realized, with no small relief, that the rumble was coming from outside and not my ventricles.

Who the hell needs this shit?? If ever there was a quality of life issue in this city, subwoofers rate right up there with panhandlers and graffiti. Hey Mayor, stop fighting with your wife for a few minutes and do something about this! I just checked and I don't see the freedom to "rattle the fillings out of your neighbor's head" listed anywhere in the Constitution as a God-given right.

Posted by Rich Santalesa on 6/6/01; 3:47:38 AM

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