How To Choose a Subwoofer

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Steve Scott

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A home theater experience is much more than watching a movie. Although video quality and clarity are crucial, it's simply not enough to make you immerse yourself in the experience.

For that, you need to have quality sound. It's the thing that grabs you and throws you off your feet and makes you feel as if you're right there in the middle of the action.

And there's no better way to enhance that experience than with some of the best subwoofers. But picking one is not an easy task. 

There are so many specs to look at, so many different types of subs. Enough to make you dizzy.

Please take a look at our guide, and find out what makes a subwoofer a good one, and gain more knowledge and confidence when you decide to purchase it.

See related - Best Stereo Amps


Will It Improve Audio Quality?

The main reason why you would even consider getting a new subwoofer is to improve sound quality. And there's no better way to do that than to make your bass perform on a higher level.

So, you're probably wondering if a subwoofer can do that. To be perfectly clear, if you don't already own a sub, getting even a low-end one will undoubtedly raise the sound quality. Adding a little depth and fullness never hurt anybody.

And since subwoofers provide such a boost in the low frequencies, they tend to shine both with movies and music. Not to mention gaming with lots of blasts and gunshots.

But don't rush into it. There are many more factors that can, and will, influence your decision when getting a subwoofer. Sound quality is not the only thing that should concern you.

If that was the case, then you'd just need to purchase an expensive, high-end model, and you would be done. But things like power, connectivity, size, and many more will play a significant role.

After all, it's not about getting the best overall speaker on the market. It's about getting one that fits your needs perfectly.

What's The Best Subwoofer Size For You?

Size is definitely a significant factor when picking a subwoofer. In most cases, the larger the sub is, the deeper and punchier sound you'll be able to get.

And let's not forget that the quality of the sound will be dependant on the size of your subwoofer drivers.

However, that doesn't mean you should simply order the biggest subwoofer out there. That doesn't ensure you'll get the best possible fit. In other words, you should aim for a model that will smoothly fit in with the rest of your setup and provide you with the best quality available.

So, if you have a set of small speakers, going with a subwoofer with a smaller driver size might be the way to go. On the other hand, if you have a massive set of speakers or a large living room, getting a big sub should be your course of action.

How Much Power Is Required?

First of all, let's make it clear that most of the subwoofers are self-powered ones, meaning they come with a built-in amp, and don't require and external one to power them.

And since that amp is the most essential part of your sub that is responsible for powering the drivers, it is crucial to know just how much power it can produce. That number is depicted with Watts.

Now, there are two values that are measured in Watts, that you can find when browsing the subwoofer specifications - RMS and peak wattage.

Bear in mind, peak power won't do much to your listening experience. It represents the highest a sub can go when you blast it to the maximum. And you won't be doing that often, maybe just a couple of times to see how it performs in such circumstances.

The thing that should interest you more is RMS or Root Mean Square. This number basically shows how much power a sub can produce when working at a moderate level.

There's no one correct answer to how much power you should look for. But, if the financial situation allows it, go for a higher wattage, and you will have a more compelling and energetic bass.

Wired or Wireless Subs?

Up until recently, most subwoofers needed to be directly connected both to an outlet and an amp, in order to reproduce audio. This is achieved by using a long cable.

However, nowadays, there are more and more active subwoofers that have a built-in amp that offer wireless connection. Such an option eliminates the need for a cable, which makes the job a lot easier for you.

Although having a wireless option is neat and dandy, you don't necessarily need it. First of all, wireless subs are much more expensive and don't bring so much in return.

Second, wired subwoofers provide a much more stable connection, minimizing the chances for any breaks and interruptions in the signal.

Check out our guide on the best 5.1 surround sound systems.

Front-Firing or Down-Firing?

The difference between front-firing and down-firing subwoofers is pretty discernible. A front-firing subwoofer has a driver that is mounted in such a way that it emits a sound to the front or sides of the sub's body.


On the other hand, down-firing subwoofers have a driver that is pointed down and pushes the sound toward the floor. 

In all honesty, there aren't many differences between the two. Mostly it would be best if you considered the sub's placement. So, if you plan to place it on a height, consider a down-firing. 

But if you're going to put it in a similar position to your main speakers, then go with the front-firing ones.

The main thing is that you can go either way, you won't make a mistake.

Ported or Sealed?

As you can see, there are many different ways to make distinctions between subwoofers. Another popular way to differentiate them is by a type of their body and enclosure.


Looking at them this way, there are two types: sealed and ported. Sealed subs don't have any openings on their body, and the air doesn't move out. 

On the other hand, ported subs have holes or vents on them that allow free airflow. 

So, which ones produce a better sound? As with many things on this list, it all comes down to personal preference. Ported subwoofers can produce bigger, heavier bass, while sealed offer a more controlled and tight output.

Passive or Powered?

Lastly, we come to the passive and powered subwoofers. We've mentioned them a couple of times earlier in the article.

Passive subwoofers require an external amp to be powered, much like any standard speakers do. On the other hand, powered subwoofers come self-contained.

This means that they come with a built-in amp and that the amp and sub are appropriately matched. These subwoofers are the most common on the market.


Since a powered sub only needs to connect a receiver and a subwoofer output, it takes the load off from the receiver and the amp and allows them to shift their focus on the mids and highs.

In Conclusion

When you buy a piece of tech gear, such as a subwoofer, specifications and features are extremely important. But, setting that aside, the most crucial thing is your preferences and needs.

If you don't need a heavy bass, then a strong subwoofer might not be your priority. Then again, if you're a dedicated gamer or a blockbuster buff, you will want that bass to go thundering around you.

Just make sure you know your priorities, so you don't end up with a sub too strong or too weak.

My name is Steve Scott. Father of 2 and owner of Outdoor Movie HQ. I’ve been involved in the A/V industry for most of my life and built this blog to help people better understand projector technology. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.

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