You can survive with just a regular set of speakers. You don’t, strictly speaking, need a sub. But you cannot believe the difference having one will make. Squirreled away out of sight, this big box of wonder will do incredible things to your sound. It’s not just the inevitable boost to the low end that comes from a good quality sub; it’s the overall richness of the sound, the sense of fullness that comes when you plug it in and turn it up. It’s fantastic for music, but it’s even better when you load up your favorite movie - preferably one with an epic soundtrack or big action scenes. But this big, blocky piece of tech is truly one of those things that you’ll wonder how you lived without. In this guide, we’ve evaluated the top subs for this year, ranging from around $100 budget options to four-figure monsters - and at least one bad boy that needs a second mortgage to buy.
We've got a lot of experience in evaluating subwoofers, so we know how they stack up. With dozens available, we've narrowed it down to a set of models that we think are the best available. All of these models are fantastic, and no matter what your budget, you'll find one you like. We take into account a variety of factors, not just price: wattage, driver size and ideal use are all factored in. We also spent a lot of time testing, and checking to see how different models responded to different sound sources.
Dimensions: 28.3” x 25” x 21.7”
Output Wattage: 1500
Driver Size: 16”
What We Like: Unbelievable volume and audio quality.
What We Don’t: Takes two people to unbox and shift!
We’ve never quite received a piece of audio gear like the PB16 Ultra. For starters, it took two people to move the bloody thing into our living room. At 175lbs, this is not a piece of equipment you stash away unnoticed, and it’s the first one we’ve come across that actually has unboxing instructions!
But oh, what a monster. This is, without question, the finest home theater sub available right now. Exquisitely-built, with a gorgeous, comprehensive app and clear, simple instructions. And the sound. Dear gods, the sound. It’s not just it’s loud, although at top volume, it shakes glasses and dislodges picture frames and prompts visits from the landlord. It’s that the bass is clear, robust, distinct, with a level of depth and detail that shouldn’t be possible in a sub. With 1500 watts of power (contnuous - peak is an ear-shattering 5000), driven by an absolutely stunning set of internal electronics, this is a subwoofer for the ages - although it’s definitely not for smaller rooms, or those looking for simple pleasures. This is a king-hell, roaring, snorting monster of a subwoofer, and it’s an easy number one. Our full review is coming soon, as soon as we’ve gotten over the shock.
See the SVS PB16 Ultra
Dimensions: 15.8" x 15.3" x 6.2"
Output Wattage: 2 x 6”
Driver Size: Unknown
What We Like: Superlative noise and looks.
What We Don’t: Only works with other SONOS gear.
There’s nothing we don’t like about the SONOS SUB. Why else would we put it at the very top of this round-up? Everything (including the name) about the SONOS is loud. This ring-shaped unit produces loud, bassy noises and has looks to kill. It’s designed to integrate with other SONOS products, particularly its PLAYBAR unit, and the entire system is wireless. With a one-button setup that’s integrated with any existing SONOS software, it’s quick to get going. The sound is nice, and not only does the gap in the middle double as a handle (useful, as its heavy), but it helps cancel out some of the rattling that you get in other subs when the low frequencies come out to play. It's also directionless, meaning you can put it just about anywhere.
There’s a notable downside to the SUB though: while it might be one of the best units on the market, it only works with other SONOS products. You’ll need to spring for the complete setup, like the aforementioned PLAYBAR, or not at all. Be warned - the price fluctuates, and you may be able to find used models that work perfectly well, for quite a bit cheaper.
See the SONOS SUB
Dimensions: 16.5" x 16.25" x 15.75"
Output Wattage: 400
Driver Size: 12"
What We Like: Deep, deep bass.
What We Don’t: Maybe a little expensive?
One word: deep. Actually, we'll add a few words to that: powerful, smooth, earthshaking. Awesome. PSB know what they're about when it comes to subs, and with this big, 400-watt front-firing twelve-incher, they've created a terrific complement to any system.
It's got excellent digital signal processing as well, and its relatively affordable price (compared to the SVS) makes it an excellent alternative. But really, you go for this because of the epic sound quality. Part of is down to the engineering of the amp inside, which is a Class D module from the legendary NAD Electronics. But it’s also down to the outer construction, which includes two 10” passive radiators to really get the low end thumping. The advanced DSP crossover makes it easy to cordon off that low-end, and the entire system works incredibly well. It’s a tiny bit overpriced, we think, but this may drop in the future, and if you can afford it, then go for it!
See the PSB SubSeries 450
Dimensions: 16.2" x 15.9" x 14"
Output Wattage: 350
Driver Size: 10"
What We Like: Great woofer/radiator combo.
What We Don’t: Weird logo placement.
Sumiko are not a particularly well-known brand. If you can forgive the quirky and slightly irritating logo on the front of their S9, however, you're in for a winner (and you can always cover it with a grille). The dual-combo down-firing woofer and front-mounted passive radiator lend a richness to the bass, and the built-in Class AB amplifier really smooths out the sound.
We like the price, too - $1000 might be a lot to pay for a sub, but at the top end, it's great value for money. They also offer the S10 and S5 - larger and smaller models, respectively. As for color, don’t expect anything too exciting – white or black pretty much your only options. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer that doesn’t do the same thing! The bottom line with this is that it’s not the world’s easiest-to-find sub, but it’s hugely rewarding if you can track it down.
See the Sumiko S9
Dimensions: 22" x 22" x 21"
Output Wattage: 450
Driver Size: 12”
What We Like: Terrific EQ, huge power.
What We Don’t: Sound isn’t as clean as we’d like.
Velodyne’s EQ-Max 12 looks like it belongs in a sci-fi flick. But despite the imposing design, there’s rarely a sub in this price range so eager to please those who use it. Those who know audio know this brand, and Velodyne made headlines some time ago for their Digital Drive subs, which monitored the vibrations of the cone to reduce distortion.
The drivers in the EQ-Max 12 aren’t quite as complex, but it instantly makes itself at home in whatever room it lands in, thanks to a built-in EQ that automatically generates test tones and calibrates itself with the surroundings. With a 12-inch driver and an amp that generates 450 watts of power at its peak, you can expect excellent sound, too. Expect it to do well across its frequency range, with a low level of distortion and smooth bass characteristics. It’s not going to touch the sound of subs in the $1,000 range, but for this price you’re getting an awful lot of value.
See the Velodyne EQ-Max 12
Dimensions: 12.5” x 12.5” x 11.7”
Output Wattage: 700
Driver Size: 10”
What We Like: Great wireless sound, easy to use.
What We Don’t: A bigger driver would have been nice.
Martin Logan is a company we should probably feature a little more frequently on the site; in the past, we acknowledge that we’ve overlooked them somewhat. No longer. Their Dynamo is a fantastic wireless subwoofer, with setup that is an absolute breeze. It comes with its own wireless receiver that connects to your existing home theater, and it all works beautifully – although you will need to keep it a bit of a distance from your other electronics, as the company's subwoofers are not magnetically shielded.
While we could probably have used a slightly bigger driver, there’s no question that the sound of this down-firing little beast is solid. It doesn’t feel overcooked or boomy – quite the opposite, in fact, with tight, restrained bass that doesn’t suffer at high volumes. If you enjoy systems with a clean, minimalist look, then this is definitely one worth looking into. And by the way, there is a wired option available.
See the Martin Logan Dynamo
Dimensions: 23.7" x 20.4" x 17.1"
Output Wattage: 400
Driver Size: 12”
What We Like: Good bass, good design.
What We Don’t: Doesn’t do anything spectacular.
You won’t find a brand that has more respect in the industry than Klipsch, and the R12SW (R is for Reference Series, our favorite) is an outstanding option. This front-firing unit has up to 400 watts of juice pulsing through the 12” driver, offering deeper bass and less distortion than any of the models above. We also like the durable copper cone and simple yet clean design that will look at home with just about any type of décor.
This is the quintessential mid-range option: fair price, nice list of features, good sound. Klipsch don’t actually update their products all that frequently, so anybody browsing this site shouldn’t be surprised to see speakers from a few years ago – and it’s a mark of quality that they still hold up to other, newer models from competing brands. As for this particular sub, it doesn’t do any one thing extremely well, but it’s by far and away the best all-rounder in this range. And it’s hugely reliable, with a good track record of doing what it says on the tin for many years after you buy it.
See the Klipsch R12SW
Dimensions: 18.2" x 16.1" x 15.1"
Output Wattage: 460
Driver Size: 12”
What We Like: Smooth bass, clever auto-off setting.
What We Don’t: Rattles at high volumes.
Polk’s PSW505 is worth a serious look. It doesn’t produce quite at the same caliber of sound as more expensive models, particularly at the really, really low end, but you still get a good amount of bass for your hard-earned money. The 12” driver and what Polk calls Slot Load Venting help the PSW push out some nice, smooth low-end. Unless you’re going for audiophile quality, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
Polk has built their sub out of medium-density fiberboard, which means that it’s solid but may rattle when you really crank up the volume. Despite that, it’s got a variety of things to recommend it, including some clever features like an auto-off setting that kills the power after fifteen minutes of inactivity, which is surprisingly handy if you’re trying to save power. This model is ideal for a smaller apartment and neighbors not prone to complaining. Don’t expect ultra-high sound quality, but it’s certainly very good for its price range.
See the Polk PSW505
Dimensions: 19.9" x 18" x 15"
Output Wattage: 300
Driver Size: 12”
What We Like: Super-low bass, good connectivity options.
What We Don’t: Highs don’t have the same shine.
This is the kind of subwoofer you get when you want reliability, easy operation, and hassle-free bass for years without once having to go to customer support. This particular model from Klipsch doesn’t do anything exciting, and it isn’t going to trouble the bigger boys on our list, but it gets the job done, and done beautifully.
One of the things we really like about it is that the bass goes really, really low. In fact, it able to push out two of the lowest octaves that human beings can hear. The audio quality is terrific for a sub-$300 speaker, as despite being super low, the bass never compromising quality. It remains taught and controlled, even at top volume, proving that Klipsch know their stuff. Plus, you get a bunch of great connectivity options, including RCA line level ins and stereo speaker level inputs and outputs. We recommend pairing it with a good set of home theater speakers to really bring out its best, but even if it has to work with cheaper options, it's still good. It might also be worth it, if you have the money, to try this as a matched pair – buying two of them is an affordable way to get some seriously killer bass.
See the Klipsch Sub-12HG
Dimensions: 14.2" x 14.2" x 12.2"
Output Wattage: 100
Driver Size: 8”
What We Like: A classic, with a lot to recommend it.
What We Don’t: Nothing for this price.
As part of Pioneer's classic SP-PK22BS Andrew Jones 5.1 system (full review here), this subwoofer is solid, if unspectacular - and still a good midrange option. It's not as powerful or detailed as other models, and we think it's the weak link in that system, but that doesn't stop it being a total joy to use.
It has 100 watts of continuous power, an 8” driver and bass radiator, and a solid set of controls. You get good crossover and phase adjustment capability, allowing you to fine tune the sound to your room, and installing it is a breeze. It’s worth noting tha the frequency ranges a little narrow - 38-150Hz. We usually like things a little wider, and although we don’t think the sound suffers too much, it’s still not quite as good as we’d like. All the same, you won’t have any problems with this sub. Simple, and effective, and one of the better budget models on this list, despite its numerous quirks. If you can get it as part of that Pioneer system, so much the better.
See the Pioneer SW8-MK2
Dimensions: 16.1" x 14.4" x 14"
Output Wattage: 50
Driver Size: 10”
What We Like: Crisp sound, works well in a collection of speakers.
What We Don’t: Not a lot of power.
The Polk Audio PSW10 is another affordable and surprisingly powerful little sub perfect for the start-up home theater system, and it's become a firm favourite unlikely to get unseated from this list anytime soon. At 50 watts, the slightly-bigger-for-this-price-range 10” driver doesn’t have all that much power, but does deliver clear, crisp, distortion-free bass.
This works well for movies, but is ideal for music, making this a good piece of equipment to partner with a home hifi setup, as it will complement your bookshelf speakers and your stereo amp very nicely. The rounded quality of the bass it is ideal for big, bouncy, thumping music, and while you probably won’t endear yourself to the people living on either side of you, your partner and your friends will love what you’ve done with the place. For small and medium-sized rooms, this is the size of sub you should consider. If you have a larger space, consider a model like the Klipsch R12SW. But if you don’t, this is one cracking little sub at a very good price, all in all.
See the Polk Audio PSW10
Dimensions: 12.2" x 11.4" x 14.2"
Output Wattage: 100
Driver Size: 8”
What We Like: Punchy audio, bargain price.
What We Don’t: Not super powerful.
If you’re not ready to part with nearly $500 for Yamaha’s flagship sub, they make a perfectly acceptable budget option. For such a little guy - 8-inch driver, and a frequency response that only grazes 28 Hertz - the Yamaha YST-SW012 still manages to throw its weight around. The sound is punchy and crisp, rather than low and rich, but if you’ve got a half-decent system in place already then you’ll like the YST addition. It works well for mixing and matching, if you’re trying to cobble together, say, a 5.1 or 7.1 system.
And remember, at this price range, you can forego investing in pricey cabling, as you’re unlikely to hear a major difference. There are some cheaper options available, like the Dayton Audio Sub800 (although we’ve seen the price fluctuate above this Yamaha). But we generally wouldn’t recommend going any lower than maybe $90. Quality tends to suffer, you see, and where we are concerned, we take our bass very seriously. Remember: it’s not just about how loud you can go, but how much you can hear.
See the Yamaha YST-SW012
And For When Your Rich Uncle Has Died...
Dimensions: 59" x 25.5" x 20"
Output Wattage: Unknown
Driver Size: 2 x 15"
What We Like: Pump up the volume!
What We Don’t: Millionaires only.
Arguably one of the most powerful subs on the planet: a giant, earth-cracking monster with two down-firing 15" woofers that will make your ears bleed. Wilson Audio are known for extreme stuff, and as we said in our full breakdown of this beast, they've really nailed it here. Of course, if you're worthy - and by worthy, we mean absolutely wedged with cash - you'll probably expect nothing less.
See the Wilson Audio Thor's Hammer
|Yamaha YST-SW012||$90||12.2" x 11.4" x 14.2"||8"||Front-Firing||100|
|Polk PSW10||$110||16.1" x 14.4" x 14"||10"||Down-Firing||50|
|Pioneer SW8-MK2||$157||14.2" x 14.2" x 12.2"||8"||Down-Firing||100|
|Klipsch Sub-12HG||$249||19.9" x 18" x 15"||12"||Down-Firing||300|
|Polk’s PSW505||$180||18.2" x 16.1" x 15.1"||12"||Front-Firing||460|
|Klipsch R12SW||$359||23.7" x 20.4" x 17.1"||12"||Front-Firing||400|
|Martin Logan Dynamo||$695||12.5” x 12.5” x 11.7”||10"||Down-Firing||700|
|Velodyne’s EQ-Max 12||$799||22" x 22" x 21"||12"||Front/Down Firing||450|
|Sumiko S9||$999||16.5" x 16.25" x 15.75"||12"||Front-Firing||400|
|PSB SubSeries 450||$1,500||16.5" x 16.25" x 15.75"||12"||Front-Firing||400|
|SONOS SUB||$872||15.8" x 15.3" x 6.2"||6" x 2||N/A||Unknown|
|SVS PB16 Ultra||$2,500||28.3” x 25” x 21.7”||16"||Down-Firing||1500|
|Wilson Audio Thor's Hammer||$21,000||59" x 25.5" x 20"||2 x 15"||Down-Firing||Unknown|
- Do I Need A Separate Amp To Power Your Sub?
- Front Vs Down-Firing
- How Important Is Driver Size?
- Setting Up Your Sub
- What About Wattage?
- Why Is There A Hole In Your Sub?
- Do I Need Other Speakers?
- Is One Sub Enough?
- Where Do You Put It?
Possibly. You need to know whether the sub is powered or passive. A passive sub will draw all its power from an external amp (like one of these), while a powered sub will have its own internal amp that it will use to drive it sound. Concerning the latter, you can still plug these into an external amp, assuming the amp has a separate line output. We wouldn't recommend plugging in a speaker-level output into it, as it could damage the amp.
What sets most commercial subs apart from other speakers is their power. Usually, speakers require an amp of their own to work. By including their own amp, subwoofers create the power necessary to push out the bass all on their own. Including one in your setup means that your system won’t have to worry about creating that power itself, meaning it can devote more power to the other speakers.
This is all about where the woofer inside the sub is actually placed: whether it's pointing out the bottom, or pointing out the sides. There's huge debate as to whether its position makes a difference to sound quality. Our take is that it depends on so many other factors, including the size of the room, and if you're just in the market for something to improve your low-end, this is an issue that you can probabl=y forget about. If you really think it’ll make a major difference, you can check out a more in-depth guide here.
Size really does matter here; a bigger driver (really just another term for that woofer) will give you bigger bass. Anything above 12 inches is a good look, and there are plenty of manufacturers to augment the basic speaker design with lightweight materials or additional electronics designed to spread the load more efficiently.
Positioning yourself and getting it calibrated to your room takes a few steps, but they are all very easy.
The first thing you’re going to want to do is set the crossover. This is the frequency where your sub stops making sound and your other speakers start. To find this point, you need to know how low your other speakers go, in terms of frequency. If, for example, they can go down to 100Hz, then that’s your crossover point. Sometimes, this isn't an exact science, and you may need to perform a few listening tests to fine tune it.
You got two options for setting the crossover. If you're using a hi-fi system, then you can set the crossover on the subwoofer itself. But if you're using a surround sound system, then you will need to turn your sub’s crossover off, and set the crossover on the system instead. When in doubt, follow the instructions in your receiver’s manual.
Setting the gain is the next step, and this is both easy and fun. Turn the subwoofer all the way down, then start playing something – a song is ideal. Slowly turn the subwoofer up until the base starts to sound good – not intrusive, not underpowered, just right. This is subjective, and there's no right or wrong setting, so don't be afraid to experiment a little.
If you have the option to, experiment with phase. This is essentially a way of making sure that the soundwaves being put out by your system don't cancel each other out, and you'll have two options: zero or 180 degrees. Simply switch between the two, and see which sounds better. Don't be too worried if you don't hear a difference – sometimes it's minimal, and won't make much of an impact. And if you don't have an option to set the phase, don't worry about that either. It's not a big deal. If you want the technical details, there's a good explanation here, but essentially: if the output from a subwoofer and a set of speakers is in phase, the audio will sound 'right'. Out of phase, and it will sound diminished.
The last thing you need to do is actually figure out where to put your sub woofer, which we go into in the section below.
Spend any amount of time on this site, and you'll see this term a lot. We're sort of obsessed by it. Broadly speaking, the more watts, the louder the sub will go, although it’s a bit more complex than that—you can, after all, turn a sub down. Rather, think of wattage as a range in which you push the sub. The higher the range, the louder you can make it without distorting the sound. Watts can be low (60W) or exceedingly high (1000W), and as you can imagine, you pay more for higher wattage.
Note the difference between continuous and peak wattage (or power). Always, always, always look at continuous, and ignore peak. The former refers to the overall power at a set and usually reasonable volume. The latter refers to the absolute loudest the thing can go. You'll need the first. Don't believe the hype.
You may come across amps that boast a bass reflex port – a hole, as we like to call it - which helps to draw air into the unit. More air equals more bass, although we wouldn't suggest hooking your sub up to an oxygen tank. More expensive models might dispense with this, and instead offer an acoustically-sealed design with the components suspended inside the housing. If you see this, you know you're lying some seriously good sound. It will be detailed, clear and loud, with distortion levels that are criminally low.
Yes. Almost certainly yes.
The speaker in a sub is specifically designed to reproduce low frequencies. It's known as a woofer–and yes, that’s meant to refer to the sound a dog makes. The woofer is special because it can take and push out a lot of power, making it ideal for big, powerful bass. The woofer, which is usually in the range of six to fifteen inches in size, usually is enclosed in a big, boxy housing, designed to sit low to the ground.
What it can’t do is produce higher frequencies very well. Without other speakers, you’ll get all the explosions and the punches, but none of the dialogue or music. It’ll sound weird. We suggest pairing a sub with a good surround setup, or a pair of floorstanding speakers.
If you think the bass is good with one unit, then wouldn't it be better with two? Or four? The answer is yes, of course it would, but you also run the risk of distortion, or simply overwhelming the other sounds in the mix. If you do want to try this, and have got the cash to throw around, then a unit in each corner of the room (although not up against the walls, please) will blow your mind. But it certainly isn't essential, and if you make the right pick, you'll have something you'll love. Frankly, we'll take that over spending a huge amount of money on multiple variations of the same thing, just to produce endless bass. Unless you really, really want to annoy your neighbours. Or you live in the middle of nowhere.
There are some people who will tell you that it doesn't matter where you put a sub, as long as you're not using it as a table next to the couch. Don't believe these people. They're talking out their backsides. Placement is important, and you need to spend a little bit of time getting it right.
This isn’t as easy as you might think. Oh sure, you could stick it in the corner of the room, or under your TV set, and you’ll get a reasonable amount of bass. What you won’t be getting is the timbre of the bass, its characteristics and color. It's like paying a lot for an expensive meal, and tasting nothing but salt.
Subwoofers are tricky in this respect. Bass waves move in all directions, and as soon as they hit a flat surface (like a wall) they reflect all over the place. Fortunately, there’s a neat trick you can use to simplify things. Put the unit in the place you would normally sit, then start playing some bass-heavy music through it–something like Skrillex or Diplo would be ideal. Now you need to crawl around on the floor (yes, we know) and find a spot where the bass sounds richest. You may have one or two spots to choose from at the end, but those are the spots where you should conceivably place your sub.