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.

How We Choose

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 nine 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.

Our Subwoofer Picks

Sonos SUB1. SONOS SUB ($500)

Dimensions: 15.8" x 15.3" x 6.2"
Output Wattage: 2 x 6”
Driver Size: Unknown
Direction: N/A
What We Like: Superlative noise and looks
What We Don’t: Only works with other SONOS gear
Best For: High-end bass

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.

SVS PB13 Ultra subwoofer2. SVS PB13 Ultra ($2000)

Dimensions: 28" x 22.5" x 20.5"
Output Wattage: 1000
Driver Size: 13.5”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Huge sound
What We Don’t: Huge price
Best For: Audiophiles with deep pockets

The biggest of them all, the SVS PB 13 Ultra is aptly named. Don’t mistake its position on our list as a negative - that’s because of its astounding price only, and you do get what you pay for. This beast of a subwoofer is fitted with a 13.5” inch main driver, paired with an outstanding Sledge STA-1000D amplifier. This sub pushes everything it wants to, with an output of 1000 watts of continuous power. What that means is sound that simply will not quit no matter what you throw at it. It handles the lowest frequencies with an ease that borders on eerie, with an effortlessly smooth response and distortion low enough to make grown men cry. The unit is so heavy and expensive enough that you wouldn’t want to drop it on your foot. It’s everything you could want in a sub, although you will certainly pay through the nose to get it, and there’s no tone-test DVD included in the box. To get the best of it, SVS recommends you buy a set of screw-in feet. Frankly, if you can afford a sub this pricey, this isn’t a deal-breaker. Finish options are piano gloss and black oak.
See the SVS PB13 Ultra

3. PSB SubSeries 450 ($1500)

SubSeries 450Dimensions: 16.5" x 16.25" x 15.75"
Output Wattage: 400
Driver Size: 12"
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Deep, deep bass
What We Don’t: Maybe a little expensive?
Best For: An alternative to the SVS

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 frontfiring 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.
See the PSB SubSeries 450

4. Sumiko S9 ($999)

Sumiko S9Dimensions: 16.2" x 15.9" x 14"
Output Wattage: 350
Driver Size: 10"
Direction: Down-Firing
What We Like: Great woofer/radiator combo
What We Don’t: Weird logo
Best For: Something different

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 A 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.
See the Sumiko S9

Velodyne EQ-Max 125. Velodyne EQ-Max 12 ($480)

Dimensions: 22" x 22" x 21"
Output Wattage: 450
Driver Size: 12”
Direction: Front/Down-Firing
What We Like: Terrific EQ, huge power
What We Don’t: Sound isn’t as clean as we’d like
Best For: Value for money

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

Klipsch R12SW Subwoofer6. Klipsch R12SW ($335)

Dimensions: 23.7" x 20.4" x 17.1"
Output Wattage: 400
Driver Size: 12”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Good bass, good design
What We Don’t: Doesn’t do anything spectacular
Best For: All-round use

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-inch speaker, 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. It doesn’t do any one thing extremely well, but it’s by far and away the best all-rounder in this range. 
See the Klipsch R12SW

Polk Audio PSW5057. Polk PSW505 ($180)

Dimensions: 18.2" x 16.1" x 15.1"
Output Wattage: 460
Driver Size: 12”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Smooth bass
What We Don’t: Rattles at high volumes
Best For: When you have neighbours who don’t mind some low-end thudding

Polk’s PSW505 is worth a serious look. At about half the price of the Yamaha below, it doesn’t produce quite at the same caliber of sound, particularly at the low end, but you still get a good amount of bass for your hard-earned money. The big 12 inch 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. This model is ideal for a smaller apartment and neighbors not prone to complaining.
See the Polk PSW505

Klipsch Sub-12HG8. Klipsch Sub-12HG ($233)

Dimensions: 19.9" x 18" x 15"
Output Wattage: 300
Driver Size: 12”
Direction: Down-Firing
What We Like: Super-low bass
What We Don’t: Highs don’t have the same shine
Best For: Those who really need bass

Reaching new lows - in a good way - the Klipsch Sub-12HG produces the two lowest audible octaves that human beings can pick up, with a frequency ranging down to 16.35 Hertz. Quite simply, this translates to raw, immense power. The ports in this sub fire downwards and backwards, seemingly to submerge the boom. The downward port is the most intriguing, measuring a whopping 12 inches. If you’re looking for distortion-free, gutsy power in your bass, the kind of bass that will rattle your windows, then we must insist on this sub. If you’re on a budget, Klipsch makes a similar model, the SW-450, which doesn’t deliver quite as much oomph but lighter on the wallet. Please note: the price can fluctuate, so watch Amazon for discounts.
See the Klipsch Sub-12HG

9. Pioneer SW8-MK2 ($127)

Pioneer SW-8MK2Dimensions: 14.2" x 14.2" x 12.2"
Output Wattage: 100
Driver Size: 8”
Direction: Down-Firing
What We Like: A classic
What We Don’t: Nothing for this price
Best For: Adding to a 5.1 system

As part of Pioneer's classic SP-PK22BS Andrew Jones 5.1 system, this subwoofer is solid. 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 eight-inch driver and bass radiator, and a solid set of controls. Simple, and effective, and one of the better budget models on this list - even if it is a little bit old, and probably needs an update.
See the Pioneer SW8-MK2

JBL ES150PBK subwoofer10. JBL ES150PBK ($170)

Dimensions: 15.2" x 18" x 13.2"
Output Wattage: 300
Driver Size: 10”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Low distortion, great power
What We Don’t: Looks dodgy
Best For: Bass lovers

JBL is an old-school company, and one known for producing quality stuff. The ES150PBK is one of the best subs the company has ever built. It’s not too much of a looker, with its silver highlights and crenellated speaker surface, but any misgivings vanish when you turn the thing on. JBL make a big deal out of the two proprietary technologies that come with the 150: Polyplas, a super lightweight material that they’ve used to construct the driver, and Heatscape, a way of controlling the motor to minimize distortion. What that means is some seriously good sound, reaching 300 watts of power at its peak. The system is capable of putting out smooth, silky bass that still manages to shake every window in the room (if that’s what you’re after). Although there are better-looking subs out there, few are so pleasing on both price and sound quality.
See the JBL ES150PBK

Polk PSW1011. Polk Audio PSW10 ($120)

Dimensions: 16.1" x 14.4" x 14"
Output Wattage: 50
Driver Size: 10”
Direction: Down-Firing
What We Like: Crisp sound
What We Don’t: Not a lot of power
Best For: Medium and small-sized rooms

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 10-inch 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. 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 RW-12II. This is one cracking little sub at a very good price, all in all.
See the Polk Audio PSW10

Yamaha YST-SW012 Subwoofer12. Yamaha YST-SW012 ($100)

Dimensions: 12.2" x 11.4" x 14.2"
Output Wattage: 100
Driver Size: 8”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Punchy audio 
What We Don’t: Not super powerful
Best For: Those on a budget

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. 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, but we generally wouldn’t recommend going any lower than maybe $90. Quality tends to suffer, you see.
See the Yamaha YST-SW012

And For When Your Rich Uncle Has Died...

13. Wilson Audio Thor's Hammer ($21,000)

Wilson Audio Thor's HammerDimensions: 59" x 25.5" x 20"
Output Wattage: Unknown
Driver Size: 2 x 15"
Direction: Down-Firing
What We Like: Pump up the volume
What We Don’t: Millionaires only
Best For: Demigods

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

Breaking Down The Specs:

Subwoofer Price Dimensions Driver Direction Cont. Wattage
Yamaha YST-SW012 $100 12.2" x 11.4" x 14.2" 8" Front-Firing 100
Polk PSW10 $120 16.1" x 14.4" x 14" 10" Down-Firing 50
JBL ES150PBK $170 15.2" x 18" x 13.2" 10" Front-Firing 300
Pioneer SW8-MK2 $127 14.2" x 14.2" x 12.2" 8" Down-Firing 100
Klipsch Sub-12HG $233 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 $335 23.7" x 20.4" x 17.1" 12" Front-Firing 400
Velodyne’s EQ-Max 12 $480 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 $1500 16.5" x 16.25" x 15.75" 12" Front-Firing 400
SVS PB 13 Ultra $2000 28" x 22.5" x 20.5" 13.5" Front-Firing 1000
SONOS SUB $500 15.8" x 15.3" x 6.2" 6" x 2 N/A Unknown
Wilson Audio Thor's Hammer $21,000 59" x 25.5" x 20" 2 x 15" Down-Firing Unknown

SVS SB12 Plus (Photo: This Guy, Flickr)

Buying Advice:

Do I Need A Separate Amp To Power My Sub?

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.

Front Vs Down-Firing

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.

Polk Sub

How Important Is Driver Size?

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.

What About Wattage?

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.

Pioneer SW8-MK2

Why Is There A Hole In My Sub?

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.

Do I Need Other Speakers?

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.

Pioneer SW8-MK2

Is One Sub Enough?

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.

Sub Reverse

Where Do I Put It?

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.

What's A Phase Switch?

Good question. 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.

Most 'woofers allow you to flip the phase completely using a rear-mounted switch. The best way to pick a setting is to place your sub, listen to a series of songs you like, then do it again with the switch flipped. Figure out which one sounded more 'full' and powerful. Not sure? No worry. Leave it in 0 position.

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