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 a set of models that we think are the best around.. 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. Subwoofers are a contentious area - please don't shout at us if you don't see your favorite model or brand here! There are plenty we had to leave out along the way, but most of the major names are represented, and all of these models are fantastic. No matter what your budget, you'll find one you like


Our Subwoofer Picks:

1. SVS PB16 Ultra ($2,500)

SVS PB16-UltraDimensions: 28.3” x 25” x 21.7”
Output Wattage (RMS): 1,500
Driver Size: 16”
Direction: Front-Firing
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. You can read our full review on the beast for a more in-depth breakdown.
See the SVS PB16 Ultra
 

2. Funk Audio 21.0L ($3,750)

Funk Audio 21.0LDimensions: 22.25" x 22.25" x 20.5"
Output Wattage (RMS): 2,400
Driver Size: 21”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Stupendous engineering and audio quality.
What We Don’t:  Very little - although the insane price keeps it from the #1 spot.

The Funk Audio 21.0L subwoofer is not just a sub; it’s more of a musical instrument. Every part of the 21.0L’s design is custom made in-house, and Funk Audio give as much importance to the exterior wood veneer (with lots of custom options) as to the grade of wire used in their baby’s power lead. Not many subs house 21” sized-drivers and if they do, they are rarely hand-made units using 100% carbon fiber cones with cast aluminum frames.

The power amp is rated at monstrous 2400 watts RMS and 4800 Peak. It features a one-piece aluminum chassis/heatsink, and although first impressions may hint at this speaker being of a classic appearance (on account of its baltic birch enclosure), at the heart of its amplifier you’ll find, of all things, a USB interface for connecting the 21.0L to a computer.  Every feature can be DSP controlled - full Parametric EQ with five filter types and ten bands, high and low pass crossover with ten slope options, adjustable delay, level, limiting...the works. And audio quality is as expected - an extremely rich, precise and multi-layered representation of any bass content down to 10hz. Remarkable.
See the Funk Audio 21.0L


3. JL Audio Fathom f110v2 ($3,580)

JL AudioDimensions: 17.3” x 15.6” x 12.9”
Output Wattage (RMS): 1,100
Driver Size: 10”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Gotham-level tech in an affordable package.
What We Don’t: Somewhat ugly control console.

Why not the Gotham, you ask? Because for nearly $20,000, we think it’s overkill for most people, and more than a little bit overpriced – especially when items like the ten-inch Fathom will be more than enough for most people, and which do a spectacular job. 

This subwoofer pumps out 1100 watts of sound, and will slip nicely into most systems. The low end it puts out is robust, clear, and dynamic, with a level of musicality that other subs lack. It uses the same driver technology as the Gotham, and includes a host of bells and whistles, like a complex front panel to control the sound, as well as a Digital Automatic Room Optimization (D.A.R.O) microphone to make sure the audio is tuned to your room. We don’t know that this is the best subwoofer available – cue every bass junky getting ready to flood the comments with angry insults – but it’s definitely nudging it. And if you want, you can find cheap used versions on Amazon, although as always, we recommend going to the manufacturer first.
See the JL Audio Fathom f110v2
 

4. Power Sound Audio S3601 ($2,000)

PSA S3601Dimensions: 28” x 24” x 20”
Output Wattage (RMS): 1,700 
Driver Size: 2 x 18”
Direction: Dual (Front and Back)
What We Like: Huge sound, great control system, advanced processor circuitry.
What We Don’t: Definitely not for small rooms.

The Power Sound Audio PSA S3601 sports a somewhat similar approach to specs and design, but it’s just bigger and bolder. The PSA goes a step further in speaker size, featuring two opposing 18” drivers (each firing in opposite directions) that are contained in an airtight, sealed cabinet. The control panel also offers a number of user-adjustable parameters. Apart from the usual suspects such as volume and crossover, there are additional dials such as Room Size, and Delay, allowing for tweaking of the bass content and response of the sub (if positioned quite far from the listening sweet spot).

What is also offered as an optional extra (during the checkout process) is a choice of Power Sound Audio’s two Auto Mode audio processors, which are room correction / auto EQ modules. It’s great to see this level of customisation available, and even a short listen to this dual 18” monster immediately tells you that you are in serious cinema theater territory. Even when properly tuned (meaning not overtaking your main speakers) the PSA S3601 still makes you feel the bass rather than just hear it.
See the Power Sound Audio S3601
 

5. Rhythmik F25 ($1,499)

Rhythmik F25Dimensions: 33” x 21” x 19”
Output Wattage (RMS): 800
Driver Size: 2 x 15”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Smart engineering, reference-grade clarity, five year warranty on drivers.
What We Don’t: No XLR / Balanced inputs, awkward size.

The Rhythmik F25 is a dual-driver subwoofer - an interesting design for a sub. It’s a sealed unit, which simply means that the F25 has no ports in its cabinet design (full explanation here). This is actually a big factor for overall audio character for any sub (or full-range speaker system). Although acoustic ports are crucial for dispersion of bass frequencies that remain ‘trapped’ in the cabinet enclosure, they can often be the main culprits contributing to a wooly and ‘cloudy’ bass performance.

To reclaim some of the ‘lost’ port benefits, the Rhythmik F25 design concept gets even more interesting on account of the choice of speakers and amplification used inside. The company have a patented tech called Direct Servo which reduces unwanted physical vibrations of the driver (such as speaker distortion and thermal compression), while making their ‘high excursion’ drivers a lot faster and more efficient for bass content tracking. This helps them coax more SPL (sound pressure level, e.g. loudness) out of the drivers, which are powered by two amps (400W each). The sonic result is that of an effortless, clear portrayal of any regular or extended bass frequencies, including those ultra-low bass octaves. Rhythmik’s claim to an ‘audiophile sub’ is quite justified here - the F25 sub integrates very well with full range speakers, and is so transparent that in a way becomes ‘inaudible’, giving an impression that your main speakers have suddenly quadrupled in size. Highly recommended.
See the Rhythmik F25
 

6. Bowers & Wilkins DB1 ($4,000)

Bowers & Wilkins DB1Dimensions: 19.3” x 18.1” x 16.2”
Output Wattage (RMS): 1,000
Driver Size: 12”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: B&W quality is present and correct.
What We Don’t: Due for an update - and can be very hard to track down.

As we write this, Bowers & Wilkins are gearing up to release the DB1D – an upgraded version of the DB1with double the power and multiple other improvements. We haven’t had a chance to hear that one yet, and we haven’t seen it on sale so, we can’t include it here with confidence. What we can do is include the original DB1 (for now). It might be a little long in the tooth, and might be getting quite hard to track down, but if you see one, and can afford the quite amazing pricetag, snap it up.

B&W know a thing or two about good audio, and they put their best foot forward with this one. It offers glorious, dynamic low end there is a perfect complement for any speaker system, but especially any speakers made by the same company. While we might have an issue with the design, in that the controls are at floor level, we do love the sound quality, which is still brilliant after all this time. Not the best on this list, but worthy of your consideration.
See the Bowers & Wilkins DB1


7. JTR Captivator 118HT ($1,599)

Captivator 118HTDimensions: 30” x 22.5” x 20”
Output Wattage (RMS): 700
Driver Size: 18”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Highly-tuned bass.
What We Don’t: Not as loud as the others, slightly awkward size.

Here’s another indie brand that you’ll almost certainly have to go direct to get – although it’s definitely worth it. After leaving JTR off our last list, we got schooled by the legions of bass fans out there, and decided to revisit it. Well, apologies from us – they make some terrific subwoofers, and having heard the Captivator 118ht, we agree that it would be a crime to leave it off this list.

That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. When we heard it, it didn’t feel like it could go quite as loud as some of the others, and its height means that it can be quite prominent in any setup. But these are minor problems, and we have to admit that we adored the bass, which had been tuned to perfection. It was crisp and clear, and we really felt that it articulated the low end exceptionally well. This may not be the subwoofer for everyone, but it deserves its spot on this list, and we won’t make the mistake of leaving JTR off it again.
See the JTR Captivator 118HT
 

8. Velodyne Acoustics Optimum ($1,100)

Velodyne Optimum Series 12Dimensions: 18.5” x 15.5” x 15”
Output Wattage (RMS): 1,200
Driver Size: 12”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Great EQ and digital display.
What We Don’t: Needs a bigger room than most!

Velodyne Acoustics offer a huge range of options to pick from. They are all good, but we think this is the best of the bunch – a twelve inch subwoofer that matches value-for-money with world beating sound, and which should satisfy most people.

The audio quality is terrific, with serious weight and punch, and it’s helped along by a handy seven-band EQ that calibrates itself at the touch of a button, meaning that getting it tuned to your room is relatively simple. Like the SVS PB-16 Ultra, it has a front panel digital display, which makes operation breeze. If we had to pick one downside for this sub, it’s that it really isn’t suitable for small rooms – it’s not the biggest subwoofer on this list, but the audio it puts out will be so much better with a bit of room to play in. Still, Velodyne know what they are doing, and they do offer a variety of other options if you need them.
See the Velodyne Acoustics Optimum


9. Sunfire HRS-12 ($900)

Sunfire HRS12Dimensions: 13.5” x 13.5” x 13.5”
Output Wattage (RMS): 1,000
Driver Size: 12”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Great bass from an established name.
What We Don’t: Not exactly a looker.

Maybe it’s just us, but we can’t get behind the utilitarian, even clunky exterior of the HRS-12. There are plenty of subwoofers on this list that look great, but this isn’t one of them, even with its smooth piano finish. However, if that’s not something that bothers you, and you’re looking for a subwoofer in the $1,000 range, then take a very long look at this one.

Sunfire have built this model to produce some exceptional bass, and the first thing that grabbed us about it was the unbelievably low level of distortion. It offers some of the cleanest, clearest bass we’ve ever heard quite as much punch as some of the other models, we recognize that that is highly subjective. Although this model is suitable for big rooms, the company – like many of the others on this list – offer a model with a smaller driver size, and at a lower price. Just because you don’t have a dedicated home theater doesn’t mean you can’t take home a Sunfire!
See the Sunfire HRS-12
 

Sonos SUB10. SONOS SUB ($872)

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.

Everything (including the name) about the SONOS is loud. It also has looks to kill, and is arguably one of the more versatile subs in this round-up, in terms of room size - say what you like about the monsters above, but they're not for everyone. 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
 

11. Focal Sub Air ($499)

Focal - Sub AirDimensions: 16.1” x 14.2” 6.3”
Output Wattage (RMS): 110
Driver Size: 8”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Unusual design, solid sound.
What We Don’t: May not be for everyone!

What a miraculous little device. Well, we say little, but the highly unusual Sub Air by Focal still has some presence to it – and a design that is unusual enough to draw attention from anyone who visits your setup. The thin housing – just over six inches wide – packs a 8” driver on the long side and an acoustic port on the other, and while this means you have to carefully position it (so as not to block either of those) it also means you’ll be rewarded with some superb sound.

It doesn’t compare to some of the monsters higher up on this list – we probably put it up against the SONOS sub, for comparison – but what it lacks in raw power, it makes up for with precise and elegant bass. It’s also wireless, which is very handy, but does mean that the kinds of setups that can use it somewhat limited. All the same, we think it’s earned its place on this list, and it’s different enough to raise eyebrows. We like. By the way, if you want something more traditional, try the company’s Sub1000F. We prefer the other options on this list, but it’s a viable alternative, for sure.
See the Focal Sub Air


12. PSB SubSeries 450 ($1,500)

SubSeries 450Dimensions: 16.5" x 16.25" x 15.75"
Output Wattage (RMS): 400
Driver Size: 12"
Direction: Front-Firing
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
 

13. HSU Research ULS-15 MK2 ($779)

HSU Research ULS-15 MK2Dimensions: 19.5” x 19” x 18”
Output Wattage (RMS): 600
Driver Size: 15”
Direction: Front-Firing
What We Like: Deep tones with plenty of clarity, flexible setup options, incredible value for money, seven-year warranty
What We Don’t: No major issues

HSU Research (pronounced Shoe) is a US company that was formed in 1991 with one goal in mind: making the best subwoofer speakers. Their big breakthrough came with the variable-tuning technology featured in their first VTF range of subs (which are still going strong), but the ULS-15 is their new flagship subwoofer, and it has seen a recent upgrade to Mk2.

As the name suggests, this powered sub is equipped with a 15” bass driver speaker and its capacity is substantial - 600 watts continuous power, handling peaks of up to 2000 watts. HSU are so confident in the speaker’s performance that the ULS-15 Mk2 comes with a seven year warranty (on the driver, two year for the rest of circuitry).  We are really impressed with the audio quality of the HSU - it is sounding absolutely massive, while displaying a really tight bass character with fast low-end note tracking. The sub-bass power and clarity make this sub a top choice for around the $850 price bracket, and this here includes a factory-direct shipping.
See the HSU Research ULS-15 MK2
 

14. Martin Logan Dynamo ($695)

MartinLogan DynamoDimensions: 12.5” x 12.5” x 11.7”
Output Wattage (RMS): 700
Driver Size: 10”
Direction: Down-Firing
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
 

Klipsch R12SW Subwoofer15. Klipsch R12SW ($420)

Dimensions: 23.7" x 20.4" x 17.1"
Output Wattage (RMS): 400
Driver Size: 12”
Direction: Front-Firing
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 - and a perfect pick for those with smaller spaces. Don't take its low position to mean that it sucks; just being on this list means it's worth your money. 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


And For When Your Rich Uncle Has Died...

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

Wilson Audio Thor's HammerDimensions: 59" x 25.5" x 20"
Output Wattage (RMS): Unknown
Driver Size: 2 x 15"
Direction: Down-Firing
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


Specs Table:

Subwoofer Price Dimensions Driver Direction RMS Wattage
SVS PB16-Ultra $2,500 28.3” x 25” x 21.7” 16" Front-Firing 1,500
Funk Audio 21.0L $3,750 22.25" x 22.25" x 20.5" 21" Front-Firing 2,400
JL Audio Fathom f110v2 $3,580 17.3” x 15.6” x 12.9” 10" Front-Firing 1,100
Power Sound Audio S3601 $2,000 28” x 24” x 20” 2 x 18" Dual (Front/Back) 1,700
Rhythmik F25 $1,499 33” x 21” x 19” 2 x 15" Front-Firing 800
Bowers & Wilkins DB1 $4,000 19.3” x 18.1” x 16.2” 12" Front-Firing 1,000
JTR Captivator 118HT $1,599 30” x 22.5” x 20” 18 Front-Firing 700
Velodyne Optimum $1,100 18.5” x 15.5” x 15” 12" Front-Firing 1,200
Sunfire HRS-12 $900 13.5” x 13.5” x 13.5” 12" Front-Firing 1,000
SONOS SUB $872 15.8" x 15.3" x 6.2" 6" x 2 N/A Unknown
Focal Sub Air $499 16.1” x 14.2” 6.3” 8" Front-Firing 110
PSB SubSeries 450 $1,500 16.5" x 16.25" x 15.75" 12" Front-Firing 400
HSU Research ULS-15 MK2 $779 19.5” x 19” x 18” 15" Front-Firing 600
Martin Logan Dynamo $695 12.5” x 12.5” x 11.7” 10" Down-Firing 700
Klipsch R12SW $420 23.7" x 20.4" x 17.1" 12" Front-Firing 400
W.A. Thor's Hammer $21,000 59" x 25.5" x 20" 2 x 15" Down-Firing Unknown

SVS PB16 Ultra | The Master Switch
Buying Advice:

What Do I Need To Know To Buy One?

There's plenty of info in the sections below - but if you want something a little more in-depth, we've got a full, Ultimate Guide To Subwoofers available. It covers most of what we talk about below, in more detail, so head there if you're confused or need a little more knowledge!
 

Do I Need A Separate Amp To Power Your 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 | The Master Switch

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.
 

Setting Up Your Sub

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.

SVS PB16 Ultra | The Master Switch

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 | The Master Switch

Ported Vs Sealed

There is a crucial, very obvious difference between some kinds of subwoofers. Some are ported, which means they have visible holes in them, like the Pioneer unit above. Others are completely sealed, the drivers inside the cabinets cut off from outside air. What's behind this decision, and what difference does it make to your sound?

Sealed subwoofers tend to be smaller, when using a completely enclosed cabinet means that the resulting audio is tighter and clearer, although you may sacrifice some volume. Subwoofers with one or more open ports need to be bigger by design, or the audio quality would suffer, but what you sacrifice in tight clarity, you make up in sheer unbelievable volume. That's not to say that ported subwoofers sound bad – far from it – but as with so many things in audio, this is a trade-off, and a decision you'll need to make. There is a myth, by the way, that ported sound woofers aren't good with music – it's a lie, as modern subs (and certainly the models in our list) handle it very well, thanks to superior design. What should guide you in your choice is the size of your room, and the type of material you enjoy listening to.
 

Do You 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 | The Master Switch

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.

Polk MagniFi Subwoofer | The Master Switch

Where Do You 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.

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