When the bass is lacking, whether we’re watching a movie or listening to music, we notice. Our first instinct is to turn up the volume, but this doesn’t really help. If anything, it makes everything sound worse. A sign of any good speaker system is that it should have great bass and great midrange and highs — bass and sound quality aren’t mutually exclusive.
Subwoofers play an integral role in any two-channel or surround system, but deciding which one to buy is not as simple as picking the one with the largest woofer and lowest quoted frequency response. You need to make sure it’s right for your room and for your system.
What to Know
Sealed or ported subwoofer, what’s the difference? Sealed subwoofers will generally be found in vehicles. They’re smaller in cabinet size than ported subwoofers and therefore easier to place and integrate in tighter places. Sealed subwoofers have a single woofer or bass driver that is completely encased in a closed cabinet. This allows them to move air more quickly and thus align better with your main loudspeakers output; generally resulting in tighter bass which is more coherent and better integrated.
Ported subwoofers have a woofer and one-or-more ports that allow air to escape from the cabinet. These two mechanisms allow for more air to be released and therefore a ported design can reach down lower than their sealed counterparts and reproduce the lowest octaves with greater authority and higher volume levels; this is why they are more popular in home theater systems. Ported subwoofers can be extremely large and are not as flexible when it comes to set-up.
Is there a benefit to stereo subwoofers? If you have ever sat in a home theater, you have probably noticed that you can detect the directionality of the bass in the room. A single subwoofer is easy to locate even with the lights dimmed. If you stand up and walk around, you can feel that the bass is not even. Stereo subwoofers cancel out the nulls; the location where sound waves from a single subwoofer cancel one another out. With stereo subwoofers, bass will sound and feel more even and only increase the size of the soundstage with music.
Should your subwoofer be made by the same company as your speakers? Yes and no. Products made by the same company generally utilize the same driver technology and thus have a similar voicing; aka they pair nicely together. But you don’t have to. In fact, we recommend starting your subwoofer hunt with the companies who have focused on subwoofer technology exclusively over the years. These companies, like SVS and REL Acoustics, have tested their subwoofers with hundreds of different loudspeakers and fine-tuned them so they work best.
Best for Small Rooms: The SB-2000 is a sealed subwoofer that utilizes a 12-inch driver and is powered by a 500-watt Sledge STA-500D DSP amplifier — it’s one of the best options for small- and medium-sized rooms. It is easy to integrate in a two-channel stereo system, but really shows off in a 5.1 or 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos surround system; delivering tight and articulate bass response that will have immediate impact with music and films.
Dimensions: 14.6″ (H) x 14.2″ (W) x 15.4″ (D)
Amplification: Sledge STA-500D DSP amplifier
Power: 500 watts RMS (1,100 watts peak)
Frequency response: 19Hz – 220Hz +/-3dB
Driver size: 12-inch 2000 Series High-Output Driver
Size: 34.8 pounds
REL Acoustics T/7i
Best for Music: REL has been an audiophile favorite for many years and, in the home theater realm, its T/7i is particularly well-suited for music as well. The sealed subwoofer features an 8” front-firing active driver and a 10” bottom-firing passive radiator, and it utilizes a 200-watt internal amplifier with ample power reserves to reproduce bass down to 30Hz. Most importantly, it does a great job taking the load off your loudspeakers; allowing them to focus on everything above 80-100Hz which generally results in a larger soundstage, better dynamic response, and more even sounding presentation.
Dimensions: 12” (W) x 14.3” (H) x 15” (D)
Power: 200 watts (RMS)
Amplification: Class A/B
Frequency response: 28 Hz at -6 dB in room
Driver size: 1 x 8-inch long-throw woofer, 1 x 10-inch long-throw woofer
Weight: 36 pounds
SVS SB-16 Ultra
Best for Home Theaters: Both SVS and REL offer even more expensive subwoofer systems than the SB-16 Ultra, but this behemoth has zero issues energizing even the largest dedicated home theater rooms. This sealed 20” cube weighs close to 122 pounds and requires two people for proper installation. A stereo set-up with two SB-16 Ultra subwoofers offer some of the deepest and most articulate bass possible. SVS also includes an iOS and Android set-up app to make fine tuning even easier. If you’re looking for a reference quality subwoofer, the SB-16 Ultra is a sure bet.
Dimensions: 20” (H) x 19.5” (W) x 22.9” (D)
Power: 1500 watts RMS (5000+ watts peak)
Amplification: Sledge STA-1500D DSP amplifier
Frequency response: 16Hz-460Hz +/-3dB
Driver size: 16-inch Ultra-series driver
Weight: 122 pounds
If you’re in the market for a soundbar, don’t think too hard about it. Just read this and hit the “Buy Now” button at the end.