Choosing a Subwoofer

Imagine Die Hard without explosions, Bond without the bullets, or The Matrix without kung-fu. Translation: Speakers are nice. However, if you’re serious about sound, you may want to include a subwoofer in your home setup.

To put it simply, the subwoofer is the heart of the system when it comes to low-frequency sounds. While the sub may not look as cool as the other speakers in your home theater readout (although certain models can!), this is the unit that can put you in the middle of the concert or the action, all from your living room couch. It makes music and movies (especially action scenes) seem that much more arresting and lifelike.

The typical human hearing range is about 20 to 20,000 Hertz (Hz). A subwoofer handles the low end of that range, providing the smashes, crashes and thumps. This type of sound requires its own, fairly large driver. The average sub includes a woofer somewhere from 5 to 18 inches in diameter. That’s kind of a large spectrum, however. So how to decide which subwoofer is right for your room?


Sizes and Specs

Monster’s M*Design Eleganza Godfather Which subwoofer you choose should depend on the size of the room it’s being placed in. If you have a large room, shoot for a larger sub, at least in the 10- or 12-inch range. This is the most common size when it comes to sub drivers. Like the drivers, the physical size of a subwoofer has exceptions to the rule. However, most subs look like a small cube, making it easy to place and tempting to use as an end table for your couch. Don’t do that – unless it’s something like Monster’s M*Design Eleganza Godfather ($4,999).

Next, you might notice that some subwoofers are classified as down-firing and some are front-firing. This description will tell you where the woofer is placed inside the cabinet enclosure. A down-firing sub is mounted on the bottom of the cabinet, and a front-firing unit has woofers on the sides. While the woofer moves inside the cabinet, sound quality should not depend on where it is placed; however, some people do have a preference.

Another important tidbit to consider is whether you want a powered or passive sub. If passive models sound like they don’t provide the same stellar sound as “powered,” they don’t… at least not on their own. A passive subwoofer needs to be paired with an amplifier, just like any of the other speakers in your system. That’s not to say that a powered sub doesn’t deserve the same courtesy. However, powered units include an internal amp/speaker that can give the sound a little boost, which is great if your external amp is lacking the necessary power.

Last, but not least, look at the style of subwoofer cabinet. Aside from in-walls, outdoor models or the occasional crazy design, there are bass reflex subwoofers and acoustic suspension units. The latter is completely sealed, providing tight, accurate sound. The design is nice, but should be paired with a larger amp. The bass reflex flavor has a port, which is basically a hole on the side or the bottom, for the intake of air. That hole helps augment the bass thump, and can generally be paired with an amp that packs a little less punch.


Sample the Sounds

Today, many manufacturers are packing bigger boom into smaller cabinets. In some cases, size does matter. Here are a few larger subs that are worthy of your floor space:

  • RBH Sound 1010-SEN/R Signature ReferenceRBH Sound 1010-SEN/R Signature Reference: Starting at $1,999, this big boy measures 30 inches high.
  • Sunfire SubRosa: Two models ($3,500 to $4,000) can accommodate in-wall or in-room use.
  • SpeakerCraft Cinema: Starting at $999, this should have a slightly different cabinet, since it’s designed for in-wall use.

Of course, sometimes you have to budget space – more so than your money, even. These smaller subwoofers can handle the boom of a larger room, even when you don’t have the space to spare:

  • Boston Acoustics HPS 8Wi: At $500, this small unit provides wireless sound via an included transmitter and any existing wall outlet.
  • Paradigm Sub 15: It’s fairly expensive at $2,800. However, with dual Class D amps and a low-frequency extension of 12Hz, this shouldn’t disappoint.
  • Definitive Technology SuperCube III: There are a few different SuperCube products, but this third version is a charm at $699.

Of course, budget could be the deciding factor when it comes to subwoofer selection. Here are a few extremely respectable models for an affordable price worth considering as well:

  • Polk Audio PSW10Polk Audio PSW10: The MSRP on this one is $199, but we found the 10-inch favorite for as low as $92 online.
  • Sony SA-W2500: The 100-watt, powered 10-inch sub can be had for $99.
  • Yamaha YST-SW216BL: This front-firing 100-watt unit powered sub can also be found for under the $100 mark.

Let’s Get Cranking!

When it comes to placing your TV and speakers, there are typically major ups and downs to consider. However, subwoofers don’t require as much trial, error and effort. Because subwoofers are “omnidirectional,” they can usually be placed almost anywhere. Typically, you will see subwoofers stuffed into the corner, next to furniture, or even under it.

Of course, you’ll want to look at reviews and user comments on the web before buying a subwoofer. However, the best test is your own ears. Don’t be afraid to bring your own CDs or DVDs to a store, or even give the unit a quick test run at home. Then kick back and enjoy that thunderous rumble – whichever model you decide upon, we’re confident the constant rattle of your teeth will help remind you why it was worth every penny.