In the words of the immortal Meghan Trainor, it is indeed “all about that bass” (though, unlike Meghan, we also appreciate treble). No home theater, den, or man cave worth its salt is complete if it doesn’t have a subwoofer. Film buff? A solid sub can transform action movies into sensory onslaughts, making you quake in your slippers with every Inception-inspired BWAHHH. Music lover? Pick the right subwoofer, and your living room can feel like the main stage at Electric Daisy Carnival, inspiring violent fist-pumping, even from your feeble aunt Edna.
To experience that sublimity, though, you need to choose the right subwoofer. They’re not exactly a one-size-fits-all proposition (unless you’re swimming in disposable income), but they’re also a little confusing to shop for if you don’t know where and how to look. If you’re Michael Bay, you probably want something powerful, but if you’re just trying to reduce stress on your soundbar, you don’t need to drop thousands on a sub. That’s why we’re here, though! Scroll on down to see our selections for the best subwoofers, no matter your preferences.
SVS SB-16 Ultra
Why you should buy it: It’s our favorite subwoofer ever, built to excel in any and all circumstances.
Who’s it for: Those who want a powerful, versatile subwoofer that cuts no corners.
How much will it cost: $2,000
Why we picked the SVS SB-16 Ultra:
We’ve had the SB-16 Ultra in our testing chambers for eight months running — not because we’re too lazy to move it out (though it does weigh in at a hefty 122 pounds), but because we haven’t found anything worthy to take its place. This subwoofer has become our measuring stick, which might actually be unfair to the competition, because it’s that good. Beneath a sleek, stylish exterior, the cubic SB-16 houses a monstrous 16-inch Ultra driver with an 8-inch, edge-wound voice coil and a ridiculous 1,500 watt continuous Sledge amplifier with discrete MOSFET output which tops out 5,000 watts peak power.
All of this is to say: No matter how you’re using the SB-16, it impresses. Gunshots in films register with a hefty thump to the chest, and the sub manages low-end instrumentation beautifully, allowing acoustic bass to bounce smoothly while electronic bass shakes the foundations of your home. For our money, this is the best subwoofer you can buy, period.
Our SVS SB-16 Ultra full review
The best budget subwoofer
Monoprice 9723 Powered Subwoofer
Why you should buy it: It’s compact, reliable, and just $100.
Who’s it for: Those who want the best bass they can get on the cheap.
How much will it cost: $100
Why we picked the Monoprice 9723:
If you’re short on cash or if you’re looking for a support subwoofer to put in the bedroom (or office, or whatever your secondary entertainment space may be), don’t stress — there are viable, affordable options out there. For our money (and yours), your best bet is Monoprice’s 12-inch 9723 Powered Subwoofer, which can be had right now for the low, low, price of a single Benji. Though this guy won’t knock down any walls, it’s capable of producing full bass that never sounds tinny or boomy.
A nondescript, black-on-black design should help the sub fit comfortably into most rooms without drawing undue attention, and at about 17 inches cubed, it’s big enough to rattle some hardwood. If you’re a casual viewer or listener looking for a budget sub to round out your system, try the Monoprice 9723 on for size.
The best value subwoofer
Elac Debut S12EQ
Why you should buy it: It offers excellent performance in any ecosystem thanks to room-reading Auto EQ
Who’s it for: Anyone looking to eke maximum value out of every last dollar.
How much will it cost: $700
Why we picked the Elac Debut S12EQ:
Elac makes some pretty incredible audio equipment (see: the Uni-Fi UB5 bookshelf speakers, which we awarded a perfect 10/10), and its Debut S12EQ subwoofer is evidence. Featuring a 12-inch driver and a 12-inch passive radiator, the $700 S12EQ offers 500 watts of continuous BASH power and 1,000 watts at peak performance, which are respectable numbers for its size and price.
The real draw here, though, is a unique Auto EQ system which utilizes Bluetooth control via a smartphone app to “read” the room and deliver automatically equalized bass. At 17 cubic inches, the S12EQ is handsome enough that you won’t want it hidden, and you can even manually adjust every setting wirelessly.
The best compact subwoofer
GoldenEar Technology SuperSub X
Why you should buy it: A pint-sized cabinet belies some serious power.
Who’s it for: Those who want a small sub with exceptionally powerful and articulate bass.
How much will it cost: $1250
Why we picked the GoldenEar Technology SuperSub X:
Like its equally impressive bigger sibling (and, to be honest, most GoldenEar Technology products), the SuperSub XXL, the SuperSub X is a very impressive piece of tech. Despite its relatively small frame — 14 x 12.75 x 13.25 (in), weighing 40 pounds — a quartet of transducers make the X both beefy and musical. Two 8-inch long-throw active drivers are located at either end of the subwoofer, while two fixed passive radiators live near the top and bottom, all powered by a 1400-watt ForceField digital amplifier.
In practice, this means the X produces deep, forceful bass belied by its meager size while somehow managing to avoid distortion, vibration, and sloppiness entirely. At $1250, this is not a particularly cheap subwoofer — in fact, that’s not cheap at all — but if you want the best bass from the smallest box, this is it.
Our GoldenEar Technology SuperSub X hands-on
The best hideaway subwoofer
Why you should buy it: Its thin profile allows for convenient concealment.
Who’s it for: Anyone concerned about the aesthetic of their entertainment space.
How much will it cost: $1,400
Why we picked the Paradigm MilleniaSub:
Okay — yes, the MilleniaSub looks like an oversized router, and no, it won’t work underwater (despite the name). Its weird shape, though, is the main reason we’ve included it on our list. The skinny MilleniaSub can be mounted on your wall, but we see its svelte design as an opportunity — an opportunity to beef up your home theater’s bass without busying up your living space.
The MilenniaSub fits neatly behind couches, chairs, and tables, and the extruded aluminum housing means it weighs just 24 pounds. Back-to-back 14-inch “bipolar” polymer cone woofers are driven by 300-watts (up to 900 watts at peak) for pure low-end rumble, and they’re arranged in a manner which nearly eliminates distortion altogether. The price of $1,400 is no small ask, but if you’re truly looking for a classy, concealable subwoofer, look here first.
The dark horse subwoofer
Definitive Technology ProSub 1000
Why you should buy it: It’s reasonably priced, surprisingly effective, and versatile to boot.
Who’s it for: Those looking for the best possible performance at just a few hundred dollars.
How much will it cost: $370
Why we picked the Definitive Technology ProSub 1000:
The ProSub 1000 punches well above its price point, which hovers under $400 at most retailers. Definitive Technology has a long and storied history of producing excellent bass, and this subwoofer is an outstanding example of that pedigree.
Armed with a 10-inch active driver and a 10-inch passive radiator, you’ll get 300 watts of bass that’s both punchy and poignant, all at a price that is almost too good to be true. The ProSub’s non-resonant MDF cabinets prevent distortion at the lowest frequencies, while its unique, steep “dual-stage” roll-off helps to blend with main speakers.
How we test
You’d think a box of bass would be fairly easy to test and evaluate, but given how much a room can affect bass response from a subwoofer — along with the growing number of subs that come with room equalization features that aim to deal with those room-based influences — we’ve developed a fairly extensive process for gathering as much information as we can about a subwoofer’s performance.
Before we get to performance-based evaluations, we take a step back and look at the subwoofer on the whole. Is it bulky or compact? Is it solidly constructed or does it feel a bit flimsy or cheap? How extensive are the connection options and how do those affect connectivity? If there’s an app to help with subwoofer control and settings, is it intuitive and useful?
Once we’ve gathered information on those touch points listed above, we run the subwoofer for several hours before beginning any critical evaluation. While there is much debate over whether the “break-in effect” is real, we prefer to get that factor covered so it doesn’t play a role in our evaluation one way or another.
Our subwoofer tests take place in at least two different rooms, any of which we are intimately familiar with, and we generally test the subwoofer in three locations which we know offer the best possible response within those rooms. Testing material includes everything from test tone sweeps to blockbuster movies and a selection of music from multiple genres. We seek to learn how deep a sub can play, how visceral the low bass response is, how well it can be adjusted to integrate with both small and large satellite speakers, and how musically accurate it is capable of playing.
We hope for a versatile subwoofer, which can not only belt out the big bass notes needed for a high-impact action movie, but one which can also stay tight and tuneful when playing acoustic upright bass, or reproducing the classic Fender P-bass tone. A good subwoofer will avoid tubby, boomy sound that lacks definition, and instead integrate itself seamlessly into a larger audio system, calling attention to itself only during instances in which its pure muscle can’t be ignored.