Car subwoofer buying guide

Find the bass that fits your taste, budget, and vehicle


Ken Nail

Ken Nail has written about car audio for Crutchfield since 2003, after four years as Crutchfield Sales Advisor, and 10 years as a music teacher. He's an avid music listener, whose favorites are classical and film music. When not chained to a desk, Ken spends most of his time training for triathlons and marathons, and likes getting outside for backpacking, downhill skiing, and bicycle touring. He attended West Virginia University, where he received a Master's Degree in Music Performance and a Bachelor's Degree in History.

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Subwoofers in the trunk

Subwoofers are speakers dedicated solely to reproducing low frequencies. No matter what kind of music you like, or how softly or loudly you like to listen, a quality sub can really improve your overall listening experience. Car speakers are small, so they have trouble producing enough low-frequency sound to give your music realism and depth. A subwoofer can make the difference between a good-sounding and a great-sounding system.

There are a lot of different ways to add a subwoofer to your vehicle. Which one is right for you depends on a lot of different factors, including your musical tastes, budget, and how much space you have available in your vehicle.

What kind of sub should you get?

Look at the statements below. Which one matches up best to your needs?

  1. I want to pick and choose components to build a truly personalized system.

    You should start by looking at component subs. A component sub is just the speaker itself — it'll need to be mounted in a subwoofer enclosure (usually simply called a "box") to operate properly. In addition, you'll need to power the sub with an external amplifier. Component subs usually range in size from 8" to 15". There are models designed to operate on low or high power, and in a variety of different types of boxes. They are several different impedance and voice coil setups, so you can pick and choose among models to match up to your system design. If you're starting from the ground up in designing your custom system, choosing the subwoofer is a great place to start. [Shop for component subs]

  2. I want an easy "off-the-shelf" sub/enclosure combo.
    Check out enclosed subs. Enclosed subs are pre-mounted into a box designed to accommodate the sub. This eliminates the need to choose an enclosure for the sub, so you won't have to do as much work designing and building your system. On the down side, you'll be limited on the number of speaker and box-type choices you have. You'll still need an external amp to power the sub. [Shop for enclosed subs]

    Rockford Fosgate Prime R1 12" package

    Enclosed subwoofers, like this Rockford Fosgate Prime R1 12" package, match a sub or two with a perfectly sized box.

  3. I want a simple, space-saving bass system.

    A powered sub is a great way to go. A powered sub combines an amplifier and woofer in an enclosure. Since the amplifier is built-in, there's only one piece of equipment to find a place for and install. Many powered subs are compact and won't take up a lot of room in your vehicle. While powered subs can be very effective bass producers, their smaller drivers and amplifiers may not provide all the sound power you want if you're looking for really big bass. On the other hand, their relatively simple installation and small size make them a great add-on to factory stereo systems. [Shop for powered subs]

    Infinity Basslink powered subwoofer

    Powered subwoofers, like the Infinity Basslink, are the simplest way to add bass.

  4. I want a sub that will blend in with my car's interior.

    You're a prime candidate for a vehicle-specific sub, either powered or unpowered. These subs are designed to fit in out-of-the-way locations in many cars, trucks, and SUVs, and are often color-matched to the vehicle's interior. Like the powered subs we just talked about, they may not be the best choice if you're looking for really big bass, but they'll more than suffice for most listening needs without taking up a lot of interior space. [Shop for vehicle-specific subs]

  5. I want a great bass system, but don't want to sweat the details.

    Check out our bass packages. Our experts have put these together to make selecting all the right components easier — some packages include everything you need, right down to speaker wire. [Shop for bass packages]

Some key specs to consider

Once you know what type of subwoofer or system you'd like to buy, comparing specs can be helpful in making your decision. Here are some key specs to consider:

  1. Power — If you want a system that really booms, there's no substitute for plenty of power. Pay attention to RMS power ratings, not peak power ratings. RMS ratings measure continuous power handling or output and are a much more realistic measure than peak power. Make sure you match the sub's power handling to your amp's power output.
  2. SensitivitySensitivity goes hand-in-hand with power to achieve high output. A sub that has a higher sensitivity rating requires less power to produce the same amount of sound as a model with a lower sensitivity rating.
  3. Frequency rangeFrequency range gives you an idea of how low a sub can play. Keep in mind, though, that the actual performance of the sub can depend on a lot of variables, like the box type it's mounted in.
  4. Enclosure type — The type of enclosure a sub is mounted in will have a big effect on the type of sound it produces. In general, sealed boxes give you the deepest, most accurate sound, while ported and bandpass enclosures produce more volume.
  5. Number of voice coilsDual voice coil subwoofers are a popular choice among car audio enthusiasts who want more flexibility in wiring their sound systems. While typical subwoofers have a single voice coil, dual voice coil (DVC) subwoofers use two separate voice coils, each with its own connections, mounted on one cylinder, connected to a common cone.
  6. Size of the woofer — It's a never-ending question — what size subwoofers play loudest and lowest? It's not an easy question — you need to consider sensitivity, enclosure type, and available power. If your ultimate goal is to have a system that plays loud and low, and space isn't an issue, go for the biggest subs. But don't underestimate smaller subs. Properly powered and in the right enclosure, smaller subs can put out plenty of sound.
  7. Impedance — Most subwoofers are rated at 4 ohms impedance, but 2-ohm, 8-ohm, and dual voice coil subwoofers have become commonplace. When you've chosen a subwoofer, look for amplifiers that will match up to your sub in terms of power rating and impedance. There are a wide variety of amps available, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding one that will bring out the best in the sub you've chosen.

Get Everything You Need

You'll need an amplifier to drive a component subwoofer.

If you're buying a component subwoofer, you'll need the proper enclosure.

A Dynamat kit will prevent any rattles from your sub, while reducing road noise to give you louder, richer bass.

Polyester fiber box stuffing slows sound waves inside a sub box, making the sub more efficient (and louder).

If you're going to build your own subwoofer enclosure, you'll need box building hardware.

You may need an amp wiring kit and speaker wire to send signal and power to a pre-loaded sub box or a sub/amp combo.

Need more help?

If you need more help, give our Advisors a call at 1-888-955-6000. They have the knowledge and experience to help you find a sub that will meet your needs.

  • David Sparks from Riverside, CA

    Posted on 4/26/2015 10:29:58 PM

    Are you located in California by any chance...???

  • Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/27/2015 12:23:24 PM

    David, I hear CA is a lovely place, but we have the honor of being located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Home of a couple of our country's Founding Fathers and the University of Virginia. We're about as far away from you as we can get without falling into the water, but we can get new gear to you in just 2 or 3 days! I sent your other message (about new speakers for your car) to our Sales Advisors. They're the best people to help you and should contact you via email soon.

  • patrick from Escondido, CA

    Posted on 4/29/2015 11:12:18 AM

    I need to replace a Mercedes Benz 2003 E500 W211 Harmon Kardon subwoofer in the rear deck. I think it is a 10" sub. Do you sell an upgrade?

  • Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/30/2015 10:39:08 AM

    Patrick, I sent your question to our sales team for the best answer. They'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Tyrell Cunningham from United States

    Posted on 6/16/2015 3:37:38 PM

    What type of system would be recommended for a 2002 mitsubushi galant?

  • Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/17/2015 12:37:03 PM

    Tyrell, if you're asking about a stereo and speakers, use our vehicle selector to confirm which stereos and speakers fit your car and get some info on what else is needed for the installation. If you're asking about subs and amps, or just have questions about your options for any of these things, give us a call! Our advisors will be glad to help you.

  • Sanchit Podar from India

    Posted on 6/26/2015 2:46:14 AM

    I have a Suzuki Ertiga, I have a 4 channel amp by Sony xplod and 4 infinity component speakers. The only reason i want a sub is for a good SMOOTH base with a good depth, volume is not a priority, clarity is. Could suggest me a subwoofer which would be perfect for me?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/29/2015 1:12:20 PM

    Sanchit, a good place to start is a high-quality brand like Focal. Then, decide on an 8" or 10" sub. If you go much bigger than that you'll start sacrificing clarity for boom. You'll want to install that sub in a sealed box and give it plenty of power. Good luck!

  • Tomial Gary from United States

    Posted on 7/5/2015 4:51:17 AM

    Just bought a kicker 1200 watt mono subwoofer And 2 kicker comp s600 watt 12's for a 2010 convertible mustang I wanted to run off the factory radio will this work and hive me a lot of bass

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/7/2015 2:18:28 PM

    Tomial, using a factory radio should work. Just make sure the amplifiers you use have speaker-level inputs. If you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help installing your system. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details.

  • thomas

    Posted on 7/13/2015 4:10:07 PM

    how big of a box can I make that will fit in the trunk of a 2001 monte carlo

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/14/2015 11:03:35 AM

    Thomas, according to our research, the maximum space available in your Monte Carlo's trunk is: Width (side-to-side) = 38", Height = 17", Depth (front-to-rear) = 45" at bottom, 38" at top. Before you build your box, check out this a href="http://[HostServer/learn/learningcenter/car/subwoofers/box_building.html?search=build_box" target="_blank">construction guide.

  • donnell from baltimore

    Posted on 8/6/2015 4:58:19 PM

    I have a 400w rms amp and a 400w sub.They are both 2 ohms. Is it safe to turn the gain all the way up ?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/7/2015 11:22:22 AM

    Donnell, it's not recommended. Check out this article for the proper way to set amp gain. Good luck!

  • Jake from madison sd

    Posted on 9/18/2015 2:21:42 AM

    i have a Rockford fosgate p3001 amp (150rmsx1@4ohms , 300rmsx1@2ohms) I want a pair of subs that hit nice and hard I have no idea what I need ?? I already blew a pair of pioneer 10s! this is for the trunk of a lincon town car

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/18/2015 12:55:17 PM

    Jake, I've passed your information along to our sales department. An advisor will contact you soon to help you with options for your Towncar.

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