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Home theater subwoofers buying guide

How to choose the best one for your surround sound system

In this article: tips on choosing the right powered subwoofer for your home theater. What size should you get? Does sealed or ported matter? Where should your sub go? We'll cover all of these questions and more to help you get the best bass possible.

I discovered my passion for hard-hitting bass as a movie- and music-loving teenager back in the ‘90s. My friends and I spent countless hours talking shop and tweaking our systems. A couple of decades later, my thrill for great bass hasn’t waned one bit. I still get goosebumps when a surge of low-frequency punch sweeps through my living room.

Having the right powered subwoofer makes a real difference in the quality of your home theater experience. I've put this guide together to help you choose the best one for your system. We'll look at the key factors to consider while shopping, as well as which features and specs really matter.

How do you choose the right size subwoofer?

One of the first things to consider is what size sub you want. Generally speaking, the larger the surface area of the woofer, the deeper it will play — that's indicated by the sub's frequency response, which is measured in Hz.

It may be tempting to go for the largest sub you can find. But bigger is not always better. It's important that your sub blends in seamlessly with your other speakers to create an immersive listening experience.

If your system consists of compact satellite or bookshelf speakers, an 8" or 10" sub will pair nicely with them. On the other hand, if you have big floor-standing speakers and a huge center channel, a 12" sub is a better sonic match.

Do you have a big, open living room? Then a large subwoofer is worth considering since it moves more air (and thus produces more bass). Is this sub going into a cozy den or bedroom? Then a smaller size may make better sense so you don't overwhelm your space.

Klipsch subwoofer in living room

Choose a sub that appropriately matches the size of your room as well as the size of your other speakers.

How much bass do you want?

The question of "how much sub should I get?" is a personal consideration. I'm really into dinosaur and spaceship movies, so I like bass that thunders and makes my room quake. I went through several smaller subs before landing on my current 12" Klipsch, which suits my room and taste for bass perfectly.

If your household is more likely to binge-watch comedy shows or kids movies, you won't need nearly as much "oomph." A smaller sub is the way to go, even if you have a big room.

My colleague and fellow home speaker enthusiast Emily has the same beefy Klipsch model that I have, and loves it.

How much power do you need?

One of the best things about a powered subwoofer is that its amplification is built right in. That means you don't need to shop for a separate amp to drive it.

So how much power do you actually need? Honestly, there's no cut-and-dry answer to that (and I'm not sure boring you with the engineering details is helpful). But generally speaking, the higher the amp's wattage, the more powerful and impactful the bass. My advice is to go for as much power as your budget allows, but don't overspend for higher wattage just for the sake of a bigger number.

The spec to pay attention to is the sub's continuous power, or RMS rating. You'll also see a "peak power" rating listed on many powered subs. While flashy on paper, this measurement doesn't factor much into real-life performance, and is safe to ignore during your selection process.

Klipsch SPL-120 Powered subwoofer

The 12" Klipsch SPL-120 is powered by a 300-watt RMS amplifier — an ideal choice for getting deep, well-controlled bass in medium-sized rooms.

Which is better, sealed or ported?

You'll see two main types of subwoofer enclosures: sealed and ported. Sealed enclosures (also known as acoustic suspension) are just as they sound: air doesn't move in or out. This tends to make them quick and responsive with tight, accurate bass.

Ported boxes (or bass reflex enclosures) have a built-in air vent that helps reinforce low bass output. You'll typically get more powerful bass from a ported enclosure without needing as much power. But there's a tradeoff: ported boxes can be considerably larger than their sealed box counterparts.

So which sounds better? There's no clear-cut winner when it comes to home theater applications. Both designs offer clean, hard-hitting bass for movie soundtracks.

But if you listen to music on your home theater system, the type of enclosure can have a more audible impact. If you like jazz, classical, or other acoustic genres, I recommend a sealed enclosure. If you prefer hard rock, hip-hop, or EDM, a ported design is generally a better choice.

SVS bass.

The massive 13-1/2" SVS PB-4000 uses three carefully tuned ports to reinforce low-frequency output.

What are passive radiators?

Some subs use passive radiators to reinforce bass output. These are unpowered cones within the sub enclosure that move in tandem with the powered driver. Passive radiators add extra "oomph" to the subwoofer's output without increasing the sub's amplifier size.

Where should your sub go?

Measure the area where you plan on putting your sub to get a sense of its footprint. You'll want to make sure that the sub you're considering will fit comfortably into your desired location.

Don't forget that you'll need to connect your sub to an outlet for power, as well as to your receiver for signal. Check out my article on home theater speaker placement for tips on arranging your system.

Tip: Use an isolation platform to stop to the rattling

Quick story: my living room has glass bookshelf and fireplace doors, along with tall windows that line three of its walls. All of these used to rattle like crazy when bass hit during movies. It drove me nuts!

One day I decided that I'd had enough. I bought an isolation platform to decouple my sub from the hardwood floor. Voila! Just like magic, the rattling and vibrations instantly disappeared. I even had to dial the sub back because the bass was suddenly stronger. It is without a doubt the best money I've ever spent on my system.

Foam SubDude

A subwoofer isolation platform, like the Auralex SubDude-II™, can make a huge difference in how your sub sounds.

Add a second sub for better bass in your room

Home theater receivers use an RCA output for their subwoofer connection (that's the ".1" in a 7.1 system). Some receivers have two subwoofer outputs, which let you easily add a second sub to your system.

Using two subs improves bass distribution around your room, which is especially helpful if you have multiple seating locations. A dual-sub setup is also a great way to go if you crave lots of bass in your room. Here are home theater receivers that have two subwoofer outputs.

Room with two subwoofers.

Use two subwoofers in your room to hear balanced, chest-thumping bass from all of your seats.

Tailoring your sub's sound to your room

We've seen some pretty cool advancements in the world of subwoofer technology. The biggest is room-correction software that lets you shape your sub's sound to match your room's acoustics.

Some subs have advanced digital signal processing built right in. For example, Dynaudio's Sub 6 has onboard controls for adjusting its DSP system. This lets you precisely tailor the sound to get the best performance in your space.

An even simpler way of dialing-in your sub is by using an app on your phone. "Smart subs," like ELAC's Debut 2.0 SUB3030, use your smartphone's microphone to capture a near-field measurement of the sub's output. It then compares how things sound from your seat, and automatically smooths out the EQ curve to give you the best sound.

ELAC

One benefit to a smart sub is that there are no knobs or dials to fiddle with on the rear panel. Just fire up the app on your phone to make changes.

Should you consider a "wireless" subwoofer?

Earlier I mentioned that your sub needs to connect to your home theater receiver for signal. Usually this means running and concealing a long cable from one part of the room to another (everyone's favorite, right?).

A growing number of subs can receive signal wirelessly from a transmitter than connects to your receiver. Some subs include the transmitter in the box. For others, it's available as an optional accessory.

There's also a wireless kit that transforms virtually any sub into a "wireless sub." Remember that your sub still needs to plug into an outlet for power, or better yet a power protection device.

MartinLogan SW2-TRD Wireless subwoofer adapter kit

MartinLogan's SW2-TRD wireless subwoofer adapter kit uses a transmitter and receiver to send signal to your sub without using a long cable.

Connect with us for a personalized recommendation

Have questions about choosing the right sub for your room? One of the great benefits of shopping with Crutchfield is working with an expert Advisor. Contact us for one-on-one shopping advice.

Our advisors can send specific Crutchfield pages to your screen, saving you a lot of browsing time. Best of all, they know the gear inside and out, so they can help you make the right choice.

Get the most out of your new subwoofer

Once you've gotten your new sub home, check out our tips for set-up to get the best sound possible from your system. Free lifetime tech support is included with every Crutchfield purchase.

Jump into the conversation

If you have a question about a sub you're considering — or want to pick my brain on anything in the article — leave a comment below. I respond quickly, and if I don't know the answer I'll find someone here that does. Thanks for reading!

  • Tom Maguire from Wakefield

    Posted on 9/17/2021

    I am going to have 3 MartinLogans in the front L&R will be Motion XTW6-LCR the center will either be the same or the ML50XTi. Which subs would you pair with these. The room is 30 by 24 with 12 foot ceilings. The seating area is 10 feet from the wall where the speakers will be. On the wall opposite from the speakers ( 30 feet away) is a wet bar. 2 of the walls are concrete block 1 is sheetrock. There is no 4th wall. I'm thinking of 2 SVS PB16 Ultra. What do you recommend?

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 9/17/2021

    Thanks for reaching out, Tom. That's a terrific system you have in the works.

    You're on the right track with a dual-sub setup, which is what I heartily recommend for your room. It sounds like you'll have plenty of available floor space, so I say go for a pair of the PB16-Ultras — I believe it to be the finest sub we carry.

    The only downside to subs this large is fine-tuning their placement. Unless they need to go in specific places, you'll get more impactful bass that's more evenly distributed if you can listen to them in a few different configurations (both up front, one up front and one on a side wall, etc.)

    Given their size and weight I would want some sort of rolling platform I could put them on to more easily move them around. I have a 13" SVS sub and it's a bear to move — they don't exactly come with handles!
  • Jeff

    Posted on 8/19/2021

    Which would you recommend - SVS PB-1000- Pro or the Klipsch R-112SW? With SVS subs, as you go up in models, how noticeable is the difference? Thanks

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 8/19/2021

    Thanks for reaching out, Jeff. The SVS PB-1000 Pro is the better buy — it's more powerful, hits lower, and in my opinion will be a more enjoyable sub to own. Being able to change settings from your phone is a game changer, because you hear what each adjustment makes without having to go back and forth between the sub and your seat every time.

    As for whether going up in size makes a noticeable difference: I've bought three SVS subs in my life, and kept going up in size until I got the truly titanic bass that I wanted. In my case, a 13" model was the ticket, but admittedly, it's enormous and nearly impossible to move by myself (a wonderful problem to have!).
  • Walt from Houston

    Posted on 7/19/2021

    Hello, I'm looking for a subwoofer for my home theater that I'm currently putting together. The subwoofer will be added to what I have purchased and currently putting together. TV: Sony X950H 65" AV Receiver: Denon S750H 2ea. ELAC Debut 2.0 F6.2 Floor standing speakers for my fronts. 2ea. ELAC Atmos A4.2 speakers to go on top of the floor standers. 1ea. ELAC Debut 2.0 C6.2 center speaker. 2ea. ELAC Debut 2.0 OW4.2 on wall speakers for rear (On wall, above sofa, because I'm short on space. Sofa up against the wall. The speakers will be on a tilt/swivel mount). I'm not too interested in a loud, booming subwoofer. I'm more interested in a subwoofer with clear, clean bass to compliment my ELAC's. ELAC's subwoofer with it's app control didn't appeal to me. That's why I'm looking for a different brand. I would be interested in your recommendations along the lines of something that fits the bill and in the 400 - 600 dollar range. I prefer to have just one subwoofer. Room size: 18x18 with 9'ceiling and ceramic tile floor.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 7/20/2021

    Thanks for your questions, Walt. In your shoes there are two subs that I would consider. The first is the SVS PB-1000 Pro, which in my book is the best bass for the money that we offer (if size isn't a primary factor). It hits hard and clean, and is a good fit for your speakers and room.

    The other sub that comes to mind is the GoldenEar ForceField 3. It sports a compact enclosure and is potent for its size, thanks to a 1,000-watt amplifier. If you're looking to save space, this sub is a fantastic way to go.
  • Michael Gene Tyler from Henderson

    Posted on 7/18/2021

    Whats the difference between Klipsch R 120SW and a R 12SW? Should I go two 10 inch or one 12 inch sub. I'm running Denon AVR-S960H 8K Ultra HD 7.2 Channel (90 Watt X 7) AV Receiver 2020 Model 5 ceiling speakers Klipsch RP-504C Center Channel Speaker (Ebony)

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 7/19/2021

    Hi Michael, thanks for reaching out. Those two Klipsch subs are nearly identical (same woofer size, amp output, and frequency response). The R-12SW is older and now discontinued, so the Klipsch Reference R-120SW is the one to go with.
  • Dennis Woodworth from Castle Hayne

    Posted on 3/17/2021

    Greetings, great info by the way, Crutchfield delivers! so which is best, woofer facing the floor or outward?

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 3/25/2021

    Hi Dennis, thanks for reaching out. Please accept my apologies for the delayed response.

    Most powered subwoofers are designed to be front-firing, in that the woofer is pointing into the room instead of toward the floor. If your sub is indeed front-firing, then I wouldn't change that orientation. That said, you may well get better bass pointing it in a particular direction. Which direction that is depends on the shape, size, and acoustics of your room. I recommend testing it in a few different positions to see which one gives you the best bass.
  • Brian Benson from Mount Pleasant

    Posted on 3/8/2021

    My theater room is 25ft × 25ft ×9ft I'm running a 9-2-4 with vog denon avr8500H. Powering it and 2 amps 1 emotiva amp is powering. The 60xt towers. 35xt Rear 4i It front H 50xt center 15i side surround 4 elac atmos speakers I have 2 Polk HTS 12 on Auralex subdude -Ht was looking at the svs 1000 Pro. 2 of them subwoofers. Would that work? i listen 50 50 music sports. Your opinion

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 3/15/2021

    Hi Brian, thanks for reaching out. A pair of the SVS PB-1000 Pros would be a nice step-up from your Polk subs. They hit lower and harder, plus have app control for setup and tuning. Well worth the upgrade, in my opinion.
  • Anthony Paylor from YORK

    Posted on 2/27/2021

    My room is 6m x 3.5m 2.5 m high. My listening position is in an area 4.5m x3.5m. Would the new Rel Ht 1003 be suitable for me.

  • Mitch from Raleigh

    Posted on 2/19/2021

    Hi Kramer. Question for you: Would you consider a 16' x 19' room medium? Large? (Small?)

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 2/23/2021

    Hi Mitch, that's definitely veering into "large room" status in my book, especially if you have a tall ceiling, or if the room is open to an adjacent area like a dining room. I'd go for the biggest and strongest sub you can for the space.
  • Brandon from Lancaster PA

    Posted on 2/10/2021

    Thank you for this post! Very helpful information.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 2/10/2021

    Thanks for the kind words, Brandon. I'm glad we could help!
  • James from Palmetto

    Posted on 2/9/2021

    Hello..great article! I'm trying to see if I can make my theater space a bit more rounded. Currently using 1 subwoofer but looking into recommendations. My room is 15'X18' and seating position is on back wall of the 15' depth. The TV and audio are along the 18' wall between 2 windows. I want to have fuller enveloping sound for HT with some punch but also want to crank some DMB tunes as well. Current setup: Sony 77" A9G Master Series (wall mounted), Polk LSiM 707's front, Polk LSiM 706 center, Polk RT 65's (4) in-walls 2 as surrounds and 2 as HT1's, Polk RT 80 f/x ceiling mount as HT2's, Velodyne DPS-10 subwoofer on an Auralex SubDude-HT, Onkyo TX-RZ730 run as preamp to Monolith 9X (200w RMS to front 3 channels with 100 RMS to the remaining 6 channels), Oppo-203 4K-UHD player, Buttkicker Advance (x2) direct mount to HT sofa powered by Dayton Audio SA1000 sub amp. Configured to run as 5.1.4 ATMOS and Audyssey II calibration used from Onkyo AVR. Looking for a good compliment for the LSiM's and debated on getting a 2nd Velo DPS-10 or making the move to something more 'up to date'. I've researched a little on Hsu research, SVS, Monoprice, etc. but need some guidance :-) Thank you!!

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 2/15/2021

    Hi James, thanks for reaching out. That's a pretty sweet setup you have there. I do think you'll enjoy having an additional sub; both for the extra reach with movies and music, and to smooth out any performance gaps around the room.

    One of SVS's Pro Series subs is ideal for your setup. I'd base how "big and bad" on how much room you have, and how much you're looking to put into it. I'd say anything from the PB-2000 Pro and up is a stellar choice for increased low-end performance and app-based volume control and room EQ.