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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, Definitive Technology's Descend DN12 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!

  • Duane Melancon from Gonzales

    Posted on 4/21/2022

    My system is used mostly for music. Are some subs better for music? If so what should i look for? Any suggestions?

  • Jack

    Posted on 3/10/2022

    I have a small Onkyo bookshelf system with a single subwoofer pre output. I notice that many subwoofers come with both a left and a right input. Would one of these work with my amp, or should I look for a single input unit?

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 3/14/2022

    Thanks for reaching out, Jack. Most modern subwoofers can accommodate a single LFE (Low Frequency Effects) connection, even if they only have a stereo pair of RCA inputs (either the left or right connection would be used, depending on the model). Check out the Details tab on a given product page for connection info, or feel free to give one of our Advisors a shout for free, personalized advice.
  • Eric from Wagner

    Posted on 3/6/2022

    Have a Carver Amp/Preamp, so no Sub output - likely need to wire main speakers into the Sub, then out of the Sub into the two main speakers. Have 2 monitor Silver shelf speakers. Will put into a living room thats large - about 15 x 24. Tile floor. Suggestions on models that would permit this kind of connection in this type of room?

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 3/7/2022

    Thanks for reaching out, Eric. You'll want to go with a subwoofer that has speaker-level inputs and speaker-level outputs. These models feature those connections, which will allow you to run the signal from your amp through the sub and back out to your Monitor Audio speakers.

    I highly recommend placing your sub on top of a subwoofer isolation platform. This will decouple the sub from the floor, which greatly reduces vibrations and stray reflections. It's money well-spent given the tile floor, and will help your sub sound its best.
  • Roger from Glenview

    Posted on 2/23/2022

    Thanks for the article. Curious on your thoughts on the newer micro subs (SVS 300 micro, Kef kc62, etc). Price point aside do they perform closer to their larger cousins or does physics still get in the way? I have a 16 x 16 family room with 15 foot ceiling that opens to the kitchen and two other rooms. Wife doesn't want anything large in the room. Main use would be movies more than music.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 2/24/2022

    Thanks for reaching out, Roger. In general I'm a big fan of compact, high-performance subs (like the SVS 3000 Micro and the KEF KC62 that you mentioned). Another personal favorite is the Paradigm MilleniaSub. Each of these can produce potent home theater bass without taking up a ton of floor space.

    In your specific case I recommend using two subs if you can to smooth out gaps and balance out the sound in your large room, and think any of those subs would be a fine choice to try. We offer a 60-day satisfaction guarantee, so if it turns out that you need to go up a notch we can help there too. Thanks again, and happy listening!
  • Atishaya

    Posted on 2/22/2022

    Great Article! I want to know if I should go with ASW608 or ASW610 with 5 M1s and 2 Dolby speakers for room size of 14 feet X 24 feet? Major viewing and sitting area will be 14 ft. X 14 ft. Approx.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 2/22/2022

    Thanks for reaching out, Atishaya. Given your relatively large room I'd opt for the beefier Bowers & Wilkins ASW610 powered subwoofer for your system. It's a fantastic choice for home theater, and is a solid match with your M-1 satellite speakers. I think you'll love it!
  • Brian Reaume from Port Colborne

    Posted on 2/21/2022

    I'm trying to decide between a single SVS SB-2000 Pro or a single SVS SB-3000 subwoofer. The sub will be used for music only not movies. I like clean, precise base. I want to hear the music the way the performer intended it to sound when he/she recorded it. My listening space is in a carpeted room in a finished basement. The room is 20.6'L x13.5'Wx6.5'H. Which of the two would you recommend. Thank you.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 2/22/2022

    Thanks for reaching out, Brian. Either of those subs would be a welcomed addition to your two-channel stereo system. But given that you won't be using it for home theater, I'd opt for the smaller SVS SB-2000 Pro. It's musically accurate, hits hard and clean, and is fully controllable from the free SVS app. I don't think the extra heft from the larger cone would be beneficial in your listening room, so I'd go smaller here and enjoy the fantastic bass that the SB-2000 Pro delivers.
  • James from Buffalo

    Posted on 2/5/2022

    Excellent article. Easy to understand and helpful

  • JR from Marco Island, FL

    Posted on 1/20/2022

    Hi Kramer, We have an Onkyo TXNR5100, Wharfedale 12.1 and 12.C front/center speakers with in-wall Polk Audio RC85i rear speakers. We're considering adding a subwoofer and were wondering your thoughts on how well either the Klipsch R10SWi or R112W would work with our system. The room is about 20' deep, front to rear, and wider than that - in a high rise with neighbors above and below. Do you have another recommendation? Thanks for your help!

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 1/21/2022

    Thanks for your question, JR. Either of those Klipsch subs are a fine addition to your system, and will give you clean, hard-hitting bass as part of your home theater. I tend to prefer larger subs for surround sound, so I lean toward a 12" model like the Klipsch Reference R-112SW for your spacious room.

    Whichever model you choose I recommend buying a subwoofer isolation platform to reduce the amount of energy transferred through the floor to your downstairs neighbor.

    Thanks again for reaching out, and happy listening!
  • C Y from Kuala Lumpur

    Posted on 1/5/2022

    Hi Kramer, Thinking of getting SVS SB 1000 Pro for my old PMC Twenty.23 loudspeaker. Do you think it's a good match? My listening area is 12x16 feet. Also, how significant improvements between a single subwoofer vs dual stereo subwoofer set up. Thanks.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 1/10/2022

    Thanks for reaching out, CY. I think the SB 1000 is an excellent choice for your system. It produces tight, clean bass without taking up a lot of space. I think you'll like it!

    As for a single versus a dual-sub setup, the difference in performance will largely be determined by the acoustics of your room. In your shoes I'd start with the one sub and see what you think — you can always add a second sub down the road (that's what I did in my living room system). Thanks again, and happy listening!
  • Brian Vasquez from Olympia

    Posted on 12/14/2021

    I have a pioneer vsx 1020 receiver with a subwoofer pre out. (Which for all intent looks like a RCA ) my problem is I've tried hooking up a couple different woofers to this receiver and have gotten nothing. Do I need a specific cable? Or sub? I'm thinking of getting a jbl stage 100 p but am nervous about it not working. I'm relatively competent about audio but by no means am I an expert. Please help.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 12/14/2021

    Thanks for reaching out, Brian. I'm sorry to hear you've been having trouble with your system. Assuming there are no issues with your receiver, you'll want to use a subwoofer cable to connect your powered sub to the dedicated subwoofer output on your VSX-1020.

    Once everything is connected I recommend running your receiver's calibration system, which will detect your sub and set the output level and frequency curve to match the acoustics of your room. I don't anticipate any issues on this front, but please let me know if you run into any snags. Thanks, and happy listening!
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