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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.


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!

  • Gary

    Posted on 11/14/2021

    Hi- looking for a suggestion for a powered sub, listening to music only. I'm looking for a sub to deliver accurate, fast punchy bass without the droning rumbling. I have no experience with subs. The "main" speakers are Vienna Acoustic Waltz's mounted on the wall in a room that is 28 feet deep, 18 feet wide with 9 foot ceilings, wood floor on a raised foundation. The speakers are driven by a McIntosh 2105 power amp listening to pretty much everything except Polka and Country. Thanks!

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 11/15/2021

    Thanks for reaching out, Gary. Take a look at the Bowers & Wilkins DB3D. This sub has everything I'd want for high-quality stereo listening in a large room. It produces tight, clean bass that's ideal for music. And the entire setup and calibration process is done via an app. That means you can sit in your listening seat and dial-in the bass remotely, instead of making a settings change and then going back across the room to hear the difference in sound.

    As an added bonus, the DB3D has balanced XLR inputs for connecting to your preamp — not a feature we see on most powered subs.
  • Steve Kulis from Chicago

    Posted on 11/2/2021

    So I have a Yamaha RX-A750 with Klipsch R120SW SUBWOOFER. My issue is that I've been having the sub from time to time pop when there is some kinda explosions or the bass is used a lot. I can't figure out what it is on the RX-A750 that's doing that. I use to have another Klipsch 10 inch sub and that one did it also. I tired different cables also and still nothing. Hope you guys can help me out with this. Thank you!

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    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 11/3/2021

    Thanks for reaching out, Steve. I'm sorry to hear you're having issues with your system. I've been in those shoes, and know it's frustrating.

    Without being able to troubleshoot the equipment directly my guess is that your signal levels are too high. I would check the LFE level on your receiver and make sure it's about where it was when you ran the calibration system. Then, I'd check the gain knob on the back of your sub and ensure that it's at the correct position too. It's possible (likely) that one or both are too high, which is causing the sub to distort when passages with lots of low-frequency information are played.

    If you find that turning the levels down solves the problem you may be faced with a new one: not enough bass. In that situation I would add a second sub, or upgrade your Klipsch to something that has a lot more amplifier power. I think that's ultimately the root of your issue, especially since you've experienced the same results with multiple subs and cables.

    I hope that helps. Thanks again for reaching out!
  • Kelly Nelson from Coralville

    Posted on 10/11/2021

    I'm looking to add a little more depth to the bass in my home theater. I'm currently using a Polk PSW10, but hoping to take it up a notch. Do you have you have any recommendations for two 10's or one nice 12" sub. I'd love to keep the total cost at or below $500 if possible. My home theater that is about 300sq ft with a 9ft ceiling. I currently have a 5.1.2 setup with Fluance Reference speakers and two in ceiling Polk RC80i's.

  • mark from Maple Grove

    Posted on 10/5/2021

    First, thank you for the article, answered a lot of questions. A few more though. I am replacing a Yamaha YST-SW160 that seems to have died.

    1) Given the age of the Yamaha, it makes more sense to replace than fix...that's my gut, any reason I'm not in the right mindset? c

    2) Specs on the Yamaha include Output Impedence, Frequency, and Output Frequency. How important is it to compare those specs? I'm finding most subs now have power that exceeds the Yamaha (150W max), but the frequency ranges aren't as broad (20-160Hz on Yamaha). Should I care about that?

    3) I hate not having a woofer, and would like to at least match the Yamaha, if not upgrade, but am not looking to spend over $600. Any recommendations I'll be thrilled with? Thank you, Mark

  • Dan from Deep River

    Posted on 10/1/2021

    Is voice matching important with subwoofers like it is for center channels? I have an old 5 speaker set up using Infinity Alphas I would like to add a subwoofer to.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 10/4/2021

    Thanks for reaching out, Dan. You can confidently go with any brand of powered subwoofer that we carry. In my experience voice-matching your sub to your main speakers isn't important — our ears aren't sensitive to the tonality of bass waves the same way they are to higher frequencies. In both my stereo and surround systems I use a different brand sub than my main speakers and love how everything sounds.

    The big thing is matching your new sub to the frequency range of your speakers, as well as to the size and acoustics of your room. I recommend giving one of our Advisors a shout for a free personalized recommendation.
  • 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.