Car subwoofer buying guide
Find the bass that fits your taste, budget, and vehicle
I've written about car audio for Crutchfield since 2003, after four years as Crutchfield Sales Advisor, and 10 years as a music teacher. I'm an avid music listener, with a real love of classical and film music. I love having a great system in my car, and I'll still match the system in my 98 Ford Ranger (may it rest in piece) up against anything else I've heard for great SQ. I attended West Virginia University, where I received a Master's Degree in Music Performance and a Bachelor's Degree in History. Let's Go Mountaineers!
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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?
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 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]
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]
Enclosed subwoofers, like this Rockford Fosgate Prime R1 12" package, match a sub or two with a perfectly sized box.
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]
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]
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:
- 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.
- Sensitivity — Sensitivity 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.
- Frequency range — Frequency 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.
- 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.
- Number of voice coils — Dual 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.