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Home theater subwoofers buying guide

How to choose the right one for your surround sound system

I started my Crutchfield career as a product advisor. I fielded thousands of customer questions about A/V equipment, designing systems for homes, cars, and the occasional party bus. Do that for eight years, and you begin to understand what people really want from their gear. You also get a lot of hands-on experience with the latest products. That's one of the coolest things about working here. As a writer, I enjoy translating technical jargon into easy-to-understand language. My goal is to make shopping for speakers and amplifiers simple. After all, this stuff is supposed to be fun! Outside of work, I enjoy playing and teaching music. I'm always on the lookout for interesting left-handed guitars.

More from Kramer Crane

If you're like me, you love the intense, spine-tingling impact of bass hitting your body. You want to feel the power of the jet screaming by. The bomb exploding off screen. The Tyrannosaurus Rex taking crushing steps towards you. They are part of the home theater experience, and that's what a subwoofer gives you.

A powered subwoofer sitting on the floor next to a couch.

A powered subwoofer delivers thrilling bass for movies, music, and video games.

We offer lots of different subwoofers — from compact subs that will fit under small end tables, to enormous ones that will make your hair stand up. With so many options out there it can be a little tricky figuring out which one to pick.

During the eight years I spent as a Crutchfield Advisor, I helped hundreds of customers choose a sub. Here's what you need to consider when starting your quest for the right subwoofer.

Choosing the right size

Generally speaking, the larger the surface area of the woofer, the deeper it will play. You'll also want your subwoofer to blend in seamlessly with your other speakers to create an immersive listening experience.  If you have small satellite or bookshelf speakers, an 8" or 10" sub will pair nicely. Using big tower speakers? Consider a 12" or larger sub to turbo-boost the low-end. 

Your room's size will also play a role in picking a sub. If you're filling a big, open living room a large subwoofer is worth pursuing. If this is for a cozy den or bedroom, a more modest one may make better sense.

Measure the area where you plan on placing your subwoofer to get a sense of footprint. Make sure the subs you're looking at fit comfortably in your desired location.

Front-firing vs down-firing

Decide where you're going to put the sub. One of the benefits of low-frequency sounds is that they are less directional than higher frequencies. That means you don't have to put it near your front speakers. But if that's where you want it, then I recommend choosing a front-firing sub (below left) to push the bass directly towards you. Corner or side-wall placement? Go with a down-firing sub (below right). It has the driver on the bottom, which delivers bass more evenly throughout the room.

Front versus downward-facing subwoofer.

A forward-firing sub (left) is ideal for the front of your room. A down-firing sub (right) evenly distributes bass if placed along a wall.

Sealed vs ported enclosures

Sealed enclosures (also known as acoustic suspension) offer tight, accurate bass. Because air doesn't move in or out, they are very responsive. However, sealed boxes are generally less efficient than a ported (or bass reflex) enclosure, meaning they require more power to deliver the same amount of bass.

Ported boxes have a vent that reinforces low bass frequencies. You'll get more output from a ported enclosure without needing as much power, but they sacrifice some accuracy in exchange for the added punch.

Both designs offer high-quality bass for home theater. If you like jazz, classical, or other acoustic music, I recommend a sealed enclosure. If you prefer hard rock, hip-hop, or EDM, a ported design might be a better choice. 

Shop for sealed-box subs Shop for ported-box subs

Cutaway of the SVS PB13-Ultra subwoofer.

The massive 13" SVS PB13-Ultra features three carefully tuned ports that provide powerful low-frequency reinforcement.

What are passive radiators? 

Passive radiators are additional unpowered woofers within the enclosure that move in tandem with the powered driver. Several manufacturers use passive radiators to provide deep, powerful bass from a surprisingly compact enclosure. 

Small sub with passive radiator.

Definitive Technology's SuperCube® 6000 matches a powered 9" woofer with two 10" passive radiators for room-shaking bass in a roughly one cubic foot enclosure. A mighty 1,500 watt RMS amplifier provides ample power to fill large rooms.

What about power?

One of the best things about powered subwoofers is that the amplifier is built right into the sub. There's no need for an additional amp or power from your home theater receiver. Plus, the amps and drivers in the subs are optimized to work together, so you get the best performance possible. That means it's possible to get plenty of bass from a relatively low-powered subwoofer. But as a general rule, larger rooms are better served by a more powerful sub.

Fine-tuning the sound

Check out subs with preset modes — they customize the sub's bass response depending on what you're listening to (Movie, Video Game, Rock Music, Jazz Music, Sports, or Night Listening).

Many subs also have some form of built-in equalization to help you customize the sub to the acoustics of your particular listening space. Some subs simply allow you to indicate your sub's placement (corner, mid-wall, in-cabinet, etc.), while higher-end subs may actually take sound samples using an included microphone and automatically tailor the sound to suit your room.

Remote control

To help you manage all your sub's features, look for one that includes a wireless remote control. You'll really appreciate the convenience of not having to get up to adjust the subwoofer's volume knob on the back of the sub every evening when your spouse or children go to bed.

Wired vs. wireless

Many of the subs that come with sound bars are wireless. Most home theater subwoofers are not. You'll need to buy a subwoofer cable to connect your sub to your receiver.

With some subs, wireless connection is an option. Look at the accessories offered with the sub you're buying, and add the wireless kit to your order. Or choose this universal wireless adapter kit to transform virtually any sub into a wireless sub.

Add a second sub for more evenly distributed bass in your room

Room with two subwoofers.

Use two subwoofers in your room for balanced, chest-thumping bass in video games and movies.

Home theater receivers use an RCA output for the subwoofer connection — that's the ".1" in a 7.1 system. Many receivers have two sub outs ("7.2-channel"), giving you the ability to add a second subwoofer to your system. Using two subs will improve bass distribution in a room that has multiple seating locations, giving everyone great performance. Two subwoofers also provide more impactful dynamics and greater system headroom. Here's a link to find a home theater receiver with dual subwoofer outputs

Why does a second sub help to distribute the bass more evenly throughout the room?

Low frequency sound waves are very long. As these waves reflect against the walls in your room, they return toward the subwoofer and can overlap with the original sound wave. In some spots, the waves will cancel each other out, creating a "node" or "null point." This means some areas of your room will have significantly weakened bass response compared to others.

dual subwoofer diagram

In the diagram above, the orange lines represent the original sound waves and the blue lines represent the reflected ones. Where they meet are the nodes, shown by the red "x."

Adding a second subwoofer can fill in those gaps where bass response is weak. This helps make every seat in your home theater a good one, with plenty of tight, deep bass.

How much should you spend?

The sweet spot for most of our customers is the $300-$500 range. These subs deliver thunderous bass with long-lasting performance. So why should you consider spending more? Premium subs use speakers with giant magnets, amps with large transformers, and thick-walled, heavily braced enclosures. Each of these improvements lend to a better quality home theater experience.  

Heft is also an important factor. Just like with traditional component amplifiers, a subwoofer's weight is a good indication of what's inside. Elite subs can weigh twice as much as their comparably-sized counterparts.

If you're looking for the absolute best bass possible, consider a premium sub from a specialty manufacturer like SVS or JL Audio. In a dedicated theater room, with a giant TV and a comparably stout set of speakers, a high-end sub will blow your mind.

Connect with a Crutchfield Advisor for a personalized recommendation

Have questions about choosing a subwoofer? One of the great benefits of shopping with Crutchfield is working with an expert advisor. For one-on-one shopping advice, call, email, or chat with us today. 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 subwoofer

Once you've gotten your new sub home, check out our tips for placement and setup to get the best performance out of your home theater system. Need help? Free lifetime tech support is included with every Crutchfield purchase.

  • Mel Steig from United States

    Posted on 8/14/2015

    Can I place my sub in an amoire that also contains my 50" TV on a shelf above where the sub would be placed?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/14/2015

    Mel, Technically it may be possible to put your sub in that location, but I'd doubt it would do wonders for sound quality due to the boundary effects of being placed inside a piece of furniture. Also, I'd be somewhat concerned about what that much vibration might do to your TV. So I guess I'm saying that you could, but I'm not sure I would.

  • Larry Austin from harrison mich.

    Posted on 8/25/2015

    I am looking for a sub woofer for my yamaha v-379 a/v reciever that has a rca type port. i am 65 yrs. old and only looking to enhance movie viewing. I would like to locate the woofer behind the t.v. which is in a corner location. Is this do able? can it be done for under 200.00$? thanks Larry Austin

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/26/2015

    Hi, Larry. You can definitely add a good subwoofer to your system for under $200. Check out these two customer favorites: Polk Audio PSW108 and Infinity Primus PS38. Just remember, a corner location will intensify the bass response, so you may need to turn the sub's volume down a bit to compensate.

  • Jeff Cox from Phoenix

    Posted on 9/7/2015

    I have an open great room that is set up for 7.1/2. I have a 7.2 receiver. I ready to buy my sub, but I am concerned about where the builder pre-wired the outlet/coax for the sub. My TV is on the front wall, but my Sub's connector is on the left wall at the rear of the room. There is no back wall as it opens to the kitchen. I have looked at the Bic Acoustech PL-200, but it is front firing. Seems like I should have a down firing (onto carpet) or possibly trying to balance with an additional (non pre-wired) in the front of the room. The room is 16'X16' with two couches in an "L" shape. The connection is in the corner of the "L". No my wife won't let me move the furniture. :-) I have about 10' of open space from the TV wall to the couch and all speakers are recessed in the ceiling. Would love your thoughts. -Jeff

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/7/2015

    Jeff, In my experience the direction in which a subwoofer fires usually makes little if any difference. What will make a big difference is the use of two subs, versus one. A pair of subs will help iron out uneven bass response in a room, so you get better sound in more listening positions. They also provide greater headroom for more effortless output with less strain and distortion. Highly recommended.

  • amos

    Posted on 5/24/2016

    First - thanks for a very clear, good-for-the-layman explanation. You've helped a lot. second - in case of a 2-subwoofer situation, should I prefer the 2 subs to be as SIMILAR to each other in characteristics, or as DIFFERENT from each other? If it matters - I am mostly interested in music: classical and 50-years-ago jazz.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/25/2016

    Amos, My understanding from speaking with various subwoofer manufacturers is that you'll experience improved bass whether the subs are the same or not. Myself, I'm a "symmetry" kind of guy, and generally prefer using identical (or at least similar) subs when possible.

  • Jordan

    Posted on 7/24/2016

    What would provide a better listening experience? I've started shopping for 2 subs to put in my 7.2 setup. I keep seeing suggestions for using 2 of the same sub, if possible. I understand the reasoning behind it. My question however is: What about having a 15" sub paired with say a 10"? Would the 15" cover the lower bass the 10" can't get down to and, switched around, would the 10 cover the higher low stuff the 15 get up to? Am I thinking about that right or is a 2 12" setup the way to go at the end of the day?

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/29/2016

    Jordan, you raise an interesting question. My experience has been that adding a second sub is more about smoothing out room imbalances than it is closing any gaps that would exist in frequency reproduction. Since a 12" sub is going to cover virtually all of the LFE frequencies with authority, I believe you'll have a better system overall if you go with two 12" subs. Feel free to give us a call if you'd like any help choosing your subs. It sounds like you have a great system in the works!

  • Francis-Rae Sacramento from Sydney

    Posted on 8/15/2016

    Good explanation. Thank you

  • Tye frantz from hardesty

    Posted on 12/14/2016

    I have a 5.1 home theater set up, it is all from polk audio. I have two floor speakers, center channel, and two rear surrounds plus a 10 inch front firing sub. My problem/ question is.... my system sounds pretty good on movies, but REALLY lacks the punch I want when listening to just music. I want a sub that will truly THUNDER... I mostly listen to hard rock, and my wife is into hip hop

  • Joe from Baton Rouge

    Posted on 12/15/2016

    I have a12" klipsch down firing sub. I want to add a 12" klipsch front firing sub. Will this configuration work or should I get the bottom firing subwoofer.

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/15/2016

    Hey Tye, depending on the wattage of your current sub, it may not be enough to really give you the low-end punch you're looking for. It sounds like a larger woofer with more amplification power is worth considering.

    If you haven't already, it's worth tinkering with your receiver's settings. Try direct mode when you're listening to music if your receiver has it. If you can adjust your subwoofer's output level through your receiver, that's worth a shot too.

    Feel free to give us a shout if you need some help on either front!

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/15/2016

    Joe, that shouldn't be any problem at all. In fact, having different firing directions may help improve bass dispersion in your room. It sounds like you're in for quite the treat!

  • Tye Frantz from hardesty

    Posted on 12/16/2016

    what do you mean by direct mode? my receiver does about every thing. do you mean listening in stereo setting only ? my sub is a polk 10 inch front firing, I wanna say its 150 watts, but I could be wrong, it is also around 15 yrs old give or take. what would be some some good replacement subs ? I want really hard hitting bass,, but I can't break the bank doing it , I would like to keep it under $1200 if I could

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/19/2016

    Tye, many receivers have a "direct" mode that turns off the digital processing to give the speakers the cleanest power possible. Sometimes that can help with the quality of your bass.

    I've been extremely impressed by the ELAC Debut S12EQ. It has some cutting-edge room calibration (everything is done through your phone). It's an excellent option for hard-hitting bass that sounds great.

    The SVS SB-2000 is another great choice for room-filling bass.

  • Jamie from Paradise

    Posted on 1/9/2017

    I have a 10inch velodyne 100rms and im getting the sw112 with 300rms. I want to run both so i was going to leave the velodyne the way it is. Im just going to set up the sw112 by itself at first and when i get it the way i want it i was going to add the velodyne back in. I want the sw112 to do pretty much all the work so this is why i dont want to do a calibration with both subs. Guess its all about how it sounds to the listener but i just dont want to take away from the sw112. Thanks for any feed back.

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/10/2017

    Jamie, that sounds like a good plan. Having the two subs will give you evenly distributed bass in your room - your system is going to rock!

  • Venkatesh

    Posted on 1/20/2017

    Hey.. I have a Yamaha rx 479 with Wharfedale 220 fronts and 220C centre, Also have my old bookshelf as rears. Im looking for a Powered sub. My room is about 20X13. Can you help me suggesting some good budget sub ? Polk psw505, Wharfedale d-10 or sw150 i have in mind... how do they perform ? Any other suggestions ?

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/20/2017

    Venkatesh, great questions! I've passed them along to our Advisors. They'll be in touch with a recommendation for you shortly.

  • Tyler from Seattle

    Posted on 2/9/2017

    Hi, I currently have a setup consisting of two Klipsch KF-28 speakers for my left and right, a KC-25 for the center, and for the surround and sub I'm using leftovers from my Klipsch HD Theater 1000 (so two of the satellite speakers and the 10 inch sub). I'm considering upgrading the subwoofer; how much of an improvement might I notice if I upgraded to something like the Klipsch R-10sw? It's hard to tell from the specs alone, but I'm just afraid that I'll end up spending around $300 and then not even notice an upgrade. Or maybe I should ask it this way: Considering the setup, if you were to upgrade the sub, what would you suggest as a noticeable improvement for the best value? Thanks

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/10/2017

    Hi Tyler, the sub that you have from the HD Theater 1000 system is pretty solid for its size. I would suggest that instead of replacing it, you'd be better off adding a second sub to your system. In your price range, the Klipsch Reference R-10SW is an excellent choice to do that.

    Adding a second sub would give you more evenly distributed bass around the room. So not only would your system hit harder and be more impactful, but the quality of the bass would improve too. Sweet!

    Check out our home theater subwoofer setup guide for tips on dialing your bass in.

  • Bruce H from New Berlin, WI

    Posted on 4/3/2017

    I only have one wife-approved location for my sub, fortunately in the front corner of the room behind the TV. Would there still be a benefit to placing two subs in the same approximate location? I primarily listen to music. Alternatively, would a down-firing sealed speaker be the better option, in concept, for this setup?

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/5/2017

    Hi Bruce, a down-firing sub is your best bet in that location provided you don't have carpet underneath of it. If the floor is carpeted, I'd go with a front-firing sub pointed towards one side of the room or the other. I think a single sub is all you'll need for your system, though you can always gauge performance and add a second sub as needed.

    I highly recommend adding the Auralex SubDude underneath your sub. It made a substantial difference in sound performance in my system, and eliminated the vibrations of nearby windows and glass panels.

  • Aniket

    Posted on 4/14/2017

    Hi, I am planning on a HT for my new home.. have decided to go with Elac F5 Elac C5 Yamaha RX481 or 581amp , Surround - Wharfedale Diamond 10.DFS. I am completely confused for the Sub.. have auditioned a few from Wharfadale, Elac, PSB125, polk and paradigm all were 8/10/12 inch with 100 or 125 watt output..PSB subseries 125.. is what I was most impressed with. Given that they sounded loud given 8inch size and 125 watt output. Unfortunately I am unable to see any reviews on it... other brands were good but not upto the output of PSB... not able to judge the PSB 125 due to lack of online reviews. Can anyone help on this?

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/14/2017

    Hi Aniket, great questions! I am going to put you in touch with one of our advisors who will help you find the best sub for your new system.

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