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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 Klipsch R-112SW, 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 also has the Klipsch R-112SW, 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.

How much power do you need?

The customer-favorite Polk Audio PSW111 pairs an 8" woofer with a 150 amplifier — perfect for small rooms where space is at a premium.

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.  

Sealed sub.

Ported sub.

Sealed versus ported: SVS's SB-2000 and PB-2000 subs use identical 12" woofers and 500 watt amplifiers, but the ported enclosure is roughly twice the size and weight of its sealed counterpart. Keep this in mind when visualizing the available space where your new sub will go.

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.

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.

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.

 Put a stop to shaking, rattling, and rolling

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 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.

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. 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 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!

Last updated 8/9/2018
  • Joel Siegel from Morro Bay

    Posted on 10/14/2018

    I have a Martin Logan system and my dynamo w 1000 subwoofer stopped working, specifically the amp. The cost to replace the amp is almost cost of new powered speaker. Can I use just the speaker of old sub paired with new dynamo 1000 as a passive sub ? Thank you

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 10/15/2018
    Hi Joey, I'm sorry to hear your sub isn't working anymore! I'm not clear how you'd try to utilize the non-working sub as a passive woofer in that scenario. I'd stick with a single new sub as your best bass route at this point. Happy listening!
  • Kevin from Phoenix

    Posted on 9/18/2018

    I have a large room (~20' x 32'). Do you think I would be better off with 2 Klipsch R112SW's, or 1 Klipsch R115SW with it's lower frequency response? My main front speakers are Klipsch RP280's.

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 9/19/2018
    Hi Kevin, that's an excellent question — one that I think comes down to individual preference. I have the Klipsch Reference R-112SW myself, and absolutely love it. I personally would prefer two 12" Klipsch subs over one 15" sub in a large room like yours, since they would provide much more evenly distributed bass (and ultimately a more immersive home theater experience).
  • Andrew Ha from Spring

    Posted on 8/24/2018

    I purchased a Polk audio dsw I believe.. and a few months back it started to make a loud thumping sound turned on and off.. now there is a humming noise with a whizzing sound coming from it without the receiver turned on. Any solutions?

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 8/28/2018
    Hey Andrew, I'm sorry to hear you're having trouble with your sub. If you purchased it from Crutchfield, please give our tech support folks a call (their phone number is on your invoice). You can also reach Polk's customer service at 1-800-377-POLK (7655) to troubleshoot the issue. Hope you're back up and running soon!
  • Chris from Parker, CO

    Posted on 8/23/2018

    I have a wired sub now, and am considering adding a second. Would a wireless sub work well with a wire, or would the wireless have just enough lag to be noticeable?

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield on 8/28/2018
    Hey Chris, the signal transmission for wireless subs is pretty much instantaneous. I'd have no problem pairing a wireless sub with your existing model in terms of timing.
  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/1/2018

    Hey Dave, I'm going to put you in touch with one of our Advisors, who will help you find the right sub for your system. Thanks!

  • Dave from Huntington

    Posted on 5/28/2018

    What subwoofer would you recommend to go with Polk TS1 bookshelf speakers and an NAD C338 integrated amp (50 Watts)? This is an audio only system, not surround sound for tv. Thanks

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/25/2018

    Hey Andy, you'd be hard pressed to beat another pair of the B6s for your rear channels. They are on sale right now, and would give you a perfectly voice-matched system front and back.

    As for a sub, I highly recommend the ELAC Debut S10EQ. It offers excellent bass for its size, and can be controlled from your phone. It's the best match for the money for your B6s.

  • Andy from Sierra Madre

    Posted on 4/23/2018

    I have a pair of elac debut B6's with a Pioneer Elite Model: VSXLX102 Receiver. I want to add a sub and a pair or surround speaker without breaking the bank but that will pair nicely with what I have. What do you recommend?

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/5/2018

    Hi Suresh, the short answer is yes. That small difference in frequency response can indeed made a big difference in the depth and accuracy of low-note bass performance. It's one of several key factors that play into how well a given sub sounds, and plays an integral role in how "visceral" the bass feels when it hits.

  • Suresh from Chicago

    Posted on 3/5/2018

    Does frequency range matter in selection? I see some starting at 27HZ and most at 30HZ with big difference in price. Does the difference of 3HZ make perceivable listening experience? Thanks.

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/6/2017

    Dave, there's no issue with a subwoofer (or any speaker for that matter) that's not video-shielded being near your LED TV. In the old days of tube TVs, the magnetic energy from a speaker could damage the picture tube if it was too close. That's not an issue anymore, so it's not something to worry about.

    The potential concern I'd have about placement that close to the TV is the quality of bass that you'll get. If you can, I recommend trying the sub out in a few different locations around the room to see where it sound the best.

  • Dave from Lapeer

    Posted on 12/6/2017

    I'm thinking on an SVS pb2000 sub, but it would have to be with in an inch of my led tv screen. My question is, would that harm the screen or is the SVS video shielded?

  • 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.

  • 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 4/5/2017

    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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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 1/10/2017

    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!

  • 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 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.

  • 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 12/15/2016

    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!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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

  • Francis-Rae Sacramento from Sydney

    Posted on 8/15/2016

    Good explanation. Thank you

  • 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!

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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 8/14/2015

    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.

  • 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?


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