What’s A Subwoofer to Do?
A subwoofer’s calling in life is simply to bring awe-inspiring, eyeball popping, gut rumbling deep bass to your movies and music. “All right, cool” you say, “Which one should I get?” Allow us to assist.
Your Comparison Checklist
Size - What is the right size subwoofer for your setup? Too big and it’s unnecessarily expensive and, you guessed it, too big. Too small and what’s the point? So, how big is just right?
First, consider your listening room. Bigger rooms need bigger subwoofers to energize all that air space. Twice the room volume requires twice the energy from your subwoofer to maintain the same loudness.
But far more important than room size is you! Do you like to crank up the bass or overall loudness? How about listen to bass-heavy music or watch thunderous movies? Well then you’re going to need a bigger subwoofer (or subwoofers). On the other hand, those of you with tamer tastes are in luck. A smaller subwoofer will give you all the bass you need.
If you’re still guessing which sub is the right size, we’ve put together a nifty Subwoofer Size Calculator for you.
Power trips - We recommend only powered subwoofers, meaning they have a built-in amplifier. The reason isn’t the power itself, but the many ways built-in amps allow for extra control over the woofer.
As for the actual power, rated in watts, it’s just one among many things determining how loud a subwoofer can play. It’s a little like horsepower to a car, which in fact 750 watts is one horsepower.
A dependable rule is that most subwoofers, like cars, have a sensible amount of power for their design. Rather than focusing on power, we’re confident that the “size calculator” will prove a more reliable way to know how much subwoofer you need.
Be a control freak - Compare features and look for the ones you’ll want. Will you be using your subwoofer with a home theater receiver? If so, a “crossover bypass” switch on the subwoofer lets the receiver use its built-in crossover with less interference. If not, a “crossover” adjustment on your subwoofer helps it work well other speakers. A “phase” switch or knob is helpful in getting your subwoofer working properly with different room placements. And an “auto ON/OFF” feature automatically allows your subwoofer to relax when it’s not getting a work out.
One subwoofer or two? - If you could see the way that bass really distributes itself throughout your room, you might be appalled. It’s way louder in corners and near walls and very uneven in between. Two subwoofers will smooth out a lot of this unevenness and allow you to get smaller subwoofer boxes. By the way, corner placement also has most of these advantages.
Warranty - What is the manufacturer’s warranty? Is the subwoofer made by a company you trust will honor the warranty?
In-home Audition and Return Policy - Your room is going to affect the bass. You won’t know how any subwoofer is going to sound like until it’s been fired-up. Make sure there’s a reasonable return policy.
Price - What does your wallet say? Are you looking for good value? Review all your options and start crossing off the models that don’t have what you want. Then, cross of the models that cost too much because they do more than you need. Finally, compare the performances, features, sizes and the looks of those models still on your list.
It’s time to tally up the score
Some of the questions below ask you to assign a number on a scale. Go ahead and estimate for in-between situations.
____ Room Volume
0 pt for less than 10x10 ft room
1 pt for 10x10 ft room
2 pts for 15x15 ft room
3 pts for 20x20 ft room
4 pts for 25x25 ft room
____ Room Acoustics
0 points for a reflective room
1 pt for an absorptive room
____ Room Placement
0 pts for subwoofer placement in a corner & on the floor (near three room boundaries)
1 pt if near two room boundaries
2 pts if near only one (usually the floor)
4 pts if outdoors
____ Room Type
0 pts of room is enclosed
1 if open doors and hallways
3 if room is very open (or if outdoors)
____ Room score (Sum of above four scores)
Your listening style:
____ How loud will the bass be at its loudest?
0 pt if comfortable
3 pts if your wife tells you to turn it down
6 pts if you keep saying ”What did you say?”
10 pts if you know the cops on a first-name basis.
____ How demanding is whatever you listen to?
0 pt for string quartets
3 pts for jazz
6 pts for rock & roll
10 pts for hip-hop
____ Listening style score (Sum of the above two scores)
Subwoofer style (Get from spec sheet of woofer under consideration):
____ How low is it rated to go? (-3dB or cut-off frequency)
0 pts for 40 Hz
1 pt for 30 Hz
2 pts for <20 Hz
____ How big is the sub? (you can measure the outside in inches, multiply H x W x D, divide by 1728)
0 pt for >4 cu ft
1 pt for 2 to 4 cu ft
2 pts for < 2 cu ft
____ How many powered woofers are there in the enclosure?
0 pt for two
1 pts for one
____ How many subwoofers will you be using?
0 pt for three
1 pt for two
3pts for just one
____ Does it have a passive radiator or air vent?
0 pts if yes
1 pt if no
____ Subwoofer score (Sum of above five scores)
____ TOTAL SCORE (Add up the room, listening style and subwoofer scores)
Total Score Suggested Size (woofer diameter)
<22 pts 8” subwoofer(s) is all you probably need
22 to 24 pts 10” sub(s) should do
24 to 26 pts 12” sub(s) is recommended
26 to 28 pts 15” sub(s) is what you’ll probably need
>28 pts 18” or more for you!
Hopefully this guide has helped you in your quest to find the perfect subwoofer. We definitely recommend going out to the different audio shops and even to a friend’s house to listen to the many options available. With any demo session, you will want to pick a song that you are very familiar with so that you can make a fair comparison while choosing a sub.
Feel free to leave any feedback in the comments section or if you have any other recommendations for choosing subwoofers. Everybody’s ears are different and there is no single magical way to test the sub, especially with the many listening environments out there.