At its core, a subwoofer (or "sub" for short) is a specialized piece of audio reproduction equipment. It is designed to isolate and amplify low-pitched audio frequencies (below 20 Hz) to provide fully-fledged audio emersion. Often, subwoofers are a must-have piece of equipment for music producers and home theater owners due to their exacting need for precise audio acuity.
Subwoofers today come in a variety of sizes and can vary greatly in terms of their peak capabilities. If you're considering adding a subwoofer to your home theater, car, or audio production set up, then take some time to read this guide and learn about the specifications and features that make today's subwoofers the best yet. With this information in mind, you'll be ready to buy on the top 7 best subwoofers reviewed in this guide, all for under $500.
|Polk Audio PSW505 12" Powered...||2,385 Reviews|
|Yamaha HS8 Studio Subwoofer||249 Reviews|
|Klipsch R-120SW Subwoofer||270 Reviews|
|Rockville RBG18S 18" 2000W Active...||462 Reviews|
|JBL LSR310S 10" Powered Studio...||76 Reviews|
|Rockford Fosgate P3-2X12 Punch Dual...||93 Reviews|
|SVS PB-1000 Subwoofer (Black Ash)...||115 Reviews|
How Subwoofers Work
Subwoofers operate by isolating low-frequency audio impulses that enter their system and amplify them through a variety of components that are designed to minimize undesirable factors (like distortion and ambient resonance.) Often, consumer-grade subwoofers also include a standard "woofer" component that effectively allows for a full range of audio reproduction.
Of course, each component inside of a given subwoofer plays a role in its ability to amplify low-frequency audio with precision. To learn more about these part and the ways in their interactions make a full subwoofer uniquely "work," check out this informative video.
Types of Subwoofer Speakers
Passive subwoofers are categorized based upon their power source, which in this case derives from an external amplifier (much like a traditional loudspeaker). Passive models are among the most common and can meet most user's needs when it comes to supplying power to reach a unit's peak capabilities.
On the other hand, powered subwoofers (also known as active subwoofers) are powered by an in-line power source. This allows a given subwoofer unit to more efficiently meet high-end sound production demands. Some users prefer these models due to their self-contained nature.
Benefits of Subwoofers
Subwoofers are designed to amplify not only your chosen media's audio but also provide a greater deal of appreciable fidelity in the bass and sub-bass range. This, in turn, benefits the listener by allowing them to hear every last decidable of audio that the audio's creator originally envisioned.
Along the same lines, subwoofer users are better able to take full advantage of their recording or listening space’s unique acoustics by reintroducing a stable low-frequency sound source.
With a properly arranged woofer and subwoofer system, users can create an at-home or in-studio surround sound experience with as few as one single unit.
Choosing a High-Quality Subwoofer Under $500
Power, in subwoofer terminology, is one of the key components that influences everything within the unit's operation, from its consistence to its volume. Usually, power output is measured in watts and is categorized into both RMS (continuous) and peak ratings. If you are using a passive subwoofer in conjunction with the main amplifier, be sure to match their power outputs for the most stable full-system performance.
A subwoofer's frequency response (sometimes called a "frequency range") describes what range of audio frequencies a given unit can reproduce. This is communicated to users using a range rating, with each figure measured in hertz (Hz). Those looking for a greater deal of versatility in their audio reproduction capabilities (especially on the bass end of the spectrum) should opt for a unit with a broader frequency range.
Sometimes referred to as "efficiency," sensitivity describes how capable a given unit is at converting amplifier power into sound. In other words, a model with a higher sensitivity rating can produce a greater volume of sound with a lower amount of electrical input. Sensitivity is usually measured in decibels (dB) to describe its sound output capabilities when in use.
Like standard speakers, the placement makes a significant difference in how a subwoofer unit delivers its audio payload to the listener. Subwoofer manufacturers generally include placement recommendations for their units, based upon the user's intended installation location (in a car, in a home theater, etc.). Placement can vary from room to room based upon acoustic eccentricities, so don’t feel afraid to experiment with placement while testing out your new subwoofer.
Wired or Wireless
As with consumer-grade speakers, recent technological advancements have allowed subwoofer units that operate without audio input wires to enter the market at an affordable price. These units provide more versatility when it comes to placement but do suffer from more reproduction inconsistencies compared to their wired cousins. Most audio connoisseurs continue to opt for wired subwoofers, as a result.
Cone Size and Construction
Perhaps the most visible aspect of a subwoofer unit, the cone plays a crucial role in spreading and projecting converted audio across the breadth of the unit's installation location. Cone construction can also play a role in the final audio output's quality; high-grade metallic cones are more able to remain rigid and not introduce distortion.
Subwoofers can take up a substantial amount of space, depending on the user's chosen installation location. Prospective buyers should always measure their desired installation location before finalizing their purchase. This ensures that their unit can be installed properly and function with the listed degree of audio fidelity.
Due to their precise nature, subwoofers and other types of audio reproduction equipment are prone to break down on occasion. To prevent one of those faults from dampening your listening experience indefinitely, it is always worthwhile to ensure that your prospective subwoofer carries a productive warranty. Such a guarantee can come in handy if your chosen unit requires repairs or a full replacement soon after purchasing it.
7 Best Subwoofers Under $500 Reviewed
1. Polk Audio PSW505 12"
Our Top Pick
23Hz - 160Hz
18.2 x 15.2 x 16.2 inches
Yes, 5 years on parts and labor
As the top pick for best subwoofer under $500, you might have high expectations for the Polk Audio PSW505. You'll be glad to know that those expectations will be met and exceeded if this model's slot load venting system and phase toggle switch have anything to say about it. This model’s MDF construction also enables it to reproduce sound for both music and spoken audio accurately.
When taken together with this model's ability to create artificial surround sound, you'll likely be clambering to add this 460-watt unit to your home media center as soon as possible.
2. Yamaha HS8 Studio
22Hz - 150Hz
16 x 18 x 18.5 inches
Yes, 1 year on all components
Coming up as a close runner up for the position of best subwoofer under $500, the Yamaha HS8 brings studio-quality audio reproduction to any space in your home or office. This optimal, 10 dB functionality begins with this model’s enclosure, which uses resilient MDF materials to cut internal resonance. This factor is further enhanced by this model’s port design, which is designed to reduce discordant noise at both ends of the output sound “vortex.”
This model’s transducers have also been redesigned to make use of a magnetic field to regulate natural sonic transitions. When all of these components (any many more high-end specifications) come together, you get an unbeatable degree of audio fidelity from the Yamaha HS8.
3. Klipsch R-120SW
Best Home Theater Subwoofer Under $500
29Hz - 120Hz
19.8 x 14 x 16.8 inches
200 watts (standard), 400 watts (peak)
If you’re looking for the best home theater subwoofer under $500, then look no further than the Klipsch R-120SW. This model was built with in-home movie viewing in mind, as seen in its ability to reach a max acoustic output of 116dB when powered up to 400 watts. You won’t miss a peep from this subwoofer unit either because its rigid, spun-copper cone was specifically engineered to minimize bothersome physical distortion.
The Klipsch R-120SW’s constructive quality goes further than this, though. While this model’s internal MDF construction cuts down on the unit's coloration, you'll also be able to appreciate its aesthetic style of a black wood grain vinyl outer case.
4. Rockville RBG18S 18"
Best PA Subwoofer Under $500
29Hz - 150Hz
27.5 x 25 x 30 inches
500 watts (peak)
Those looking to really project their voice by finding the best PA subwoofer under $500 should give the Rockville RBG18S a try. At its core, this model’s driver includes a 4-layer 4” voice coil and 120oz magnet motor structure. When taken together, these components allow users to maintain a frequency response as low as 29 Hz without any loss of quality.
You’ll be able to count on the Rockville RBG18S for the long-term, that’s for sure. This model’s passive heat sink and auto turn-on fan ensure that this unit remains fully operational even during heavy use cycles. You’ll also be able to easily transport this model to all of your speaking engagements thanks to its built-in carrying handle and heavy-duty locking wheel casters.
5. JBL LSR310S 10"
Best Powered Subwoofer Under $500
4 dB, 113 dB (peak)
17.6 x 15.7 x 15 inches
Yes, lifetime transferable limited on workmanship and components
Because of their enhanced capabilities, it used to be challenging to find a model that could be dubbed the best-powered subwoofer under $500. That is until the JBL LSR310S hit the market. This model manages to maintain a modest price tag while implementing features such as XLF settings that engage specially-engineered tuning for an extended low-frequency range (down to 33 Hz with a 4 dB sensitivity range!).
You'll also be surprised at how much added-value comes boxed into with the JBL LSR310S. For starters, this model comes with everything you’ll need to use it out of the box, including a studio monitor, power cable, and set-up guide. In the long-run, though, you’ll grow to appreciate this model’s lifetime transferable warranty more than anything else.
6. Rockford Fosgate P3-2X12
Best Car Audio Subwoofer Under $500
15.125 x 33.875 x 15.75 inches
1200 watts (standard), 2400 watts (max)
Yes, 1 year
Mobile audiophiles on a budget won’t settle for anything less than the best car audio subwoofer under $500. Luckily, they can reach for the Rockford Fosgate P3-2X12 as their next major in-car sound system upgrade.
This model's high binding posts, as well as its length-wise form factor, make it ideal for installing in a car or truck. With a maximum power rating at 2,400 watts, folks will undoubtedly hear your car coming from a mile away.
Unique in its class, this model is fully CEA-2031 compliant. That means that this unit has been tested and certified by an independent authority to provide the precise capabilities it advertises. In a busy subwoofer market, this certification stands out as a mark of quality.
7. SVS PB-1000
Excellent For Music
19 Hz -270 Hz
15 x 18.4 x 18.4 inches
300 watts (RMS), 700 watts (peak)
If you’re in the market for the best subwoofer for music under $500, then you’re not going to beat the SVS PB-1000 based upon its unique features. This can first be seen in this model’s implementation of class D topology that runs cool, even at its 720-watt dynamic peak. Along the same lines, this model can save energy (down to only 0.5 watts) when running it its "green" standby mode.
In terms of construction, you can also be sure that the SVS PB-1000 is entirely safe due to its RoHS compliant status. That means that this model entirely lead-free, making it an eco-friendly choice that is easy to recycle after its useful lifespan is expended.
Additional Subwoofer Features
A front-firing subwoofer includes a driver set-up that is orientated outwards. Often, these models release their sound through an opening on one side of the unit, providing for more direct audio transmission.
Down-firing subwoofers include a driver set-up that is oriented downward, usually towards the floor. This architecture allows the unit to provide the installation space with a broader, more expansive volume of the audio.
A passive radiator is an auxiliary component found inside some subwoofer enclosures that are made up all of the same components as an average driver, minus the voice coil and magnet. This allows the unit to more effectively convert internal resonance into a more consistent and desirable sound quality.
The crossover is a measurable point in a subwoofer’s frequency range where its primary capabilities kick in and take over for an attached speaker. Often, this occurs around 80 Hz for consumer-grade units, though larger units typically include a crossover point under 80 Hz.
As a critical component of placement, directionality describes the central direction in which a subwoofer's output is set to travel. Directionality describes this factor, as well as any secondary "directions" that may receive some degree of the subwoofer's outputted audio.
Speakers vs. Subwoofers
At their core, speakers and subwoofers are functionally different. Speakers functionally amplify input audio frequencies, merely making them loader and often projecting them over a broader area. Subwoofers, on the other hand, specifically reproduce low-frequency audio inputs to both amplify and enhance their quality as they are delivered to the listener.
Subwoofer Installation & Tips for Placement
The installation process is crucial to ensuring that your new subwoofer system operates efficiently. As in real estate, subwoofer installation is all about location, location, location.
Before you purchase a subwoofer unit, be sure to fully scope out your intended installation location and ensure that the units’ placement in that space will meet the manufacturer’s specifications for obstruction-free use. This location will vary from one home theater space to another, as well as between car brands and architecture types.
While you make this evaluation, be sure take factors such as crossover, volume, and phase into account. Each of these factors can influence how clearly and powerfully a listener receives the amplified sound from the subwoofer unit.The subwoofer installation and set-up process can be lengthy, yet fruitful in the end. For specialist tips on how to approach this process, check out this video as well as this helpful guide
Common Subwoofer Issues & Fixes
Most common subwoofer issues arise from a problem related to the unit (or the wider systems) set-up. As such, many fixes can be resolved by succinctly reevaluating your set-up and making adjustments based upon the manufacturer’s distance and spacing recommendations. For more insight into fixing some of these common issues, check out this video below for in-home subwoofers and this video for car subwoofers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I really need an enclosure for my car subwoofer?
Generally speaking, this architectural choice is a matter of preference when it comes to audio “tightness.” Those that prefer a more succinct, direct audio quality should opt for an enclosure, while those who prefer a broader, “fatter” sound may choose to forgo an enclosure.
How do I match subwoofers and amplifiers?
At a base level, matching these two types of audio reproduction equipment requires the numerical alignment of their RMS power ratings (in watts). However, those seeking a more precise alignment will also need to align both components' impedance (measured in ohms).
This article includes more information on how to accomplish this task.
Do all subwoofers need an amp?
Most standard subwoofer units (categorized as passive) require a connected amp to draw power and remain functionally stable. However, active or powered subwoofers do not need an amp and can be powered independently for more operational reliability.
What are the benefits of using multiple subwoofers?
It can be challenging to use a single subwoofer unit to fill an entirely acoustically unique space with a reliable volume of low-frequency audio. Using multiple units makes this goal more feasible, especially in areas where listeners may be sitting in across a broad range of locations (such as in a home theater).
Also, the addition of supplementary units can cut down on operation resonance and provide a more consistent quality of audio overall.
How do I improve bass in subwoofers?
Bass improvement efforts should always begin by optimizing the transmission properties of all input audio frequencies (such as through a soundcheck or line-level output system). Beyond this, most specialists recommend either adding auxiliary units (to provide a broader bass distribution) or an amplifier (to increase the bass' overall volume).
What brands are the most reliable and provide the best warranty terms/customer service?
Today, a wide variety of subwoofer manufacturers produce a wide array of products designed to meet specific user needs or installation locations. Among these many brands, top-tier models from Polk Audio, Yamaha, and Rockford are considered among the very best on today’s market.
Even though each of the high-quality subwoofers described above has a whole handful of unique features and specifications that make them shine, only one model can stand as the best overall subwoofer in today's market.
This time around, that award goes to the Polk Audio PSW505. It’s MDF construction, and the slot-loading system combines to create an enhanced low-frequency soundscape by which its competitors are measured up to.
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