This article is updated from time to time as new information becomes available. Last update 6/20/2016. Subwoofer 101 became the first SVS affiliate June 2016! It is not exclusive, meaning other quality makers are encouraged to participate!
This question has to cross a few minds. Is it better to go with a single giant sub that digs deep and has very high output? Or is it better to go with 2 smaller subs that dig almost as deep, but with a little less output, for the same price. The short answer is, “it depends”.
First off, you need to know what kind of equipment I’m talking about. I’m not talking about $200 subwoofers, I’m talking about high quality subwoofers. The big sub is a Hsu (pronounced “Shu”) VTF-15h MK1, a venerable powerhouse in the real world of bass, which I have enjoyed for over a year and a half. It is a 15” subwoofer, with variable tunability, such as both ports open, 1 port open, or both ports closed, as well as Q control. After shipping, it’s just over $1,000 and is a very large unit, capable of bass that will boggle your mind. It’s an excellent unit.
The dual subs are a set of SVS PB-1000 10” ported subs, which are more simplified. No port adjustments or Q control. They are currently the most economical sub you can buy from SVS. SVS sent out a set for me to evaluate for this site and this review in particular, and I see why they were eager to do so.
It is generally my recommendation to go with 12” or better, but these subs in particular demolished that barrier. They are the only 10” sub I can recommend with confidence, and that’s only after hearing what they can do. Prior to hearing them, I wouldn’t have thought they would deliver, and would have recommended something bigger. Come to find out, it is an SVS product at it’s core, which means excellent performance.
They are $499 each, or they give you a $50 break at $950 for a dual set. There are no shipping charges, even if you send them back.
Now some people may point out that this comparison is a little unfair, pitting the best of Hsu against the most affordable SVS model. It hardly seems like a fair comparison. However, if you have $1,000 bass budget, then these two options should be in your cross hairs. The benefits of duals are well known, and I can say with confidence that the benefit is very real. Some people may dismiss the PB-1000 as not being substantial enough, as I nearly did, but after my experience, I can say this would be a mistake.
Now in terms of appearance, the 2 PB-1000’s look almost “kid like” next to the VTF-15h. The words that came to my mind? “Not a chance”. These would be fun to listen to, but they weren’t going to be able to provide the same presence and authority as the big sub. In my mind, this was just going to be a fun exercise, and I’d be happy to bring the Hsu back out for duty when this experiment was over. I’ve been wrong before though…
The setup was easy, I just got a splitter and an extra RCA cable. I had to cut in a foam floor pad to make the right sub fit over the base of my speaker stand, it was a tight fit. For continuity, I put a foam pad under the left as well. This was not required, but I did have a large foam pad under the big sub, so it’s not like it would skew the comparison.
Later, having removed the pads for a different configuration, I found no noticeable effect as the standard rubber feet do a pretty good job. SVS also offers their more substantial SoundPath Subwoofer Isolation System that can be used for any subwoofer with screw in feet, and they DO provide a noticeable difference on my wood floor.
I had a little more wiggle room here, but still not much. My home theater is also my living room, so I can’t go sticking the subs wherever I like. This was a problem with the big sub. It only fit in one place: The corner. A sub crawl was pointless. It could only go one place. I talk about Wife Acceptance Factor, and this was a biggie.
The smaller subs fit on either side of the entertainment center, although the right one just barely fit. I could move the left one toward the corner or up tight against the entertainment center. I preferred the latter after some experimentation.
To spare you the hi-jinks my AVR played on me, once I got the crossover levels correct, I started running through tracks I was very familiar with. I don’t mess around, I went straight for E-40, MGK, Whiz, Young Jeezy, all of the hard stuff. If there was going to be any lackluster performance, these tracks would flesh it out.
You can find these tracks on my YouTube channel under playlists, as well as the Enjoying Your Gear page, but keep in mind they are not safe for sensitive ears. They have hardcore bass, and are great for testing, but not something you want your 6 year old listening to.
And boom went the dynamite! I was beside myself with the depth, cleanliness, and tightness. It was such a full and rich experience. Very satisfying. I kept looking at my wife, asking what she thought, as I really did not trust my own ears at this point! She backed me up, she said it sounded better, wherever she was standing or sitting. I could have written this sooner, but I still didn’t trust myself, and I didn’t want to lose credibility among my audience for such a substantial topic. Truly, I did not trust my own ears.
So I began asking my brother, my niece, our friends, anyone who had heard the big sub prior. All were echoing what I felt. Duals were better, and these PB-1000’s are incredibly good. After playing the moving bed scene in “The Haunting”, I saw a lot of open mouths and big eyes. “It sounds better than a movie theater” was something I heard repeatedly. It was the immersive bass that left that impression, I’m certain of it. The dual setup was everything it was supposed to be, so long as the subs are solid!
Does this mean the VTF15h is a dog? Hardly. 2 of them would be outstanding. It would also be more than I could personally justify needing, but headroom is awesome. It does dig a little deeper, but we are talking a few hertz. The only track I found where the big sub had a clear advantage was Saint Saens Symphony Number 3 “organ“, which is a pipe organ symphony, and at 7 minutes in it gets real. The bass tends to hurt your ears, even when properly reproduced. It’s really deep. The big sub handled it better, but it wasn’t as though the PB-1000’s gave up. They just didn’t do quite as well. Unless your listening habits revolve around this track, I don’t see this as a major reason to rule out the PB-1000’s.
Frankly, I’m glad I could find a “weakness” with the PB-1000’s. It’s hard to write about SVS without sounding like a groupie. It’s a common problem, and a great problem for SVS.
In terms of music, I listen to all kinds. Sarah Mclachlan, Slipknot, Norah Jones, Dead Sara, Ray Lamontagne, E-40, Anne Murray, Merle Haggard, Digital Underground, Metallica, Korn, Keb Mo, Pink Floyd, Eagles, I could go on. Both subs do great with all of that content. It’s hard to judge this against one another as I was not willing to listen very long to the PB-1000 as a single, not because it didn’t sound good, but because duals just sounded so much better.
Frequency response is a very grey area in the subwoofer world. Fair disclosure, I do not own an SPL meter. This site is for normal guys, and like most guys, I don’t have an SPL meter laying around, (now have a UMIK-1) although I don’t discourage it. Instead, I listen to sweeps and let my ears discern the peaks and valleys. The VTF-15h had some peaks in my room around 50-70 hertz. (I though it had some peaks, but after discovering my mains were causing peaks, I need to revisit this issue.) It was authoritative down to 17, which is why it handled Saint Saens so well. It’s an excellent sub that would do even better with Room Eq Wizard and a Mini DSP 2×4 to correct in room peaks, as any sub would. Corner loading also played a part I’m sure, so don’t take my observations as accurate or definitive.
The PB1000’s had softer peaks (not as dramatic) around 35-40. (again, mains were causing peaks) They produced clean, authoritative bass down to 21 hertz, and began to taper to 19 hertz, under which they really started to fall off. These would also do well with Room Eq Wizard, but did pretty well with Audyssey alone. Again, this may be due to having dual subs, but SVS is known for their flat frequency response curves.
More “common” subwoofers that are not on the same level as these two makers might list a response of 18 hertz, but really taper off around 30 hertz, producing some sound, but not with any real authority to speak of. Both of these matched their marketing material and their stated performance. Both companies are known for being spot on, and I can absolutely back that up. Both are great value for what they deliver.
So my conclusion comes with a lead heavy caveat. In order for it be beneficial, at least in my opinion, you need to have the smaller subs be as good or better than the PB-1000’s, which is a tall order. I would prefer a sub that has true authority at 20 hertz, but 21 hertz is not enough of a difference to make me want to pass these up considering they do still produce healthy response at 19. If I was buying subwoofers today, these would be my starting point, the minimum level of performance I would be truly happy with. This is not meant to be a dig on the PB-1000, quite the opposite. It’s an outstanding sub, even if it were more expensive. There are subs that exceed $5,000 that are only rated to 30 hertz.
I’m happier with the dual PB-1000’s than I am with the single VTF-15. If you are at all familiar with the real subwoofer world, then you know the flame war that is bound to descend upon me for speaking such blasphemy! Remember, I LOVE my VTF-15, and would really love a pair, knowing I could easily power a room triple the size. If I wasn’t able to find an extra $1,000 in my couch cushions, or in my wife’s budgetary approval, I’d have to go with the dual PB-1000’s. Anywhere in between or better would be great too. Dual PB2000’s would likely be a very low compromise solution, assuming you have the space.
The goal for my audience is to find subs that are good at everything. Never running out of steam, never being taxed to a point of sloppiness at sane volumes. The PB-1000’s fit that description quite nicely. If these are not your choice, the next step in my opinion would be 12” subs, which of course will be more expensive for similar or better performance. That’s OK, bigger subs are nice, it’s better to have too much rather than not enough. Just don’t go getting dual $200 subs and wonder why you aren’t thrilled. Quality makes a huge difference.
So for this particular scenario, I’d have to put my money on the dual PB-1000’s over the single larger sub (or any other single for that matter, including SVS, this wasn’t meant to be a brand comparison). There are a couple of reasons:
Duals are amazing, few will dispute that. In my opinion, duals should absolutely be part of your plan, if you want amazing performance. It resolved my dead spots and gave great saturation. It’s not a clever sales ploy, duals are worth it!
Compromise was expected, but there wasn’t nearly as much compromise as I anticipated. Given the amount of bass heavy content I bombarded these with, I’m beside myself with how well they do. Overall, they are impressive and surprising. The PB-1000’s are ridiculously good.
The ability to upgrade to the larger PB-2000’s or any other better SVS Subwoofer within a year, at FULL purchase value. This shouldn’t be your deciding factor, but it’s a really nice option. The trade in scenario is the only time I’m aware of that SVS will ask you to pay for shipping, which gets expensive with heavy subs like these.
No shipping charges, and a full refund if you need to send them back. You have 45 days to decide if they work for you. If you live in the LA area and can pick up directly from HSU, this is not a factor.
Visual impact. Better Wife Acceptance Factor. They are not nearly as imposing as the larger sub. Granted, I can always say, “sorry honey, it’s for the website” and put just about anything I want in my living room, but not everyone will have as good of an excuse. Good bass takes up space, and you should be prepared for larger subs if you want great sound. These just happen to be the smallest ported subs that I’m aware of that truly belong on this site.
So there are my thoughts. I can sincerely say that dual PB-1000’s meet my bass needs with gusto, and given the name of this site, that has to count for something. I would not be upset if they were the last subs I was able to have. It’s getting off the hook cheap for outstanding performance.
For the reasons above, and the fact that I will be very sad to see them go back to SVS, I can sincerely say that Dual PB-1000’s are the smartest buy in bass. I would recommend buying deeper response if you can afford it, assuming proper quality, but these are extremely satisfying and should leave no trace of buyer’s remorse. Even if they did, SVS has a stellar reputation for customer service. For a bass budget under $1,000, there is no question in my mind that these are the best bang for the buck, and I cannot comfortably recommend less.
Good luck in the search, hopefully this was useful!
**Everyone** wants better bass, whether they realize it or not. Even people who scoff, and say it’s not important, or that they aren’t interested, are quickly “converted” once they hear the difference.
It’s undeniable, and so much better than what most people are used to! From blockbuster movies to Diana Krall, nearly everything sounds better when you can actually hear **ALL** of the bass.
Traditional, run of the mill subwoofers basically filter out real depth, which is not good.
This isn’t just about loudness, almost any typical, basic, run of the mill sub can be loud.
It’s about the Depth of Presentation, or truly **SOUNDING DEEP**.
Your local theater rarely dips under 40 hertz with any meaning, while many of these subwoofers will routinely drop to 14 hertz in room, which is likely lower than you can hear.
Most subwoofers, easily more than 90% of ALL 10″-18″ subs (regardless of wattage, rated frequency response, and price), are TOO SHALLOW SOUNDING, both in extension and in “Depth of Presentation”.
“Depth of Presentation” is important, because your hearing fades as the frequencies get deeper.
Some people assume that’s why they can’t hear the deep stuff, but it’s actually the “typical subwoofer” that is to blame. It’s definitely audible, but most subs just don’t produce *enough* of it.
Few subs can plumb the depths, like they really should.
Good bass is not about what your neighbors can hear (like that guy next to you at the stoplight), it’s about what YOU can hear.
If you have an extra-large room (greater than 600 sq ft), you may need to look at the bigger subs, while those with large rooms and smaller have no such limitations on this particular list, so long as you go dual like you should.
You can always turn a sub down, and it should always be volume matched to your main speakers, regardless of room size. (How I level match by ear)
Big subs like these DO NOT mean overpowering “boom boom”, they mean “articulate” bottom end sound reproduction, which will include blowing your mind with movies like Jurassic Park and Hacksaw Ridge, and shows like my personal favorite, Cosmos.
Amazing content with the proper subs.
Cosmos was particularly surprising. It’s not all about punch, but a lot of low rumbling sounds too. It’s an impressive series too, bass aside. Dr. Tyson has a great way of explaining things.
If the source material is bass heavy, these subs will respond appropriately, while still remaining balanced, and not intrusive at all with regular content, when properly set up.
Tom Petty’s (RIP, I love his music) “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” will NOT rock your world with bass, it just wasn’t mastered that way. Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”, “Lord’s of Summer”, and “Murder One” are truly an experience, if you enjoy their music.
Metallica’s new album, “Hardwired… To Self Destruct” is excellent for bass. “Lords of Summer” is what I use to set subwoofer levels by ear. I used to use several songs, but I get it set right away with 1 song now.
These subs should all do as they’re told, no more, no less. They should be thrilling, yet not intrusive. You can run them too loud of course, but integrated properly, they are true to the content.
The following subwoofers are known for great bass, a DRASTIC departure from more commonly known names that tend to inflate their numbers, but totally lose composure at lower levels. All of these should play with real authority to 20 Hertz, not just make “measurable noise” at that depth.
It’s my opinion that a subwoofer is not a **quality subwoofer* if it can’t play the entire humanly audible bass spectrum, down to 20 hertz,with clear, low distortion authority. Impeccable manners are also a must, and more rare than you might imagine.
Since I have not listened to every single sub out there, the only subs I can personally vouch for on this list are labeled “VERIFIED”.
Other subs listed generally have great reputations, but I have not heard them yet. No subs over $3,000 will make the list for the sake of value and relative sanity.
As you can see, the list is pretty short. Great bass is truly rare. Keep in mind that going dual is SUPER important, and I would make it aSTRONG priority instead of getting the largest sub possible.
If you are going this far, you might as well do it right! You will need a pretty big room to strain any of these if you listen at “normal person” levels (loud, with plenty of oomph, but not ear damaging, headache inducing, foundation crumbling loud).
If you want serious power, more authority, and super convincing realism (a truly believable thunderstorm in your room), go with the higher end models, like dual PB-4000’s or PB-16 Ultras.
I would consider it a mistake to buy one of these to use **as a single**;splitting your budget for other subs on this list is a MUCH better choice.
**Dual PB-3000’s** would yield MUCH better results than a **single PB-16 Ultra**.
Gotta go dual! Seriously, it’s everything!!
Most of my audience, would be thrilled with ANY of the following in a dual setup. There isn’t a dog in the bunch, and even the smallest will challenge structural integrity when pushed, that I can absolutely verify!
This will be an evolving list that will change as I listen to more offerings. Generally, ported offerings produce greater output and depth of presentation, and therefore better value over a sealed sub, but that’s just my opinion.
Many prefer sealed, and I can respect that. See my Ported vs Sealed write-up for more on that.
I find ported subs MUCH more comfortable to listen to, and I highly recommend them over sealed for sensitive ears, like those prone to headaches, sensitive ears in general, autism spectrum, Post Concussion Syndrome, Traumatic Brain Injury, and pets.
I have Post Concussion Syndrome, which causes light and sound sensitivity. A canary in the coal mine, poor sound will bother me before it bothers most people. It’s something I prefer NOT to experience, I don’t recommend it. Similar to a horrific hangover.
This sound sensitivity is why I don’t review sealed subs anymore, but I do respect their positive qualities.
If I was going to go with sealed, I would start with the SB-3000’s. That is where the sealed subs take on a deep, ported box sound, which is a very good thing.
Even the most finicky audiophiles would have a hard time picking these subs apart in any “meaningful” way.
Subwoofer101 is the world’s first SVS affiliate. Rather than producing “man cave only” subwoofers, they produce subs that look nice in living/family rooms as well, while also producing the deepest sounding subs on this list. All subs on the list are deep sounding, but so far SVS subs consistently have the deepest sound and depth of presentation, regardless of size or price.
Following these links before ordering can put a little change in my pocket to keep the Subwoofer101 website and YouTube Channel going, with zero added cost to you. Everything helps, as it’s a 1 person show.
Ordering Factory Direct through these links ensures full Bill of Rights, including 1 year trade-up, and other benefits that might not be included from dealers (like return period, etc…).
($) The PB-2000 Original is a 12″ Ported subwoofer. The predecessor to the PB-2000 Pro (my personal favorite so far for performance, price, and size), these subs have been produced for a small production run for BLACK FRIDAY ONLY!! Once they are gone, they are gone!! While these are available, they have dethroned the PB-1000 Pro as the “Smartest Buy in Bass”!! Get them while you can, and go dual!! If you miss the Black Friday sale, watch the SVS Outlet, gently used products that have the same Bill of Rights and warranty as new, including free shipping, free returns, and 1 year trade up!
($) The PB-1000 Pro is a 12” Ported Subwoofer. Verified!!– Highly recommended for duals under $1,500, the most compact and affordable ported subwoofer on this list!! Isolation highly recommended for wood sub-floors. “Smartest Buy in Bass” due to economics, performance, and the 1 year trade-up. Get started with quality dual subs, and trade up if you feel the need! Free shipping, free returns.
($$)VERIFIED!!! The PB-2000 is a 12″ Ported subwoofer, 500 watts RMS, 1100 peak. My favorite sub for value, size, and 100% full range bass performance down to 14 Hertz measured in my room. Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up. Isolation highly recommended for wood sub-floors. My “Go-To” subwoofer to recommend.
($$$)VERIFIED!!! The PB-3000 is a 13″ Ported subwoofer, 800 watts RMS, 2500 watts peak, with SVS App control! My favorite PREMIUM subwoofer for the value, size, and 100% full range bass performance, and INCREDIBLE IMPACT! Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up. Isolation highly recommended for wood sub-floors. It’s only about an inch bigger on all sides than the PB-2000, yet it’s performance is much closer to the PB-4000 in terms of raw impact and explosiveness!! Aside from the outstanding PB-16 Ultra, this has been THE MOST SURPRISING SUBWOOFER I’VE REVIEWED YET!! The Split-Wind voice coil isn’t just cool sounding tech, it makes this sub SOUND BIGGER AND MORE POWERFUL than it is. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!!!
($$$$) VERIFIED!!!The PB-4000 is a 13.5 inch Variable Ported subwoofer. 1,200 watts RMS, 4,200 watts peak. True 13 hertz performance in room, remote control, comprehensive smart phone app with thoughtful adjust-ability including: 3 band graphed PEQ’s, multiple sub adjustment, presets, display lockout, port tuning, room gain compensation, etc, etc, etc… Ultra low distortion, ultra high output. Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up.Isolation HIGHLY recommended for wood sub-floors. Measure before ordering, very large, very heavy (153.2 pounds!), truck freight shipped on a pallet. Realism, impact, and explosiveness are off the charts!
($$$$)VERIFIED!!!The PB-16 is a 16 inch Variable Ported subwoofer. New SVS Flagship, 1,500 watts RMS, 5,000 peak! True 13 hertz performance, remote control, 8 inch voice coil. For those who want the best of the best, it’s my favorite “money no object” subwoofer, and the best bass I’ve heard to date. Comprehensive smart phone app with thoughtful adjust-ability including: 3 band graphed PEQ’s, multiple sub adjustment, presets, display lockout, port tuning, room gain compensation, etc, etc, etc… Ultra low distortion, ultra high output. Isolation HIGHLY recommended for wood sub-floors. Measure before ordering, very large, VERY heavy (175 pounds!), truck freight shipped on a pallet, yet still with free shipping and free returns! Realism, impact, and explosiveness are the best I’ve heard so far, and a great spleen massage while still 100% comfortable. TRULY INCREDIBLE!!
($$)Verified!12″ Ported Cylinder sub, comes with the Soundpath Subwoofer Isolation System, same internals as the PB-2000. Down firing subwoofers are OK for concrete, but might not be ideal for wood sub-floors. Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up. The Isolation System helps for wood floors (comes stock, no need to order more isolation).
($$$$) (Not Verified, but same guts as the PB-4000, which is totally Verified!!!) 13.5 inch Variable Ported. 1,200 watts RMS, 4200 watts peak. True 15 hertz performance, remote control, comprehensive smart phone app with thoughtful adjust-ability including: 3 band graphed PEQ’s, multiple sub adjustment, presets, display lockout, port tuning, room gain compensation, etc, etc, etc… Ultra low distortion, ultra high output. Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up. Isolation included! Down firing subwoofers are OK for concrete, but may not be ideal for wood sub-floors. Measure before ordering, very tall (47 Inches). Realism, impact, and explosiveness are incredible!
I’ve been a Monoprice affiliate much longer than SVS, long before their Monolith subs came out, but I was never able to get any response to my inquiries to review their subs, despite several attempts since these subs first came out.
At their customer service line recommendation, I bought a pair of Monolith 15’s, listened during the 30 day return period, and sent them back.
Shipping is free, but return shipping is the customer’s responsibility, and it will vary, depending on how far you are from their facility in California.
For TWO Monolith 15 subwoofers (266 pounds total, on a pallet) the return freight was over $300 for less than 500 miles. Return freight for 2 Monolith 15’s could exceed $800 on the East Coast, something to be aware of. The smaller subs would certainly be cheaper to return. It’s the customer’s responsibility to shop and arrange the freight shipment.
That said, the Monolith 15’s have the depth of presentation and explosiveness that I look for, and I welcome it to the list! They did a great job with the Monolith 15 THX subwoofer, and I look forward to hearing more!
($$) (NOT VERIFIED) The Monolith 12 is a 500 watt 12″ variable ported subwoofer. Based on previous experience, it would likely not make this list in “THX Mode”, but it MIGHT belong in “Extended Mode” like the 15. This subwoofer is on this list tentatively, pending an actual hands on, dual sub review. I can’t say that it will deliver the kind bass that I look for, but I suspect it might, and earn a permanent spot on this list.
($$$) (VERIFIED!) The Monolith 15 is a 15″ driver, variable ported subwoofer with 1,000 watts. It would not make this list in “THX Mode”, but it does belong in “Extended Mode”, with all ports open. This sub has heavy relative infrasonic bass (under 20 hertz, inaudible), which might be uncomfortable to some people, but can mitigated by THX Mode. However, THX Mode does reduce the explosiveness of the sub. Overall, it’s great performing subwoofer and a solid buy based on it’s depth of presentation and explosiveness.
While Outlaw is not a direct affiliate for Subwoofer101, you can order them on Amazon:
($$$$) Verified. 13″ Variable Ported, down firing Outlaw Flagship, THX Certified. In THX mode, this subwoofer would not make the list, it sounded far too shallow in my opinion. Other EQ settings were more acceptable, though not as deep sounding as other subs on this list. So far, it’s the shallowest sounding subwoofer on this list, and anything shallower would not qualify. It’s ability to be hidden is an excellent feature, however. Down firing subwoofers are OK for concrete, but may not be ideal for wood sub-floors. Isolation HIGHLY recommended for wood sub-floors. Excellent for hiding subwoofers as end tables, so long as the beautiful top is protected from scratching.
($$)(Not Verified) 12” Variable Ported
($$$) (Not Verified) 15” Variable Ported
($$$) 15” Variable Ported. Verified, MK-1 version. High (max) output, true 16 hertz performance, though not as deep “sounding” as other subs on the list. Shipping policy is painful, especially if you return it, but a good option if you are in the Los Angeles, California area, and can pick up and return in person. I bought this subwoofer myself before starting the website and channel, but haven’t been able to get support to hear duals, which is unfortunate. The MK-2 should be better, but I wouldn’t know.
($$) (Not Verified) 12” Ported
($$$) (Not Verified) 15” Variable Ported
FV15HP (Not Verified)
($$$) 15” Variable Ported
$= less than $500 delivered or $1,000 for dual
$$= more than $500 delivered or $1,000 for dual
$$$= more than $800 delivered or $1,600 for dual
$$$$= more than $1,400 delivered or $2,800 for dual
Ported = With ports, not sealed.
Variable Ported = Ported, with inserts to change the tuning.
Each brand has it’s own flavor, so to speak, but any of the above subs should satisfy with gusto in most home theater setups (a lot of which are in living rooms like mine).
The smallest, least expensive entry will perform with outstanding depth, clean bass, unobtrusively, but with movie theater quality bass and impact (EASILY deeper than most theaters) that will impress and satisfy when called upon. By no means is the most economical sub to be avoided. See my 1 big sub vs 2 small subs comparison for more on that.
Dividing your bass budget to include 2 matched subs is the ONLY way to go, and any sub on this list in a dual configuration should put a Cheshire grin on your face. If not, your sickness is much worse than mine, and you are in serious trouble! Fortunately, all offer in home review periods. Some require you pay for shipping, others do not.
If you decide to go with one of the above, please follow the links shortly before placing your order. For those that are not linked, please be sure to tell them you heard about their subs on this site.
Canadian orders aren’t tracked through SVS, while Amazon orders are, but going factory direct is better for Canadian customers for the Bill of Rights. I rather you got the trade up instead of me getting credit on Amazon.
You can follow any affiliate link for any product from that maker, so even if you click a link for a subwoofer cable and buy a PB-16 Ultra or vice versa, it’s all good, and I truly appreciate it!
In my strong opinion, a subwoofer should be audible and authoritative down to 20 hertz, and have a relatively flat frequency response while doing it. Not just make noise, but be heard clearly and powerfully. Simple enough, right?
Most commonly available ported subwoofers sold in stores do not have the ability to produce quality sound below 25-35 hertz. There is a “secret world of bass” where you can get subs that go down to 20 hertz with authority and clarity, and it’s fairly affordable, all things considered. You can spend over $5,000 on a sub that won’t reach 20 hertz. Why pay that much or more for something “incomplete”? I tend to gravitate to subwoofers that are more value based, and I list subwoofers that I would consider buying myself here: Best Subwoofers “The List”
Even a lot of high end professional ported subs used at theaters and concerts are only rated for 40 hertz, so what are you missing? The “WOW” feeling we all hope for. You won’t know it until you’ve heard it. The visceral feeling I get at home is more substantial than most movie theaters. That’s an insane statement, and it’s a LOT of fun!
Theaters may have more loudness, but for the home you can have more controlled deep bass with fewer bleeding eardrums, while still being able to go louder than I am personally comfortable with. I prefer sound quality over maximum volume. Some Imax theaters produce comfortably down to 23 hertz according to the video below. The most economical subwoofer I recommend is measurably comfortable at around 21 hertz, and clearly audible at 19 hertz. Amazing for a 10 inch driver, and absolutely uncommon.
It’s important to understand that frequency response numbers are commonly misleading, and a sub accurately rated for 19 hertz can trample all over a sub “factory rated” for 16 hertz. Confused? I was too, and seriously frustrated! I’ll try to simplify as much as I can. I’ll try give you the basics, show you some specific examples of quality subwoofers, and you can take it from there.
My goal is to help save my audience some time, money, and frustration. I don’t mean to make anyone feel bad about their current subwoofer, just bring your attention to what is available for when you do decide to upgrade. Spending good money on audio and getting that unsatisfied feeling is no fun. There are a lot of good brands out there, but the really great subwoofers are known to very few, or they are crazy expensive. I don’t focus on the crazy expensive, I’m more value conscious.
Have a look around, the subwoofer is not as simple as some might believe, and just because a brand is well known does not mean everything they offer is top notch. There are a handful of brands that produce excellence, and they will be discussed quite a bit.
A quality subwoofer will not distort under lower frequency sound like many common subwoofers do. Many names associated as “top quality” have little real subwoofer performance. Almost any subwoofer will work well at 60 hertz, but once you get under 40 things get real. Under 30, and things get very real.
It would be easy to name a few brands that stick out for being overpriced, floppy, and breathless, but the goal is not to bash brands that may make future improvements and be worthy of praise. The hope is to change the industry and move it towards performance rather than hype, and do it by promoting those who are doing it right.
The focus will be on reasonable value subs, which will range from $400 to $2500. If I find a subwoofer that is outrageous under $300, I will absolutely discuss it. In fact, I will celebrate it. It’s just too hard to obtain amazing performance at that price point.
A few things to keep in mind:
Physics matter. To get substantial performance from a ported sub, you need a big box and wattage. There are a few small subwoofers that get down pretty good for there size, which typically rely on a passive radiator design, but for life below 30 hertz, they begin to lose the battle to distortion and output. While impressive for it’s size and great for small spaces, the cube subwoofer I had just wasn’t enough. The smallest ported sub I have heard that I can confidently recommend is the SVS PB-1000, which is still sizable for a 10″ subwoofer. It has been my one exception to my 12″ or better rule, and they hit all the way down to 21 hertz with authority, and don’t fall off until 18-19 hertz. It has the same rated response as the passive radiator cube design did, but the difference is substantial, with the passive radiator design falling off at 30 hertz. Lesson? Rated frequency response can be very misleading.
Manufacturer rated frequency response. Few big brands advertise realistic numbers. They are almost always inflated. Some brands do not advertise frequency response numbers at all(?!), instead suggesting you should rely on your ears. If they advertised their actual frequency response with graphs, their home theater in a box sales would plummet. The only way to judge truly frequency response is through independent testing, or your own ears using challenging tracks and test tracks that can be found on the Subwoofer101 YouTube channel playlist under Subwoofer test tracks.
White van speakers. Never, ever buy speakers out of the back of a van. EVER. They are universally garbage, and it’s a scam that has been going on for days.
Internet Direct brands. Makers that are internet direct rely a great deal on word of mouth advertising, and therefore actual performance. From what I can tell, they keep more profitability by not having to share revenue with brick and mortar stores. So when you buy a factory direct speaker for $1,000, it would have to be priced at $1,400-$1,800 to have the same profitability in a brick and mortar. That is not an endorsement of all internet direct brands, some aren’t that great, but a suggestion to look at some celebrated, quality internet only brands. It is not to say all brick and mortar sold brands are bad, but chances are you are going to have to pay much more for similar performance and quality.
Amp makers. The company that makes your favorite receiver probably doesn’t make the best speakers/subwoofers. Again, this may change in the future, but as of 2017 that is the case.
Beware of “systems”. Speaker “systems” that do NOT allow for third party subwoofers (a different brand subwoofer) to integrate should be carefully scrutinized. The same is true if you cannot use dual subwoofers, an important part of quality bass performance. If you are buying a brand that only allows that particular brand’s subwoofer to be used, then you are limited. This is true of some wireless setups that may fix the problem in the future, and some bigger name systems known for their ultra compact design that should probably be avoided altogether. A wireless setup may suite you, but you can’t expect absolute deep bass performance, at least not yet. This is not referring to wireless sub kits, which are great for placement flexibility, but any wireless kit will add delay and can complicate things. Never try to mixed wired subs with wireless subs.
You can always turn it down! Getting an under-powered or shallow subwoofer is a bigger problem than going too big. Particularly in a big room like my 24×24 living room, which is open to 1,200 square foot house, there is little pressurization, but a pair of PB-1000’s filled it up nicely. I would always make dual subwoofers a priority, and going a little smaller with duals is OK. Any sub on “The List” should fill most normal rooms under 25×25 feet, assuming sane but substantial listening levels.
Placement. Subwoofers have a longer sound wave, and the features of your room will affect your subs performance. In my room I have dead spots, caused by what’s known as a standing wave, common with single subwoofers. As the frequency changes, loud spots and dead spots shift within the room, causing what I call “Swiss Cheese Bass”. Going with separated dual subs has resolved the dead spots in my room. A sub crawl is ideal for a single sub, but in my circumstances I could only move it within a 4 foot footprint for aesthetic reasons, which brings us to our next topic…
WAF. The Wife Acceptance Factor, or more politically correct SOAF (Significant Other Acceptance Factor) is a real consideration. I auditioned a small footprint, passive radiator design cube subwoofer, and my wife loved it’s look because it didn’t stand out, but it just didn’t perform. With my 15 inch sub, it was definitely a stand out feature. There was a little dread on her face when I unpacked it due to it’s size, but when it went live she was hooked. The sound quality outweighed the visual impact. SVS sent out a pair of PB-1000’s for review, and they have been the best compromise, but the PB-2000’s just seem to fit next to the TV stand the best. Solid performance with a small visual impact, and they also happen to be the most affordable.
How low? The human ear hears down to about 18 hertz (sometimes lower) for the best of us, most of us hear around 20 hertz, and your ability to hear low frequencies deteriorates with age. So why get a sub that actually goes down to 18 hertz or lower? Because if you have a sub that does well at 20 hertz, it will likely do great at 30-40 hertz where a lot of subs reach their real limits. When you listen to that challenging track that would tax most common subwoofers, and instead you hear the sound that was actually recorded, as it was meant to be heard, it’s quite satisfying.
You also have the issue of how “flat” your frequency response is. Many common subwoofers vary widely in their measured curves. Many drop off substantially under 30-40 hertz. Many makers measure lower on that curve (even if it’s within accepted standards) , and when you listen to a 25 hertz tone and a 60 hertz tone, the 60 hertz tone is much louder. This is true for almost any sub, but how much of a difference is the key.
I have not listened to every subwoofer out there, but you can be sure I will not put a subwoofer on this site if it is not outstanding, or had a special merit.
If you are a manufacturer and want to have me review your subwoofer or otherwise believe your sub should be on “The List”, you can contact me through the contact page. My goal is to put really good products on a pedestal, not hurt brands that are still improving their products. I’ve set a nearly impossible standard, and I’m fully aware of that. Flat response curves, no bad manners, authority down to 20 hertz and reasonable output for no more than $2,500. I know there are some great subs that I have not heard of yet, so feel free to chime in.