Ported VS Sealed is like asking what the best sports car is. There is no “right” answer, it just depends on your priorities. The Nissan GTR, Ferrari F430, Lexus LFA, and Bugatti Veyron all offer unique strengths and weaknesses. Which is best? That’s hard to quantify definitively.
Sealed Vs Ported presents a similar challenge, there are strengths and trade offs with each design. Here are my thoughts on the issue in hopes that it will help you decide which is right for you. Even though I may prefer one, my impression may help you decide that you really want the other.
SVS was excited to send out their sealed 12″ SB-2000’s for my next review after I was finished reviewing the ported 10″ PB-1000’s. Sealed subs have a lot of benefits, such as deeper in room extension in medium and small rooms (In other words, normal rooms. Large = auditorium), faster transient response, and a smaller footprint. But would I be a convert? You might be surprised…
Keep in mind that I’m a layperson. Aside from this project, I have no audio industry background, and I’m still learning. I’m a consumer with my own personal “consumer” desires, and apparently a few limitations that influence my decisions. While I’d love to be the guy with the perfect eardrums, it’s just not the case, so keep this in mind for your own needs. If you are into purist listening, your desires could easily diverge from mine.
Some basic differences are the ways room gain affects the response of each style. At least in my room, the response of the sealed subs goes deeper than the rated response. So the sealed response is rated for 19 hertz, but it goes down to 10-11 hertz in my room. For those interested in purist listening and ultra flat response, the sealed SB-2000 has a pretty sexy curve.
As you can see from the graph, the sealed sub (blue line) delivers well below the rated response, as SVS has shaped that curve with their DSP to give a nice flat response that drops off around 11 hertz in my room. I can’t hear below 17 hertz or so.
Ported subs do not do this. The factory ratings are pretty reliable in terms of depth limits. Any ported subs will be pretty quiet under their factory rating, but a sealed sub will likely go deeper. People have asked me how I can disqualify a ported sub so easily, but it’s pretty simple. If a ported sub is rated for 25 hertz, it’s probably not going to reach 23 hertz with any meaning, while a sealed sub rated for 25 hertz could potentially hit 20 hertz or deeper. This tends to complicate the discussion.
See the graph below to get an idea of the deficiencies common in more typical ported subwoofers. Typical subs are “good” down to about 40 hertz, and when you spend a little more, down to about 30 hertz. The “Typical” sub in the graph (Purple line) was reliably rated for 28 hertz, but started to really fall off at about 29 hertz.
The “Typical” ported subwoofer on the graph is not a cheap sub. It is a well-known name that retailed for $500, but given it’s age I’m not going to disclose the model. It’s not really important anyway, the focus here is on subs that perform comfortably under 30 hertz.
Unless a ported subwoofer has a DSP, the shape of the graph above will likely be pretty typical for your average ported sub. The “Typical” sub in the graph actually does better than most typical subs, but compared to any sub on The List, it’s pretty shallow. The difference in room is undeniable.
The whole crux of this site is about meaningful depth. Power and thunder, yet well-behaved in the process, so the sealed seems like the natural choice. Many enthusiasts will prefer the quicker transient response for music. I looked forward to trying the sealed especially after having read the Sealed vs Ported on the SVS site.
I can say that the SVS write-up is spot on. In a dual configuration there is plenty of output in my acoustically odd 24×24 mixed use room, though I listen at sane levels. For crazy loudness, ported are definitely recommended, or the SB13 Ultras. The graph does match up to the graph on SVS site (being flat below the rated response), understanding that rooms will cause the graphs to vary a bit. An anechoic graph will typically be smoother and flatter than what your room will produce, that’s almost a universal truth.
Reference vs Preference.
The SB-2000’s are great for those who want a purist 2.2 stereo setup, especially if flat response is your goal. I use the term purist instead of audiophile, because at the core definition, we are all audiophiles. We all want good sound, it’s just a question of sanity, economics, and personal flavor. My hopes are that the snooty attitudes that turn so many off to the industry will become a thing of the past, or at least get drowned out by normal people who just want to have fun.
The PB-1000 is what some would call a little “bottom heavy”. As it goes deeper, it gets louder in my room. The effect is not drastic, and I find it to be quite nice. This gives the impression of “bigger” sound.
Here’s the thing, apparently I really, really like a bottom heavy sub. I suspect it’s because deeper sound is a little harder to hear. Even though the sealed SB-2000’s go deeper, the ported PB-1000’s “sound deeper” because the room gain pronounces depth more. I can’t be the only one, based on the popularity of ported SVS subs. They are truly next level.
For sure, quality ported subs dominate cinema. The sealed SB-2000’s would trounce most “typical” ported subs in cinema, but the ported PB-1000’s and PB-2000’s have more slam when called for, and the depth is more emphasized than with the SB-2000’s.
But here is where I might diverge from the average enthusiast. I like the sound of the ported PB-1000 better than the sealed SB-2000 for music. Did your head just explode? That’s completely against the grain, and I urge you to be skeptical of my opinion.
There are 2 reasons for this, the first being that I like the more “pronounced” depth provided by the PB-1000’s and PB-2000’s. Getting a little louder as it goes deeper is my preference, and it’s a drastic departure from typical ported subs. This can be overcome with the sealed SB-2000’s with some form of external sub EQ, like a Mini DSP 2X4. The sealed SB 13 Ultra has an option like this built-in, although I haven’t heard it yet.
If you like a bottom heavy curve too, but you already have SB-2000’s, you can use the Mini DSP 2×4 to adjust the response. Fair warning, it does have a learning curve, and you need a good microphone like a UMIK-1 and something like Room EQ Wizard (free, but consider a donation to the guy who made it) to make it all happen. The same is true if you have a ported sub and like your response flatter. I felt no need to alter the SVS ported subs, but I could see the value in shaving the high end just a little on the SB-2000’s to match my own personal tastes.
The other reason I prefer a ported sub is pretty specific to me. I have sensitive ears. Not “I can hear a cricket sneeze 2 blocks away” kind of sensitive, but more of an “I can’t handle loud venues” kind of sensitive. My ears fatigue easily. I have a hard time going to concerts. Keep that in mind, as this is not a very common issue as far as I have seen.
My ears are a little fatigued from the sealed subs, though they did feel better after breaking in (or maybe I just got used to it?). The reality is that any sealed sub would likely produce the same result. I’ve heard this in box stores, but never long enough to pin it down. So it’s not an SVS characteristic specifically, it’s a sealed subwoofer characteristic. If you like sealed subs, the SB-2000’s make a LOT of sense. They sound beautiful, and they do indeed offer a purist sound.
Frankly, I find ported subs slightly more “comfortable” to listen to at higher volumes. I might have missed it had I not just heard the PB-1000’s, and then followed up by the PB-2000’s. I was never able to pin it down, but sealed subs never got me excited. Now that I have been able to identify what it is, it makes sense.
I found passive radiators more comfortable too, but I haven’t heard one I truly like, and at this point I couldn’t recommend them. However, the pressure issue is similar to a ported sub, as there is a degree of pressure relief. When the main driver moves out, the passive radiator moves in, thus keeping the pressure change to a minimum. With a sealed sub, there is no such relief. Again, this is all unproven theory on my part, and I could be completely wrong, but it makes sense to me.
My ears are overly sensitive. I identify as mild Asperger’s (never tested officially for autism, but it adds up) so that may have a LOT to do with it. The Fibromyalgia may also play a role here too. Normal ears probably won’t notice it much, if at all, and a LOT of people prefer sealed.
See the decision chart below to see which suites your needs better:
That pressure theory is purely speculation. This issue is pretty specific to me, but it brings me to the following recommendation: If you have sensitive ears in the house, like autistic ears, migraines, or dogs and cats, you may want to consider ported subs. I happen to find them more comfortable, but the difference might be difficult to perceive for most. That said, an autistic child or otherwise sensitive ears in the home would likely appreciate the consideration.
Certainly, I don’t think sealed subs should be avoided, especially if they suite your needs and desires.
I’ve come across some surprises with this project, and this is certainly up there. I fully expected to be a sealed subwoofer convert, based on everything I’ve read, and the comments I have received. Many enthusiasts prefer the characteristics of a sealed sub, and I absolutely get it.
Maybe I’m a little unsophisticated. Theoretically, I could retire to the study with a good whiskey to discuss world affairs in a chair with buttery soft leather. Something like hanging out with this distinguished gentleman. I imagine the conversation would be epic.
I could just as easily head to the garage with a good beer and shoot some pool with the guys. Both sound great to me, but shooting pool just sounds like a little more fun. No offense to Mr. Offerman or sealed subwoofers, both are class acts and have my respect and admiration.
I definitely see the appeal of both. I enjoy both, but I definitely prefer ported subwoofers at the end of the day. Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below.
Best Subwoofers For Home Theater AND Music.
**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 a STRONG 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…).
PB-2000 BLACK FRIDAY SPECIAL (President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor day, etc) (Click here to order Factory Direct)
($) 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!
PB-1000 Pro (Smartest Buy in Bass) (Click Here To Order Factory Direct)
($) 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.
PB-2000 (Click Here To Order Factory Direct)
($$) VERIFIED!!! The PB-2000 is a 12″ Ported subwoofer, 500 watts RMS, 1100 peak. My favorite sub for value, size, and 100% full range bass performance down to 14 Hertz measured in my room. Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up. Isolation highly recommended for wood sub-floors. My “Go-To” subwoofer to recommend.
PB-3000 (Click Here To Order Factory Direct)
($$$) 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!!!
PB-4000 (Click Here To Order Factory Direct)
($$$$) VERIFIED!!! The PB-4000 is a 13.5 inch Variable Ported subwoofer. 1,200 watts RMS, 4,200 watts peak. True 13 hertz performance in room, remote control, comprehensive smart phone app with thoughtful adjust-ability including: 3 band graphed PEQ’s, multiple sub adjustment, presets, display lockout, port tuning, room gain compensation, etc, etc, etc… Ultra low distortion, ultra high output. Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up. Isolation HIGHLY recommended for wood sub-floors. Measure before ordering, very large, very heavy (153.2 pounds!), truck freight shipped on a pallet. Realism, impact, and explosiveness are off the charts!
PB16-Ultra (Click Here To Order Factory Direct)
($$$$) VERIFIED!!! The PB-16 is a 16 inch Variable Ported subwoofer. New SVS Flagship, 1,500 watts RMS, 5,000 peak! True 13 hertz performance, remote control, 8 inch voice coil. For those who want the best of the best, it’s my favorite “money no object” subwoofer, and the best bass I’ve heard to date. Comprehensive smart phone app with thoughtful adjust-ability including: 3 band graphed PEQ’s, multiple sub adjustment, presets, display lockout, port tuning, room gain compensation, etc, etc, etc… Ultra low distortion, ultra high output. Isolation HIGHLY recommended for wood sub-floors. Measure before ordering, very large, VERY heavy (175 pounds!), truck freight shipped on a pallet, yet still with free shipping and free returns! Realism, impact, and explosiveness are the best I’ve heard so far, and a great spleen massage while still 100% comfortable. TRULY INCREDIBLE!!
PC-2000 (Click Here To Order Factory Direct)
($$) 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).
PC-4000 (Click Here To Order Factory Direct)
($$$$) (Not Verified, but same guts as the PB-4000, which is totally Verified!!!) 13.5 inch Variable Ported. 1,200 watts RMS, 4200 watts peak. True 15 hertz performance, remote control, comprehensive smart phone app with thoughtful adjust-ability including: 3 band graphed PEQ’s, multiple sub adjustment, presets, display lockout, port tuning, room gain compensation, etc, etc, etc… Ultra low distortion, ultra high output. Free shipping, free returns, 1 year trade up. Isolation included! Down firing subwoofers are OK for concrete, but may not be ideal for wood sub-floors. Measure before ordering, very tall (47 Inches). Realism, impact, and explosiveness are incredible!
I’ve been a Monoprice affiliate much longer than SVS, long before their Monolith subs came out, but I was never able to get any response to my inquiries to review their subs, despite several attempts since these subs first came out.
At their customer service line recommendation, I bought a pair of Monolith 15’s, listened during the 30 day return period, and sent them back.
Shipping is free, but return shipping is the customer’s responsibility, and it will vary, depending on how far you are from their facility in California.
For TWO Monolith 15 subwoofers (266 pounds total, on a pallet) the return freight was over $300 for less than 500 miles. Return freight for 2 Monolith 15’s could exceed $800 on the East Coast, something to be aware of. The smaller subs would certainly be cheaper to return. It’s the customer’s responsibility to shop and arrange the freight shipment.
That said, the Monolith 15’s have the depth of presentation and explosiveness that I look for, and I welcome it to the list! They did a great job with the Monolith 15 THX subwoofer, and I look forward to hearing more!
Monolith 12 (Click here to order Factory Direct)
($$) (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.
Monolith 15 (Click Here To Order Factory Direct)
($$$) (VERIFIED!) The Monolith 15 is a 15″ driver, variable ported subwoofer with 1,000 watts. It would not make this list in “THX Mode”, but it does belong in “Extended Mode”, with all ports open. This sub has heavy relative infrasonic bass (under 20 hertz, inaudible), which might be uncomfortable to some people, but can mitigated by THX Mode. However, THX Mode does reduce the explosiveness of the sub. Overall, it’s great performing subwoofer and a solid buy based on it’s depth of presentation and explosiveness.
While Outlaw is not a direct affiliate for Subwoofer101, you can order them on Amazon:
Ultra X-13 (Click Here To Order On Amazon)
($$$$) Verified. 13″ Variable Ported, down firing Outlaw Flagship, THX Certified. In THX mode, this subwoofer would not make the list, it sounded far too shallow in my opinion. Other EQ settings were more acceptable, though not as deep sounding as other subs on this list. So far, it’s the shallowest sounding subwoofer on this list, and anything shallower would not qualify. It’s ability to be hidden is an excellent feature, however. Down firing subwoofers are OK for concrete, but may not be ideal for wood sub-floors. Isolation HIGHLY recommended for wood sub-floors. Excellent for hiding subwoofers as end tables, so long as the beautiful top is protected from scratching.
($$) (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.
SVS, who have been supportive of this site since I first contacted them, offers free shipping, even if you send it back (something that could cost hundreds). Their Bill of Rights is one of the most comprehensive customer protection packages in the industry.
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.
Phone orders for SVS are NOT tracked for the affiliate program, only website orders.
International SVS orders can go through Amazon (click here), if it’s available. In the USA and Canada, it’s best to go Factory Direct (click here) through my links to ensure full Bill of Rights, including 1 year trade-up.
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.
The same is true for Amazon orders, and you can visit my very own “Amazon Influencer Page” here (click here)! Anything you order 24 hours after going to my Amazon page could help this site and my YouTube Channel. The more revenue I get, the more I can explore the hobby and share my findings.
Eventually, I would like every listed maker to be a Subwoofer 101 affiliate and become a portal for all quality subwoofers. SVS and Monoprice so far…
Hopefully this will simplify your search for great bass!
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.
It’s better to discuss brands and individual subwoofers that do provide the performance that satisfies the need for clean, accurate, substantial performance at the lowest levels you are capable of hearing, and then some.
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.