Sub Woofer Reviews and Sub Woofer Ratings? Understand the Ratings First

You have begun the task of checking out sub woofer reviews, the end result being, buying a new subwoofer. Problem is, there are so many designs on the market that it’s a little difficult to know where to begin. Magazine subwoofer reviews would seem like a good place to start but there’s a problem…

Can a review show you which subwoofer is truly better in your system, and with your speakers? Can someone actually show you why a particular design choice was made over another? And what causes the subwoofer to be priced at $500.00 or $1000.00 or $2000.00?

What is the difference between the many subwoofer technologies that seem to exist? How can you know that you are getting a good deal and an excellent subwoofer?

Simple: you do some homework

You didn’t think this was going to be as easy as me just telling you that subwoofer X is the best one for you did you? Problem is; it’s just not that simple… There are simply too many factors that can make sub X good for you, but sub D better for someone else.

How to start your sub woofer reviews:

What type of box are your main speakers? Typically if your mains are sealed boxes, the subwoofer would benefit from also being sealed. This has more to do with how a box configuration deals with resonance. All speaker cabinets use resonance to shelve up the lowest octaves. But they don’t work the same. Sealed uses the internal air like a spring.

Ported uses the internal air to cause an air resonance at the port entrance. In ported systems below resonance it is similar the driver operating in free air. It won’t have much output. Ported systems roll off at 24db per octave.

Sealed boxes roll off at about 12db per octave in comparison, but they start to roll off much quicker. Here are two examples of how the bass will roll off in a sealed enclosure and ported enclosures. This is also true of your main speakers, so here is where it is important to understand how the two different speakers may or may not work well together.

See the pictures to better understand how the rolloff effects sound

ported speaker box measurements

sealed speaker box measurements

There are more issues at stake here as well. The different types of systems deal with excursion differently.

Ported systems as they approach resonance will be moving less distance back and forth. Yet the sound coming from the port will be at a maximum.

For this reason some speculate that the added efficiency near resonance translates into lower distortion. Near excursion for some speaker drivers this is quite true.

Some speaker drivers can handle large amounts of excursion at low distortion though, so depending on the drivers in question sealed subwoofers can have advantages in the deep bass too.

Sealed boxes and ported boxes cannot typically use the same speaker drivers. Each box type benefits from using drivers that have Thiele Small parameters modeled specifically for their box type use.

In other words, you can’t just throw a driver into a box and call it a day. However, this is how some budget subwoofers are built so it’s good to know how to spot these if you can.

Amplifier power

The power needed to drive a ported sub is substantially less than necessary for a sealed subwoofer. The Sealed subwoofer needs to drive the cone further at resonance and also has to push against the sealed air within the box. In small boxes this pressure can be quite substantial. Try pushing on the cone of small sealed box, the cone often will barely move at all. So one advantage of ported subs is that they demand less power and have also have extension that goes a bit deeper at a -3db point.

The sealed subwoofer often will need over 1000 watts of power to reach its deepest extension. The sealed sub also can generate more heat as the air inside is trapped and cannot escape as it can in ported subs.

It may becoming obvious then that high quality sealed subwoofers are often more expensive than ported offerings using similar size cabinets and driver quality. They need more power, are more demanding of having very powerful motor systems with long excursion, low distortion, and the boxes have to be very well made to handle the internal pressures. But sealed subs have their advantages. They generally have better pitch definition, better slam, articulation, and are usually have a less ‘muddy’ sound. In my opinion, sealed subwoofers are better in almost everyway.

Proof? Take a look at the most expensive high fidelity subwoofers on the market; What kind of subwoofer are they?


But say you are on a budget. More than likely a ported subwoofer is the best way to get some good cheap bass into your home theater system.

It’s just an engineering fact. Ported subs have less demanding tasks to overcome. However, muddy, booming, sloppy bass may very well be the result. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So how do you avoid muddy bass and keep a low price?

Good question, and understand that this is more a factor of balancing compromises than getting truly high quality for a bargain.

Reading a manufacturers posted specs is a bit like buying a watch from some stranger in New York on a Friday night in front of the grocery store. They aren’t likely to be worth much.

I don’t mean to imply that specs are worthless; they are merely a starting point. Claiming that a 10” subwoofer can reach 14 Hz in a small ported box at 120db is one such claim. It’s not going to happen. If it was possible I guarantee you one thing, that sub driver alone probably costs about $500.00 USD and its backed by 1000 watt amp and has a port the large enough to fit a volleyball in. How exactly is this going to fit in a small box? Exactly. Don’t trust the specs, at least not if trying to compare one subwoofer to another. Some brands will be honest, others not, so you place the honest at a disadvantage if doing so.

Start with this

• There are cheap subs that can sound pretty good given their modest budget, size, and output. Look for subwoofers that are heavier than their competition, this would indicate both a larger driver magnet with greater power, heavier box construction, larger transformer on the amplifier or all three.

• Find drivers that have a cast basket not a stamped basket.

• Look for amplifiers of at least 250 watts continuous power, but this also depends on the driver used, how loud you listen, etc. There is no one size fits all answer for power, but typically buy the most power you can afford. Subwoofer Headquarters – Subwoofers for every application and how to guides focusing on Home Audio, Car Audio and Pro Audio

• Get the largest sub driver you can afford also. And on that subject larger boxes usually have an easier time playing deeper than small boxes, all else being equal. But are usually more expensive, etc.

Use this point system to calculate the size of subwoofer you need

Place your points in the fields to the left, then calculate at the bottom using the formula.

Your Room:

_______ Room volume: 0 point for 1000 cu ft; 1 point for 2000 cu ft; 2 points for 4000 cu ft; 3 points for 8000 cu ft; 4 points for 12,000 cu ft.

_______ 0 points for a reflective room; 1 point for an absorptive room. Reflective being many hard surfaces and little absorption like thick heavy couches, etc.

_______ 0 points for subwoofer placement in a corner & on the floor (near three room boundaries); 1 point if near two room boundaries; 2 points if near only one (usually the floor); 4 points if outdoors.

_______0 points of room is enclosed; 1 if open doors and hallways; 3 if room is very open to other parts of the house (or if outdoors.)

_______ Room score. Sum above four scores and place the total here.

Your listening bias:

_______ How high Sound pressure level do you listen? 0 point if comfortable (70-80db); 3 points if your wife tells you to turn it down (80-90db); 6 points if you keep saying ”What did you say?” (90+db); 10 points if you know the cops on a first-name basis (over 100db)

_______ What type of material to you typically listen (content)? 0 point for string quartets; 3 points for jazz; 6 points for rock & roll; 10 points for hip-hop.

_______ Listening style score. Sum of the above two scores and place here.

Subwoofer style (Get from spec sheet of woofer under consideration):

_______ How big is the box? (You can measure the outside in inches, multiply H x W x D, divide by 1728). 0 point for >4 cu ft; 1 point for 2 to 4 cu ft; 2 points for < 2 cu ft.

_______ How many powered woofers are in the enclosure? 0 point for two; 1 points for one.

_______ How many subwoofers do you want? 0 point for three; 1 point for two; 3 points for just one.

_______ How would you rate the subwoofers overall quality? 0 point for great; 1 point for pretty good; 2 points for OK (I guess). This one is relative and not worth much, according to whom?

_______ Does the sub have a passive radiator or air vent/port? 0 points if yes; 1 point if no.

_______ Subwoofer score: Sum of above five scores.

_______ TOTAL SCORE: Add up the room, listening style and subwoofer scores

Total Score Suggested Size (woofer size, in inches)
Less than 22 points – 8” subwoofer(s) is all you probably need
22 to 24 points get a 10” sub(s)
24 to 26 points get a 12” sub(s)
26 to 28 points get a sub(s)
Over 28 points get a 18” sub(s)

Summary for Sub Woofer Reviews

Well you probably figured out by now that this was not a sub woofer reviews (article) but a way that you can do your own sub woofer reviews… Which is better? I’ll let you decide.

This should get you started and get an idea of the size of sub you need. It will not really tell you how much power or the type of subwoofer that is best. A rule of thumb is 10” subwoofers should have at least 250 watts, 12” 350 watts, 15” 500 watts, and 18” 750 watts or more.

Keep in mind that the crossover point that you will use is also a critical part of the puzzle. For higher crossovers points the smaller drivers will do a little better. Also make sure that the amplifier can go as high or low as the crossover point you need.
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