Best Home Subwoofers of 2018

Billy Bommer ·
Writer/Reviewer
Updated
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We tested 11 home theater subwoofers for more than 40 hours in our AV lab by watching action movies and listening to a variety of musical selections. We recorded our impressions of each product’s ability to supplement low frequencies alongside a pair of floor-standing speakers. We believe the Yamaha SW300 is the best subwoofer for most people because it had the most consistent and accurate frequency response in our tests. The smart design features make it easy to set up in any size entertainment room.

Best Overall

Yamaha SW300

The Yamaha SW300 performed well in every phase of our testing. This 10-inch woofer had no problem keeping up with larger and more powerful home subwoofers.
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Best Value

BIC America F-12

The BIC America F-12 is less than $250 and delivered impactful and startling low bass in our tests. If you have a medium- or large-size theater room, this is a great low-cost option.
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Best Compact

Velodyne Impact 10

This isn’t the best subwoofer for large entertainment rooms, but if you have a small- or medium-size theater room, this compact subwoofer can easily fit into tight spaces.
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Best Overall
The Yamaha SW300 is not the largest or most powerful subwoofer we tested, but it received the best scores from our diverse panel of evaluators.
The 10-inch woofer is powered by an efficient 250-watt amplifier. The speaker and amplifier pairing in this well-designed enclosure are capable of re-creating frequencies as low as 20Hz on the low end and 160Hz on the high end. The SW300 has the widest frequency response of all the subwoofers we tested, which is surprising considering it is competing with larger 12-inch woofers. This subwoofer has some distinctive design features that make it easy to set up and adjust. This is the only subwoofer in our comparison that has a volume knob on the front panel. That makes it easy to adjust the volume of the subwoofer to match the type of content you are playing through your home audio system. It also has a side-firing port that uses Yamaha’s unique Twisted Flare design to move air more efficiently out of the enclosure. We found that the side-firing port worked well no matter where we placed it in our test lab. The enclosure is made from MDF and wrapped with a high-gloss finish. High-gloss finishes look good when they are clean, but they aren’t forgiving with fingerprints and dust.
Pros
  • Accurate bass response
  • Front panel power switch and volume control
  • Has all the important connection options
Cons
  • Expensive
  • High-gloss finish requires some maintenance to keep it looking clean
$499.95Amazon
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Best Value
The BIC America F-12 was the only subwoofer we tested that made us constantly examine our decibel meter because the thundering low-frequencies seemed louder than they actually were.
We tested each subwoofer’s ability to re-create long and low sustained bass notes by playing a scene from the James Bond movie “Skyfall” that has a 15-second long low-frequency rumble. The BIC sub showed no signs of volume loss and exhibited surprisingly good frequency separation for a speaker that costs less than $250. The sought-after BASH amplifier in this home subwoofer is rated for 150 watts of continuous power and short bursts of up to 475 watts of peak power. That power rating is below average for our test group, but the 90 dB sensitivity rating means that the speaker is very efficient at converting power to sound. We volume matched all the subwoofers we tested at 85 dB, and the BIC sub only required us to turn the gain knob up to about 50% of its total capacity to achieve that volume. The cabinet is solidly constructed from durable materials and finished with attractive matte black laminate. The grille cloth is removeable, which allows you to display the stylish black-trimmed metallic driver if you prefer. BIC offers a five-year warranty on both the amplifier and speaker, which is the best warranty offered by active subwoofer manufacturers.
Pros
  • Good entry-level price point
  • Consistent volume during long and low effects
  • Good-looking cabinet design
Cons
  • Bulky
  • Underpowered amp compared to the best
  • Rear-ported design needs extra room to breathe
$212.00Amazon
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Best Compact
The Velodyne Impact 10 has the most compact cabinet design in our test group. That makes it easy to find an inconspicuous place to put it, even in a small entertainment room.
Subwoofers are omnidirectional, which means that you don’t necessarily have to point the speaker directly at your preferred listening position. The down-firing port is also a desirable design feature for smaller entertainment rooms, especially ones with a hard flooring surface. That port placement reflects the sound waves off the floor and helps simulate a theater-quality experience. The amplifier in this subwoofer is rated for 150 watts of continuous power, which is below average for our test group, but plenty of power to project low frequencies at a sufficient volume for a small entertainment room. The 10-inch woofer and compact cabinet design make the Velodyne sub a good fit for someone who wants subtle bass reinforcement for listening to music or watching movies in a small- or medium-size theater room. This sub is also a good pairing with sound bars that don’t include a subwoofer. The Impact 10 has speaker level inputs and outputs for use with older receivers that don’t have a subwoofer output. However, if you AV receiver does have a dedicated subwoofer output, you should use the LFE input on the back panel.
Pros
  • Compact and efficient cabinet design
  • One of the best performers in our music listening test
  • Speaker-level inputs and outputs
Cons
  • Underpowered
  • Not loud enough for large rooms
  • Volume inconsistencies during long effect sequences
$399.00Amazon
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Why Trust Us 

We spent more than 40 hours in our AV lab listening to a variety of audio material before making our final recommendations. My 15 years of experience evaluating and critically listening to speakers was balanced with the input of a panel of evaluators that range in experience from novice to audiophile. Although my final judgements carried the most weight, we felt it was important to consider the impressions of other listeners before rendering our final judgment. Most of my experience evaluating subwoofers is as a studio sound engineer, so I value accuracy and a well-balanced sound stage above loud and startling low-frequency reproduction, and our recommendations reflect that bias.

Our AV lab is set up to react to reflection and phase much like a normal living room would. Speaker manufacturers do a good job of testing their products in controlled environments, but our recommendations are based on our impressions of the products in a real-world scenario.

To gain more insight about how to best supplement the bass in your place, we talked to a handful of engineers and product specialists from Polk Audio and Definitive Technology. One of the most important tenants I took away from that conversation was the idea of properly placing two subwoofers in the room, rather than buying one powerful sub. Every room has its own unique acoustic characteristics, but the consensus among the talented group of professionals I talked to was, the more speakers you have in the room, the less likely you are to have a portion of your entertainment room that sounds bad. One of the senior vice presidents at Polk Audio told me he has five subwoofers in his entertainment room (wouldn’t that be nice?), and the only reason he doesn’t have six is his AV receiver ran out of outputs.

How We Tested 

We were able to do a proper side-by-side comparison of 11 different subwoofers by connecting them all to an RCA switcher that was receiving its signal from the subwoofer output on our favorite AV receiver. That setup allowed us to quickly switch back and forth among all the subwoofers in our comparison and gave our survey panel the chance to hear the subtle differences before making their final evaluation. We realize that the RCA switcher may have slightly degraded the output signal coming from the AV receiver, but that degradation would have been consistent throughout the testing lineup.

Once we had everything wired up to do side-by-side comparisons, we connected an Apple TV and a UHD Blu-ray player to the AV receiver to stream the audio and video content. The subwoofers were accompanied by a pair of floor-standing speakers that are a familiar point of reference for us.

We narrowed our list down to the 10 best subwoofers by surveying a panel of evaluators while watching action scenes from the James Bond movie “Skyfall” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” The scene we chose from “Skyfall” has a sustained rumbling effect that lasts around 15 seconds, and it pushed the subwoofers’ amplifiers and speakers to their low-frequency limits. The scene from the Star Wars movie has shorter sound effects that highlight a sub’s ability to accurately re-create a wide range of frequencies and force the amplifier to recover quickly.

We did some music testing by wirelessly streaming content, via a Bluetooth connection between an iPhone and the receiver, to see how the subs reacted to a compressed music format. We also played lossless music files and recorded our impressions of each subwoofer’s ability to recreate high-definition bass content. All the movie and music content was evaluated at 85 dB, which is a typical volume for a commercial theater.

Important Specs to Consider When Buying a Home Theater Subwoofer
 
RMS Power
Peak power ratings are not a good indicator of a subwoofer’s volume capability. Instead, you will want to consult the RMS (root mean square) or continuous power ratings to gauge how loud a subwoofer can get. You can always decrease the volume of a powerful active subwoofer, but trying to push an underpowered subwoofer too hard can result in unwanted distortion. 

Driver Size
Larger speakers move more air, which creates impactful bass notes. However, the sound waves are also larger and require more room to get moving. You should consider a driver size that matches the other speakers in your audio system and the size of your entertainment room. Bigger isn’t always better, especially in tight spaces.

Frequency Response
A subwoofer’s frequency response is the range of tones, from the lowest low to the highest high, it can re-create. Subs are tasked with supplementing the low frequencies that the main left and right speakers can’t handle. A subwoofer that can re-create tones below 30Hz and as high as 200Hz have good dynamic range and should be able to reproduce most of the low-frequency content found in movies and music.

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