After 40 hours of researching the most popular car subwoofers from the most trusted audio brands, I spent a weekend testing the nine best car subwoofers. The Rockford Fosgate P300 emerged as the best performing car subwoofer overall with its exceptionally pristine low-end and powerful amp capable of creating massive bass. That said, the Pioneer TS-WX1210A was actually the highest ranked subwoofer, despite a slightly less stellar performance. The low market price combined with high-end performance makes up the difference, which is why it's our pick for best value subwoofer.
Rockford Fosgate P300
While it's not the cheapest or smallest car subwoofer, the Rockford Fosgate P300 had the best performance in my tests and the second most powerful amp. It sounds very good, even at eyeball-rattling levels.
The Pioneer TS-WX1210A is my pick for best value because it combines a high-powered amplifier with the high-end performance of a 12-inch woofer – yet it costs less than other powered subwoofers.
Infinity BassLink SM
The Infinity BassLink SM is the best under-seat subwoofer. It doesn't have the power of big subwoofers with boxy enclosures, but it doesn't need as much power when it's directly under your seat.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Price (As Listed on 5/30/2018)||Audio Performance||Power & Control||Overall Performance||Bass Size||Frequency Response (Hertz)||Type of Bass||Continuous Power Rating (watts)||Cone Size (inches)||Control Quality||Enclosure Size|
|Rockford Fosgate P300||View Deal||4.5/5||3.7||5||4.9||A+||A+||35 - 150||Tight||300||12||B||C+|
|Pioneer TS-WX1210A||View Deal||5/5||4.8||5||5||A||A+||20 - 125||Tight||350||12||A||C|
|JBL GT-BassPro12||View Deal||4.5/5||4||4.9||4.8||A+||A+||35 -120||Booming||150||12||A-||C|
|Infinity BassLink SM||View Deal||4/5||4.3||4.3||3.5||A-||B+||35 -120||Tight||125||8||A||A|
|Kenwood KSC-SW11||View Deal||4/5||4.8||3.8||3.4||B+||C||35 - 125||Tight||75||8||C+||A+|
|MTX Audio RTP8A||View Deal||4/5||5||3.2||3.4||B||A+||Booming||120||8||C||B-|
|Rockford Fosgate PS-8||View Deal||4/5||4||4||3.5||C+||B||25 - 150||Tight||150||8||B||B+|
|Kicker Hideaway||View Deal||4/5||3.7||4.3||3.5||B+||B||25 - 120||Tight||150||8||B||A-|
|JBL BassPro SL||View Deal||3.5/5||3||4.3||3.5||A-||B+||35 - 120||Tight||125||8||A||A|
Adding a subwoofer to your car's audio system is the best way to dramatically improve the quality of your music, and the Rockford Fosgate P300 makes it easy to accomplish.
The P300 may be one of the more expensive car subwoofers I reviewed, but when you consider that it comes with a built-in amplifier and an enclosure, the $200 price tag is still far below what you'd spend if you bought everything separately. And you don't have to sacrifice performance.
The Rockford Fosgate P300 features a 12-inch woofer installed in a sealed enclosure with a 300-watt built-in amplifier. In my tests, it was the most impressive car subwoofer. Even after boosting everything as high as I could and maxing out the volume on the stereo, I could not get this subwoofer to distort. The bass was pristine. And very big. I was able to feel the bass from a greater distance than with other powered subs.
Since it's a sealed enclosure, the performance is designed to be tight. This means it sounds as close to the mixed bass as possible. That said, bass performance is largely a matter of preference, so it may not be preferred by people who like aggressive, punchy bass, even when a mix doesn't ask for it.
The P300 is one of the biggest subwoofers I tested. This means you need to put it in your trunk or storage area. However, the bass is plenty big enough to rattle windows and mirrors (of cars you pass by), even in the trunk. As such, it's not a significant issue, so long as you have the space. Otherwise, you may want to consider an under-seat subwoofer.
The Pioneer TS-WX1210A is the easiest and most affordable way to add life to your car audio system.
This powered car subwoofer comes with a 350-watt (continuous) amplifier and a 12-inch woofer installed to a sealed enclosure. While the performance wasn't as impressive as the Rockford Fosgate P300, it was still one of the best powered car subwoofers I tested, giving the remarkably low price exceptional value.
In my performance tests, the TS-WX1210A received an A- for overall performance. I evaluated how the bass performed in a mix. Then I disconnected the coaxial speakers to isolate the bass and evaluated the shape and performance, listening for clipping issues and distortion. Since the enclosure is sealed, the bass is very tight. This means it doesn't sound as big as a ported enclosure at lower volumes, but the bass sounds closer to the intended mix. This subwoofer received a few marks against it after I opened up the gain and the crossover dial. That said, it was still among the best performing subs. When you get it dialed in, the performance makes the price stand out by comparison.
The size of the bass received an A grade. It didn't produce the biggest bass, but the size is certainly big enough to let your neighbors know when you're rolling into the driveway. To test this, I didn't just max out the amplifier's volume and control, I found the sweet spot – the point at which the bass performs at its best. I measured the volume with a decibel meter, but since volume can be deceiving with bass, I also gauged the size by seeing how far I could roam from the subwoofer while still feeling the bass. There are subs with bigger bass, but this sub is plenty big to rattle your windows.
Best Under-Seat Subwoofer
The Infinity BassLink SM is an easy and affordable way to add some bass to your car's audio without sacrificing trunk space. This sub features an 8-inch woofer installed in a sealed enclosure slim enough to fit under most seats.
Sure, it doesn't have the high-powered amplifier of bigger car subwoofers, but since it's installed beneath your driver's or passenger's seat, you feel it just as much, if not more.
In the audio performance tests, the BassLink SM earned an A- for overall quality. This test involved listening to it with car speakers to evaluate how the bass fit in the mix. I also disconnected the car speakers to isolate the bass and listen for distortions and clipping. This sub outperformed the other under-seat car subwoofers, except for the JBL BassPro SL. That said, it's worth noting that the BassPro SL is identical to the Infinity BassLink SM, aside from a few aesthetic details and the price. They're even designed and manufactured by the same company, Harman, so it's not surprising for these powered subwoofers to perform similarly.
The bass size earned a B+ grade. I tested this first by finding the sweet spot where the subwoofer performed at its biggest point without distortion or clipping. Then I measured the volume with a decibel meter. I also walked away from the subwoofer until I couldn't feel the bass anymore. While it certainly wasn't bigger than the 12-inch powered subs I tested, it was significantly bigger than the other under-seat car speakers. With it installed under your seat, you feel the punch of the bass rattling your bones more than a subwoofer in a trunk. The B+ grade is more comparable to the A+ grade of the bigger subwoofers.
I don't like the silver casing. Every under-seat subwoofer I reviewed is black, and for good reason – black blends into the shadows under your seat, making it less of a target for theft. Even if your seat covers the subwoofer, it's likely the edges are still visible. With a silver casing, it stands out. And as somebody who has had his prized subwoofer stolen before, I don't like that this one is easy to see. That said, this is clearly a matter of preference. If you're concerned with the silver drawing too much attention, the JBL BassPro SL is identical in terms of specifications and performance, but the black enclosure is less conspicuous.
Best Booming Performance
The JBL GT-BassPro12 has the most intimidating design of the subwoofers I tested. With its silver protective bars and the large enclosure, it's clearly designed to look as mean as it sounds. And it certainly delivers. The ported design of the enclosure allows air to move freely and create booming bass. The bass isn't as accurate and tight as subwoofers with a closed or sealed enclosure, but lots of people prefer that boom. When I played "Clayman" by In Flames, the punch of the double-kick from the drums in the chorus was so enormous, it brought me back to their live concerts.
One of the advantages of having a ported enclosure is the woofer doesn't need as much power. As such, the GT-BassPro12's continuous power output is just 150 watts. This is much weaker than the other 12 inch subwoofers and more comparable to the 8 inch, under-seat subwoofers. However, don't be fooled. It's plenty capable of comparing to higher-powered subs.
Car subwoofers are one of the best ways to improve your car's audio experience and for announcing your presence at a red light. However, car subwoofers are also among the most stolen devices from vehicles. To remedy this, manufacturers have developed subs to fit under your car's seats. Unfortunately, the Kenwood KSC-SW11 was the only under-seat subwoofer with an enclosure small enough to fit completely beneath my car's seat, making it totally invisible to potential thieves looking in through the window.
A small enclosure does equal some sacrifices. The amplifier isn’t as big and powerful as other under-seat amplifiers. Most similar subwoofers have a 150 watt amplifier, but the Kenwood KSC amplifier is 75 watts. In addition, the woofer isn’t deep, as the shallow enclosure requires a flatter woofer. This means it can't move as much air. When you combine the lack of power and the shallow woofer, the bass performance isn't as good or as big as better under-seat subwoofers. That said, the bass performance is still good enough to improve your listening experience.
Why Trust Us
Top Ten Reviews has reviewed car subwoofers since 2010, and I've reviewed subwoofers since 2013. I've spent between 40 and 120 hours reviewing component subwoofers each year. However, I shifted the focus this year from component subs to powered subs. The reason is simple. Purchasing a component subwoofer means you must also purchase an amplifier and an enclosure.
By focusing on powered subs, I've simplified the purchasing decision, accounting for the amplifier and enclosure decisions as well. These subs are practically plug-and-play devices. You don't have to fret over matching the power handling specifications of a component subwoofer with a compatible amplifier. Nor do you have to worry about matching up the wire gauges. Powered subwoofers don't require an electrical expert to install. That said, hiding power and audio cables or removing dash consoles to access stereo ports can be difficult if you don't have experience, so you may want to consider a professional installation.
How Much Do Car Subwoofers Cost?
The powered car subwoofers in this review cost between $112 and $300. If you search for car subwoofers on sites like Amazon or Crutchfield, you can find subwoofers for as low as $20. However, these are just the speaker part of the sub. To add bass to your mix, buy an enclosure and an amplifier. When you consider the cost of an enclosure, amplifier, wiring and a professional installation, a car subwoofer can easily run over $500. Therefore, a powered subwoofer, like the ones I reviewed, are both the easiest to install and the most affordable option.
How We Tested
To test and compare the powered subwoofers, I set up an area in our audio lab where I could easily connect and disconnect each subwoofer for an easy apples-to-apples comparison of performance. Each subwoofer was powered by a DC converter, simulating a car's battery, and was connected to the same car stereo and car speakers.
Throughout these tests, I found every subwoofer's sweet spot – the point where the volume, gain, frequency crossover and other available controls are tuned to the subwoofer's best performance. The sweet spot is rarely the maximum volume, which is why the bass size doesn't represent how loud the amplifier gets when turned up all the way. Rather, it is the size of the bass at its best performance. As with any speaker, it matters little how loud it can get if it sounds terrible.
What Else You Should Know About Car Subwoofers
Nearly every automobile leaves the factory with at least a stereo and two door speakers of varying sizes. This is the simplest of car audio systems. Most modern cars come with four speakers. The best way to improve a factory-installed audio system is to add a subwoofer. In addition to making the music feel bigger by filling out the mix, your car's speakers perform more accurately because they don't have to produce all the audio.
When to Choose a Passive Component Subwoofer
Powered subwoofers like the ones I reviewed are the easiest and most affordable way to add a subwoofer to your car's audio. However, powered car subwoofers are limited in terms of control and expandability.
A passive component subwoofer is the other option. These subs are simply the speaker and nothing else. They require at least two additional purchases – an amplifier and an enclosure. And the quality and price of component subwoofers varies, from as low as $30 to as high as $10,000 (MTX JackHammer TS9924-22, for example).
Since you must buy the amplifier and enclosure, you have more control over how the woofer performs. You can buy an amplifier to power the car speakers as well as the subwoofer or to expand the system however you want. You can build your own enclosure to fit both your car and to shape the bass to your preferences.
Enclosures: Sealed or Ported
According to Crutchfield's Buck Pomerantz, the secret to a subwoofer's performance "lies in the type of subwoofer box you use." While sizes and shapes of enclosures vary and can have some influence over performance since the enclosure needs to be tuned to the frequency of the subwoofer, the biggest influence over performance is whether the enclosure is sealed or ported.
A sealed enclosure is closed off, allowing no air to move out of the box. This stabilizes the woofer as it pushes against the pressure of the atmosphere to create the low frequencies. This stabilization is designed to create an accurate bass sound that Pomerantz describes as "tight." However, since the woofer is stabilized against the atmosphere, it requires more power to drive a subwoofer in a sealed enclosure.
Conversely, a ported enclosure has a hole in the box. This hole equalizes the pressure inside the box with the atmosphere, making the woofer easier to move. As such, a ported enclosure doesn't require as much power to drive as a sealed enclosure. You can reach much higher volumes with much lower power. And since air moves freely in and out of the enclosure, it has an aggressive, less accurate sound Pomerantz describes as "boomy."
Neither type of performance is necessarily better. It depends on your personal preferences. Pomerantz breaks the two enclosures into two camps of people: those who want to "hear bass, not thunder" and those who want "more punch and reverberance" in the beat. Most of the subwoofers I tested fall into the "hear bass, not thunder" camp, but a few of the powered subs come in ported enclosures and fit into the boomy category. As such, I evaluated their performance from this perspective.
Professional or DIY Installation
When you purchase audio equipment from an online retailer, you avoid the car audio shop's installation fee. This savings means you are responsible at installing the equipment yourself. For some products, it's easy. For most cars, speakers are easy to swap out on your own with little more than a screwdriver. Some retailers, like Crutchfield, even include DIY instructions specific to your vehicle. But should you install it yourself?
In an interview with Steve Stern, president of the Mobile Electronics Competition Association, he argued for a professional installation. He explained, a "tight install can work to bring out the best in even the most basic, inexpensive equipment." For him, it's worth the cost of the installation to make sure everything is wired correctly so the speakers get the cleanest signal possible. This requires expert knowledge in matching wire gauge impedance and cord length to the impedance of the speakers and stereo to get the cleanest audio signal.
With powered subwoofers, the installation is far simpler than trying to add a passive subwoofer, enclosure and amplifier because it's all one unit. You simply connect the subwoofer's speakers to the pre-outs of the stereo and connect the power and ground cables to the battery or fuse box. Of course, even this level of simplicity is more complicated than it seems. Every vehicle is different, but accessing the back of a stereo and power supply often means removing door panels, ceiling panels, consoles and dashes. Unless you're confident you can put things back together, a professional installation is worth a consideration.
What Size Subwoofer is Best for Your Car?
Choosing the right car subwoofer for your personal tastes and your car is important to get the sound you want. As such, you need to know why you would or wouldn’t choose a certain size subwoofer.
This is your best choice if your car has limited space or if your car came with subwoofers installed. These subs don’t require much power and many can be powered by your car’s stereo or a small amplifier. However, this size is the bare minimum for improving bass performance. The woofer’s size and performance is closer to a standard 6x9-inch car speaker – it’s capable of improving bass, particularly the high bass, but isn’t designed for the booming bass most people think of when buying subwoofers.
This size is ideal for entry-level car audio enthusiasts because they often fit into 8-inch enclosures without much modification, making installations easy. The bass performance is enough to provide some boom, but it’s not ideal for bass-heavy music like hip-hop or dance music.
This is the most popular size for car audio enthusiasts because it's capable of delivering impressive bass. However, upgrading to a 12-inch subwoofer requires some commitment. The installation is more difficult because it requires more power than a smaller subwoofer, and it isn’t likely to fit into a factory-installed subwoofer location. In most cases, this size subwoofer requires an enclosure and an amplifier to drive it.
If you want to impress everyone you drive past on the street, a 15-inch subwoofer is your best option. Since these subs have the largest surface area, they move the most air, which means the bass is felt from much further away. However, because it has to move so much air, it needs to be paired with a powerful amplifier and a large enclosure. So, it’s not typically recommended for smaller vehicles, unless you're okay with sacrificing trunk space.
It’s also worth keeping in mind the bigger a subwoofer is, the easier it is for the bass to take over the audio. Learning how to balance the subwoofer performance with your car speakers is key to getting the best audio possible.