Who doesn't love a little bass? Whether your musical genre of choice is hip hop, techno, rock, or even classical, a subwoofer goes a long way in improving your overall audio experience.
But how to make heads or tails of all the details and specs you're forced to make sense of when trying to choose a subwoofer that's right for you?
Well, the following guide aims to breakdown and demystify the process of choosing the right subwoofer for your needs.
A subwoofer is an audio component dedicated to the reproduction of low-end sound, or frequencies, otherwise known as bass.
What we might typically recognize as a subwoofer, consists of a woofer cone, mounted in an enclosure (or box). Selecting a good enclosure is crucial for the performance of the subwoofer, and is an important consideration for overall quality bass output.
Subwoofers almost always use a circular cone, as this shape produces the least amount of distortion but, in recent years, some manufacturers have begun producing non circular shapes for situations in which car space is particularly limited, allowing the cone to cover more area.
A subwoofer's power handling is made up of two measurements, it's RMS power, and Peak Power. RMS is the crucial measurement here, as it measures the maximum continuous power handing capability, without speaker damage. This is important to note when choosing a subwoofer and amp combination.
The Frequency Response or Range, measured in hertz, is the range within which the subwoofer produces sound, and generally an indication of low a subwoofer can play.
Sensitivity is a subwoofers level of efficiency at converting power into sound. A higher sensitivity rating means the ability to produce louder sound.
As an example, a subwoofer with a sensitivity of 93 decibels (dB) would only need half the power of a 90 dB subwoofer to produce the same level of sound.
Impedance is a measurement of resistance within an electrical circuit. Typically subs use 4 Ohm impedance, but there are 2 Ohm subs out there. Simply put, a 2 Ohm subwoofer will produce more output than a 4 Ohm sub for the same amount of input, as the resistance is lower.
Number of Voice Coils
Subwoofers come in single and double voice coil arrangements. Dual voice coil allows more flexibility with installation.
To sum up subwoofer size as simply as possible - a larger subwoofer, means a larger cone surface area, means more air being displaced, means a louder sound.
Now, whilst you could be forgiven for simply assuming that "bigger is better" when it comes to which subwoofer you should choose, it is important to also consider your music tastes, space available in your car, and last but not least, budget.
But just to emphasize once again, different sizes respond in different ways to styles of music, and as such, it's important to understand the differences between the 4 common sizes available.
This is the smallest and most inexpensive size available, with many vehicles coming equipped with 1 or 2 of these to begin with. As such, they are generally the easiest to install of all sizes, as they can be installed in the existing factory location. In some cases, they can also be installed under seats.
The 8 inch sub emphasize a faster, crisper, more responsive level of bass, and is a good size for those who aren't necessarily looking for an overwhelming bass sound, but rather a clean, solid punch.
The 8 inch subwoofer is especially suited to faster paced genres of music such as metal, punk and techno.
The 10"subwoofer is the 2nd most popular size, with some vehicles being equipped with a single 10 inch from the factory. Its also a common upgrade choice for many people looking for a little more bass than the 8 inch.
It produces a good, if not overwhelming, level of bass, but is a great choice if you favor country, rock, or metal music. It also does a pretty decent, if not outstanding, job with hip hop/rap, R&B and club/dance music.
This is the number 1 aftermarket size choice and offers a little more bass that it's 10 inch counterpart. This size is typically a little more difficult to install in comparison to the smaller sizes, and will definitely take up some cargo space.
The 12 inch subwoofer is not that far removed from the performance of the 10 inch subwoofer, working well enough for all the earlier mentioned genres; but is an ideal choice if you tend to favor hip hop/rap, R&B and club/dance music in particular.
On the other end of the spectrum, the 15 inch subwoofer excels at producing deep lows, but without the tight responsiveness of the smaller sizes.
This size is also alot more difficult to install, and will take up a whole lot of your vehicles trunk/cargo space.
The 15 inch subwoofer works best with hip hop/rap, R&B, dubstep genres, but lag is noticeable with any faster repetitive bass music.
Types of Subwoofer
A component sub is basically just the speaker itself. In order for it to function correctly, it needs to be mounted in a subwoofer enclosure (also known as a box).
Additionally, they need to be powered by an external amplifier. Component subwoofers are typically geared towards people who wish to take a more hands on approach to building their car audio system, allowing a high degree of customization.
An audiophile or bass head would certainly look here to satisfy their audio needs.
On the other hand, for someone looking to avoid the hassle of customization and installation work, and instead prefers an easy off-the-shelf type solution, an enclosed sub would be a better choice.
Enclosed subwoofers are essentially a component subwoofer pre-mounted into a tailored subwoofer enclosure. As such, they are alot easier to install, saving you the time and effort normally spent designing and installing a system.
The down side is that there is a more limited range to choose from, and that they cannot match a component subwoofer for raw quality of bass.
A powered sub is ideally suited for those of us with limited mounting space. Compactness is the name of the game with such subs - combining an amplifier saving you the need to install one separately, as well as fitting in places the other subwoofer types cannot, e.g. under your car seat. They are also relatively easy to install.
Of course, there are drawbacks with this type of sub, namely that they will not match the other two types of subs for power, but are a good option if you are looking for a simple, straight forward, space saving bass solution.
A subwoofer is a great addition to any car audio system, providing a level of bass your ordinary speakers cannot replicate, and making your overall audio experience much richer.
We hope this guide helps you with giving you a better understanding of the things to consider when thinking about a subwoofer purchase. If you have any additional questions feel free to leave a comment.