In your quest for the very best home theater subwoofer, there’s a lot to consider. Being a huge fan of technical sound quality myself, but mostly just an ordinary consumer in search of the greatest sub out there, I decided to make some notes as I pursued the subwoofer I eventually ended up with. For me, it all boiled down to several questions, or specific areas of concern. Here’s a bit about each of those subwoofer sub-topics I came up with.
Consider the following requirements carefully and add other categories as you see fit, based on your own personal experience, expertise, and sound preference. When I began shopping for the best home theater subwoofer I could find, without breaking the bank, and remembering the fact that I live in an average-size home, I went through each of the following items one-by-one, placing a check-mark next to each one as I evaluated various subs.
Everyone’s setup and personal taste are different, but the check-list method gave me good results and allowed me to find the perfect sub to meet my needs. See how the following evaluation criteria work for you as you take your first steps on the journey to excellent home theater sound quality:
One of the most exciting trends in woofer tech is wireless connection. It totally eliminates the need to use a cable hookup between your receiver and sub. When you put a transmitter on your receiver, the signal goes out to the sub invisibly, seamlessly, and without the need for wires messing up the floor. Note that some subwoofers will include a decent-quality transmitter along with the sub itself.
If not, you’ll need to buy your own transmitter or transmitter kit. I love the ease of wireless so I give the concept a big thumbs up. Note that you’ll still need to connect to a main power supply somewhere in the room to get juice to your receiver. Other than that, if you use wireless subs, there’s no need to worry about cords, ever.
Maybe the coolest thing of all about powered subs is that there’s no need to purchase amp. That’s because the power comes with the unit. Without getting too technical, it’s best to pay more attention to the RMS rating (it measure’s the unit’s continuous power), than total amps or “peak power.” Paying extra for more total amps is money wasted, and “peak power” is more of a marketing technique than an engineering term.
RMS stands for “root mean square.” It’s a relevant engineering term that measures the amount of “continuous power” a particular speaker can withstand. The best home theater subwoofer for the money is one with an RMS rating acceptable for your taste and in line with what your budget will allow.
If your recreation area contains lots of glass items, delicate knick-knacks, or anything that is prone to rattle when exposed to bass sound waves, consider using an isolation platform. IPs are excellent at breaking the connection between floor and sub. You’ll notice two things. First, the rattling will be gone. Second, you might have to reduce the bass because it’s power won’t be getting eaten by the floorboards.
You’ll of course get a deeper, more resonant sound if your sub has a larger surface area. But, don’t fall for the “bigger equals better” trap. Try to match sub size with your speakers so as to create the best overall sound experience. The best home theater subwoofer is not the same for everyone.
Maybe that’s why there are so many top-selling brands and models! For larger-than-average living rooms and/or big speakers, consider a 12-inch sub. Otherwise, go for an 8-inch or 10-inch if you have smaller speakers (like bookshelf or ultra-compact versions).
Consumers who are in search of the best home theater subwoofer often want the extra zip that passive radiators (PRs) can deliver. These are nothing more than cones inside the sub box. They move simultaneously with the main driver to boost the overall effect. Some owners swear by PRs while others, so-called purists, think they are unnecessary if the sub is of excellent quality.
You might notice that many of today’s best-selling receivers include dual sub output connections. If you live in a large home and have multiple seating options within your recreation area, a second sub can enhance the overall sound quality and provide an extra dose of bass regardless. The “second sub solution” makes sense for wide open floor plans and even average ones that can handle the added bass volume.
There are many software options for sound enthusiasts. Some allow you to tailor the sound of your sub to exactly match the acoustics of your space. Other are phone apps that utilize your device’s microphone to accurately calibrate the EQ curve and deliver the perfect sound profile based on your room’s particular configuration. The newer models that go under the marketing heading of “smart subs” are amazing devices.
Their best quality is that there are no confusing dials and knobs on the back of the unit. Instead, you control everything from your phone, tablet, or PC. Add in the fact that you can leverage the power of your phone’s mic to help calibrate the total sound profile within any space and “going smart” is the way to go if you like to deal with technical adjustments and get everything just right.
I wondered early on, “Is the best home theater subwoofer a sealed or ported one?” Soon I discovered that millions of other folks have the same question. It’s a matter of trade-offs, in fact. That’s because air-sealed subs can deliver lots of bass from a small unit. Ported, or vented, subs offer more resonant bass sound without the need for extra power. Their only downside is that they tend to be much bigger than sealed subs.
Here’s a quick run-down of the 10 subwoofers that met my minimum criteria and ended up on my short-list. I made notes about how each one stacked up when I tested them in stores, in my own two-bedroom, average-sized home, or listened to units owned by friends. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend about a half hour trying each one out, checking the controls, and generally test-driving them all.
Of course, I ruled out a few after comparing them to the other ones on the short-list and checking them against my own preferences. But, based on what you’re looking for, any one of the following subwoofers could be your own “perfect choice.” Anyway, here are my cheat-sheet notes for all ten candidates. See how they match your own criteria:
The Klipsch R-12SW sub is one of the best units the company offers. Already known for its high-quality devices and accessories, Klipsch delivers plenty of utility and aesthetics with the R-12SW. The drawbacks are few and relatively inconsequential, like a not-so-long power cord and lack of heft at just 15 kg. But, the high points of this sub far outweigh its few negatives.
For starters, the LED offers a nice, convenient touch for those of us who want to know current status. The 400 watts of power get the job done with grace and quality sound all around. Plus, the unit looks great, too. It adds a dose of modernity to any room it’s in and you’ll be surprised that such an elegant, smallish sub can blare out such a large level of sound.
For green-energy advocates, the auto on-off is a smart and easy way to cut down on the amount of juice the device uses. For buyers like myself who like to tinker endlessly with settings, the stabilization and other adjustment controls are simple to use and accurate. For the price, it’s hard to do better than this offering from Klipsch.
If you’re a fan of quality as well as value for every dollar spent, this Polk sub is a good choice. Not only does it deliver clean, crisp, yet powerful volume for a 12-incher, but its overall audio quality is surprisingly accurate. You can shop all day in search of similar products that come with this Polk product’s loudness level, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a match for the same price or lower.
One of the things I enjoyed about this unit, which I purchased as a gift for a close friend (so had the chance to test it extensively) is its versatility. Namely, whether you enjoy classical, jazz, hip hop, techno pop, or whatever, it gets the job done. Not only that, but gamers like my friend (who uses is almost exclusively for online play) can hear TV programs, downloaded films, DVD movies, and even homemade recordings with equal quality.
In short, you can use this sub for anything and it’s up to the challenge. There’s no need to be an engineer either, because all the controls are arranged in a commonsense way. Finally, the rock-solid back panel is all metal, and the rest of the construction specs add up to a very balanced piece of equipment.
Here’s another good value from Polk, though in a smaller 10-inch size. This unit is a super-diverse piece of equipment that pairs perfectly with perhaps 99 percent of available audio systems. For non-experts, there are a couple great bonuses: it’s incredibly easy to set up but also the ideal “studio apartment” or dormitory sub. And of course it works nicely in smaller houses that just don’t have the open spaces to accommodate 12-inch units.
I particularly enjoyed the minimal distortion even when I cranked up the volume. Its contemporary styling is calibrated to fit in any space and still look great. If you like clean connectors, this unit has them. All the cable slots are snug, so you have that extra peace of mind that comes with good craftsmanship. All around, students, office workers with limited space, owners of small homes, and pretty much anyone who has the need of a power-packed sub for more confined quarters can’t go wrong with this nice little piece of work from Polk.
This was my first experience with a Bic America sub, so I was completely ready for anything, good or bad. I hadn’t even heard that much about the company, so went into the test with zero preconceived notions. My first impression was that port noise was nearly non-existent due to the capable venting. If you like your MTV or classic sit-coms like I do, the vent solves most of the problems that come with stratospheric volume. Even some of the louder games posed no problem at all.
Dollar-for-dollar, you won’t find power like this RMS rating of 200 watts, and the giant magnet is part of the reason for this product’s fine audio quality. Yes, there are a few better choices for music lovers who want volume and lots of bass, but for folks on limited budgets or who just want to buy their first sub and perhaps move up the scale later on, this Bic America version is a good buy.
I tend to put my subs on book shelves, so minimal vibration is a big selling point in my book. This sub gets an A-plus in that category, so my very first impression after setup was a good one. Additionally, it doesn’t weigh a ton but still has a nice solidity to it, and looks fantastic on a book shelf, floor, or on top of a cabinet. Experimenters will enjoy all the tuning choices as well as the convenient built-in amp that boasts a full 115 watts.
For audio enthusiasts who find distortion a major distraction, there’s no worry here; the baffle is diminutive enough to deter that problem. Besides the baffle size, the cones are MRC, so it’s easy to enjoy massive bass whenever you desire. Some buyers might find the 10 kg weight a bit on the light side and the wattage low, but it’s a decent all-around sub with many more good qualities than drawbacks.
For movie-lovers like myself, this offering from Klipsch is a winner. Yes, like most 10-inchers it occasionally can come off as a tad boomy and probably is better for films than music, but the price is right. Plus, I liked that the grill can be taken off and that low-frequency sound poses no challenge for this versatile little sub. If you prefer the sleek, modernist look of copper-and-black, you’ll want to put this sub where it can be seen.
The R-10SW is a durable piece of work that matches up perfectly with any other Klipsch components you might already own. Even if you don’t own this manufacturer’s items, the R-10SW will work with pretty much anything on the market, so there’s no problem with compatibility. It’s a capable sub for games and music, too, but is a real standout for movies.
This capable 10-inch sub delivers the goods for music and film enthusiasts. The bass is excellent, crystal clear, and surprisingly tight. One of the reasons for that is the very cool twisted-flair port, which has a reputation for producing exceptionally rich bass tones. I thought the weight was just right at just over 25 pounds. It was easy to move around and try out in different locations but not so light that it rattled with deep tones.
This nice-looking Yamaha unit is made of wood and attractively designed. Plus, just about any home-theater system is a compatible match for it. If you like to get up and running with a new sub as soon as you unbox it, this one’s a dream. Not only can you set it up in a matter of minutes, but it’s shockingly simple to calibrate too. At extreme volumes I did notice a bit of thumpiness, but that’s to be expected from such a small unit under duress, at least occasionally. It’s a great buy for 10-inch enthusiasts.
Monoprice 60-watt unit will impress you with its ability to crank out powerful sound. My guess is that it was designed for entry-level customers, which is fine. There’s likely no better first sub you could buy. It’s long on performance and quality and short on extras. The aim here is to just perform and leave all the stylish extras to other products.
It’s a fully compatible sub that offers a nice array of input selections, so it pairs with almost any system or amp out there. Though this Monoprice sub is certainly a better choice for movies and games than for music, it performs admirably for any type of musical genres. In the 10-inch category, the price and general quality level can’t be beat. My son received one of these as a gift for his 15th birthday a few years ago and still cherishes it. It’s held up well and matches up with all his equipment.
This unit is one of the best-value offerings from Klipsch, and that’s saying something. It’s a dream for music no matter than genre, but if you’re a gamer or film buff, it will meet those needs admirably. The clean bass sound is rock-solid and proves itself at extreme ends of the spectrum; there’s zero rattling or distortion of any kind even on high volume. I like the fact that this one piece of equipment was able to transform my wife’s so-so system into an excellent one. It did the same for our extra-bedroom home-theater setup.
Plus, you can move this sub around and its digital amp is able to produce top-notch sound from pretty much any location. It looks good too, with a smudge-resistant cabinet that always seems to look totally clean. The unit is heavy, so be ready to tote 30-plus pounds around the room as you test out different placement locations. Overall, a super subwoofer for the price and a worthy addition to any home-theater system.
This offering from Rockville can dig deep and reach low-register bass tones with ease. Setup is a snap, as is integrating it into whatever type of home-theater or audio system you already own. Calibration is no problem even for newcomers to the world of subwoofers. The overall quality is not entry-level but the price certainly is.
The cabinet looks great and works with just about any kind of home decor. General resonance is better than most in this price range, and it gets the job done with games, films, TV, and any genre of music. Some of the connectors weren’t tightly fitted on the unit I tested, but that’s easily corrected with a tiny dab of glue. I had never tested a Rockville sub before, and my first impression based only on this unit is a very positive one. It delivers excellent sound quality and is attractively designed. Even advanced audio enthusiasts would be pleased with this Rockville subwoofer.
Yes, everyone has their own taste and personal preferences, but for me the Polk Audio PSW10 10-Inch ended up delivering the best bang for the buck. Plus, it met more of the criteria for me than any of the other choices. Your mileage may vary depending on the size of your home (mine is small-to-average), your budget (mine is limited but I’m not a miser), how much bass you want, and other factors (for me, the 50-watt RMS is ideal). But in the end, I opted for the Polk because it was the best home theater subwoofer for my needs. It sounds fantastic whether I listen to music (classical is my favorite, but classic rock gets a lot of air-time in our house as well), films, or home-made videos and recordings that often end up on social media. I hope you’ll be able to find the perfect sub for your situation. Happy hunting.