Best Home Theater Subwoofer | Buying Guide & Reviews

Written by David Lahav

Where To Begin?

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.

Check out what we have prepared for you this time:

Top Home Theater Subwoofers – Reviews

The Essential Things To Look For In a Subwoofer

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:

Is Wireless the Way to Go?

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.

The Power Question

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.

Is an IP (Isolation Platform) Necessary?

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.

Size Requirements

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.

best budget subwoofer

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).

To Use or Not To Use PRs?

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.

A Second Sub?

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.

The Matter of “Tailoring”

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.

The Benefits of Sealed and Ported Subs

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.

Products That Made the Grade

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:

Top Home Theater Subwoofers – Reviews

#1

Klipsch R-12SW

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.

4.6 of 5.0 Stars
PROS
  • The value is exceptionally high. You get a ton of quality and function for a reasonable price.
  • There are three different types of controls on the unit, which makes adjustments and stabilization a breeze.
  • The automatic on/off mode is convenient and saves on electricity.
  • The LED indicator is clear enough to read from a distance and provides clear information when you need it.
  • The front-firing copper unit is more powerful than it looks.
  • Offers 400 all-digital watts of dynamic power.
  • The plinth is satin-painted and the cabinet is a brushed-black veneer, which makes for a classy, sleek, modern look.
CONS
  • The power cord is shorter than others in this price category, which means you’ll likely have to locate it very close to an outlet or take a chance with an extension.
  • The weight, at 15 kg, is a bit light compared to others in this class, which run all the way up to 50 kg.
  • Is much better with movies and TV than music. Has a tendency to bottom out on some of the lower frequency ranges with certain types of music, particularly hip-hop.
#2

Polk Audio PSW505 12-Inch

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.

4.1 of 5.0 Stars
PROS
  • The rear panel is full metal and the overall build of the unit is very solid and stable.
  • Delivers quality and power from the small size of a 12-inch unit. Sound is accurate and resonant.
  • The controls are conveniently located and easy to understand. All functions are intuitive even for those not familiar with technical gear.
  • The bass is deep and visibly powerful. You can actually see objects on tables and shelves move.
  • Works equally well for gaming, movies, TV shows, or music of any genre.
  • Within this price category, there aren’t other subs that offer the same level of loudness.
CONS
  • The unit is a bit heavy for its class, making it a bit inconvenient during setup.
  • At its highest volume levels, sound can become a bit distorted.
  • The unit has plastic feet, which allow it to change position during top-level volume ranges. You might want to make your own feet and add them on.
#3

Polk Audio PSW10 10-Inch

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.

4.7 of 5.0 Stars
PROS
  • Can’t beat the value for dollars spent.
  • Excellent bass output even for apartments and smaller homes.
  • Setup is simple and it works with most audio systems on the market.
  • The look is quite modern and the unit fits well with just about any variety of interior design.
  • Continuous power of 50 watts and dynamic wattage of 100.
  • The sub delivers high volume with extremely low distortion.
  • Outputs and inputs are pro-grade and are simple to connect to any system.
  • Solid sound impact and no problem with “standing waves.”
  • Tight, deep sound quality that works ideally as part of a home theater system.
CONS
  • Not the best quality sound you’ll hear from a sub.
  • Strictly for entry-level enthusiasts.
  • Good choice for the money, but you can get much better subs by spending slightly more.
#4

BIC America V-1220 12-Inch 430-Watt

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.

4.4 of 5.0 Stars
PROS
  • 200 full watts of RMS power is exceptional at this price point.
  • This long-throw sub includes a top-notch port that is fully Venturi-tuned.
  • Proficient greater than 80 db ratio of signal-to-noise.
  • Convenient signal sensing for auto on-off functionality.
  • Includes a heavy-duty magnet for fine sound quality.
  • The vent works perfectly to minimize all port noise, which is a huge advantage for gamers like me who love to turn up the volume, and for TV shows and music videos.
CONS
  • Tends to produce unspecified noise at odd times, especially at higher volume levels.
  • There is something about the fuse that I had to keep replacing it, even though it was new.
  • Sometimes I heard chirping, primarily when playing music that included heavy bass sounds.
  • Could feel air escaping from around the driver, which could be a problem with the seals or general construction.
#5

Sony SACS9 10-Inch Active

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.

4.7 of 5.0 Stars
PROS
  • The design is both attractive and highly durable. This thing is a solid piece of equipment even though it is light.
  • The frequency range is quite wide compared to same-priced competitors.
  • There are lots of different tuning options with this sub.
  • The built-in amp comes with a generous 115 watts of power.
  • Vibration is minimal due to the unit’s design.
  • The smallish baffle area works well to keep distortion of the sound field exceptionally low.
  • MRC cones, instead of paper ones, mean you can really drive the bass without worrying about distortion or putting undue wear on the unit.
CONS
  • A lightweight item for the price at less than 10 kg.
  • Random distortion at different volume levels when using for games and music.
  • At unannounced times, the deeper bass levels are neither clear nor deep. There’s sort of an in-and-out effect with games, music genres like hip-hop, and some TV shows that use over-dubbed theme music.
  • For this price, the power output is rather low.
#6

Klipsch Reference R-10SW 10-Inch 300w

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.

4.8 of 5.0 Stars
PROS
  • There’s a removable grill which makes for a versatile functionality of design.
  • Able to capably handle low-frequency volumes.
  • Bass response is overall very solid with a commendable amount of kick.
  • The black and copper design elements look good practically anywhere and in any home decor type.
  • Fully compatible with all other systems from this manufacturer, which is a nice plus for Klipsch fans who already own several other components.
  • High-quality construction materials offer long-term durability.
  • LFE and line inputs allow for easy connection with most of the popular receivers on the market.
CONS
  • Sometimes a rattling noise results from deeper bass sounds.
  • Very few color choices or other modifications are available.
  • For aesthetics and build, the unit appears okay, but tends to peel at the edges.
  • The sound quality is sometimes boomy and/or muddy, offering not-so-good capability for music or gaming, but only for movies.
#7

Yamaha 10-Inch 100W

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.

4.7 of 5.0 Stars
PROS
  • Some of the design features work well, particularly the twisted-flare port, which delivers top-grade bass for music and films.
  • Bass sound is tight and very clear.
  • Potential for very rich bass from high-tech design elements like Active Servo technology.
  • Solid weight, but not too heavy, at 26 pounds.
  • Wood construction and a good buy for the price.
  • Integrates exceptionally well into almost any home-theater system.
  • It’s quite easy to set up and calibrate as soon as you take it out of the box.
CONS
  • A bit thumpy. Needed to set gain at 80 percent. Overall effect is under-powered bass and dull response at times.
  • Seems more suited to films rather than music. The no-frills design is entry-level only for most enthusiasts.
  • The passive on/off does not consistently work and the cone is made of paper.
  • Even for its size, you could probably double your quality level by spending just $30 or $40 more. Plus, there’s no remote control.
#8

Monoprice 60-Watt Powered Subwoofer – 8 Inch With Auto-On

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.

4.4 of 5.0 Stars
PROS
  • Contains a very convenient frequency response dial.
  • Good value for the very low price. Probably the best value of all the smaller subs on the market.
  • It has the capability of pumping quite hard for a unit of this size and price. Strictly entry-level but is a decent unit at a very low price and gets the job done for newcomers to the audio technology world.
  • It can combine various signals in order to process mono-bass.
  • Is strictly a “function over form” unit, so expect performance rather than flashiness.
  • Arrives in an attractive cabinet that is primarily composed of black wood.
  • Offer numerous input options, thus making it fully compatible with most amplifier and/or stereo systems.
CONS
  • Better for movies than music.
  • Sometimes produces a muddy, booming sound, even at lower volume levels.
  • On/off switch is inconveniently located on the back of the unit.
  • If you use too much power, the sound can become instantly distorted. Unpredictable quality.
#9

Klipsch R-120SW

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.

3.0 of 5.0 Stars
PROS
  • Super-high value for the price on this top-grade subwoofer from Klipsch.
  • No better sub for music enthusiasts. Works competently with movies and gaming as well.
  • The bass is exceptionally hard-hitting and relatively clean.
  • Features an all-around scratch-resistant design, so it can take some punishment without showing signs of wear.
  • The cabinet is coated with a special material that deters retention of fingerprints, which makes cleaning and wipe-downs rare and simple.
  • Can go way loud without distortion, rattle, or boom.
  • Literally transform a so-so home theater system into a dynamic, exciting experience.
  • Specially designed to be placed almost anywhere in a room and still produce deep, customized bass with an all-digital amplifier.
CONS
  • When you venture into the less-than-29Hz realm of sound, notes can be quite hard to hear.
  • Weighs 31 pounds, which is a plus for some, but a problem for petite or older users during setup. That’s a lot of weight to carry around the room for testing purposes.
#10

Rockville Rock Shaker 8″ Inch Black 400w

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.

4.5 of 5.0 Stars
PROS
  • Comes with a very high-grade enclosure of durable vinyl as well as foam surround.
  • Comes with a very high-grade enclosure of durable vinyl as well as foam surround.
  • Super-easy set-up and simple enough to calibrate and coordinate with your receiver and rest of home theater system.
  • Excellent value for the price, offering quality above the entry level variety.
  • Beautiful resonance with solid sound in an attractive cabinet.
  • Offers excellent gaming capability as well as for music of all genres, even hip-hop which can sometimes be a challenge for lower-priced subs.
CONS
  • Might be priced too high for what it offers.
  • Sometimes an electrical humming sound interferes with operation.
  • Frequent vibration at mid-to-high volume levels, causing sound distortion.
  • Plastic inserts around line connectors tend to slip out.

My Personal Favorite

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.