Whether you’re building a surround sound system from the ground up, or improving an existing home theater setup, or even beefing up your two-channel listening room, a subwoofer is an integral part of any good sound system. Low frequencies have a tremendous impact on the immersive experience of any cinematic event or piece of music. These are the frequencies you not only hear, but feel, and offloading such duties to a dedicated component allows your other speakers to more effortlessly express the mids and highs, resulting in a far more pleasing and engaging reproduction of the original source.
Subwoofers run the gamut in terms of price, from tens of thousands of dollars to just a few hundred bucks. Needless to say, as the headline indicates, this guide focuses on offerings closer to the latter end of that range. All in all, I listened to seven subwoofers, with the only common thread between them being their sub-$1000 price tags. The final number ranged anywhere from $399 to $999, with driver sizes between nine and 15 inches, and amps that deliver from 120 to 750 watts. And cabinet sizes are all over the place.
What do they have in common? What unique features differentiate one for another, aside from size? And which one should you choose considering your listening preferences and room dimensions if your budget is under one thousand dollars? Those are the questions we’re here to answer. But first, let’s dig into a few things you need to consider before shopping for a sub.
Things to Consider When Sub Shopping
First things first, if you’re looking for a sub merely to augment your movie and TV watching, without as much regard for music playback, I might suggest a larger sub. Not merely a sub with a larger woofer, mind you, but one with a more powerful amplifier and larger physical enclosure.
Should you go ported or sealed, though? Down-firing or front-firing? To oversimplify, ported subs generally offer lower bass extension, while sacrificing in some cases tight, articulate musicality, so this would generally be your choice if you are using the sub in a home theater setup for watching TV or movies. If, on the other hand, music listening is more important to you, a sealed box, all other factors equal, might be the better choice. As for orientation, down-firing designs tend to be fussier in terms of placement. Thick carpet, for example, doesn’t play well with down-firing drivers. So, all things being equal, front-firing is generally better for most rooms.
But wait, what if you want the best sub-thousand-dollar sub that works equally well for TV and movies and music? There are a few that fit that bill, and I’ll get to those in a minute, but generally speaking, you should figure out which activity you engage in more frequently in the room you’re looking to outfit with a new sub, and start your selection process appropriately.
Rogersound Labs’ (RSL as they are known) Speedwoofer 10S ($399) is a ported, front-firing 350 watt RMS sub with a 10-inch woofer that relies on RSL’s compression guide technology instead of a typical round port. It’s the undisputed value leader of this roundup, and also happens to sound incredible. This sub is able to deliver both great musicality and impact for movies and TV.
What you don’t get is built-in room correction, nor any adjustments via a mobile app. RSL chose instead to provide level, phase, and crossover settings via knobs on the back of the sub itself and lean on your AV receiver for dealing with standing waves and the like. Many of today’s AVRs have excellent auto setup functions and even on-board room correction that work quite well. If you plan to use the Speedwoofer 10S’s line level inputs via RCA connectors or speaker inputs via binding posts and your set-up does not include any band pass filtering, there is a 40-200 Hz variable crossover control available on the back panel. For the money, the Speedwoofer 10S can’t be beat. Heck, this package is hard to beat even if you buy the 10S in pairs. You can read our full review of the RSL Speedwoofer 10S here.
Also coming in at $399 is the Polk HTS 12, which is a ported design with a 200 watts RMS amp, a front-firing 12-inch woofer, and a down-firing “Power Port” that opens up into a conical waveguide. The HTS 12 has no app and relies on your AVR or preamp for room correction, but it does have an on-board variable low pass filter that can be set between 40 Hz and 150 Hz. Available in washed black walnut or classic brown walnut, the HTS 12 stands 18.5 inches high by 17 inches wide and 18 inches deep, so it’s not exactly small. But partially as a result of that physical volume, this Polk provides low frequency impact way beyond what you would expect from only 200 watts working to move a 12-inch woofer. Whether you dig the Polk HTS 12, though, will likely hinge upon aesthetic taste. It’s definitely one of the most distinctive subwoofers in the bunch, largely due to its thick plinth, with the conical waveguide in the middle, over which the cabinet floats on four curved feet.
MartinLogan’s Dynamo 600X ($599.99) is a ported, down-firing, 120-watt RMS sub with 10-inch woofer. The Dynamo 600X might prove to be a bit fussy about room placement due to its down-firing design, but if your room can accommodate it, it certainly delivers the goods. Despite the lowest power rating of all the subs in this buyer’s guide, for smaller rooms the sound is excellent.
The sub also benefits from Anthem Room Correction, one of the best room EQ systems on the market, which is available here via iOS and Android apps. Its Sub Control app also includes a handy frequency sweep, which is very useful for finding any resonance issues like a glass vase that rings at one or more frequencies (usually sticking rubber feet on such offenders solves the issue and it’s nice to have this feature to find and correct such issues. You can read our full review of the Dynamo 600X here.
The SVS SB-2000 ($699.99 Black Ash / $799.99 Piano Gloss Black) is a sealed, front-firing, 500-watt RMS sub with a 12-inch woofer. It has no app control or room correction built-in. It does, however, pack incredible punch all the way down to a reported 19 Hz and delivers faithful and powerful low frequencies, along with articulate and nuanced upper bass, making it great for home theaters and music systems alike. You can read our full review here, and a review of SVS’ new SB-3000 ($999) here.
The HSU VTF-3 MK5 HP is priced at $799, and represents largest enclosure of all the subs in our Buyer’s Guide at 25 inches high by 17.25 inches wide by 23.5 inches deep, with a weight of 85 pounds. It has a hybrid design that can be configured for sealed, one-port, or two-port operation, with your choice of two EQ presets, and it relies on a front-firing 15-inch woofer backed up by 600 watts RMS amplification.
One neat thing that the hybrid design allows you to do is get a sense for how ported and sealed designs compare, all other things being equal. With one port open and one closed, for example, low frequency extension is a rocking 17Hz. With both ports open, it’s 18Hz. And with both ports closed (sealed), that number scoots up to 22Hz on the bottom end. Granted, that may not seem like much of a difference but there are other factors that play into this including speed and musicality, impact and punch. With one port open, you get a lot of authority at 20Hz. With both ports open, the sub really reinforces tones from 30 to 60Hz. And fully sealed, there’s a graceful roll-off from 80Hz on down. Ultimately, this is the most flexible sub of the bunch.
The Definitive Technology SuperCube 6000 ($999) is a front-firing sub with a 9-inch woofer powered by a 750 watt RMS amp, and dual 10-inch passive radiators on the sides. The smallest enclosure in our buyer’s guide roundup at just under 13 inches high by 12 inches wide by 13 inches deep, this is the little sub that can. Whether its distinctive configuration of active and passive drivers was arrived at via physics or trial and error, and I don’t know, and I don’t care, because it works. The included remote is also very useful, as it includes volume up, down, and mute; phase flip between 0 and 180 degrees; low pass filter adjustment; four program specific EQ settings; and a night mode.
Finally, we have the Paradigm Defiance X10 ($999), a ported, front-firing sub with 300 watts RMS amplification and a 10-inch woofer. This one also comes with Anthem Room Correction as well as a sweep generator comes, and is also enhanced by what Paradigm calls a high-velocity, low-turbulence ported design. The app allows you to set EQ presets for movie and music separately and recall them with the push of one button from the home screen. Very useful and well-designed. There is also a night mode that acts like a loudness contour EQ setting, but just for the low frequencies, so you can still enjoy some punch without waking the sleeping baby, pets, or neighbors.
The Best for Music
If I were looking to maximize musicality in my 2.1 listening space, I would choose the SVS SB-2000 or the HSU VTF-3MK5HP. The SVS is a sealed enclosure and the HSU is capable of being either ported or sealed thanks to its variable hybrid design, and both positively sang in my testing, especially with regard to the crucial frequencies around the crossover point between the sub and my satellite speakers. Is that to say these subs are lacking in their ability to recreate explosions or other thumps rampant in many TV and movie soundtracks? Hell no! But music was where they really shined, so if that’s your main priority, either of these would be a great pick.
The Best for Movies and TV
After considering their unique sonic attributes, the Paradigm Defiance X10 and Polk HTS 12 were pretty much tied for first if what you’re looking for is to maximize the thump and boom for movies and TV effects. I would also rate them good for music as well. A lot depends on what kind of music you like. If you listen to a lot of EDM, for example, a sub that is optimized for low frequency effects would serve that genre quite well. If, on the other hand, you have a vast collection of Spanish Flamenco guitar recordings? Perhaps, not so much.
One Sub to Rule Them All
If movies and music move your soul equally, the RSL Speedwoofer 10S is where it’s at, and not just due to its price. Considering the price, though, my advice would be to pick up two of these puppies for the best bass all-around experience you can get for under $1,000. Whether I placed the pair in small, medium, or even large rooms, the Speedwoofer 10S duo pressurized the air to the point where I felt the bass as much as heard it.
Ultimately, your choice will come down to your specific tastes, your room and your budget. This is a golden age for consumers in terms of getting more for your money. Any of these sub-thousand-dollar subs will significantly enhance you listening experience while not breaking the bank. Of course, that doesn’t mean that a sub-$1,000 sub is right for all listeners or all rooms. If you have a much larger listening space or simply demand IMAX levels of sound pressure, you may be advised to start looking at higher-priced offerings, many of which we’ve reviewed here at HomeTheaterReview.com. Spending more usually (although not always) gets you more output and more features, as well as better materials and build quality. But we all have to start somewhere, and you really couldn’t go wrong starting with any of these fine low-budget/high-performance offerings.
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• Read HomeTheaterReview’s AV Receiver Buyer’s Guide