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. The final prices 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 help answer. But first, let's dig into a few things you need to consider before shopping for a sub.
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, we 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.
Powerful and precise, this dual-8" subwoofer looks impossibly small given the bass it produces. The key is the dual active 8" drivers, mounted in a dual-opposed, force-canceling configuration. By using two drivers and a powerful amp, this subwoofer achieves output similar to a 12" subwoofer, but from a more compact enclosure.
The SVS 3000 Micro ($899.99) cabinet measures a mere 10.9” H X 11.7” W X 10.7” D, and yet this sub can legit play down to 23 Hz thanks to the 800-watt amplifier (2500 W peak). This SVS is a "smart" subwoofer that features a Bluetooth app that allows for extensive tuning and customization. The sound of the sub is super-tight and works perfectly for music and movies and games and any other sound where gripping, visceral bass is desired but the space for a big sub is limited.
The other thing about the small size is it makes implementing a multi-sub system all the more feasible because the space savings become even more pronounced. Given its capability, the price is a bargain. It's straight-up one of the best 8" subs money can buy.
Here's a 12" sub that's basically got it all for under a grand. Chances are, the Monolith M-12 gets you more bass per dollar than any other subwoofer in this list. It is THX Certified Ultra, which means it’s performance has been verified and it is able to handle rooms up to 3000 ft.³ in size. It combines a 12-inch woofer and a 500 W amp with a Texas Instruments DSP that tunes the subwoofer's performance to maintain peak capability even when pushed hard.
This subwoofer is able to operate both as a sealed and is a ported sub. When sealed, the THX EQ response is listed at 20 Hz to 200 Hz. When operated in ported mode, the Extended EQ responses 17 Hz to 200 Hz. So you are getting to subwoofers in one, a ported sub and a sealed sub. This beast weighs 115 pounds, so make sure you have a friend to help you move it.
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.
Next up, 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 movies 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 HSU VTF-3 MK5 HP is priced at $799, and like the Monoprice is a heavy-hitter among 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 of how ported and sealed designs to 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.
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 onboard 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 bandpass filtering, there is a 40-200 Hz variable crossover control available on the back panel. For the money, the Speedwoofer 10S can't be beaten. 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.
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 their money. Any of these sub-thousand-dollar subs will significantly enhance your 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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