The 10 Best Car Subwoofers
This wiki has been updated 24 times since it was first published in April of 2016. OEM car stereos are notorious for having an unsatisfying low-frequency response, and even higher-quality aftermarket speakers tend to reproduce sound poorly below 100 hertz. Luckily, there are a plethora of products designed to punch out bass lines with power and clarity, and with one of these preassembled subwoofers, almost anyone can add some serious low-end vibes to their vehicle with ease. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
January 07, 2021:
Our latest ranking reflects the trend for sealed subwoofer tubes that are growing in popularity. The two models we included here are the Alpine SWT-12S4, which replaces the similar, but rather outdated Bazooka Tube. This new model is notable for its strapped fastening system and robust, carpeted construction. Despite its relatively compact size, it manages to produce a more-than-adequate 300 watts of power. Similarly, the Kicker 46CWTB104 has a tubular design, foregoing the plush exterior for ABS plastic, although this model pumps out 400 watts RMS, and can be mounted horizontally or vertically.
Our two other additions are more traditional in style, but impressive nonetheless. The JBL SUBBP12AM replaces its older cousin, the JBL GT-BassPro, and is notable for its Slipstream port which eradicates distortion at high SPLs. Finally, the Skar Audio SDR Series brings some serious power to the mix, with 600 watts RMS power handling, two 12-inch woofers, and a large price tag to match its considerable frame.
June 27, 2019:
Our ranking includes subwoofers that come in an enclosure, so all that is required upon purchasing and receiving the product is to attach the wires to a previously installed system.
We've included options that range from the affordable to the high-end. Those who are simply looking to fill in a little bass in their daily commute have options like the The Pioneer TS-WX1010A(#10), the Bazooka Tube (#8), or the MTX Terminators (#7) — all of which are easy to install. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we've included subs that can deliver the rattling, wobbling rumble that we imagine a good subwoofer to be capable of. Our top five picks all fall within this camp, and really, you can't go wrong with any of them, but we believe that the JL Audio CP208 (#1), with its efficient slot-ported design, is a remarkable model in a league of its own. Despite its compact build, it's a juggernaut, robust and precise in its output.
JL Audio HO110-W6v3 This model's 10" speaker is housed in a thoughtfully-engineered wedge enclosure that increases air flow at high output and optimizes resonance and clarity. This efficient design results in a subwoofer capable of producing depth and power that you'd normally expect from a model with a much higher power rating. Its compact enclosure — which is hand finished at the company's Florida facility — makes it easy to find a place to put it without it eating up much space in your vehicle. jlaudio.com
Bringing Up Bass
Using music as an example, the quintessential college student is unlikely to use his car's built-in stereo system to listen to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on campus.
Many of us can acknowledge the social impact an automobile has on different societies. For some, a car is a mode of transportation that makes traversing long distances easier and faster than traveling on foot. For others, the vehicle defines social status. It is a customizable machine used to impress friends and loved ones. Accessories that personalize the driving experience make all the difference when it comes to how a car owner perceives himself. Using music as an example, the quintessential college student is unlikely to use his car's built-in stereo system to listen to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on campus. He's more likely to trick out his ride with a fancy subwoofer in the trunk to blast that rich-sounding bass. Doing so will immerse him in a world of audio pleasure that attracts much-wanted attention from bystanders and passengers with similar tastes in music. There are plenty of drivers like our college student who desire such a device to suit their musical tastes.
Also referred to as a complete or specialized loudspeaker, a subwoofer is dedicated to the reproduction of low-pitched bass audio frequencies. This reproduction of sound is accomplished through the movement of air back and forth to create displacement. The subwoofer is usually housed inside a speaker enclosure made from wood or MDF materials. The enclosure is a specially-engineered cabinet designed to hold the subwoofer's speaker unit and amplifier. It is responsible for improving the clarity of sound, while reducing the effects of distortion. A speaker enclosure is often equipped with fiberglass insulation to help increase perceived volume levels.
Two basic types of subwoofers include passive and powered devices. As the most basic, the passive subwoofer consists of a loudspeaker and enclosure connected to an external amplifier. It is small, with less of a dramatic bass effect than its powered counterpart. Setting the powered subwoofer apart is the integration of its amplifier within the speaker enclosure itself, saving the driver precious interior car space. The powered subwoofer is also more adept at replicating rich bass sounds at higher volumes than the passive variety.
So why would someone want or need such a high level of amplification for blasting their music inside a car? Because a car's speakers are typically on the smaller side, they need a boost in order to produce the desired level of depth and omnidirectional resonance most audiophiles crave. Furthermore, the subwoofer doesn't just amplify the bass. It also takes the burden of doing so away from the vehicle's factory speakers, which would otherwise be forced to bear the load of all the low-pitched sound with a risk of damage or blow out. While a subwoofer produces audible sound from all directions inside the car, bass frequencies are non-directional. This means that regardless of where the subwoofer is placed (e.g. in the trunk), its bass effect doesn't resonate from just its source location. Instead, the effects are heard from all around the driver and his passengers.
Practical Considerations Are Music To One's Ears
For many car owners, space is definitely an issue when installing a vehicular subwoofer. That said, the more components that can be combined into a single enclosure, the simpler your installation becomes. A powered subwoofer is a great way to go in this regard, since the unit's amplifier is already built into the enclosure. The enclosure should also be of high-quality MDF or some other sturdy material that can withstand constant vibrations.
A subwoofer with a high sensitivity rating typically requires less power to deliver greater sound output.
Power ratings, what they mean, and how they differ are all extremely important to keep in mind when shopping around for the right subwoofer for your vehicle. The goal is to match up an amplifier's power with that of your car's speakers. RMS power is the most useful rating to consider when shopping, as it provides a realistic measurement of continuous power output from your equipment.
One must also consider a subwoofer's level of sensitivity before making a decision. A subwoofer with a high sensitivity rating typically requires less power to deliver greater sound output. Every watt that is used within a subwoofer also generates a certain of amount of heat. A high sensitivity rating means that less power is consumed, while less heat is being generated to potentially damage your equipment. Finally, if you're looking for superior flexibility for your subwoofer's wiring setup, then consider a unit with dual voice coils.
A Briefy History Of Car Subwoofers
One of the very first subwoofer patents was filed as early as 1964 by California resident Raymon Dones. Originally marketed under the name Octavium, the purpose for this patent was to provide a portable enclosure capable of reproducing low-frequency sound. The idea was to produce a completely immersive experience with audio resonance from all directions. The Octavium was popular through the mid-1970s and was even used by well-known artists that included the Grateful Dead, among others.
One of the very first subwoofer patents was filed as early as 1964 by California resident Raymon Dones.
The first use of subwoofer technology for an audio recording session occurred in 1973, followed by its introduction to the world of film one year later with the release of the movie Earthquake in Sensurround.
The 1980s saw the dawn of more customized car stereo systems, including elaborate speaker and subwoofer setups with multiple configurations. The evolution from tape-based audio systems to the CD technology of the 1990s provided additional incentives for car owners to upgrade their vehicular audio setups. Doing so allowed such systems to accommodate high-quality music with low-frequency resonance and less interference from hissing and other anomalies. Today's subwoofers maximize sound performance, they are dedicated to audio precision, and they seek to immerse the driver and his passengers with unfiltered resonance that transcends many traditional vehicular speaker systems.