A comparison of the best subwoofers of 2020


A subwoofer is just as useful in hi-fi as it is in home theater to energize the listening experience and plunge the listener or viewer into the heart of the action. There are many different subwoofer models available and it can be difficult to determine which one best suits your needs, your speakers and your listening room. Is it necessary to use a large subwoofer to achieve powerful bass? What are the essential characteristics of a good subwoofer? How can you avoid disturbing the whole neighborhood if you live in an apartment? In this comparative guide about the best subwoofers of 2020, we will provide all of the elements necessary to help you choose a subwoofer that is adapted to your needs and budget.

In this comparative guide about the best subwoofers, we will provide all of the elements necessary to help you choose a subwoofer that is adapted to your needs, your room and your speakers.

Choosing a subwoofer that is adapted to your equipment

First and foremost, the choice of a subwoofer must be made according to your amplifier or soundbar. All subwoofers have at least one line input, also referred to as “low level” (RCA stereo) and/or an LFE (Low-Frequency Effects) input. These inputs connect directly to the “SUB/LFE” output of the amplifier. This is the type of connection used by all A/V receivers. Therefore, if your amplifier is equipped with this connection you can pair it with any subwoofer.

Equipped with a 12” driver and 200-watt amplification, the Klipsch R-120SW subwoofer can be paired with any subwoofer equipped with a SUB/LFE output.

However, not all hi-fi amplifiers are equipped with a subwoofer or Pre-out output. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t pair them with a subwoofer. All you have to do is choose a subwoofer with high-level inputs. These connect directly to the amp’s speaker outputs, alongside the speakers. Examples of subwoofers with a high-level input include the Yamaha NS-SW300, B&W ASW608 and Earthquake FF-12.

Equipped with high-level inputs (speaker terminals), the Yamaha NS-SW200 subwoofer can be connected directly to the speaker outputs of a hi-fi amplifier.

The diameter of the driver

The diameter of the driver is also very important when choosing a subwoofer. Subwoofers intended for home use are often equipped with a driver measuring between 6” and 15”. Generally, the bigger it is, the more the subwoofer is capable of producing very low frequencies. In other words, the larger the driver, the more you can actually feel the explosions and the energy in action scenes. This characteristic is very important, as bass is actually felt more than it is heard. For example, the Klipsch R-100SW subwoofer can reach 32Hz with its 10” driver, whereas the Klipsch R-115SW subwoofer with its 15” driver can go as low as 18Hz. Therefore, if you want to make the walls shake, the Klipsch R-115SW is more suitable.

The Klipsch R-115SW subwoofer’s phenomenal 15” driver is able to reproduce bass as low as 18Hz.

Note: the choice of driver should be adapted to the size of your room. The larger the room, the bigger the driver needs to be for the bass to unfold correctly. Conversely, a subwoofer with a 15″ driver cannot perform properly in a small room.

While they are powerful, subwoofers equipped with large drivers are bulky and don’t always fit into living rooms very easily. Some manufacturers have managed to develop more compact subwoofers that are equipped with smaller drivers but still produce excellent results. For instance, the B&W PV1D subwoofer features two 8” drivers to reproduce lows as deep as 7.5Hz. It has received numerous awards, notably iconic magazine What Hi-Fi?’s most prestigious award.

Compact and powerful, the B&W PV1D subwoofer features two 8” drivers to reproduce lows as deep as 7.5Hz.

Choosing a subwoofer based on your speakers

It is a good idea to choose a subwoofer with a driver that is larger than those of the main speakers, or at least one with a driver the same size. If your main speakers don’t go very low (100Hz, for example), you need a subwoofer that is able to precisely reproduce frequencies up to 150Hz to ensure a smooth transition. This is usually the case with small diameter drivers… but not necessarily with large ones. If your main speakers already reproduce low frequencies, you need a subwoofer that goes even lower.

The REL Acoustics HT/1205 subwoofer is designed for home theater and has a frequency response ranging from 22Hz to 140Hz.

Which output power should you choose?

All “active” subwoofers feature their own amplifier. A powerful amplifier means more authoritative lows. However, this power is expensive, so it is better to tailor it to one’s needs. For a home theater installation, it is preferable to choose a subwoofer with an output power of at least 150 to 200 watts, such as the Klipsch SPL-100, Elipson Prestige Facet Sub8 and Elipson Planet Sub. For hi-fi installations, a more modest output power may suffice. Naturally, this power must also take into account your listening habits and the size of the room. The larger the room or the more you enjoy listening at high volume, the more important it is to choose a high-powered subwoofer.

With its high output of 400 watts, the Klipsch SPL-150 subwoofer is ideal for large rooms. 

Sealed or bass-reflex?

Like speakers, subwoofers can have sealed and bass-reflex enclosures. Bass-reflex models are the most common. This system uses a laminar or circular air vent through which air is displaced when the cone moves. Its purpose is to support the driver to optimize the distribution of low frequencies throughout the room and extend the bass response. For this reason, bass-reflex subwoofers are the most commonly used for home theater to provide maximum impact during explosions and action scenes. The best subwoofers in this category include the Elipson Prestige Facet Sub10, the SVS PB-1000 and the Dali Sub E-12 F.

The Elipson Prestige Facet Sub10 subwoofer has a bass-reflex enclosure, ideal for home theater use.

A sealed enclosure is completely airtight. As a result, only the sound wave generated by the outer face of the driver is diffused. This configuration allows the driver to operate more smoothly, resulting in a better transient response with minimal delay in the diffusion of sound waves. Consequently, sealed subwoofers such as the Q Acoustics 3060S, the Rel T-Zero and the SVS SB-1000 are more often used in hi-fi installations.

With an output power of 200 watts and a sealed enclosure, the B&W ASW608 subwoofer is ideal for supporting a pair of compact or floorstanding hi-fi speakers. Its line and high-level inputs mean it can be paired with any amplifier.

The design of the subwoofer

In addition to technical performance, design must also be taken into account when choosing the best subwoofer. As the subwoofer is often placed in the living room, it either needs to complement the furniture or be hidden away. Some manufacturers offer models with a more refined and discreet design than the usual bulky cube. Examples include the Elipson Planet Sub with its compact, cylindrical design that can be easily integrated into any living space.

Thanks to its cylindrical shape, the Elipson Planet Sub subwoofer can be easily integrated into any living space.

Some subwoofers have an extremely flat design so that they can be placed next to an A/V cabinet. Examples of these types of subwoofers include the Q Acoustics 3060S, KEF T2 and Focal Sub Air. Even more compact models such as the Earthquake CP-8 can be placed directly on the TV cabinet, under the TV or under the sofa.

Compact and visually understated, the Q Acoustics 3060S subwoofer fits easily alongside a TV/video cabinet.

Where to place the subwoofer

The placement of a subwoofer is less important than that of speakers. Some manufacturers recommend placing them between the left and right speaker, while others prefer the corner of the room. However, as the reproduction of low frequencies is strictly related to the acoustics of the room, you may have to test a few different spots before finding the ideal location. Sometimes this location can be quite a distance from the amplifier. If this is the case, you can choose a wireless subwoofer to avoid running cables across the room. For example, the Focal Sub Air subwoofer has an external box that connects to the back of the amplifier to automatically transfer the signal. The subwoofer then only needs to be connected to the mains to work and can be placed anywhere in the listening room.

Thanks to its wireless transmitter, the Focal Sub Air subwoofer can be placed anywhere in the room.

If you opt for a wired subwoofer, it is also possible to convert it into a wireless model by using an audio transmitter like the Marmitek Subwoofer Anywhere 635. The latter consists of a transmitter to connect to the amplifier and a receiver to connect to the subwoofer. The range can reach 40 meters, making it easy to place the subwoofer in the listening room.

The Marmitek Subwoofer Anywhere 635 transmitter lets you convert any subwoofer into a wireless model.

Which is the best subwoofer of 2020?

Throughout this guide we have listed the best subwoofers of 2020 according to criteria such as output power, driver diameter, enclosure type and design. However, it is impossible to name one “best subwoofer of 2020”, as it varies depending on the preferences, needs and budget of each user. For example, a home theater installation in a dedicated room won’t have the same requirements as a hi-fi system that consists of a pair of compact speakers. There is not one, but several best subwoofers in various categories. Here is a list of the main categories:

Best compact subwoofers of 2020

  • Q Acoustics 3060S: 200mm driver, 150W, sealed enclosure, 35Hz low frequency response, wall mounting possible
  • Elipson Planet Sub: 200mm driver, 200W, 30Hz low frequency response, cylindrical design
  • Focal Sub Air: 210mm driver, 110W, 40Hz low frequency response, wireless transmission, slim cabinet
  • B&W PV1D: 2 x 200mm drivers, 400W, 7.5Hz low frequency response, spherical enclosure

Best hi-fi subwoofers of 2020

  • Q Acoustics 3060S: 200mm driver, 150W, sealed enclosure, 35Hz low frequency response, wall mounting possible
  • Rel T-Zero: 165mm driver, 100W, sealed enclosure, 38Hz low frequency response
  • REL Acoustics HT/1003: 250mm driver, 300W, 24Hz low frequency response, carbon fiber cone, sealed enclosure
  • M&K Sound V12: 300mm driver, 300W, 20Hz low frequency response, sealed enclosure, RCA inputs and outputs

Best home theater subwoofers of 2020

  • Elipson Prestige Facet Sub10: 260mm driver, 250W, 27Hz low frequency response, bass-reflex
  • REL Acoustics HT/1205: 300mm driver, carbon fiber cone, 500W, 22Hz low frequency response, sealed enclosure
  • Klipsch SPL-120: 300mm driver, 300W, 24Hz low frequency response, bass-reflex
  • SVS SB-16 Ultra: 405mm driver, 1500W, 16Hz low frequency response, sealed enclosure, EQ, LCD screen, XLR and RCA connectors

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Traductrice et rédactrice avec des goûts très éclectiques en matière de musique et de cinéma. Lorsque je ne suis pas au travail, vous pouvez me retrouver en train de regarder “Lost in Translation” de Sofia Coppola pour la centième fois, ou d’écouter un disque de David Bowie, Kate Bush, Joy Division ou Daft Punk sur ma platine Rega Planar 1. Étant d’origine britannique, je suis également adepte de séries à l’humour absurde comme Monty Python’s Flying Circus et The Mighty Boosh !

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