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What Are the Different Types of Subwoofer Systems?

By Erik J.J. Goserud
Updated May 17, 2024
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Subwoofers are complete loudspeakers that handle low-pitched audio frequencies, or bass. There are different types of subwoofer systems — some include powered subwoofers, nonpowered sub-woofers, and tube subwoofers. Powered and tube subwoofers are generally more expensive than nonpowered. Subwoofer systems are used by live bands, event production teams, and recreational music listeners and movie watchers. There are a variety of different types of subwoofer systems: home theater, car audio, recording audio engineering, and live performance.

With home theater systems, a subwoofer complements a surround sound set of speakers that are connected to the TV and power amplifier. Home audio subwoofers are typically self-powered, which means they do not require an additional power amplifier. These models are usually 12 to 15 inches (31 to 38 cm) in size and are hidden from view in the home’s entertainment area. They are around 500 to 600 watts and cost about $180 to $200 US Dollars (USD).

Car audio subwoofer systems are usually sold without a protective box or shell because they are often molded into the sides of the car doors. These cost around $200 to $300 USD for one subwoofer that is 8 to 14 inches (20 to 36 cm) in diameter. Larger car subwoofers are placed in the trunk. They are in protective shells and should be connected to the car’s audio deck to adjust volume and frequencies. Some higher-profile subwoofer systems may take up a large amount of trunk space — they too run at similar watts as the home audio subs.

If the subwoofer is going to be placed in the trunk, an enclosure case is good idea. These can be handmade or bought at a custom shop if the sub does not already include the enclosing shell. These cases cost as little as $60 USD.

Some recording studios opt for an active or powered subwoofer to complement their speakers when mixing and recording songs. Eight- or 10-inch (20- to 25-cm) speakers are popular, running around $400 USD for basic, but quality, models. These are designed to complement the monitors and amplify the sound as accurately as possible.

With live performance subwoofers, it is commonplace to use only one subwoofer to add boldness to the mix. Unless it is self-powered, this subwoofer will need its own power amplifier run through the mixer. It’s tone, volume, and frequency level can be controlled via the mixing console. These are commonly 18- to 21-inch (46- to 53-cm) subwoofer speakers. Basic models start at $500 USD and can run up to $1,500 USD or more.

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