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What Is the Best Powered Subwoofer?

Subwoofers have become the norm in homes everywhere, but many consumers may struggle to understand the differences between a passive and powered subwoofer. A powered subwoofer comes with an amplifier built into its enclosure. Additionally, unlike a passive subwoofer, a powered subwoofer must be plugged into a power source, since it contains an amplifier. So what details make up the best powered subwoofers?

Powered Subwoofers: Audio Power in A Box

Powered subwoofers are designed to reproduce low frequencies that cannot be accurately or clearly reproduced by other types of speakers, such as all-purpose stereo speakers, mids, and tweeters. The frequency response varies between subwoofers and depends on a number of factors, including the size of the subwoofer, the amplifier, the type of enclosure, and the power rating. 

In this guide, we will explore these details and more to determine the best powered subwoofers. We will also review the top three powered subwoofers on the market today. Read on to learn more about what makes the best powered subwoofer. 

Powered Subwoofers Explained

In general, larger, high-power subwoofers contained in enclosures designed to reproduce low bass notes produce the lowest frequencies. Depending on the design, the frequency response can extend below 20 Hertz (Hz), which is below the range of human hearing. 

Similar to other types of speakers, a powered subwoofer’s cone can be made from a variety of materials. These include paper, synthetic materials, and combinations of the two. Although paper doesn’t last as long as other materials, it does provide a quick response to the audio due to its lower density construction. 

The cone’s material also affects the audio quality of the subwoofer, but cone preference is largely subjective, or it depends on what the listener likes best.

A powered subwoofer can be used in any application where a passive subwoofer is applied. Common applications include automotive sound systems, home audio, music production, and live musical events. For applications requiring the fewest components and those where space is highly limited, a powered subwoofer is a good option because the amplifier is contained inside the enclosure, allowing it to take up less space.

The types of powered subwoofers available vary in cost and style according to their uses. Typically, large subwoofers measuring at least 18 inches (45.72 cm) designed for live events cost more than those designed for home theaters and vehicles. Powered subwoofers designed for music production also tend to cost more than home and car audio subwoofers. 

The higher costs are attributed to higher power ratings and increased accuracy when reproducing audio, respectively. In terms of style, the enclosures used for car audio subwoofers typically provide more options, including a larger number of colors to choose from and carpeted enclosures.

Like passive subwoofers, it is possible to build a powered subwoofer from components or a subwoofer kit. A kit for a powered subwoofer contains the subwoofer, an amplifier, audio connectors, and hookup wire. The hookup wire connects the subwoofer to the amplifier internally and permanently, while the audio connectors allow the subwoofer to be connected to a sound source, such as an audio interface or stereo receiver. 

In some cases, additional audio connectors are provided, so the sound can be sent from the subwoofer’s internal amplifier to other speakers, such as mids and tweeters that handle higher frequencies.

Some kits also include additional components, such as an enclosure, speaker batting, and a crossover. Speaker batting absorbs audio reflections inside the subwoofer’s enclosure, allowing the bass frequencies to be deeper and reproduced with a flatter frequency response. 

loudspeakers with subwoofer

The crossover splits the incoming audio signal into separate frequency bands and sends the lowest frequencies to the subwoofer. If a crossover isn’t included, it might be built into the subwoofer’s amplifier.

How Will You Integrate Subs Into Your PA System?

There are several ways of adding subs into your system. One of the simplest is to create a sub-mix on your mixing console where you send the kick drum and bass to the Aux output and then connect that to your powered subwoofer. 

Other options include running your subwoofers in parallel to your main PA speakers if your subs have high pass filters. In more complex setups you will use a crossover unit to split the frequencies before sending the signal to your subs. 

Your Type of Music & Driver Size

Acoustic performers and folk style bands will find the smaller 12″ drivers provide all the bottom end they need, but if you perform bass heavy styles then you’ll need larger drivers that are capable of moving a lot more air – this is particularly true for EDM style DJs.

Use as Stage Monitors

Many drummers and sometimes bass players use a powered subwoofer in addition to a standard stage monitor in order to get a full punchy bottom end on stage.

Portability

Generally speaking, powered subwoofers aren’t entirely portable friendly, being an extra speaker that you have to lug around. But for many, the added effort, space requirements and weight of subs are justified by the sound they produce. Still, it will be wise to weigh your low-frequency needs versus your convenience and mobility. 

If you’re a solo performer with no one to help you carry your gear, then go for lighter subs, or maybe no subs at all. Even with bulky subwoofers, you may want to look for mobility features like built-in rolling casters.

To solve the problem of inadequate power from a specific receiver or amplifier, powered subwoofers (also referred to as Active Subwoofers) are utilized. This type of subwoofer is self-contained. It features a speaker/amplifier configuration in which the characteristics of the amplifier and subwoofer speaker are optimally matched and encased in the same enclosure.

As a side benefit, all a powered subwoofer needs is a single cable connection from a home theater receiver or surround sound preamp/processor line output (also referred to as a subwoofer preamp output or LFE output). 

Whether a subwoofer is passive or powered isn’t the determining factor on how good the subwoofer is. However, powered subwoofers are by far the most commonly used as they have their own built-in amplifiers and are not dependent on any amplifier limitations of another receiver or amplifier. 

This makes them very easy to use with home theater receivers. All home theater receivers come equipped with either one or two subwoofer pre-amp line outputs that are specifically designed to connect to a powered subwoofer.

On the other hand, the external amplifier required to run a passive subwoofer may be more expensive than the passive subwoofer you have.

In most cases, it is more cost-effective to buy a powered subwoofer in place of a Passive Subwoofer. If you still choose the passive option, the subwoofer pre-out from a home theater receiver has to connect to the external subwoofer amplifier’s line-in connection, with the external amplifier’s subwoofer speaker connection(s) going to the passive subwoofer.

The only other connection option is that is available for a passive subwoofer is that if the passive subwoofer has in and out standard speaker connections, you can connect the left and right speaker connections on a receiver or amplifier to the passive subwoofer and then connect the left and right speaker output connections on the passive subwoofer to your main left and right front speakers.

In this type of setup, the subwoofer will “strip off” the low frequencies utilizing an internal crossover, sending the mid-range and high frequencies to the additional speakers connected to the subwoofer’s speaker outputs. This eliminates the need for an extra external amplifier for the passive subwoofer but may put more strain on your receiver or amplifier because of the demands for low-frequency sound output.

The Exception to the Subwoofer Connection Rules

Many powered subwoofers have both line input and speaker connections. This enables it to accept signals from either an amplifier’s speaker connections or an amplifier/home theater receiver subwoofer preamp output connection. 

However, in both cases, the incoming signal goes through the powered sub’s internal amps, taking the load off the receiver.

This means that if you have an older home theater receiver or amplifier that does not have a dedicated subwoofer preamp output connection, you can still use a powered subwoofer with both standard speaker connections and line inputs.

The Wireless Connection Option

Another subwoofer connection option that is getting more popular (only works with powered subwoofers) is wireless connectivity between the subwoofer and the home theater receiver or amplifier. This can be implemented in two ways:

  • The subwoofer comes with a built-in wireless receiver and also provides an external wireless transmitter that plugs into the subwoofer line output of a home theater receiver or amplifier.
  • You can purchase an optional wireless transmitter/receiver kit that can connect to any powered subwoofer that has a line input and any home theater receiver, AV processor, or amplifier that has a subwoofer or LFE line output 

Top 3 Powered Subwoofers

Polk Audio HTS 12 Powered Subwoofer

The Polk HTS 12 subwoofer enhances home theater and music listening experience with powerful deep bass. Its long-throw Dynamic Balance 12” driver, patented floor-firing Power Port design and a state-of-the-art 400W Class D amplifier deliver an extended bass impact while minimizing distortion. 

This powered subwoofer has easy to access controls for volume, low pass filter, and phase correction. Connect via LFE (unfiltered / low pass disabled) or stereo line level RCA inputs. Set power toggle to Auto on/off for fast and easy on/off power switching in the sub and other home theater equipment. 

Curved edges offer a sensual yet powerful look that blends in with any home decor. With a deep bass impact you can feel across all your home theater and music needs. 

Highlights

  • High efficiency subwoofer for small to medium-sized rooms – The HTS 12 features a 12″ front-firing long-throw woofer with Polk’s proprietary Dynamic Balance Technology designed to fill your room with immersive, three-dimensional sound in great clarity
  • Your best bet with modern looks and thunderous performance – The sleek rounded corners are a highlight, but this sub will surely take your movie and music experience up a notch with its deep rumbling bass from the in-built 200-watt amplifier (400W at peak)
  • Polk’s patented power port technology delivers deeper bass response with its turbulence-smoothing diffuser that transitions air flow from the speaker into your listening area minimizing any kind of distortion and delivering rich full-range sound everywhere
  • Universal compatibility and versatility – The sub comes with LFE and stereo line level inputs. Pair it with any of Polk’s Signature series 2-channel stereo speakers or create a complete home theater with S60 tower, S20 bookshelf and S35 center channel speakers
  • All controls on the rear panel – Controls for volume, low pass filter and phase toggle for optimum bass levels (0 to 180 degree) are in close reach – right on the back of the subwoofer. The front has a clean rich look with detachable grille
  • Polk’s commitment and expert craftsmanship with their use of advanced technology, master engineering, and innovation helps them bring out the best in sound systems and speakers so you can sit back, relax and listen with your heart

Kicker L7R Powered Subwoofer

With a unique square design that moves more air to produce deeper, more powerful bass, the Kicker L7R 12-Inch 1200-Watt Max 4-Ohm DVC Square Subwoofer was built to pack serious sound into every square inch. 
This dual voice coil subwoofer features 4 ohms of impedance, 1,200 watts of max power, and 600 watts of RMS power. It features an injection-molded SoloMon woofer design, UniPlate back plate and pole piece, nickel-plated speaker terminals, and 360-degree back bracing with a bumped back plate and steel basket. 

This 12-inch square subwoofer has a mounting depth of 6.875 inches and a cutout diameter of 11.0625 inches. It’s recommended in sealed boxes with between 0.88 and 2 cubic feet of airspace, and in vented boxes with between 1.75 and 3.25 cubic feet.

Samsung 3.1 Powered Subwoofer

The Samsung 3.1 powered subwoofer explores realistic 3D audio with sound precisely projected from above, in front, behind and to the side of you with the latest acoustic technologies. The complete audio entertainment experience with 3 channels, 1 subwoofer and 2 up-firing channels. 

Audio that tracks each scene with perfectly synchronized audio from your compatible Samsung TV and soundbar for a harmonious, cinematic experience.

With Alexa built into your soundbar, utilize all of Alexa’s functionality including playing music, asking about the weather and more–without needing a separate device. Emphasizes the voices in each scene so you can hear every line of dialogue clearly. 

Get pulled into what you’re watching with panoramic sound that moves with the action on-screen. Level up with 3D directional audio from up-firing speakers. Acoustic Beam and powerful woofers automatically sync sound with the on-screen action, while crosstalk cancellation minimizes distractions.