When building your car audio system, it’s essential to choose the best subwoofer. The subwoofer fills out the low end and provides a solid foundation for your music. You want the best subwoofer you can find for your money; where do you begin?
As a general rule, to choose the best car audio subwoofer for the money, you have to determine a budget, consider what you need in a subwoofer, and think about your car’s size and electrical system. Examine your playlists to find a subwoofer that best fits your musical taste. Don’t assume size is everything.
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Tip: There are many subwoofer alternatives, but you do not have to spend a fortune when you want to add a low-boost to your sounds. Actually, if you are searching for your first woofer, or something with great value for the money, for less than $150, you can have a set of Rockville RV8.2A with two 8″ woofers, complete wiring, and a mono amp that will be more than enough for a start.
Do you want the best car audio subwoofer for the money? You’ve come to the right place! Read on and get ready for a deeper listening experience.
What Does a Car Subwoofer Do?
A young person can hear frequencies ranging from 20Hz to 20,000Hz. But as we grow older, we lose some high-end hearing. An average adult’s high-end hearing tops out at 13,000 to 16,000 Hz. Below 20Hz, we don’t hear the sound so much as we feel it.
A car subwoofer takes care of the lowest frequencies. Most car subwoofers hand off the signal to your car speakers at around 80Hz. The lowest note on a guitar or trombone is 82Hz, which gives you some idea of where the subwoofer comes in handy.
80hz is also the lower limit for most car stereo component speakers. Reproducing low notes requires lots of power and a large driver. Speakers that fit in your door or dashboard can only go so deep. The subwoofer fills in those missing notes.
What Music Will You Play on Your Subwoofer?
Musical genres make different demands on your car audio system. In acoustic jazz, the lowest note you’ll hear is 41Hz from the double bass. Dixieland Jazz may feature an occasional 44Hz note from the tuba. A piano’s lowest note is 28Hz, but pianists rarely use their instrument’s top and bottom octaves.
According to John Strohbeen of Ohm Speakers, the necessary information in rock music lies between 60Hz to 8,000 Hz. Reproducing symphonic music requires a range of 40Hz to 12,000 Hz.
If your musical tastes lean toward jazz, rock, or classical music, you’ll want a subwoofer that reproduces those low notes. A smaller, more musical subwoofer will work better for you than a massive box that favors volume over accuracy.
Genres like hip-hop and Electronic Dance Music (EDM) rely far more on the lowest end. Synthesized beats regularly hit 30Hz or below. If you want that authentic chest-thumping club experience, you need a subwoofer that can keep pace.
Set Your Car Subwoofer Budget
You’ve decided your car audio system needs a better low end. Now comes the question of how much you can afford to spend on your subwoofer.
You may be tempted to buy the biggest and most expensive subwoofer you can. But the subwoofer itself is only one part of the equation, and in many cases, you may achieve a better result with a mid-size 10″ but with the correct setup.
What Can You Spend on Subwoofer Installation?
You have a shiny new subwoofer in its box. Now comes the hard part: installing it in your vehicle. You can find many subwoofer installation guides on the Internet. But before you start, you should make sure you’re up to the job.
Do You Have the Tools to Install Your Subwoofer?
You should never attempt any audio installation before making sure you have all the equipment at hand. Nor should you try using the wrong tool, as your cost-saving self-installation could leave you with some hefty repair bills.
Can You Follow the Subwoofer Installation Guide?
Your car audio is part of a total control system in most modern vehicles that handles functions like voice commands, navigation, and parking cameras. One mistake could disable features you rely on for your daily commute.
Every car manufacturer wires their electrical system differently. You’ll also need to consult the car manual in your glove compartment or at Car Manuals Online. Sending too much current down the wrong wire could cost you an expensive Electronic Control Unit (ECU) or render your current audio system inoperable.
If you find this intimidating, you may want to have your subwoofer installed by professionals. Many big box stores will install the subwoofer you purchase for a modest price and include a warranty on their work.
Where Is the Best Place to Put a Subwoofer in a Car?
Before you choose the best subwoofer for your money, you need to know where you’ll install it.
Trunk Installed Subwoofers
Trunk subwoofers go deep and play loud. Because they’re installed in your trunk, you can place the speakers in a larger case, which helps them hit the lowest notes.
Most trunk subwoofers require a dedicated amplifier, which you must also install into your car’s electronic system. You’ll probably need a crossover like the Boss Bx45 Electronic Crossover to send the lowest notes to the trunk and everything else to your door and dashboard speakers.
Given these additional components, trunk subwoofer installations are complex and challenging. Trunk subwoofers also reduce your trunk’s storage capacity. Some of the biggest custom subwoofers will take up the entire trunk!
If you’re looking for an easy installation, consider placing your subwoofer beneath a car seat.
Underseat subwoofers typically come with their own amplifier. Connecting them can be simpler than dealing with the additional amp, which other car subwoofers often require.
Under-seat subwoofers can provide surprisingly powerful bass in a small package. And because they’re lighter and smaller than trunk subwoofers, under-seat subs can be removed as quickly as they’re installed.
Underseat subwoofers will do a fine job of filling in the low end on most music. They might not rattle your windows, but they will add depth and presence to your listening.
Shallow Mount Subwoofers
Installing a shallow mount subwoofer on your rear deck can give you excellent bass and spare you many of the hassles of trunk installation. Shallow mount subwoofers are lighter and smaller than heavy trunk boxes.
A shallow mount setup like Rockville W12T4S2 1400w Car Subwoofer will require a trunk-mounted amplifier. It’ll also require cutting holes in the rear deck’s sheet metal to mount your subwoofers. But once installed, they’ll provide you all the bass you need and leave you with ample storage space in your trunk.
How Much Power Does a Subwoofer Need?
Car audio runs on electricity. Car amplifiers boost the signal before sending it to your speakers, but they don’t draw that current out of thin air. Every new amplifier you place in your system places additional demands on your car’s electrical system.
How Much Power Can Your Car Provide?
When your engine is off and you listen to the stereo, your car draws power from the battery. When your engine is running, your car stereo gets current from the alternator. Your battery can deliver 12 volts of DC, while your alternator can provide between 13 and 15 volts.
These volts power everything from your power steering and windows to your heated seats and headlights. When you throw in a current-hungry subwoofer, your electrical system may find itself seriously overtaxed.
How Much Power Can You Get From a Battery?
A fully-charged car battery is typically rated for 48 amp-hours. That means it can provide one ampere of electricity for 48 hours or eight amps for six hours.
If you park your car and play your 500-watt subwoofer at full volume, you’re using 25 amps per hour. Assuming your door and dash speakers are drawing 200 watts between them and your fully charged battery will be out of juice in a bit over an hour.
How Many Amps Do Alternators Produce?
Depending on your vehicle, your stock alternator can provide between 65 and 100 amperes of 12-volt current. A Polk Audio 5-Channel Class D PA Series Amplifier connected to your speakers and subwoofer draws 75 amps at full power. That may overtax your alternator and will undoubtedly give it very little headroom to meet the car’s other electronic needs.
If your lights flicker when the DJ drops the Phat Bass, your subwoofer is sucking up more current than your alternator can provide. High-output alternators can provide between 140 and 370 amps. A high-output alternator will keep your audio playing loudly without depriving other needed services of the current they need.
For a less expensive alternative, you can equip your subwoofer with a power cap. A capacitor (cap) stores electric charge, releasing it when your subwoofer’s power demands are greater than the available power supply.
Subwoofers tend to draw current in bursts. They remain largely idle, then kick in hard for loud bass passages. Power caps like the Power Acoustik PCX-30F 30-Farad Capacitor will provide your subwoofer with power for loud crescendos, then stock up on energy during quiet passages.
How Can I Make Cheap Subwoofers Sound Better?
If you spent all your money on your new subwoofer installation, here are some ways you can improve your sound without breaking the bank.
Install Dynamat to Deaden Sound
If your subwoofer sounds boomy or your auto body rattles when you turn it up, you may benefit from sound deadening material. Your car’s metal body does little to silence road noise from leaking in and creates distorting resonances when you turn your sound up.
If your trunk subwoofer is rattling, a Dynamat Self-Adhesive Sound Deadener Trunk Kit will help tame your beast by absorbing the bass before your car body does. It’ll also absorb noise coming through the trunk and provide a quieter listening environment inside your vehicle.
Check Your Subwoofer Mounting
That rattling may be coming from your car body, or it may be that your subwoofer has jostled itself loose. Loud bass vibrations don’t just shake your windows. They also shake the subwoofer enclosure and the screws attaching the subwoofer driver. Check your subwoofer and tighten any loose screws or mounting bolts.
If you can’t find any loose screws, examine the driver cone closely. A tiny tear in the cone will lead to a rattling or rasping noise at specific volumes. Left alone, this cone tear could lead to problems that may destroy your speaker. Catch it in time, and you might be able to save your subwoofer with a repair kit.
Turn Down the Subwoofer Gain
Louder isn’t always better. Your subwoofer should complement the sound coming from your other speakers and provide the notes they cannot reach. If your subwoofer is implemented correctly, it will provide a foundation for the music. If it’s too loud, you may find yourself drowning in a muddy, boomy sea of bass.
If the gain on your subwoofer amp is set too high, you may be driving your amp into clipping. Your music goes through the amp as a rounded sine wave with peaks and valleys. When the peaks get too high, the amplifier clips or flattens them. Clipping causes unpleasant-sounding distortion and can burn out your subwoofer if it goes on too long.
Best Subwoofers at Each Price Range
Now that you know a bit more about subwoofers, here are a few well-reviewed subs that give you your money’s worth.
Best Subwoofers for Under $250
- Rockville RWW10CA 10″ 800 Watt Active Car Subwoofer. The Rockville RWW10CA comes with easy-to-follow installation instructions and contains its own 800-watt amplifier. If you’re looking for an inexpensive and convenient way to add a subwoofer to your factory system, Rockville may be right for you.
- Cerwin Vega VPAS10 10″ 2Ω 550W Max / 200W RMS Active Subwoofer. Cerwin Vega became a frat house favorite thanks to stereo speakers, which stayed clear no matter how high the volume. The Cerwin Vega VPAS10 provides a complete subwoofer package and can be mounted on a rear deck, under a seat, or in your trunk.
Best Subwoofers for Under $500
- MTX Audio RPT8T 8″ 240 Watt Amplified Subwoofer. These 8″ (20.32 cm) cylinders will fit comfortably on your rear deck and come with their amplifier. Follow the instructions, and you’ll have abundant bass for not a whole lot of money.
- JBL BassPro Hub 12” Powered Subwoofer. If you want to save trunk space for groceries and shopping, the JBL BassPro Hub fits in a spare tire and comes with a 200-watt amplifier. JBL has a long and legendary audio history: its current parent company Harman International began as the equally famous Harman Kardon.
Best Subwoofers for Under $1000
- Skar Audio Dual 12″ 2,400W SDR Subwoofer Package. Skar Audio is popular with budget-conscious bass heads who want an excellent subwoofer at a reasonable price. This package gives you a pair of 12″ subwoofers, an enclosure, and an amplifier capable of feeding them the power they need to thump.
- Kicker 12″ 3000W Dual Loaded Solo-Baric L7S. Kicker’s unique square subwoofers stand out from their round competition. Square speakers are easier to mount and have 20% more surface area than a comparably sized round speaker. Put two Kicker L7S squares together, and you’ll have bass… squared.
Bonus: A Cost No Object Subwoofer
When you pay over $2,500 for a car subwoofer (and that’s before installation costs and any necessary upgrades to your electrical and current audio system!), you expect great sound. This setup will not disappoint.
- Focal FDP-1.2000 1 Channel Amplifier, 1 x 1200 @ 4ohms or 1 x 2000W @ 2ohms. Focal’s flagship home speaker, the Focal III Grand Utopia, will set you back $130,000. For 1% of that purchase price, you can have a top-of-the-line Focal monoblock amplifier.
- LAB SlapBox™ Morel Ultimo 12 Subwoofer. LAB (Life After Bass) has a stellar reputation for its subwoofer boxes and built this box specifically for the Ultimo Ti 12.
- Morel Ultimo Ti12 Subwoofer, 12″ 1000w 4-ohm Subwoofer. Israel’s Morel HiFi is renowned for its state-of-the-art speakers. The Ultimo Ti12 is part of their flagship Resolution line.
Put these three great audio brands together, and you have a subwoofer that’ll give you every nuance of a bass solo and let you share it with everyone else on the highway!
Since the box is only 28″ W x 15″ H x 13″ D (71.12 x 38.1 x 33.02 cm), you can always mount a second set in the trunk. The Focal amp can easily handle the 2-ohm load a pair of these subwoofers presents. There are no tracks that won’t be improved by $5,000 worth of low-end.
How to Add Even More Bass
What’s that you say? Do you want more bass? You should talk to the custom audio installers who frequent dB Drag Racing events. Drag racers compete to be the fastest; dB Drag Racers compete to see who has the loudest car audio system.
In 2007 Alan Dante set a 180.5dB world record using a Digital Designs 9918Z 18″ (45.72 cm) subwoofer. Today a Digital Designs 9918b will set you back $1,400. The downside is that amplification and ear protection are not included.
You probably won’t break Dante’s record, and you would rupture internal organs if you were inside your vehicle when you did. But with a DD9918, you’ll never have to worry that your subwoofer isn’t loud enough.
Now you have some leads on excellent and reasonably priced subwoofers, and you understand a little more about how subwoofers work.
The only thing standing between you and the bottom octave of your car audio music is a subwoofer. Your modest investment could be rewarded with better and deeper listening.