What exactly is a car subwoofer, and why is it such an essential part of your vehicle’s audio system? And more importantly, how do you choose one that’s right for you? Let’s find out below.
When choosing a car subwoofer, consider factors such as size, power handling, impedance, enclosure type, and brand reputation. It’s important to choose a subwoofer that complements the existing speakers and audio system for a balanced and cohesive sound.
Tip: When searching for a good car sub, you do not want to compromise the power and quality. As a car audio specialist, I recommend checking out the broad selection of Skar subwoofers on Amazon.
They have excellent long-lasting build quality and deliver the bass you want.
In this article, I will detail the key factors to consider when choosing a car subwoofer, including size, power handling, impedance, enclosure type, and more.
What is a Car Subwoofer?
A car subwoofer, or ‘sub’, as it’s commonly called, is a specialized speaker designed solely to produce low-frequency sounds, also known as bass.
Now, when I mention bass, I’m not talking about the fish, but rather those deep, rich sounds that you can feel in your chest when your favorite song comes on, like you’re at a live concert rather than just driving down the road in your crew cab.
In the context of a home theater system, a subwoofer would be the speaker that makes your couch shake during those intense action scenes.
But when it comes to car subwoofers, they take on an even more critical role because they have to work harder to overcome road noise and give you that immersive audio experience.
Now, car subwoofers come in two main types: active and passive. An active subwoofer has a built-in amplifier, meaning it can function independently without additional power sources. On the other hand, a passive subwoofer requires an external amplifier to deliver its bass-boosting power.
Choosing between active and passive largely depends on your specific needs and constraints.
- If you have limited space or are looking for an all-in-one solution, an active subwoofer could be the way to go.
- But if you want more flexibility in shaping your sound or have a larger power handling capacity, then a passive subwoofer paired with a dedicated amplifier might be your best bet.
Components of a Car Subwoofer Kit
Okay, so now that you have a basic understanding of what a car subwoofer is and what it does, let’s take a look at what comes in a standard subwoofer kit.
Understanding these components will help you make an informed choice when picking your car subwoofer.
Firstly, there’s the subwoofer speaker itself. This is the heart of the kit, the component responsible for producing that low-frequency bass. It is often placed in an enclosure that has a vented design, which allows for more efficient movement of air and, consequently, better bass production.
Then, there’s the enclosure or ‘box’ that houses the subwoofer. This isn’t just any old box, though. It’s specifically designed to enhance the sub’s performance by providing the right amount of space for the subwoofer to ‘breathe’.
This enclosure can significantly affect the sound quality, so don’t underestimate its importance when selecting your kit. Many enclosures have a vented design, allowing for more efficient air movement and, consequently, better bass production.
If you’re going with a passive subwoofer, your kit will also include an amplifier. This is the ‘muscle’ that drives the subwoofer, supplying it with the power it needs to deliver those low-frequency sounds.
And last but certainly not least, there are the wiring and mounting hardware. These are the ‘veins’ and ‘bones’ of the system, carrying power and signal to the subwoofer and holding everything securely in place, respectively.
Each part of this kit plays a crucial role in the overall performance of your subwoofer. So when choosing, remember to consider the whole package, not just the subwoofer itself. Your car’s audio system and listening experience depend on it.
The Role of Size and Space in Choosing Car Subwoofers
So, you now know what a subwoofer is and what it does. The next big question is, what size subwoofer should you get for your car? This is where things can get a bit tricky.
How to Determine the Right Subwoofer Size for Your Car?
As with most things in life, when it comes to subwoofers, size does matter.
But choosing the right size isn’t as straightforward as picking the biggest one you can find. There are a few factors you should consider:
#1. Your Vehicle’s Size: This might seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning.
If you’re driving a compact or a small sport car, a giant 15″ subwoofer just isn’t going to fit.
Conversely, if you’ve got a spacious crew cab, you might find that a larger subwoofer delivers the powerful bass you’re craving. Or, if you want to install, let’s say 8″ or 10″, there is enough space for two or more drivers.
#2. Desired Sound Quality: Different subwoofer sizes deliver different sound qualities.
Generally, larger subs produce deeper and more resonant bass by going lower in the frequency range, while smaller ones are better at generating tighter and more precise bass notes. It all comes down to what type of bass experience you’re after.
#3. Available Space: You should also think about where you plan to install the sub. Underseat? In the trunk? Space will inevitably play a role in determining the size of the subwoofer you can accommodate.
Now let’s address the elephant in the room: Is one big subwoofer better than two smaller ones?
It’s a classic debate among car audio enthusiasts. Generally, one larger subwoofer will provide more bass than two smaller ones. However, two smaller subs can offer a more balanced sound distribution throughout your vehicle.
So really, if the space and budget allow, it boils down to your personal preference.
Utilizing Available Space: Underseat Subwoofers
There’s something to be said about the stealthy appeal of underseat subwoofers.
These compact devices are designed to fit snugly under your car seat, providing powerful bass without consuming valuable cargo space. But what are the specific advantages of underseat subwoofers?
#1. Space-Saving: This is the obvious one. Underseat subwoofers are ideal for smaller vehicles or for those who need to maximize trunk space.
#2. Easy Access: They’re within reach for any necessary adjustments, and they’re less likely to get bumped or damaged since they’re somewhat hidden.
#3. Reduced Vibration: Since they’re closer to the listener and attached to the vehicle’s frame, underseat subwoofers can often reduce unwanted vibration and improve overall sound quality.
But before you rush off to install an underseat subwoofer, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Firstly, not all cars have the necessary space under their seats to accommodate a subwoofer. Make sure to measure your available space before making your choice.
Also, underseat subs may not provide the same level of deep, powerful bass as larger, traditional subwoofers. If your ultimate goal is to have your car shaking with bass, you might be better off with a larger subwoofer in the trunk.
Understanding Power Requirements: Watts and Amplifiers
When it comes to subwoofers, understanding the power requirements is absolutely crucial.
After all, the last thing you want is to get your brand new subwoofer only to find that it doesn’t have the juice to deliver the sound you’re after. So, let’s dive into the details.
How Many Watts for Good Bass?
Just to get things straight, ‘watts’ are a unit of power. In the context of audio, watts are used to measure the power output of an amplifier or the power handling capability of a speaker or subwoofer.
But what does this have to do with bass? Well, as a general rule, the more watts a subwoofer can handle, the more powerful and punchy the bass it can produce.
If you’re after a deep, rich bass that you can feel as well as hear, you’ll want a subwoofer with a decent wattage.
That being said, it’s important not to get too caught up in the numbers game. More watts doesn’t always equate to better sound quality. You can have a high-wattage subwoofer that sounds terrible, and a low-wattage sub that sounds fantastic.
It all depends on the overall quality of the subwoofer and how well it’s matched with the rest of your audio system.
So how many watts do you actually need for good bass? It really depends on your personal preferences and your vehicle. For a compact car, you might find that 100-200 watts RMS is plenty.
But if you’re driving a larger vehicle, or you just love to feel the bass, you might want to look at subwoofers in the 500-1,000 watt RMS range.
Do I Need an Amplifier for My Subwoofer?
Ah, the amplifier: the unsung hero of the car audio world.
As its name suggests, an amplifier amplifies the signal from your car’s stereo), giving it enough power to drive your speakers or subwoofer.
Now, if you remember from what I mentioned earlier, some subwoofers, known as active subwoofers, have a built-in amplifier. This means they can work independently and don’t require an external amplifier.
On the other hand, passive subwoofers don’t have this built-in amp and need an external one to operate.
So, do you need an amplifier for your subwoofer? If you’re going with a passive subwoofer, then yes, you absolutely do, and trust me, there is no other way around it.
When selecting an amplifier, make sure it’s well-matched with your subwoofer.
The amplifier’s power output (in watts RMS) should be at least at the subwoofer’s power handling range. Too much power, and you risk damaging the sub; too little, and the sub won’t perform at its best.
Choosing the right subwoofer and amplifier combination can be a bit of a balancing act, but when you get it right, the result can be audio bliss. As an example, for 200 watts RMS sub, you need an amplifier within 180 – 250 watts RMS, assuming both work at the same impedance level (either 2 or 4 ohms)
For more information, check out my article about matching amplifiers with subwoofers.
Sound Quality Factors: Best Subwoofers and Frequencies
Even though we’ve covered the importance of size, power, and amplifiers, we shouldn’t overlook a key part of your audio experience: sound quality.
Now, I’ll share my experience on how to pick the best subwoofer for your car and touch on the role frequency plays in your listening pleasure.
How to Pick the Best Subwoofer for Your Car?
Choosing the best subwoofer for your car isn’t just about size and power. There are a few other factors that can make or break your bass experience:
#1. Sound Quality: This one’s a bit subjective since everyone’s ears are different. What sounds good to one person might sound terrible to another.
However, generally speaking, you’ll want a subwoofer that produces clean, tight bass, without any distortion or rattling, and ideally if it will work within frequencies starting around 30 Hz.
#2. Build Quality: A well-built subwoofer can withstand the rigors of being in a moving vehicle and provide a reliable performance for years to come.
Look for subwoofers with sturdy, durable materials and solid construction.
#3. Ease of Installation: Unless you’re a car audio pro, you’ll probably want a subwoofer that’s fairly easy to install. Many subwoofers come with user-friendly manuals and all the necessary hardware, making the installation process a breeze.
#4. Price: Of course, price is always a factor. While it’s true that you often get what you pay for, there are some great budget-friendly subwoofers out there that offer excellent value for money.
As for recommendations, there are a few brands that consistently receive high praise in the car audio world. Brands like Skar, JL Audio, Rockford Fosgate, or Kicker are well-known for producing high-quality subwoofers that deliver excellent sound and durability (links to Amazon).
Best Frequency for Car Subwoofer
You might be asking, “What does frequency have to do with a subwoofer?” Well, quite a lot, actually.
Frequency, measured in Hertz (Hz), refers to the pitch or tone of a sound. Subwoofers deal with the lower end of the frequency spectrum—those deep bass notes that you can feel in your chest.
The frequency range of a subwoofer will impact the type of bass it can produce. Subwoofers that can handle very low frequencies (say, below 30 Hz) can deliver those deep, rumbling bass notes that you might associate with a home theater experience.
On the other hand, if your musical taste leans more towards fast-paced music with quick, punchy bass notes, a subwoofer that emphasizes higher frequencies (around 50-100 Hz) might be more to your liking, and this is known as a mid-bass.
Most car subwoofers will have a frequency range somewhere between 20-200 Hz. Some subwoofers have adjustable frequency settings, allowing you to tweak the bass output to suit your personal taste.
Remember, the ‘best’ frequency for your car subwoofer is ultimately a matter of personal preference and what your system actually needs.
Installation of Car Subwoofers
You’ve done the research. You’ve made your choice. Now comes the part where your dream audio system becomes a reality: the installation. Let’s touch on the basics of installing a car subwoofer and whether it’s a job for a pro or a savvy do-it-yourselfer.
How to Install a Car Subwoofer?
While the exact installation process may vary depending on the specific make and model of your subwoofer, there are some common steps that apply in most cases:
#1. Disconnect the Battery: Safety first. Disconnect the negative terminal of your car battery to prevent any electrical mishaps during the installation.
#2. Run the Power Cable: Route the power cable from the car battery through the firewall and to the location of your amplifier. Avoid running it close to audio cables to prevent interference.
#3. Mount the Amplifier: Choose a solid, well-ventilated location for the amplifier, typically near the subwoofer.
#4. Connect the subwoofer to the Amplifier: Using the speaker wire, connect the subwoofer to the amplifier.
#5. Connect the amplifier to the Stereo: Use RCA cables to connect the amplifier to your car’s stereo.
#6. Connect the Power Cable: Connect the power cable to the amplifier and attach the ground wire to a clean, bare metal surface.
#7. Test the System: Reconnect the car battery and test the system. Make sure the subwoofer is working correctly and adjust the settings as needed.
And that is it, but remember, these are general steps. Always refer to the specific instructions provided with your subwoofer and amplifier.
As for common challenges, some people find it difficult to run cables through the car’s interior or to find a suitable grounding point.
Professional vs DIY Installation: Which to Choose?
The decision between a professional and a DIY installation really depends on your level of comfort with car audio installations and the complexity of the system.
Going the professional route offers several advantages. For starters, you can be sure the job will be done right, and it’ll probably be done faster than if you were to do it yourself. Plus, if any issues arise later, you’ll have the support of the professional installer.
However, professional installations do come at a cost. If you’re on a tight budget, a DIY installation can save you a good chunk of change.
The DIY route also provides a sense of satisfaction and ownership. There’s something gratifying about installing your own audio system, and you’ll learn a lot in the process.
Before deciding, consider factors like your comfort level with car audio installations, the complexity of the installation, your budget, and how much time you’re willing to spend on the project.
Maintenance and Troubleshooting of Car Subwoofers
Once you’ve successfully chosen and installed your subwoofer, you’ll want to ensure it keeps pumping out powerful bass for the long haul.
Below, I will give you a few tips on properly maintaining your car subwoofer and troubleshooting common issues you may encounter along the way.
How to Maintain Your Car Subwoofer for Optimal Performance?
Taking care of your subwoofer not only prolongs its life but also ensures you get consistent, high-quality bass. Here’s how you can maintain your car subwoofer for optimal performance:
#1. Clean Regularly: Dust and debris can impair your subwoofer’s performance. Regularly dust the subwoofer and vacuum your car’s interior to prevent dirt buildup.
#2. Check the Wiring: Loose or damaged wiring can affect sound quality. Regularly check and ensure all connections are secure and wires are in good condition.
#3. Adjust the Settings: Don’t overwork your subwoofer. Adjust the settings to ensure it’s not constantly operating at peak levels, which can lead to overheating and damage.
#4. Inspect for Damage: Keep an eye out on its condition and look for any physical damage, like tears or cracks in the cone. Any damage should be addressed as soon as possible to prevent further deterioration.
As for warning signs of potential problems, these can include distorted sound, a decrease in sound quality, or the subwoofer failing to produce sound at all. If you notice any of these issues, it’s best to address them immediately.
To learn more, check out my article about distorted sounds.
Troubleshooting Common Car Subwoofer Issues
Even with regular maintenance, you might run into some issues. Here are a few common problems and their potential solutions:
#1. Subwoofer Doesn’t Produce Sound: Check all connections and ensure the power is on. If everything seems fine, the issue could be a blown fuse or a blown voice coil.
#2. Distorted Sound: This could be due to the subwoofer being overpowered or underpowered. Adjust the settings on your amplifier. If the distortion persists, the subwoofer might be damaged.
#3. Subwoofer Overheating: This is usually a sign of overuse. Try reducing the volume and allowing the subwoofer to cool down. If the problem persists, it might be due to poor ventilation or a malfunctioning component.
#4. Vibration and Rattling Noises: This could be due to a loose component in the subwoofer or the subwoofer not being securely mounted.
Check all parts and ensure the subwoofer is firmly installed.
In some cases, a problem might be too complex for a DIY fix. If your subwoofer is still under warranty, contact the manufacturer or retailer for assistance. For out-of-warranty subwoofers, you might need to consult a professional.
Selecting the perfect subwoofer for your car is no small feat, but I hope this guide has shed some light on the process, making it a little less daunting and a lot more fun.
With all the choices available, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but remember, the best car subwoofer is one that meets your specific needs and preferences.
Reflect on your desired sound quality, available space, and budget.
- Do you prefer a hard-hitting bass that you can feel in your bones or a more subtle enhancement to your vehicle’s audio system?
- Are you working with a compact car or a spacious crew cab?
- Are you prepared to splurge on a top-of-the-line model, or are you searching for a quality subwoofer that won’t break the bank?
Whatever your answers, there’s a subwoofer out there that’s perfect for you. And once you’ve made your choice, don’t shy away from the installation process.
What Are the Most Important Factors to Consider When Choosing a Car Subwoofer?
When choosing a car subwoofer, the most important factors to consider are size, power handling, frequency response, and enclosure type.
Size will determine how much bass the subwoofer can produce, while power handling will determine how much power the sub can handle.
Frequency response will determine the sub’s ability to produce low-end bass notes, and enclosure type will affect the sub’s overall sound quality.
How Does the Size of the Subwoofer Affect the Sound Quality?
The size of a subwoofer can affect the sound quality by influencing the amount of bass it can produce. Larger subwoofers generally produce deeper, more powerful bass, while smaller subwoofers tend to produce tighter, more accurate bass.
What Is the Difference Between a Passive and Active (Powered) Subwoofer?
The main difference between passive and active (powered) subwoofers is that passive subwoofers require an external amplifier to power them, while active subwoofers have a built-in amplifier.
Active subwoofers tend to be more convenient and easier to set up, while passive subwoofers offer more flexibility in terms of amplifier choice and customization.
How Important Is the Subwoofer’s Power Rating and What Should I Look For?
The subwoofer’s power rating is an important factor to consider when choosing a subwoofer, as it determines how much power the sub can handle. A higher power rating means the sub can handle more power and produce louder, more powerful bass.
What Should I Know About Subwoofer Sensitivity?
Subwoofer sensitivity refers to how efficiently the subwoofer can convert power into sound. A higher sensitivity rating means the subwoofer can produce more sound with less power, while a lower sensitivity rating means the sub requires more power to produce the same volume level.
What Is the Difference Between a Sealed and Ported Subwoofer Enclosure and Which One Should I Choose?
The main difference between sealed and ported subwoofer enclosures is that sealed enclosures provide tighter, more accurate bass, while ported enclosures offer louder, more powerful bass.
The choice between the two depends on personal preference and the specific audio setup.
Sealed enclosures are ideal for smaller spaces and music that demands accuracy, while ported enclosures are better suited for larger spaces and music that requires more volume and power.
Should I Choose a Subwoofer With a Single or Dual Voice Coil?
Dual voice coil subwoofers offer more wiring flexibility and can handle more power, but they also tend to be more expensive. Single voice coil subwoofers are simpler and more affordable, but may not offer the same level of customization.
What Role Does the Car’s Size and Acoustic Properties Play in Choosing a Subwoofer?
The car’s size and acoustic properties can play a significant role in choosing a subwoofer, as they can affect the sub’s performance and sound quality.
Larger cars may require larger subwoofers to produce enough bass, while smaller cars may benefit from smaller subwoofers that can fit more easily.
The car’s acoustic properties, such as its shape and materials, can also affect the sub’s sound quality. When choosing a subwoofer, it’s important to consider the car’s size and acoustic properties to ensure optimal performance and sound quality.
How Does the Subwoofer’s Frequency Range Affect Sound Output?
The subwoofer’s frequency range affects the sound output by determining the sub’s ability to produce low-frequency bass notes.
A wider frequency range means the sub can produce a wider range of bass notes, while a narrower frequency range may limit the sub’s ability to produce certain bass notes.
How Much Should I Expect to Spend on a Good Quality Car Subwoofer?
A good quality subwoofer can range from around $100 to $500 or more. The cost of a good quality car subwoofer can vary depending on several factors, such as brand, size, power handling, and features.
Does the Brand of the Subwoofer Matter?
The brand of the subwoofer can matter in terms of quality, reliability, and customer support. Established brands with a reputation for quality and performance may offer better overall value and peace of mind compared to lesser-known brands.
How Can I Match the Subwoofer to My Car’s Audio System?
When choosing a subwoofer, it’s important to consider its ability to complement the existing speakers for a balanced and cohesive sound. In terms of power, a good rule of thumb is to choose a subwoofer with double the power of all the other speakers combined in the car.
For instance, if there are four 50-watt RMS speakers, a subwoofer with around 200-240 watts RMS would help balance the sound and provide optimal performance.
What Is the Role of a Subwoofer’s Impedance in a Car Audio System and How Does It Impact My Choice?
The subwoofer’s impedance plays a critical role in a car audio system by determining the amount of power the subwoofer can handle.
A lower-impedance subwoofer can handle more power, but may require a more powerful amplifier to drive it.
On the other hand, a higher impedance subwoofer may require less power, but may not be as efficient in converting power into sound.
How Do I Determine the Right Placement for My Car Subwoofer for Optimum Sound?
Determining the right placement for a car subwoofer involves considering factors such as the car’s acoustics, available space, and personal preference.
Generally, placing the subwoofer in the trunk or rear of the car can provide better bass response and minimize distortion. However, experimenting with different placements and angles can help optimize the sound and achieve the desired balance.
For more information, check out my article about placing subwoofers in the trunk.
How Many Subwoofers Should I Install in My Car?
The number of subwoofers to install in a car depends on personal preference and the specific audio setup. While one subwoofer can provide sufficient bass for most setups, two or more subwoofers can offer more power and a fuller sound.
However, installing multiple subwoofers can also require more space, power, and more advanced wiring customization.
What Should I Know About the Safety Considerations When Installing and Using a Car Subwoofer?
When installing and using a car subwoofer, it’s important to consider safety considerations for electrical wiring, heat dissipation, and secure mounting.
Improper installation or use can lead to electrical hazards, fire, or damage to the car or audio system.