Can a pair of standalone speakers sound great? Sure. But is adding a subwoofer to your home theater system worth it? Yes, almost certainly.
This is especially true if the speakers you have are budget tier – while many such speakers are perfectly good, the thing they’ll typically skimp on is bass, mainly because it’s just hard to fit enough drivers into a single cabinet that can truly cover the full range of sound reproduction while keeping costs down.
A subwoofer can handily overcome this – a dedicated, larger driver that can not only produce those long-wave, low bass frequencies, but actually free up the main speakers’ woofers to really focus on the mid range frequencies that they’re ultimately optimized for. The result? Overall sound that’s much better, not simply just deeper and louder bass. In fact, while the simplicity of more expensive all in one speakers might be tempting, a cheap subwoofer and cheap speakers will often perform better. Most home theater subwoofers are powered too, meaning you simply have to place them, plug them into the wall and your receiver with an RCA cable, and you’re ready to go.
We do understand that it might be kind of hard for the uninitiated to buy yet another piece of audio equipment after already buying a pair of speakers and maybe a receiver, but now there are all sorts of great products to choose from that are high quality and not all that expensive. This article is going to cover our current favorite budget subwoofers, a benchmark which we think is fair to set at $200 or less.
Table of Contents Navigation
- How We Evaluate, Compare, and Pick The Best
- What’s New In 2019?
- A Preliminary Word About Prices That We Put In All Our Best-Of Articles
- The Overall Best Budget Subwoofer – The Dayton Sub-1500
- The Best Very Powerful Budget Subwoofer – The Polk PSW505
- The Best Really Inexpensive Subwoofer – The Polk PSW10
- The Best Powerful Yet Compact Subwoofer – The Definitive Technology ProSub800
How We Evaluate, Compare, and Pick The Best
We’ve reviewed, compared, or otherwise looked at just about every option in this price range and use objective industry specs that ultimately matter and can yield meaningful comparisons. While audio will always be subjective to a degree, doing it this way usually points to pretty clear winners. Here’s what we look for with subwoofers specifically:
Continuous Power Handling: this largely dictates how loud a subwoofer can play over the long run, as opposed to peak power handling which is only sustainable for short bursts. Beware of companies that try to fudge the peak power spec as the continuous power spec, that’s a red flag.
Sensitivity: this dictates how efficiently a speaker can convert power into loudness, and is complementary to operating power.
Response Range: How low of frequency can a subwoofer reproduce? Less than 20 Hz is ideal, which is the generally lower bound of human hearing, but that’s asking quite a lot for budget-tier speakers. The ceiling is actually important too because you want to set the crossover point high enough to where the main speakers are really optimized for reproducing the mids and highs.
Driver Size: While not an ironclad rule, bigger speakers generally perform better, and bigger drivers better reproduce lower frequencies. While high frequency tweeters are often around 1 inch, subwoofers rarely go smaller than 8 inches, but 10-12+ inch drivers generally will sound better.
Additional specs are kind of a matter of personal preference. Sealed speakers are more accurate, while ported or open speakers can move more air and get louder. Front firing woofers are good for focusing the sound in one direction to a point, the couch for example, whereas downward firing speakers will generally fill up a room better. Some of them look really cool, if you care about that, while others look pretty plain. Like we said, personal preferences in a lot of cases.
What’s New In 2019?
Once again? Not much, other than a few intermittent price fluctuations that might bring an interesting deal here or there. Our recommendations remain unchanged for the time being, but, we do regularly update our best of articles if something were to come along and shake the list up. There are a few pretty clear winners in the budget subwoofer category, some of which are in fact several years old now. The great thing about audio equipment is that it doesn’t depreciate like most consumer electronics do, and it can have a very long lifespan. Older legacy products often wind up being the best deal because they’ll get discounted over the newer stuff yet still be essentially just as good.
A Preliminary Word About Prices That We Put In All Our Best-Of Articles
Prices ultimately dictate what the “best” products are, and they can fluctuate significantly in the audio world. While we do our best to keep our guides up to date, it’s nigh impossible to keep up with all of it. An expensive subwoofer that’s merely OK might suddenly fall below $200 and become the clear winner. Point being: take any reviews with a grain of salt, look at what’s currently available, and use your best judgement.
And on that note, without further ado, lets get into our top picks:
The Overall Best Budget Subwoofer – The Dayton Sub-1500
Dayton Audio is a great company, and their 15 inch box subwoofer has the best size, specs, and warranty that we’ve seen go for under 200 bucks. The smaller 8, 10, and 12 inch versions are great too, but we have to recommend the large one because the modest increase in price is well worth the value you get. It has a nice design too which is a bonus – budget speakers tend to look pretty plain and homogeneous. Only downside is this thing is big and heavy, but that’s a forgettable concession once you’re able to lug it into place.
We’d also like to honorably mention a very close second place that has a distinctly cool design, The BIC America F12:
This is an excellent subwoofer in it’s own right, though slightly inferior to the sub-1500. But, it certainly might be the best choice if you can get a good deal on it. We also know that many people really like the metallic driver look that this and other speakers have, so if that’s worth it to you, this one’s a perfectly solid choice.
The Best Very Powerful Budget Subwoofer – The Polk PSW505
This older Polk subwoofer used to be a lot more expensive, but thanks to getting it’s MSRP slashed its worth mentioning here. A 300 W 12 inch sub with the range this has is an excellent value, even if a little more expensive than the Dayton Sub-1500. The downsides? Plain-jane design (if you care) and an inferior warranty.
The Best Really Inexpensive Subwoofer – The Polk PSW10
Polk’s bread and butter is quality loudspeakers that are inexpensive, and, despite this speaker being well over ten years old, it remains one of the best sellers on the market. Why? It’s a really decent 10 inch sub that can be acquired for less than $100. We’ll also give honorable mention here to the Monoprice 9723, also absurdly inexpensive now, but just slightly inferior spec wise with a higher response floor.
The Best Powerful Yet Compact Subwoofer – The Definitive Technology ProSub800
The ProSub 800, thanks to its less common sealed design with a passive bottom firing radiator, packs a hard to believe 300 W of continous power and 20 Hz response floor. It’s an older product, yet remains, by quite a margin, the best and most powerful compact 8″ driver sub.
A concluding note: Prices fluctuate a lot in the audio world, and the “best” choice will often simply come down to the best deal at the time – the Amazon best seller list is a great way to find these deals, and if you find one of these at the top (and they often are) then it’s a pretty surefire bet that you’ve got a winner.