The main challenge of any sound system is accurately reproducing the music in a balanced way, and a fundamental component of this, spec wise, is that speakers can reproduce the entire range of sound frequency.
The human ear can roughly hear sounds from 20hz – 20,000Hz (source), thus – theoretically at least – any sound system should be able to produce sounds at or greater than that range. Some audiophiles even claim that reproduction of the higher/lower frequencies that can’t actually be detected by the human ear is still important in overall sound quality, but others will say that’s unfounded speculation.
Sound reproduction outdoors is particularly tricky for a few reasons:
- Outdoor speakers don’t have the natural amplification of enclosing walls that indoor speakers do
- Effective placement of outdoor speakers is more of a logistical challenge than it is with a conventional home-theater set up.
- Longer-wave bass frequencies carry particularly poorly in the open air.
- Outdoor speakers generally don’t have a 20Hz or lower response range floor.
So, the question here is: is a subwoofer essential for an outdoor sound system to have sufficiently good sounding bass?
As usual, the answer is… maybe. A high quality subwoofer that’s well placed can absolutely augment outdoor speakers in a worthwhile way. But, “well placed” and “high quality” are indeed the common barriers – it’s not exactly easy to properly place an powered outdoor subwoofer, and they can be rather expensive. Not to mention you’ll need a higher end receiver that can accommodate one. The more presumptuous answer is that, unless your an audiophile with a large-ish budget, there’s a decent chance it’s not worth the cost or hassle, and that the money might be best invested on a better pair of speakers themselves.
Outdoor subwoofers are rather niche, and truthfully there still aren’t all that many choices (there are a wide variety of outdoor speaker choices now contrarily). But there are a few good options out there that might be worthwhile for some people.
Table of Contents Navigation
- Firstly: Do You Need a Subwoofer? Enough So That You’re Willing to Pay For One?
- Speaking of Which: Good Outdoor Speakers With Strong Bass
- Let’s Talk About Outdoor Subwoofer Placement
- Best On-Ground Omnidirectional Outdoor Subwoofer: The OSD OM Sub-200 or TIC GS50
- Best In-Ground (Buried) Outdoor Subwoofer: The OSD GLS8
Firstly: Do You Need a Subwoofer? Enough So That You’re Willing to Pay For One?
What ultimately matters is that you (and perhaps your patrons) like how your speakers sound, and that’s largely subjective. It’s definitely true that even the experts, when reviewing speakers, often use non-scientific descriptors such as “shrill,” “thin,” “washed out,” etc. etc.
The truth is that outdoor speakers have come quite a long way even in the last decade – many of them, even the budget priced ones, have great power handling with low frequency response ranges. Audio companies of course realize that placing an outdoor subwoofer isn’t always feasible (we’ll get to that), thus many of the speakers they make produce great bass on their own. If you’re not particularly keen on feeling a chest thumping bass, there’s a good chance that you honestly don’t need a subwoofer.
The kind of music you’re typically playing also bears consideration – ambient background music simply doesn’t need the kind of bass that loud “lets get the party started and get our neighbors to hate us” music does.
Another thing, and this is primarily important: it makes little sense to get cheapo speakers so you can budget for a subwoofer.
A rough rule of thumb: If you’re overall budget is going to be less than four figures, the money is probably best spent on the highest quality pair of speakers you can manage, and perhaps secondarily on a nice receiver to power them.
Speaking of Which: Good Outdoor Speakers With Strong Bass
On a quick digression, here are two recommendations for outdoor speakers that particularly excel with bass, both of which are currently on the list of our overall favorite powered speakers:
In the budget-tier category we strongly recommend the Dayton IO655s (reviewed here) – they have great power specs and an excellent response range floor for their modest price, and they’re indeed one of our favorite overall outdoor speakers.
Moving up we also have the Definitive Technology 5500-6500 series (reviewed here) – very powerful, highly sensitive, and the lowest response range floor that we’ve seen in outdoor speakers. Not exorbitantly expensive either.
Remember: you can always get something like the above and try it out first before deciding to add a subwoofer later on – most decent receivers will have an open slot which you can choose or not choose to fill. And honestly, we think a lot people will find that they won’t actually need one.
Let’s Talk About Outdoor Subwoofer Placement
Home speaker placement is generally more straightforward indoors. If you’re setting up, say, a home theater, then the obviously intuitive location for a subwoofer is going to be centered below the TV, near to and equidistant from each of the speakers. Or you might put it in the corner of the room to take advantage of the wall’s acoustics, which is also where a person isn’t going to realistically ever loiter.
But this isn’t exactly so easy when you’re outdoors. You want your subwoofer to be close enough to and centered relative to the speakers, but where do you then put it? If your speakers are mounted under the eaves on each corner of the door leading out to the yard (this is the most common set up) you obviously can’t plop your subwoofer right in the middle of the entry way. Alternatively, if your subwoofer is way over in a corner and significantly farther away from one speaker than the other, the sound will be imbalanced. Also consider that people meander around in an outdoor enclosure a lot more than they do in a home theater room. A speaker set up can sound a lot different and perhaps noticeably bad depending on where you’re standing.
One issue here, and we’re getting ahead of ourselves, is that as far as we can tell there aren’t any wall-mount subwoofers on the market that are graded for outdoor use (if something comes a long we’ll obviously update this article). That leaves you with omnidirectional on-ground units or burial units.
Best On-Ground Omnidirectional Outdoor Subwoofer: The OSD OM Sub-200 or TIC GS50
OSD Audio is a good company, and they make an omnidirectional on-ground subwoofer that’s decently priced. This unit also has a built in crossover which might allow for your regular speakers to sound better, focusing on the mids and highs while the subwoofer reproduces the lows. If your speakers are not positioned over a doorway, then you can probably place this on the deck or ground in between.
One word of caution: don’t run speaker wire across the ground – you might have to use underground wire to power this unit. See our outdoor speaker wiring guide for more information.
Next up, TIC also makes an outdoor omnidirectional subwoofer that looks almost identical (we’re not sure why the upside down green plant pot look is so seemingly popular):
TIC is an interesting company is interesting in that it entirely specializes in the outdoor/all-weather niche, whereas most other companies simply have a few one-off such products. While the OSD and TIC units have the same power handling, the TIC boasts a lower frequency response floor. As of now, we’d say either of these is a fine choice – the best pick will probably depend on whichever currently has the best deal.
Worth follow up mention is the more expensive Polk Atrium Sub10 (Polk products tend to be pricier):
This unit has a (slightly?) more aesthetic look, but it’s hard to give it a glowing recommendation when it’s power specs are not all that much better than the above OSD and TIC units that go for about half the price. Also, as of this writing (4/4/18), the Sub10 doesn’t appear to be available for purchase from Amazon at least.
Best In-Ground (Buried) Outdoor Subwoofer: The OSD GLS8
People ask about this type of product, but we hadn’t been able make a recommendation until recently because there just wasn’t anything that seemed worthy of one – there were a few one off products, but they were all commercial grade and very expensive with mixed feedback. But, OSD Audio released one for the 2018 season that isn’t exorbitantly priced:
With a response floor of 28Hz and 500W of maximum power handling, this will be more than enough to do the job of just about any residential grade set up. Also, because it’s designed to be buried underground, with merely the chimney like apparatus being the only part visible, it might not be such an impediment as an on-ground unit. If you’re looking to go underground, this is clearly the current best choice for most people, albeit in a market with limited selection.
Can a subwoofer augment the sound of an outdoor system in a worthwhile way? Yes, in some cases it can.
Unfortunately, however, there just aren’t many available subwoofers graded for outdoor use. Most non-audiophiles would do better just spending the money on better speakers with a stronger bass. Plenty of outdoor speakers have great enough bass independently. Not to mention this skips the hassle of placement and set up, if even feasible to begin with. You might check out our evergreen article on our favorite outdoor speakers here.
The audio market is ever burgeoning though – OSD recently came out with that decently priced in-ground unit, filling a market where nothing really had existed before, and we expect there’s a decent chance that a wider variety of products will become available in the not too distant future. We’ll keep this article updated as they come – it’s only a matter of time before a speaker company produces a decent wall-mount outdoor subwoofer that’s all weather and not prohibitively expensive.