A subwoofer is essentially required to make any sound system up to par by reasonable audiophile standards. Larger and dedicated subwoofers can get maximally low and create full bass in a way that a non-dedicated midrange driver simply can’t, and subwoofers also relieve said mid range drivers from having to reproduce bass, allowing them to then really be focused on and optimized for mid-range reproduction, which is the important majority of what we perceive when listening to music.
And sound, longer bass waves in particular, don’t carry as well outdoors, so the issue becomes all the more pertinent.
It wasn’t too long ago that non-commercial outdoor subwoofers that were reasonably affordable unfortunately didn’t really exist, but while selection is still currently limited, there are now at least a few viable options, and we expect more to come in the future as the outdoor home audio market continues to grow and get more popular. This article will review said options and tell you what you need to know about augmenting outdoor speakers with a subwoofer.
Special/Particular Considerations With Outdoor Subwoofers
Adding a subwoofer to a conventional indoor sound system is actually very easy since most home theater subwoofers are active/powered – you simply need to plug them into the wall, connect them to the sub-out line of your receiver (which almost all decent ones will have), set the crossover, and you’re good to go.
Outdoor subwoofers, however, are generally passive, mainly because having an active in-line amplifier and electronics in a speaker that’s sitting outdoors is obviously problematic. This means that while most decent receivers have a sub-out line, it probably won’t be compatible with a passive subwoofer – what you’ll need is to connect it to a second, separate amplifier that will power the outdoor subwoofer, then run speaker wire to it just as you would to your passive outdoor satellite speakers.
Pretty much any amp with at least a single channel that has enough watts to handle the nominal/rms power handling of an outdoor subwoofer should work, and can probably be acquired for around $50 or less. There are more sophisticated receivers with more than two channels that might also work on their own with various methods.
Placing an outdoor subwoofer is a little trickier too. While most indoor subwoofers can simply be tucked away in a corner, that same relative corner outdoors might not work for placement or wiring. Centering a subwoofer between a pair of speakers on your deck or the lawn also won’t work either because it will probably be right where people are walking.
Is An Outdoor Subwoofer Actually Necessary?
What ultimately matters is that you (and perhaps your patrons) like how your speakers sound, and that’s ultimately subjective. A pair of decent outdoor satellite speakers don’t *need* a subwoofer by any means and can sound perfectly decent on their own. If you’re budget is limited as well, say less than four figures, it probably make senses to save the cost of a subwoofer and necessary ancillary equipment and just instead invest the saved money into the nicest possible speakers your budget permits.
You can always just try out standalone speakers and see if they sound satisfactory, then decide to add a subwoofer later. Good audio companies of course realize more than anyone that outdoor subwoofers are often unfeasible, and many current outdoor speakers now have quite respectable power and bass response on their own.
On a quick digression, here are two such 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.
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.
And with that, lets now get to discussing the viable options if you’re still interested in adding an outdoor subwoofer:
The Overall Best Outdoor Subwoofer: The TIC GS50
TIC is an interesting company that solely makes outdoor speakers, and their GS50 on-ground omnidirectional subwoofer remains the pretty clear winner in this admittedly sparse category. It has nice low response floor and high continuous power handling at a reasonable price. TIC also produces our favorite budget omni-directional outdoor speaker, the GS3 (reviewed here), and the GS50 is the perfect complement to that. The GS50 could be placed in a yard and connected with buried wire, or we don’t see why it wouldn’t also work sitting in the corner of a deck.
For the time being we’re happy there’s at least one decent option available, but we hope and suspect more will become available in the not to distant future and, if so, will certainly be discussed in future updates of this article.