Subwoofer vs Speaker: Explain In Details

Speakers are very essential components of any audio system. In fact, it is quite impossible to build up a home theatre without speakers. Speakers are audio devices with a wide range of frequencies. On the other hand, a subwoofer is a device that is designed to produce low-frequency signals.

Whilst the speaker makes up the entire audio system, a subwoofer is just a part of the audio system. Despite such clear distinction, it can be quite difficult to understand the need of the two devices in building up an audio system. This article highlights the features of speakers and subwoofers to differentiate between the two.

Differences Between Subwoofer and Speaker: An Overview

Both speakers and subwoofers are audio systems with similar functionality. Then what exactly is the difference between a subwoofer and a speaker? The table below provides an overview of how speakers are distinct from subwoofers.

Quick Differences Between Subwoofer and Speaker

FeatureSubwooferSpeaker
Working frequencyWorks at low frequencies onlyWorks at low, mid and high range frequency
Frequency range20 Hz-200 Hz20 Hz-20000 Hz
ApplicationAlways used individuallyThree or two-way speaker system
Impedance4 Ohm, 8 Ohm4 Ohm, 8 Ohm, 16 Ohm
Working requirementRequires L.F.P input to work properlyRequires R.L.C (Network) filtered input
Vibration rateVibrates at a very low rateVibrates much faster than woofers

The primary difference between a subwoofer and a speaker revolves around the frequency range.

subwoofers deliver low frequency whereas speakers deliver high-frequency audio. Generally, the frequency range for subwoofers is around 20 Hertz to 200 Hertz. Whereas for speakers it is 20 Hertz to 20 kHz. This goes on to show that subwoofers are better at producing low sounds, i.e. suitable for perfect bass output whereas speakers are more equipped for a wider frequency sound.

Speaker is the overall sound reproduction system and Subwoofer is a part of this sound system.

Speakers are the heart of sound systems. Without speakers, a sound system will cease to exist. There can be different types of speakers- tenors, sopranos, altos etc.  Speakers are a must if you want to start an audio system from scratch. Woofer, on the other hand, can be used according to the audio needs of the audiophile. If you want to add more thumping bass to your audio system, a subwoofer can be a good choice.

Subwoofers and speakers have different applications.

Sound systems are generally categorized into three-way or two-way speaker systems. This means that speakers can come together in groups. Subwoofers are always used individually.

Speakers operate at a wider range of impedance than subwoofers

Audio devices has an impedance rating in ohms which indicates how difficult they are to power.  Generally, the lower the impedance, the more efficiently the electric signal passes through the device.

Subwoofers have an impedance of 4 Ohm and 8 Ohm whereas speakers can have impedance ranging from 4 Ohm, 8 Ohm to 16 Ohm.

What is a Subwoofer?

A subwoofer is a loudspeaker that is designed to produce lower frequencies such as bass and sub-bass, typically at a range of 20-200 Hz. More simply put, it can be seen as a large low-pressure powered air pump that pumps low bass frequencies. These can be reflected the loud explosive sound effects in blockbuster movies or the low bass audio emitted in orchestral music and rock and roll.

At first sight, a subwoofer typically looks like a small square box and is much similar to a speaker. Subwoofers are can have enclosures built of either plastic or wood along with a vent or a port for signals.

The Need for Subwoofer

Why would you need to add a subwoofer to your sound system? Well, the answer is simple. It is no doubt that bookshelf speakers can let you hear the bass, but if you really want to experience the proper thump of the bass, a subwoofer can help you do that. With subwoofers, you just don’t hear the bass. You get to feel it.

Having a great subwoofer paired up with your average loudspeakers will help to improve your overall sound system. This will not only lessen the strain on your loudspeakers, but it will also add extra depth and width to your soundstage. Subwoofers will provide substantial improvement in the accuracy of stereo imaging, bringing in compelling dynamics into the audio. In short, subwoofers will ensure that the audio is more vibrant and pleasing to the ears. So if you are a bass-head who loves rock and roll, or if you are looking to experience an immersive action movie, then a subwoofer just might be the cherry on top of your audio system.

The Different Types of Subwoofers

Subwoofers can be differentiated on the basis of cost, power handling, efficiency, size, usage, and distortion characteristics. For the sake of simplicity, subwoofers can be divided into four types: active, passive, down-firing and front-firing subwoofers.

Active vs Passive Subwoofers

Active subwoofers, also known as powered subwoofers, are those which have a built-in amplifier. These subwoofers are self-contained, meaning that both the subwoofer and speaker are combined in the same cabinet. No external source of power is required for these subwoofers.

The advantage of these subwoofers is that they are very easy to set up and use. An external amplifier needed to power a subwoofer can be quite expensive, so an active subwoofer an all-in-one package that comes at a lower cost. However, a powered subwoofer may require more power to work.

Passive subwoofers need to be powered by an external amplifier or Audio/Video receiver. This attribute makes them similar to speakers. The passive subwoofers need more power to reproduce low-frequency sounds, so the amplifier or receiver needs to be powerful enough to sustain the bass effects reproduced by the subwoofer.

Although using a passive subwoofer might mean getting into the hassle of external cables, these types of subwoofers require less power and are less expensive than active subwoofers as a whole.

Down-firing vs Front-firing Subwoofer

Down-firing subwoofers are designed such that the sound is directed from the bottom of the speaker. This means that a down-firing subwoofer creates vibrations that drive into the ground.

The advantage of firing subwoofers is that as the driver is not facing outside, it is more protected. There is also a chance that the floor surface may absorb the low frequencies of the sound produced by the downward-firing.

Front-firing subwoofers are designed in a way that allows the sound to be projected out of one side. Hence, front-firing subwoofers create vibrations in the air.

Front-firing subwoofers dispense sound like conventional speakers. However, because of their design they cannot be placed directly against the wall.

The advantages of adding a subwoofer to an audio system:

  • The addition of an active subwoofer to the audio system will help it to deliver deeper bass and improved mid-range sound, thus reducing the pressure on the audio system.
  • With the subwoofer at work, the main speakers will not need to be in charge of the low-frequency sound, which therefore accounts for overall improved sound quality.
  • A lot of stress on the main speaker is reduced with the low-frequency driver of the subwoofer. As a result, the main speakers can deliver clear sound at high volume.
  • Since the main speakers and subwoofers have their own different range of sound, they sound better than full-range speakers.

What a Subwoofer Cann’t Do Alone:

  • Subwoofers cannot function on their own. They need to be combined with speakers for them to work all well.
  • Some subwoofers may not be fully functional because of their poor engineered design.

The Five Most Popular Subwoofers for Home Theater

With so many different kinds of subwoofers available in the market, it can get overwhelming to pick the perfect one for your home theatre. Without further ado, here are five of the most popular subwoofers for home theater:

Product pictureProduct DescriptionProsConsPrice
Klipsch R-120SWThe Klipsch R-120SW are sophisticated subwoofers with exceptional frequency response. Their rigid construction ensures minimum cone breakup and distortion. It comes with a built-in amplifier which is efficient in producing accurate, detailed and powerful bass. Its stylish and timeless design is not only aesthetic to the eyes but also keeps account of durability and placement flexibility. Overall, these subwoofers are a great deal for a full, realistic and controlled bass response.· Premium finishing and build quality.
· No distortion in sound.
· Detailed and clear bass response.
· The subwoofer weighs 31 pounds, which can be heavy.
· Sounds below 29 Hz are difficult to hear.
Check price on Amazon
SVS PB-1000The SVS PB 1000 is a high-end subwoofer that offers deep bass with its successful build. These subwoofers are equipped with high excursion 10-inch drivers which produce an immersive bass response. Meticulously built with high-quality components, the SVS PB 1000 can be integrated conveniently at any place in your home theater. Its feature of digital bass management accounts for low distortion and powerful bass, perfect for gaming and movie nights.· Accurate and detailed audio.
· Advanced DSP design for intelligent integration.
· Immersive and impactful bass response.
· Massive SPLs and extreme output.
· Power indicator is positioned at the front.
· Can be inconvenient to set up since it is large.
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Polk Audio PSW10The Polk Audio PSW10 is the perfect subwoofer for audiophiles on budget. This 10-inch dynamic subwoofer is designed to have a unique configuration with specially tuned and directed port to maximize efficiency and minimize distortion. The highlight of these subwoofers is the Laser-Based Klippel Measurement Technology which optimizes the woofer's motor structure for the better audio response.· Smart sensing automation technology helps to save power.
· Detailed and deep bass response.
· Easy connectivity and set up.
· It lacks the direct LFE input connection.
· It is not powerful enough for large rooms.
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Sonos Sub (Gen 3) WirelessSonos Sub Gen 3 is one of the best wireless subwoofers for your audio system. It has a versatile sculptural design with a glossy finish that immediately catches the eye. The device includes two force canceling drivers at the center which helps to eliminate distortion and produce powerful bass. With its extraordinary features, the Sonos Sub Gen 3 wireless will offer you deep and rich bass, making your audio experience loud and impactful.· The subwoofer allows for wireless connectivity.
· Versatile design with unique build.
· Clear and distortion-free bass response.
· It requires space and is heavy.Check price on Amazon
Dayton Audio SUB-1500The Dayton Audio SUB-1500 are marvelous subwoofers that offer massive and room-shaking bass. These subwoofers have a downward-firing flared port design which helps them to deliver floor quaking clean and powerful bass. Its piano-black surface has a smooth texture, premium finishing and sturdy composition. The auto-on feature on these subwoofers makes it very user-friendly. With 150 Watts of power rating, these speakers will give you just the powerful bass you need for your large home theaters.· The subwoofers have an auto-on feature for user convenience.
· It provides really powerful bass.
· It can be used for large home theatres.
· The subwoofers can sound a little boomy.
· Bass response can be muddy.
Check price on Amazon

What is a Speaker?

A speaker can be defined as an audio device that is designed to take electronic signals from CDs, cassettes or DVDs and convert the signal into mechanical sound. In simpler terms, the function of speakers is to amplify the sound output.

Regular speakers can reproduce sounds of different frequencies but at varying intensities.  Although speakers have a wide frequency range, there are some setbacks.  The sounds at the bass range or lower range can be produced but often they are inaudible because the speakers cannot amplify the sounds with the same intensity as it does for the midrange. This is why audiophiles go for subwoofers to enhance the bass of their sound systems.

The Different Types of Speakers

There are four different types of speakers in terms of design and placement.

  • The standing speakers are the most common type of speakers. They are designed to include large cabinets so that a great number of drivers can be included inside these speakers. This big number of speakers ensures excellent bass response and overall great sound performance.
  • The in-wall speakers can be mounted in a frame and placed in the ceiling or the wall. They are designed in such a way that they can save space and they do not disturb the décor of the room. The best thing about these speakers is that they not only sound great but they are out of sight.
  • Soundbars are speakers that are smaller in size which offer dynamic sound performance. They have a sleek design and they can easily blend in with your home theatre. Hence you do not have to worry about mounting them, they complement your TV effortlessly.
  • The wall or ceiling-mounted speakers as the name suggests can be mounted on the wall surface. They can be used for home theatres in medium and small-sized rooms.

When it comes to driver construction, there are four different types of speakers.

  • Dynamic speakers are those designed to include one or more woofer drivers and tweeter drivers which help it to produce both bass and treble sounds.
  • In-horn speakers use an acoustic horn to increase the efficiency of the driver. These are the best kind of speakers for those who want to listen to audio in large spaces. The drivers used in these speakers are similar to that of dynamic speakers. The drivers function by producing sound waves with a metal diaphragm, which in turn is vibrated by an electromagnet.
  • Designed to produce low frequencies, subwoofer speakers are those that include a single woofer driver. They can also be used to improve or strengthen the bass of the loudspeakers.
  • The electrostatic speakers are diaphragm speakers that have one driver between two electrically conductive grips. These speakers produce sound when the membrane is suspended in an electrostatic field by force.

Speakers can be categorized into three different types when it comes to connectivity.

  • Wired speakers, as the name suggests, are those that include a cable with them.
  • Wireless speakers, on the other hand, save you from the trouble of tangled cables.
  • Bluetooth speakers help audiophiles enjoy a wide range of connectivity, allowing devices to be connected with the speakers from a distance.

Active speakers vs passive speakers:

Speakers are mainly identified into two categories: active and passive.

The active speaker includes a built-in amplifier in its design. These speakers just require a power source to operate.  These speakers are an all-in-one solution, meaning that you won’t require an extra amplifier with them. They are also easy to set up, they can be used to modify the sound and they can be battery powered for greater portability.

On the other hand, a passive speaker is one that requires an external amplifier. These speakers draw power from an external amplifier, which it is connected to through a wire. The great thing about passive speakers is that you can change your amplifier separately if you want to without changing the entire system.

The Five Most Popular Speakers for Home Theater

Product pictureProduct DescriptionProsConsPrice
Klipsch R-41M Reference Bookshelf SpeakersThese small 4-inch bookshelf speakers have a versatile design with magnetic grilles and scratch-resistant surfaces. It has a Linear Travel Suspension Tweeter which allows for minimum distortion. Its proprietary focused Tractrix Horn Technology ensures directional high-frequency sound thus offering clear, detailed and meticulous audio quality.· Spun Copper Img Woofers
· Linear Travel Suspension Tweeter
· Tractrix Horn Technology
· Too small in size
· The speakers lack in-depth
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JBL Flip 5If you are someone who enjoys parties with booming music, the JBL Flip 5 would be a great choice for you. These lightweight wireless speakers are not only easier to carry but are packed with booming energy to hype up your music sessions. The JBL Flip 5 can easily be used for up to 12 hours of playing and its waterproof property makes it great for pool parties and shower music!· Portable speaker
· IPX7 Waterproof property
· 12 hours of playtime
· The wireless speaker does not support Bluetooth 5
· It is not Connect plus compatible
Check price on Amazon
KEF Q150The KEF Q150 bookshelf speakers offer detailed natural bass with crystal clear audio quality. These speakers include a Uni Q driver which ensures minimum resonance, low distortion and clear audio response. Its CFD-designed port minimizes turbulence and midrange leakage. With KEF brilliant engineering, these speakers surely stand out from the rest.· Deep and dimensional soundstage
· Uni-Q sound technology
· Computational Fluid Dyanmics port design
· No speaker screens includedCheck price on Amazon
Polk Audio RC65iThe Polk Audio RC65i are high-quality bookshelf speakers constructed with superior and durable components with a streamlined design. The polymer composite cone provides audio with a dynamic balance. These speakers can be wall-mounted and are ideal for both external and internal mounting.· The speakers are really easy to install
· Water resistance speakers
· The speakers are a little smallCheck price on Amazon
Elac Debut B5The Elac Debut B5 are phenomenal speakers designed with a thick MDF cabinet that includes internal bracing to reduce vibration. The newly developed tweeter and fiber woofer allow clean and tight bass to reproduced, with a wide frequency range.· Clean and tight bass
· Flexible placement options
· Small base pads are missingCheck price on Amazon

Should I Get a Subwoofer with My Sound System?

It is definitely possible to get an enjoyable sound system without a subwoofer. If your home theater has limited space, or you do not want to invest in subwoofers, you can always substitute for soundbars to get the surround sound. Five picks of our soundbars without external subwoofers include Bose Soundbar 700, Sonos Playbar, Samsung 3.0 HW-M650, VIZIO SB3820-C6 and Yamaha YAS-108.

However, to get the full impact in movies and music pairing up your subwoofer to your speakers can be a good option. A subwoofer can reduce the size of the sound system. This means that it can create an unprecedented amount of sound without adding to the size or the cost of the home theater system. It can add allow for a realistic cinematic experience with loud rumbling and thumping of the bass. Overall, subwoofers can deliver richer sound and deeper bass to make your movie nights more enjoyable.

Here are three of our best picks for home theater systems using subwoofers:

Sonos Surround Set with Arc Sound Bar, Subwoofer, and One SL Speakers

This home theater system is super smart with impressive features. It includes the following devices/ components:

  • Arc Wireless Sound Bar with Dolby Atmos
  • SUB Wireless Subwoofer (Gen 3)
  • 2 – OneSL Speakers for Stereo Pairing and Home Theater Surrounds
  • Power Cords
  • HDMI Cable

Bose Soundbar 700 with Bass Module 700 and Surround Wireless Speakers

This sound system can be considered as the best wireless home theater for your convenient use. The package includes the following devices:

  1. Bose Soundbar 700
  2. Bose Bass Module 700
  3. Bose Surround Wireless Speakers
  4. Power cords
  5. Optical cable
  6. HDMI Cable

SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 Package

If you are looking for a small home theater system, this combination is a great option. It includes the following devices:

  • 5 – Prime Satellite Speakers
  • SB-1000 Subwoofer

What to Consider to Match Subwoofer to Speakers

First of all, is it absolutely necessary to match your subwoofers to your speakers?

It is not necessary to match a subwoofer with speakers. Since the subwoofer functions at a different frequency range than the speakers, there is no timbre matching involved. There is rarely any reason to match the brand of the speakers with the subwoofers other than for the aesthetics.

Subwoofers can easily blend with the main speakers in the sound system with the help of the receiver. However, you should get the crossover frequency and phase right and ensure that the amplitude and group delay is matched. It must be noted that speakers have some response below the intended crossover point and the subwoofer has some response above the crossover point. For instance, it is not possible to match a speaker that will go down to 120 Hertz with a subwoofer that goes up to only 80 Hertz. There should be some overlap in the frequency responses of both the speakers and subwoofers for them to work well together. You can also use a subwoofer matching calculator.

Can You Use Speaker as Subwoofer?

A normal speaker is not capable of producing the low-frequency sound as efficiently. Hence a speaker cannot be used as a subwoofer.

Subwoofer can be used as speaker in theory. A powered subwoofer can be connected using a line level RCA connector. It can also be connected through speaker level inputs. To connect a non-powered subwoofer, a low pass crossover can be used.

This is not recommended, however, since the subwoofer will only be able to reach the lower frequency of sound being produced. The mids and highs will be lacking clarity, with only the lows in the highlights. Hence, it is a way better option if subwoofers can be paired up with the speakers.