An Audiophile’s Subwoofer Guide – Top Rated Budget Powered Subwoofers

Two Sony 8"powered subwoofers under my desk next my PC.

In this post, I’m going to be explaining why you don’t need to saw off your arm and leg to buy a good sounding powered subwoofer. Now this post is for those who are just looking to add a subwoofer to their system to complement the low end. I’ve seen so many go overboard on their subwoofer while sacrificing the rest of their system’s budget. I’m also going to be recommending some good musical sounding powered subwoofers.

A subwoofer has a simple job in life.

Unlike most of the drivers in your system, a subwoofer has the simplest job. Unlike a regular woofer or a mid range driver, a subwoofer doesn’t need to produce complex mid range content. This makes them better at producing bass than most woofers which also have to produce mid range accurately. I have heard some good woofers come close however. That’d be the woofers on my Yamaha NS-A637As.

What To Look For In A Powered Subwoofer:

A 10" powered subwoofer with a stiff cone.

If a subwoofer has such a simple job, you might be wondering why one might be built better than another. Well let’s look at a few things. First, a subwoofer must have a very stiff cone. This will make the subwoofer sound cleaner and lower. Now for size, this is dependent on what your main speakers are already capable of. If your speakers already have decent bass down to around 50Hz, then you’re probably going to want to go for a subwoofer that is 12 inches or more in diameter. If you’re running speakers like my Electrohome SC-490s which roll off around 80Hz, then you’ll want to go for 10 inches or less in diameter. This is due to the fact that a larger subwoofer will respond slower to your music. This isn’t anything to worry about if your main speakers have a decent amount of bass. But when your sub plays a major role in the production of your mid bass, you need one that can keep up with the music. A smaller subwoofer will produce a punchier sound while A bigger one on the other hand will be “boomier” and less musical.

Other things to look for:

A 1981 JCPenny Stereo Receiver

If you’re like me, you’re rocking some vintage beauty of a receiver and need a high level input. A high level input allows you to hook the powered sub straight up to your receiver’s output. Your speaker wire basically connects to the powered subwoofer. The subwoofer receives the signal while leaving your receiver’s output unaffected. You can then run the speaker wire to your speakers. Now this leads me to the next thing. Look for a powered subwoofer with a variable crossover. A variable crossover will be crucial in tuning the subwoofer with your speakers. A properly tuned subwoofer will produce bass with your speakers causing the effect of the bass coming from your speakers.

How to properly set up and tune your subwoofers:

Believe it or not, finding a good powered subwoofer is half of the battle. You also need to set the subwoofer up properly. Let’s start with placement. Subwoofer placement is crucial to how the bass will sound on your system. If you’re rocking 1 powered sub, you’ll want to locate as close to in between your speakers as possible. This will prevent the sound from sounding localized. You’ll also want to place it within 6″ inches of the wall behind it to maximize low end response. For two powered subwoofers, place one next to each speaker. Common misconception is that bass is not directional. This is false as bass can come from localized spots on a good system. Now a bonus for those who want the best bass response from their system, get 4 identical subs and place one in each corner of the room. This ensures that the room doesn’t cause any standing waves that would otherwise ruin the bass response.

Now here’s the fun part that requires a little patience. Tuning a subwoofer properly is crucial in order for a subwoofer to extend the low end of your speakers without changing their low end imaging or causing muddy sound. The easiest way to tune a subwoofer is to find a song that has a great transition from mid to low bass. I have already previously mentioned some great songs to use that can be found on my post “15 Best Songs To Test Your HiFi System“. Start the song with the sub’s gain all the way down and listen to your speakers bass response. Listen to where it rolls off at and memorize it. Now make sure that the crossover is set to the highest frequency possible. Turn the gain up slowly until you hear the bass overcome your speakers. Now lower the crossover until you notice a gap in the frequency response and then slowly increase it to cover just the gap. Increase the gain a little if needed. The idea is to get the powered subwoofer to add the bass where it’s needed while letting your speakers handle what they can. This will make it seam like your main speakers are doing all the work thus aiding in low frequency imaging. For multiple subwoofers, set your balance to just one side and tune just one subwoofer. When done, set the others to the same gain and crossover settings. For those who have more than two, you might have to decrease the gain when done setting up the others.

Top Rated Budget Subwoofers

Now that you’re here, you’ll be surprised on how inexpensive a rather impressive powered subwoofer can be. Remember, I stated that a subwoofer has a simple job which is to aid your speakers in their low end response. Unless you’re planning on inviting the police to your music night (If you are, then go straight for the last option here), these subwoofers will be able to improve your system significantly.

Polk Audio PSW10 10″ – A Nice In-Between Budget Subwoofer.

The Polk Audio is a great option for those on a budget. Not only do you get a great deal of low end extension, you will be able to feel it. A 10″ subwoofer is a great bridge between how deep and how punchy you want your bass to be. Not quite as deep as a 12″ or as punchy as an 8″. This Polk Audio Subwoofer is an “Amazon’s Choice” item and has glowing reviews. Now for the price, you’ll barely have to shell out $100 for one. You might as well get two so that you can get shell shock when watching a war movie, seriously. The Polk Audio PSW10 also features a variable crossover and high level input for connecting to your vintage gear.

Yamaha NS-SW050BL 8″ – A Smaller Option For More Punch.

For those of you looking for a powered subwoofer that packs more of a punchy-like sound, an 8″ subwoofer will do great justice. The Yamaha NS-SW050BL is a great option for a system like my desktop HiFi set up. For reference, I have not one but two 8″ subs under the desk. They’re an older Sony model that was discontinued. They still keep up with My Electrohome SC-490s which are very sensitive speakers that get rather loud. Thus, if you opt for the Yamaha NS-SW050BL you might want to get two if you’re using them on a main system.

Polk Audio PSW505 12″ – A Larger Option For More Bang

Now Let’s be clear here. Once you get to the 12″ range, powered subwoofers start to get a little more expensive. Thus, this Polk Audio will set you back just under $300. Given however that this Polk Audio can get down to 23Hz with ease, this is really a great deal for those who watch a lot of action movies through their system. Just keep in mind that your speakers should be able to cover the mid-bass area as this is a larger subwoofer. A larger subwoofer will not have as much punch as a smaller one.

Stay Away From Expensive Subwoofers.

That is right, the three that I have listed are very well-loved on Amazon. Just take a look at the reviews themselves. Just like anything in the high fidelity world, price has little to no correlation in how good a product will sound. Not many people are aware that with most products, a high price gets you the name brand. The name brand product will usually perform the same as a lesser known brand like Polk Audio. I hope that these options fit your bill perfectly. A couple years ago, I was shocked at just expensive the same subwoofer could be if it had a name like Klipsch on it. High fidelity sound is not for the faint of your wallet. As usual, please feel free to comment down below. I will answer any questions you might have. Thank you for reading!

8 thoughts on “An Audiophile’s Subwoofer Guide – Top Rated Budget Powered Subwoofers”

  1. Hiya Rhett

    Brilliantly informative article on subwoofers, I like how you explained each subwoofer in great detail. I now feel like I can make an informed choice. It’s great to see that there are some good speakers available that are not name brand as I agree you’re only paying for the name. 

    Thanks for providing honest, plentiful information based on your own personal experience, I find that preferable to just picking the first item I see and you’ve proved that name brands aren’t always the best option and definitely not the cheapest! 

    I am a massive bass junkie, my favourite position at a blues was right next to speakers that were taller than me so I could feel the bass going right thru me, epic! Can you recommend a set up that would ‘bathe me in bass’ like that? I look forward to the answer, meanwhile I’m going to start comparing subwoofers, krs PurpleLioness 

    Reply
    • Depending on your room size, two of the Polk Audio 12″s should pretty much do the trick provided your main speakers can cover the mid bass. If you’re looking for some good speakers, take a look at some vintage floor-standing speakers (not tower speakers). It’s rare to find a new set of true floor standing speakers. Floor standing speaker truly can provide great mid-bass and even some lower bass. It sounds like you could use some more however. Combining some nice speakers with those Polk Audios should be more than enough. You’ll invite the cops to listen to blues with you. Look at my post on the Tube-01 Pre Amp. I have a video with a set of really decent floor-standers (Pioneer CS-G203).  Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  2. Thanks for sharing your valuable information about the subwoofer. The article about ” Audiophile’s subwoofer guide” is superb. Your article gives me a good idea to choose the right subwoofers. My friend wants to bye a new subwoofer, but he doesn’t know, which is the best budget subwoofer. but after seeing your article helps him to choose the right subwoofer. Thanks for giving recommender article.

    Reply
  3. Ah I see now. Subwoofer really doesn’t need to be an expensive thing, just like how we don’t need overpriced smartphone for some additional unneeded features. I’m sure my father will like to check on the Yamaha one, he is a fan of that brand. Thank you so much for the recommendations 🙂

    Reply
    • I grew up with Yamaha. They provide some good quality equipment for the price. My Dad loves Yamaha gear as well. I have a set of 1996 Yamaha NS-A637s still going strong. Thank you for reading!

      Reply
  4. Very detailed information on purchasing a sub woofer.

    Do you have a recording studio? Do you make your own music , or just like to listen to good quality?

    So you suggest to just get the 99 dollar sub woofer, or at the high end, the $300 one?

    I agree that getting a sub woofer more expensive than this, you are just paying for the brand name, and not really quality. 

     

    Reply
  5. hello, i really want to first appreciate your effort in putting this great website together and writing this article. subwoofers are the rhythm producers of music. i am a bassist and i know that well. you have listed varieties of sub woofer for budget price but the yamaha seems to be high on a site i checked

    Reply

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