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Published Aug. 1, 2021

Dude, where’s my bass? If I’m being honest, a stereo could have the best door speakers and tweeters in the world but still be missing a lot of the music without a subwoofer. They reproduce the force that turns a good driving song into a great driving song and come in designs and price points as varied as the cars they go into. 

Maybe you’re looking to add a little bump to your Boxster’s stock sound system without taking up much space? Or maybe you’re looking for a high-end unit with sublime clarity and ground-pounding volume? Or just maybe you’re looking for something in-between that provides good sound without breaking the bank? 

No worries, there’s something out there for everyone. From a tiny active subwoofer that slips under most seats to the undisputed king of sub-bass at any price, here are our top subwoofer picks.

Our Methodology

To select our picks for the best subwoofers, we used our own real-world personal experience. Many years of messing about with car audio may be expensive, but it’s also an education in sound. In addition, we grabbed all specs directly off manufacturer websites to ensure accuracy. During our selection process, we considered a variety of applications and budgets, frequency response for sub-bass reproduction, overall reliability and durability, product design and segment innovation. 

We also gave preference to products that focused on sound quality rather than just sheer power. Throbbing volume is cool, but having a subwoofer setup that doesn’t drown out the rest of the sound system is really quite nice. Don’t worry, most of our picks still hit plenty hard. While typical component subwoofers dominate the market, we also took care to include subwoofers meant for space-conscious applications. After all, not everyone wants a big twelve in a ported box taking up trunk space. 

Overall, our picks have something for everyone regardless of budget and space.

Best Car Subwoofer Reviews & Recommendations

Best Drop-in Solution

The 44CWCS84 is specifically designed to sound great no matter where it’s mounted, a plus for those who don’t want to give up trunk space. Alright, so maybe you bumped Run The Jewels just a little too hard and blew up your car’s factory subwoofer. No sweat, it happens to the best of us. At that point, why would you chuck in another factory subwoofer knowing it could blow again? Especially when a Kicker 44CWCS84 is inexpensive, powerful and made for drop-in applications.

What makes a drop-in subwoofer different? Most of the time it’s free air capability. A standard subwoofer is designed to sound great in an enclosure but won’t work so well installed in a sedan’s parcel shelf. This unit can be run off of many factory amplifiers, reducing cost and complexity of installation.

Keep in mind low-pass filter settings if you run this subwoofer in a free air position using an aftermarket amplifier—higher frequencies can make it sound hollow and boomy. Sure, the 44CWCS84 may not provide the thump of a big 12-inch sub in a ported box, but it’s hard to beat as far as drop-in replacements go.

Specs
  • Power Handling: 200 watts RMS
  • Frequency Response: 30-500 Hz
PROS

Eight-inch diameter and shallow 3-7/8-inch mounting depth are compatible with many OEM fitments

Can run happily off many factory amplifiers

Solid frequency response down to 30 Hz

Free air-capable for parcel shelf applications

CONS

Needs close attention to low-pass filter tuning

May require some minor trimming of the speaker cutout

Best For Tight Spaces

Perhaps the most amazing part of the GTHS81 is how the whole unit is just 2.87 inches thick. Let’s say your car has a stock stereo with little bass and an interior with even less space. What would you do? A full-size subwoofer in an enclosure takes up heaps of room in a small sedan and is often infeasible in two-seater sports cars. Thankfully, drivers seeking a bit of bass fill can turn to slim powered subwoofers like the Blaupunkt GTHS81.

It’s slim enough to fit just about anywhere from under the seat of a subcompact hatchback to along the cab wall in a regular cab pickup truck. Moreover, because it’s a powered subwoofer with an integrated amplifier, further space is saved. Granted, the remote level control is a tad on the bulky side, but that’s easily mounted under the dashboard or in the glovebox of most vehicles.

The GTHS81 won’t rattle windows or give passengers a massage but it fills out the bottom end of stock stereos beautifully. Frequency response goes down to a respectable 20 Hz for some sub-bass fill, critical for modern music with 808-heavy production.

Specs
  • Power Handling: Integrated 115-watt RMS amplifier
  • Frequency Response: 20-150 Hz
PROS

Powered design makes it an easy addition to stock stereos

Slim enclosure fits under most seats

Tight, accurate sound quality

Extremely competitive price

CONS

Produces more of a bump than a thump

Remote level control is a tad bulky

You get excellent durability, solid punch and properly good sound quality, all for a price that’s cheaper than you might expect. Thankfully, Kenwood’s stepped up to the plate with a 12-inch premium line subwoofer for a great price. The KFC-XW1241HP isn’t just part of their esteemed Excelon family of products, it’s part of the elevated Excelon High Performance series of subwoofers.

While this HP series subwoofer does pull a premium over the standard Excelon unit, it’s got the specs to back it up. How does 500 watts of continuous power handling sound? That’s 200 watts more than its standard Excelon cousin, a significant jump in performance. In addition, this thing hits quite cleanly down to 26 Hz, an impressive feat for this class of subwoofers. For assurance of durability, Kenwood equips each of these subwoofers with a two-year limited warranty. Great peace of mind, especially at this price point.

Downsides? Well, high power handling and four-ohm impedance means that most budget amps won’t be able to get the most out of it. In addition, it doesn’t hit quite as hard as more SPL-focused subwoofers in its price bracket. Still, this is one seriously well-rounded subwoofer for the money.

Specs
  • Power Handling: 500 watts RMS Frequency
  • Response: 26-300 Hz
PROS

Genuinely solid sound quality

Relatively compact enclosure requirements

Great overall durability

CONS

High power handling and four-ohm impedance means most budget amplifiers won’t get the most out of it

Not the loudest subwoofer in its class

Honorable Mention

As soon as you lock eyes on its gorgeous Kevlar cone, this unit’s mission becomes apparent—meld beautiful form with sublime function. Maybe you’re looking for a high-end SQL subwoofer but don’t want to spend more than a grand and want it to look absolutely spectacular. Good news, Focal’s got your back with the K2 Power E 30 KX.

Indeed, dual four-ohm voice coils ensure very clean playback and excellent sound pressure while an aluminum basket, optimized coil venting and that aforementioned Kevlar cone provide excellent durability. Another perk of the K2 Power E 30 KX is that its enclosure requirements are tiny. It can be run in a sealed box with as little as one cubic foot of internal volume. This lets you get really creative with box design and placement, minimizing impact on cargo space.

So why is the W7 so much more expensive than this Focal unit? Well, the JL absolutely walks it in the bottom end. Still, the Focal is a great SQL subwoofer that can take a ton of power and fills out the soundstage beautifully, especially when paired with Focal’s K2 Power speakers elsewhere in the car. Classic and high-end car owners, this one’s for you.

Specs
  • Power Handling: 800 watts RMS Frequency
  • Response: 25-500 Hz
PROS

Durable Kevlar cone

Clean, faithful sound all the way up

Confident bass pressure

Tiny enclosure requirements

CONS

Bottom end isn’t exactly massive

Requires hefty amplification to sound best

Our Verdict on Car Subwoofers

Our best overall and best value picks, the JL Audio 13W7AE-D1.5 and the Kenwood Excelon KFC-XW1241HP, fulfill different roles well. The JL Audio unit represents the best of the best, top-notch sound quality and pressure for those looking to spare no expense. The Kenwood unit represents solid sound quality at a very strong value point from a trusted brand. 

What to Consider When Buying a Car Subwoofer

From compact under-seat units that simply fill in some low notes to enormous 18-inch power-thirsty models designed to register on the Richter scale and obliterate rear windows into thousands of tiny pieces, the array of subwoofers on the market is as vast as it is dizzying. While they’re all designed to reproduce low notes, how they go about that mission can really vary. With that in mind, here are some key features to consider when purchasing a subwoofer for your ride.

Car Subwoofer Key Features

Frequency Response

Frequency response is key to subwoofer performance, especially with modern sub-bass-heavy music production posing a challenge of auditory limbo. How low can your subwoofer go? Larger-diameter subwoofers generally are capable of reaching lower frequencies while smaller-diameter subwoofers typically don’t hit as low. We say typically as, of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Still, 35 Hz as the bottom is an old benchmark, especially now that reasonably priced subwoofers are hitting below 30 Hz. Upper frequency limits don’t matter nearly as much since setting up a subwoofer requires tuning a low-pass filter on the amplifier. Generally, 70-80 Hz is where you should set the low-pass filter, well below the upper frequency limits of typical subwoofers.

Impedance

Two-ohm or not two-ohm: that is the question. Back up a second though, and a more important query emerges. What exactly is an ohm? Impedance, measured in ohms, is really just how a subwoofer’s voice coil resists electrical current. Lower resistance means that more power can run through the voice coil, resulting in louder sound. The downside? While low-impedance subwoofers can pound the ground hard, oftentimes they trade quality for block-rocking bass.

The solution? Typically, that’s more resistance. Look, throwing two low-impedance 12-inch subs in a ported box in the trunk of your car and cranking them up until the license plate sounds like a flicked door stopper is fun as hell, but when you really want to hear the nuance of a track, sound quality is important. That’s why most of the subwoofers in this guide feature four-ohm impedance. It’s also worth noting that an amplifier can’t push as much power at four ohms as it can at two ohms, so it’s a good idea to be diligent in reading those spec sheets.

Enclosure Requirements

While powered subwoofers don’t require selecting an enclosure, most subwoofers are of a passive design. When selecting an enclosure for a passive subwoofer, first decide if you want a sealed or ported enclosure. Sealed enclosures are more compact and offer tighter bass while ported enclosures are larger and louder. Next, look up enclosure volume requirements for your subwoofer, along with ideal port frequency if you’re going with a ported enclosure. Then it’s just a matter of matching up the specs and measuring to make sure the enclosure fits in your vehicle. Finally, a safety mention: Just like how you’d put groceries in a cargo net, make sure any subwoofer enclosure is mounted securely in your vehicle.

Car Subwoofer Pricing

As the subwoofer market is as vast as it is varied, there are units out there for everyone from ballers to budget-wise students. High-end SPL units like the JL Audio 13W7AE-D1.5 clock in at over 10 times what a decent-quality budget subwoofer like the Kenwood Excelon KFC-XW1241HP costs. Price tags grow exponentially for multiple-stack units, beefier construction, higher power handling and better sound clarity. As seen from the products in this less, you can spend around $100 or you can spend more than $1,000.

FAQs

Car Bibles answers all your burning questions!

Q: Why would I want a car subwoofer?

A: Just as the tweeters on your doors or dashboard are designed to fill in high notes, subwoofers are designed to fill out the low notes in audio recordings. A great litmus test is Loft Music by The Weeknd, which features several low sub-bass rolls towards the end of the song. If you can’t hear them or if they’re barely audible on your stock system, adding a subwoofer wouldn’t be a bad idea. In addition, subwoofers can take heavy bass load off of the door and parcel shelf speakers, enhancing their clarity while extending their lifespan. This works best in conjunction with an aftermarket head unit with a hi-pass filter that can divert low frequencies away from the door and parcel shelf speakers.

Q: What do SQ, SPL, and SQL mean?

A: SQ, SQL, and SPL are three very different approaches to car audio. SQ stands for Sound Quality and is used to describe setups that value faithful audio reproduction over everything else. SQ-focused components aren’t the loudest setups on the market but that’s okay. Their role is to complement other system components for clear, balanced sound. SPL stands for Sound Pressure Level and is used to describe setups that value loudness over everything. Peak decibels is the name of the game here, often blowing out sound and rattling license plates in the pursuit of rambunctious fun. SQL stands for Sound Quality Level and is used to describe components that are both powerful and clear. The JL Audio 13W7AE-D1.5 is a great example of an SQL subwoofer that maintains excellent clarity as it builds mirror-dislodging bass.

Q: Why are you displaying RMS wattage rather than peak wattage?

A: While peak wattage certainly looks impressive, it doesn’t truly represent what a subwoofer is capable of handling. If a subwoofer is rated for 1,000 watts of peak power, that means it can sustain 1,000 watts of power for just a fraction of a second without any damage. RMS stands for root mean square and it refers to continuous power handling of a subwoofer. What you’ll hear every day is RMS wattage, not peak wattage. Likewise, it’s important to match RMS wattage between a subwoofer and the amplifier chosen to drive it. So long as amplifier RMS power is at or below the subwoofer’s RMS rating, the setup should be reliable and clear-sounding for quite a long time.

Sources:

  1. Subwoofer – Wikipedia

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