What to expect from a subwoofer under $500?
Subwoofers run up into the thousands of dollars for a single unit at the high end, so is it really worth investing in a subwoofer under $500? The answer depends largely on your budget and your need for unparalleled sound quality. In general, for subwoofers that cost less than around $3,000, the more money that you can spend on your subwoofer the more significant the impact of the unit on your overall sound system will be. There are numerous technical differences between subwoofers under $500 and those costing several thousand dollars, but the end result is that subwoofers under $500 tend to have muddier, less accurate bass output than their high-end counterparts.
That said, for most people building a home theater or sound system for the first time, upgrading from no subwoofer or a stock subwoofer that came with a 5.1 surround sound system to a subwoofer in the $500 price range will make a huge difference. Especially as audio technology is improving and manufacturing is becoming cheaper, subwoofers in this price range are dramatically improving, and there are now many subwoofers around the $500 price range that even audiophiles are taking note of.
Features to consider before buying
How do you find those subwoofers under $500 that are worth a second look? The answer is in the technical specifications, which helpfully compare how different subwoofers will perform. In this section, we’ll cover some of the most important technical specifications that describe subwoofers and some of the other important features to consider when investing in a subwoofer.
The power output of a subwoofer is one of the most important details to look at, since it directly relates to the volume that a subwoofer can produce. While a more powerful subwoofer is not necessarily louder – you can control the volume – the power output describes the maximum possible volume. In general, a more powerful subwoofer like the 300-watt Polk Audio PSW505 will produce better sound quality when playing at room volume, in the middle of its power range, than a less powerful 50-watt subwoofer, of which there are many under $500, that is maxed out at room volume.
The frequency response describes the range of frequencies, measured in Hertz (Hz), that a subwoofer can play. Since your subwoofer is typically the only speaker in your sound system capable of playing bass frequencies, having a relatively broad frequency response is important to avoid having some bass frequencies input from your audio being muddied or left out of your output sound altogether. Among subwoofers under $500, less powerful subwoofers like the BIC America F12 and Bic Acoustech PL-200 II boast the widest frequency responses – from 22 and 25 to 200 Hz – while more powerful subwoofers tend to have narrower frequency responses.
The cone is the part of the subwoofer that moves in response to the input audio signal to push air and actually produce sound. Because bass signals are relatively long wavelengths, a large cone is required to push a lot of air over a longer distance to produce the low-frequency sounds. Thus, a larger cone, on the order of 12 inches as in the Bic America F12, Klipsch R-12SW, and Polk Audio PSW505, will typically produce better sound quality. However, vibrations in the cone itself can also introduce noise that muddy the bass, so cone size alone cannot specify the overall quality of a subwoofer.
When it comes to subwoofers, larger is usually better – a larger subwoofer typically means that it hosts a larger cone and has higher power output. However, if you are placing your subwoofer in a small room or in a tight space, it is worth checking on the exact dimensions of the subwoofer you are interested in relative to the space you have. In general, it is better to place your subwoofer correctly within your sound system – which takes some moving the subwoofer around your room to find where the room acoustics are best – than to opt for a larger subwoofer.
Even under $500, a subwoofer is a significant investment, and you want to be sure that you will be protected against manufacturer defects. Most subwoofers under $500 come with a two-year limited warranty, but several manufacturers including Polk Audio and BIC America offer more substantial five-year warranties that ensure your subwoofer will last for years to come.
Some subwoofers come with special audio technologies that are designed to improve the sound quality beyond what the technical specifications alone would suggest they are capable of. For example, the BIC America F12 comes with BIC’s patented “Venturi” vent, which eliminates port noise to improve audio quality. These technologies vary greatly between manufacturers, but keep an eye out for them as they can improve sound quality without altering the fundamentals of the subwoofer itself.