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Last updated: June 20, 2021
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When you’re putting together a home theater or a serious music setup in your home, you could skimp on the bass and be perfectly fine. But adding a quality subwoofer to your audio system makes a world of difference in the ability to bring out low frequencies and improve the overall quality of the audio. While there are dozens of companies making subwoofers that push the boundaries of audio quality, thankfully you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to make significant improvements to your sound system. Even if these budget subwoofers will never offer the same drive sizes and bass volumes as more high-end subwoofers, the best subwoofer under $500 can make a huge difference in the quality of your audio.
To determine which subwoofers under $500 are the best quality for the money, we looked at a number of features that define the bass output of a subwoofer. We examined power output, which controls the maximum volume that a subwoofer can put out, and the frequency response, which describes the range of frequencies that a subwoofer can reproduce. We also looked at the size of the cone, which determines how much air the subwoofer can move with each vibration and thus affects sound quality.
We spent tens of hours reading technical specifications and customer reviews for many of the top-rated subwoofers under $500 currently on the market. The result is a list of our eight favorite subwoofers that deliver terrific audio quality at a value price. The table below highlights our picks, and continue reading for detailed reviews of each subwoofer complete with pros and cons. Our buying guide and Frequently Asked Questions section cover everything you need to know about choosing the subwoofer that is right for your needs and budget. Finally, we sum up our favorite three subwoofers under $500 on the market today.
Ask anyone who has used this subwoofer from Polk Audio, and they’ll tell you that it is far and away the best subwoofer for the money, period. Many users report buying multiple, either to set up dual subwoofers for a 7.1 surround sound system or to use in multiple rooms.
One of the features that sets this subwoofer apart for the price is the power output. Compared to the many 50-watt subwoofers available for under $500, this subwoofer is capable of 300 watts of continuous sound power and up to 460 watts of dynamic power. Most users report rarely turning the gain to more than 60%, which leaves plenty of volume while still operating in the sweet spot of this subwoofer.
The downside to this subwoofer at this price point is that the frequency range is relatively limited, at 23–160 Hz, so you lose the transition frequencies between your bass and your mid-frequency speakers. In addition, users note that the rear port design is susceptible to causing noise, which can be quite noticeable at high gains.
That said, the subwoofer also comes with an adjustable low pass crossover system to help reduce noise and improve the blending with other speakers in your sound system. While the subwoofer is excellent for booming vibrations when watching movies, it also has the responsiveness needed to provide good sound quality for music playback.
Plus, Polk Audio provides one of the longest warranties on their inexpensive subwoofers, at five years. That provides peace of mind that this subwoofer will last at least as long as the rest of your sound system.
This powerful subwoofer from Klipsch shares much of its design with the R-10SW from the same manufacturer, but features an enlarged 12-inch cone driver that enables even more power output. This subwoofer is capable of 200 watts of continuous power with a dynamic output of up to 400 watts, and users note that it is easily capable of shaking a room when the gain is cranked. Impressive for a subwoofer at this modest price point, users also note that there is very little distortion when the gain is cranked over 50%. However, as is the case for all of the subwoofers under $500 we reviewed, it is worth noting that the bass is not as rich as on higher-end subwoofers. In addition, note that this subwoofer is significantly larger than the R-10SW and will take up more space in your room, as well as interact with your room’s acoustics differently.
One important specification that stayed the same between this subwoofer and the R-10SW, unfortunately, is the relatively narrow frequency response. As for the smaller subwoofer, there is a noticeable frequency gap between this subwoofer and the mid-frequency speakers you have attached to your sound system. While this might not be an issue for movies, users noticed it during music playback, even in spite of the low-pass crossover filter and phase control built into the subwoofer.
Despite the overall quality of this speaker, Klipsch only offers a two-year warranty.
Users rave not only about the sound quality from this powered subwoofer from BIC America, but also about the company’s customer service. In addition to sporting a full five-year warranty on par with that from Polk Audio, users consistently remark that BIC America was extremely responsive to customer questions throughout the setup process.
The subwoofer itself is not especially powerful at only 150 watts, but the 475 watts of dynamic power put it on par with significantly more expensive subwoofers. The 12-inch driver is injection molded to provide consistency between units and keep the sound quality high. Plus, in contrast to most other sub-$500 subwoofers that boast that level of dynamic power, this subwoofer has a wide frequency response ranging from 25-200 Hz. Together, this leaves users very impressed with the sound quality and the feeling that the subwoofer is more powerful than most 5.1 surround sound theaters actually need – which is not a bad thing to have. The biggest downside to the power is that when the volume is turned up past 50% gain, the subwoofer can actually generate rumbles that reach your neighbor’s home.
A nice addition to this subwoofer is the patented “Venturi” vent in the rear, which greatly reduces noise from the port found on other inexpensive subwoofers. In addition, the subwoofer comes with input ports for both Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby Digital/DTS systems so that you can use this subwoofer with a wide variety of inputs.
Users rave about this small but powerful subwoofer from Klipsch, which produces far more sound than most people think when they first look at it. The subwoofer is only rated for 150 watts of continuous power, but boasts 300 watts of dynamic power and is controlled by a fully digital amplifier that helps reduce the noise at higher gains. Many people who purchased this subwoofer have also used Klipsch’s 15-inch subwoofer and note with surprise that this subwoofer is nearly as loud and can easily fill a large room with bass as part of a 5.1 surround sound system. The secret is in part the copper-spun front-firing 10” cone driver, which amplifies sound far more than traditional inexpensive drivers.
The cost of this power and sound quality is that the frequency response of this subwoofer is relatively limited. Without an additional, higher-end subwoofer in the same audio setup, you will lose all bass deeper than about 32 Hz. While the low pass crossover and phase control built into the subwoofer helps to alleviate the gap between the bass and your mid-frequency speakers, expect some gap in the sound at the upper end of this subwoofer’s 120 Hz maximum.
Another minor, but important advantage to this subwoofer is that it has both line and LFE inputs. This ensures that your new subwoofer will be compatible with both your existing audio receiver and a new audio receiver if you need to replace it.
What makes it special?
300-watt dynamic power and 10” copper-spun cone driver
This small subwoofer from Polk Audio is designed specifically to fill in the bass on a subwoofer-less surround sound system or to replace a noisy stock subwoofer that came with your new surround sound system. Although the subwoofer provides only 50 watts of continuous power, the ability to jump to 100 watts of power dynamically allows this subwoofer to be noticeably louder than many of its competitors. However, users note that compared to more expensive 50-watt subwoofers this unit can get muddied more easily and the deterioration of sound quality at high volumes is one of the major deficits of this subwoofer. Nevertheless, users still feel that this subwoofer is one of the best available for the price – and the low price tag also makes it possible to add multiple of these subwoofers into your sound system for more booming bass.
The lowest frequencies on this subwoofer are unfortunately very clipped since the subwoofer has a minimum frequency of 40 Hz. In addition, expect a sizable gap in frequencies between this and your other speakers since the maximum frequency that it can output is 160 Hz. However, the 10-inch composite cone driver provides relatively high fidelity playback within that frequency range, in part thanks to the laser-based Klippel measurement technology that helps improve linearity.
Like for the more expensive PSW505 model subwoofer, Polk Audio offers a five-year warranty to protect your investment in this subwoofer.
This compact and inexpensive subwoofer from Yamaha – one of the most renowned names in audio – provides excellent value for the price. Although the subwoofer only puts out 50 watts of power with no dynamic boost, users felt that the volume was plenty loud for small and moderate sized rooms in a 5.1 surround sound system setup. More important, users noted that the noise and muddying of the bass was relatively limited as the volume was turned up towards the maximum, which is impressive in a speaker at this low price point.
In addition, this subwoofer provides one of the widest frequency ranges we found at this price point, from 28–200 Hz, which means that it can cover almost all of the input low frequencies while blending nicely with your mid-frequency speakers. Yamaha further improved the sound quality of this subwoofer by designing a twisted flare port on the side of the unit, which reduces noise compared to a conventional slotted rear port.
Despite all these impressive features, note that this is still a relatively inexpensive subwoofer that lacks the feel and sound of higher-end subwoofers. Users noted in particular that you can hear, rather than feel, this subwoofer when standing next to it. Yamaha also offers only a two-year limited warranty, compared to the five-year warranty found on the similarly priced Polk Audio PSW10.
This small but powerful speaker from Yamaha looks similar to the NS-SW050BL, but it differs in a few important ways. The main difference is the 10-inch cone, upgraded from the eight-inch driver in the smaller subwoofer, that allows for an increased dynamic power output of up to 100 watts. Of course, with the slightly larger cone, the size of the subwoofer itself is also somewhat larger. Otherwise, the subwoofer is largely similar and users loved many of the same features, including the wide frequency response that is relatively unparalleled among subwoofers at this low price point.
One thing to note is that this subwoofer lacks a low-pass crossover filter, so even with the improved frequency response you will notice a gap between the bass and mid-frequencies unless your audio receiver has a crossover filter built into it. If this is something you do not have, it may be worth looking for a subwoofer with a filter. Otherwise, users appreciated the clear sound quality on this subwoofer at moderate gains, again noting that it gets muddy towards the high end of its power output. However, the noise is kept down by the inclusion of a twisted flare side port, as opposed to the standard rear slotted port found on most subwoofers in this price range.
Yamaha again offers only a two-year warranty on this subwoofer, although users did not notice any issues over years of use.
The Bic Acoustech PL-200 II has 1000 watts dynamic peak output and 250 watts RMS continuous output, making this a powerful subwoofer. It has 22hz to 200Hz frequency response, as well as adjustable crossover and volume controls. This subwoofer has a state-of-the-art BASH amplifier and is a front-firing 12-inch long-throw powered unit with long excursion surround sound.
Users stated that it reaches deep, clean bass notes with an ability to be delicate when needed, though others claimed that it’s not the best choice if you’re looking for a subwoofer that can handle accuracy in bass response.
The Bic Acoustech PL-200 II comes with a spectacular 8-year warranty, making it a great choice for those customers who are looking for a subwoofer with a long lifespan, or for one with warranty options in case of accident, though it’s important to note that it doesn’t come with its own cord so the consumer would need to provide the required RCA cable. However, everyone agreed that it’s a subwoofer with great sound. It weighs a little over 43 pounds, making it a touch heavy, but not so heavy that most people couldn’t move it when necessary. And it is very large, so space in your home and where to store this subwoofer could be an issue for some users.
Finally, many users stated this subwoofer really shines when used in a home theater, though it is perfectly fine for music as well.
What do we love it for?
Great for home theaters
What were we disappointed with?
Very large size
RCA cable is not included
Things to Consider
Now that you know more about our eight favorite subwoofers under $500, how do you discriminate among them to choose the subwoofer that is right for you? In our buying guide, we’ll cover some of the common terminology that is used to describe subwoofers and explain how the different technical specifications relate to the sound quality you’ll receive. Our Frequently Asked Questions section will then answer some of the most common questions we encounter from first-time subwoofer buyers to make finding the right subwoofer for your needs as easy as possible.
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.
A 7.1 surround sound system, as opposed to a 5.1 surround sound system, includes two extra side speakers to provide additional mid- and high-frequency sound. For this reason, you will need a more powerful subwoofer to balance the bass frequencies with the louder and more surrounding mid and high frequencies. Many people with 7.1 sound systems actually choose to incorporate two subwoofers to provide the requisite power and to help the bass sound as surrounding as the rest of the sound.
Many of the manufacturers that produce subwoofers have loyal followings, but some brands offer better warranties and customer service than others. Polk Audio and BIC America both offer five-year warranties, compared to the two-year warranties that most other manufacturers offer on their sub-$500 subwoofers. These companies are also beloved by their customers for the responsiveness they provide after purchase.
Setting up a subwoofer requires an audio receiver, which is typically part of a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system along with other speakers. The subwoofer is connected to the receiver via a standard RCA cable. Placing the subwoofer in your room can be tricky since there is no standard location – it depends on the acoustics of the room your sound system is set up in. Best practice is to sit in your listening position while someone moves the subwoofer around the room until you zero in on the spot that offers the best bass response.
Although all of the subwoofers that we reviewed are serious contenders for your home theater or for listening to music, the three that stood out most to us were the Polk Audio PSW505, the Klipsch R-12SW, and the BIC America F12 The Polk Audio and BIC America subwoofers both come with five-year warranties, which immediately signals that these manufacturers stand behind their audio products. Meanwhile, all of these subwoofers have minimum output frequencies below 30 Hz, which means you can get the true lows out of your movies and music. Although the Klipsch and Polk Audio subwoofers had limited high frequency responses, all three units were able to work well in surround sound systems thanks to the inclusion of a low-pass crossover filter. Overall, we felt that the Polk Audio PSW505 was the all-around best subwoofer under $500 thanks to its booming 300 watts of continuous power and 460 watts of dynamic power and relatively strong sound quality at high volumes.