When it comes to low-end bass that can be felt as much as it can be heard, we firmly believe. With its outrageously powerful amp and stylish good looks, it will fill a room with bass you can feel deep in your bones. It’s so good, we gave it a perfect 5 out of 5 in our review, something that rarely happens.
Our team has more than 50 years of consumer and pro audio experience, and much of that time — thousand of hours — has been spent listening to home theater gear, including subwoofers. We think most people will be deliriously happy with the SVS SB-16 Ultra, but if it’s not right for you, we’ve compiled a list of five alternatives, each with its own specific strength, so you can find the one that’s best for your needs.
If you’ve already made your choice, check our subwoofer setup guide to get everything put together correctly and our calibration guide to help maximize performance in any listening space.
Best subwoofers at a glance
The best subwoofer: SVS SB-16 Ultra
Why you should buy it: It’s our favorite subwoofer ever, built to excel in any and all circumstances.
Who it’s for: Those who want a powerful, versatile subwoofer that cuts no corners.
Why we picked the SVS SB-16 Ultra:
We’ve had the SB-16 Ultra in our testing chambers for many months now — not because we’re too lazy to move it out (though it does weigh in at a hefty 122 pounds), but because we haven’t found anything worthy to take its place. This subwoofer has become our measuring stick, which might actually be unfair to the competition — it’s that good. Beneath a sleek, stylish subwoofer box, the cubic SB-16 houses a monstrous 16-inch Ultra driver with an 8-inch, edge-wound voice coil, and a ridiculous 1,500-watt continuous Sledge amplifier with discrete MOSFET output that tops out at 5,000 watts peak power.
All of this is to say: No matter how you’re using the, it impresses. Gunshots and explosions in films register with a hefty thump to the chest, and the sub manages low-end instrumentation beautifully, allowing acoustic bass to bounce smoothly while electronic bass and kick drums shake the foundations of your home. For our money, this is the best subwoofer you can buy, period.
Read our full SVS SB-16 Ultra review
The best budget subwoofer: Dayton Audio SUB-1200
Why you should buy it: It’s compact, reliable, and just $150.
Who it’s for: Those who want to add some thump on the cheap.
Why we picked the Dayton Audio SUB-1200:
It’s okay if you’re short on cash or just looking for a support subwoofer to put in the bedroom (or office, or whatever your secondary entertainment space may be) because viable and affordable options are out there. For our money (and yours), you won’t go wrong with the Dayton Audio SUB-1200, which can be acquired for $150. It’s deceptively powerful, despite its 12-inch frame, capable of producing full bass that never sounds tinny or boomy.
So nondescript that it will fit comfortably into most rooms without drawing undue attention, it strikes a nice balance aesthetically and functionally. Big enough to rattle some hardwood, but not rickety enough to make bass go off the rails. That’s why it’s great if you’re a casual viewer or listener looking for a budget sub to round out your system. Try theon for size.
The best compact subwoofer: MartinLogan Dynamo 800X
Why you should buy it: This pint-sized cabinet belies some serious power.
Who it’s for: Those who want a small sub with exceptionally powerful and articulate bass.
Why we picked the MartinLogan Dynamo 800X:
The Dynamo 800X has bigger siblings, but it holds its own as an impressive piece of tech when looking at it punching above its weight. Despite its relatively small frame — 13.7 by 12.4 by 13.1 inches, 30 pounds — its 10-inch driver and amplifier that can hit a peak of 600 watts. That’s pretty modest on paper, yet the bass sound coming out in practice is impactful while powered by the Class D amplifier.
It produces a deep, forceful bass that really comes out in particular moments when watching a big movie or listening to music. Fastening the legs tightly can withstand any vibration or rattling from the casing, and it largely avoids any distortion while rumbling along. At its price, this is good value for what you get in a subwoofer — especially when it doesn’t need as much floor space to do its thing. If you want the best bass from the smallest box, thegives you that.
The best hideaway subwoofer: Paradigm MilleniaSub
Why you should buy it: Its thin profile allows for convenient concealment.
Who it’s for: Anyone concerned about the aesthetic of their entertainment space.
Why we picked the Paradigm MilleniaSub:
Yes, the MilleniaSub looks like an oversized router, and no, it won’t work underwater (despite the name). Its weird shape is the main reason we’ve included it on our list. The skinny MilleniaSub can be mounted on your wall, but we see its svelte design as an opportunity to beef up your home theater’s bass without busying up your living space.
Thefits neatly behind couches, chairs, and tables, and the extruded aluminum housing means it weighs just 24 pounds. Back-to-back 14-inch “bipolar” polymer cone woofers are driven by 300 watts (up to 900 watts at peak) for pure low-end rumble, and they’re arranged in a manner that nearly eliminates distortion altogether. The $1,400 price is no small ask, but if you’re truly looking for a classy, concealable subwoofer, start here first.
The dark horse subwoofer: Polk Audio PSW10 Subwoofer
Why you should buy it: It’s reasonably priced, surprisingly effective, and versatile to boot.
Who it’s for: Those looking for the best possible performance at a lower price.
Why we picked the Polk Audio PSW10 Subwoofer:
Those looking for a more affordable subwoofer that still delivers will find this 10-inch Polk speaker an ideal solution: It offers a simple, durable design with a detachable subwoofer encloser, including speaker and line-level inputs as well as speaker-level outputs, a low pass filter, and a phase toggle switch on the back. It also has a built-in 50-watt RMS amp for bass boost that you can enable for an overall 100 watts of sound power. It offers 80-160Hz crossover and 40-160Hz frequency response.
Theis designed to work with any existing system (including sound systems put together by aspiring musicians), but you can choose to bundle it with a centra channel speaker if you prefer the most compatibility possible.
The best attractive subwoofer: Klipsch Reference Series 12 (R-12SW)
Why you should buy it: Any home theater looks better with it, and its value and performance are worth every penny.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants powerful, tight, and musical low end in an attractive package.
Why we picked the Klipsch Reference Series 12 (R-12SW):
Klipsch has carved out a pretty solid reputation in the home theater space, which is probably why we shouldn’t have been surprised at how awesome the Reference Series 12 is. This subwoofer is available at a bargain these days, coming with a 12-inch driver powered by 400W Class-D amplifiers. Klipsch managed to build this pretty light in weight at only 30 pounds, but what’s inside is rigid, making it possible to reach deeper into the lows without rattling its cage.
Your options for placement are also more varied because of the subwoofer’s looks. Klipsch includes a cloth grille to cover the front, but the copper cone looks so much better when exposed. It does lack in extra features, so what you’re getting is a workhorse that sticks to one job. It’s just great that thelooks so good doing it every time you play some music or watch a movie. The combination of looks, performance, and price won’t have you regretting the purchase.
The best car subwoofer: Rockford Fosgate P3D4-12
Why you should buy it: It adds extra-powerful bass to vehicle sound quality.
Who it’s for: Those serious about outfitting their vehicle with the best sound system.
Why we picked the Rockford Fosgate P3D4-12:
If you are looking to outfit a vehicle with the best sound system possible, you’ll need an impressive subwoofer that’s also designed for use in a car — and that means turning to Rockford Fosgate. This powerful 12-inch, dual 4-ohm subwoofer is guaranteed to pump things up, and the anodized aluminum voice coils will ensure the speaker lasts without suffering too much from wear, tear, or heat. It’s also designed in every way to be easy to install in vehicles, with a rubber over-mold and protective magnet cover to guard against dust.
With the 600-watt RMS, thecan reach 1,200 watts of max power. Oh, and everything comes with a full 1-year warranty if anything goes wrong with the sealed subwoofer. There’s no better way to get real bass delivery on a vehicle system that’s ready for the best tailgating experience in the world.
How we test
You’d think a box of bass would be fairly easy to test and evaluate, but given how much a room can affect bass response from a subwoofer — along with the growing number of subs that come with room equalization features that aim to deal with those room-based influences — we’ve developed a fairly extensive process for gathering as much information as we can about a subwoofer’s performance.
Before we get to performance-based evaluations, we take a step back and look at the subwoofer on the whole. Is it bulky or compact? Is it solidly constructed or does it feel a bit flimsy or cheap? How extensive are the connection options and how do those affect connectivity? If there’s an app to help with subwoofer control and settings, is it intuitive and useful?
Once we’ve gathered information on those touchpoints listed above, we run the subwoofer for several hours before beginning any critical evaluation. While there is much debate over whether the “break-in effect” is real, we prefer to get that factor covered so it doesn’t play a role in our evaluation one way or another.
Our subwoofer tests take place in at least two different rooms, any of which we are intimately familiar with, and we generally test the subwoofer in three locations that we know offer the best possible response within those rooms. Testing material includes everything from test tone sweeps to blockbuster movies and a selection of music from multiple genres. We seek to learn how deep a sub can play, how visceral the low bass response is, how well it can be adjusted to integrate with both small and large satellite speakers, and how musically accurate it is capable of playing.
We hope for a versatile subwoofer, which can not only belt out the big bass notes needed for a high-impact action movie, but one which can also stay tight and tuneful when playing acoustic upright bass, or reproducing the classic Fender P-bass tone. A good subwoofer will avoid tubby, boomy sound that lacks definition, and instead integrate itself seamlessly into a larger audio system, calling attention to itself only during instances in which its pure muscle can’t be ignored.