This article is a part of RS Recommends, an editorial series reviewing products in music and entertainment. Items are independently selected; Penske Media may earn a commission from purchases made from our links.
When The Roots released “Don’t Say Nuthin” off their album, “The Tipping Point,” in 2004, producers Questlove and Scott Storch said they wanted to create a track that purposely took the group away from their usual live instrumentation in favor of more electronic-inspired backing beats.
While much of the initial response to the song focused on Black Thought’s indiscernible mumbling on the chorus, fans and critics alike soon applauded the group for digging into the boards to create a fresh and original-sounding record, where the lyrics seemed to dance and groove their way around a track that mixed elements of funk, hip-hop, electronica and futuristic pop. Questlove and Storch broke down each sound to their simplest form, then layered the different elements over each other, to create an aural ambience listeners hadn’t previously heard in a rap song.
The now-classic anthem is now a favorite at club nights and live shows alike, thanks to its rolling backbeat and thundering bass line, something the powerful speakers and subwoofers at these venues easily capture and bring out into the foreground. But you don’t have to be in a music studio or at a concert to experience the fullness of a track like “Don’t Say Nuthin.“
These days, any pair of well-reviewed speakers will get you decent sound quality, but if you really want to hear the richness and complexities of a track, and experience it the way an artist intended, it might be time to invest in a subwoofer.
A good subwoofer helps to fill out the bottom end of your music, typically between 20 and 200 Hz, while also boosting the roar and rumble of a movie scene or score. While subwoofers might get a bad rap thanks to those exaggerated versions that pulsate out of cars in hip-hop videos, the average subwoofer these days is no bigger than the box your Jordans came in. Yes they’re great for turning up the bass, but subwoofers also help to tune out distortion, enrich mids and amplify your music to all corners of the room. Think Game of Thrones sounds good through your TV? Tack on a subwoofer and really feel the rumbling of the wall and the bombastic score accompanying every battle scene. With a speaker, you hear music. Add a subwoofer and you’ll experience it.
We’ve found five solid subwoofers that come in under $300 – much cheaper than purchasing a new sound system, and an affordable way to upgrade your current set-up. Whether you’re jamming out to music in your room or adding to your entertainment system, here’s what to get.
1. Polk Audio PSW10 Subwoofer
This is one of two options from Polk Audio on our list, which is one of the leading brands in this category. This 10-inch subwoofer boasts 100 watts of power, with a uniquely-designed port that’s tuned and directed to produce more accurate, realistic bass (I.e. it won’t sound like the bass has been put through a digitizer).
Polk says the subwoofer has been engineered to tune out distortion and dampen any internal waves that could affect sound quality and performance. Don’t be afraid to turn it up either – Polk’s “Klippel distortion analyzer” optimizes the woofer’s motor structure and suspension for “smooth, unimpeded movement,” even at extreme listening levels.
The PSW10 has more than 4500 reviews online from customers who praise its sleek look, its ability to connect with multiple outputs, and its rich, balanced sound – even at low frequencies. Note: this subwoofer works best for a small to mid-size room. If you’ve got a larger living space, you’ll want to consider other options on this list. Purchase: $129.00 on Amazon.com.
2. Echo Sub
“Alexa, turn up the bass.” The Amazon Echo Sub pairs easily with Alexa and your Echo Plus Speakers to get you room-filling, left/right stereo sound that you can control using just your voice. To get started: just plug it in, pair it with your other Echo devices, and start listening to your music, podcasts and audiobooks with more detail and accuracy.
What we like: the Echo Sub delivers 100 watts of deep bass through a compact 6-inch woofer and a sleek, contemporary design. Reviewers say it’s super intuitive and easy to set up. The one downfall: you can pair it with other Echo speakers in the same room, but the set does not work as part of a multi-room setup. It also currently only works to enhance your speakers – it won’t pair with a TV. Purchase: $129.99 on amazon.com.
3. BIC America F12 Subwoofer
The largest model on this list — though still incredibly portable at just 12-inches — the F12 subwoofer is an incredible value, delivering a whopping 475-watts of bass and an output capability of up to 116dB (I.e. very loud) for just over $200.
Unlike some of the other woofers on this list, which use down-firing drivers (pointed toward the floor), this one uses front-firing drivers (pointed outwards), which some reviewers say provides more accurate sound. It also features a patented BIC “Venturi” vent, which helps to eliminate the port noise that can often interfere with the crispness and accuracy of your sound.
What we like: the gold-plated terminals and its inputs that support both Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby Digital/DTS. BIC’s automatic signal sensing also means the subwoofer reacts to your music right away – no complicated pairing necessary.
Fun fact: BIC’s first Formula Series model was introduced in 1973, and the US-based company has been creating audio equipment and accessories under that collection name ever since. This set comes with a five-year parts and labor warranty. Purchase: $205.99 on Amazon.com.
4. Yamaha SW315 Subwoofer
There aren’t many names more synonymous with music equipment than Yamaha, and whether they’re making keyboards or subwoofers, the Japanese brand (now with a U.S. headquarters in California) continues to churn out products that combine versatility with music prowess.
This SW315 subwoofer gets you 250 watts of deep, resonant bass that users say enhances the music rather than overpowering it. The woofer uses a down-firing driver and pyramid-shaped reflective plates to fire off sound in four different directions. The plates — unique to Yamaha’s woofers — absorb any dead sound bouncing off the floors while redirecting the truest, richest sound to the listener.
A bass selector switch lets you choose between music or movie mode, and you can manually adjust the frequencies as well, for a more customized setting. Purchase: $214.41 on Amazon.com.
5. Klipsch R-10SWi Wireless Subwoofer
Klipsch has been making audio products since 1946, and they’ve entered the subwoofer game at a competitive price-point with this R-10SWi set. The 10-inch front-firing system offers focused, powerful sound, and Klipsch says it’s “injection-molded graphite” material helps to filter out distortion and any breakup.
What we like: the handsome MDF cabinet and brushed veneer finish, which gives it a clean, contemporary look. You can also remove the front grill/screen to show off the woofer’s copper cone. The subwoofer is also wireless, which means you can place it anywhere in the room without worrying about a bunch of cables (just connect it to the included palm-sized wireless transmitter).
Reviewers say the Klipsch is a steal for its robust, room-filling sound. As one reviewer writes, “It puts out more bass than even necessary. I have a 15 ft by 20 ft family room, and this thing rumbles the whole freaking house.” Purchase: $248.00 on Amazon.com.
6. Polk Audio PSW111 Subwoofer
The PSW111 packs all the power of Polk Audio’s technology into a compact, 8-inch package. Get 300 watts of sound from a compact woofer, that’s lightweight enough to move around, but sturdy enough to stay steady on its four, stabilizing feet.
Reviewers say the woofer connects in a cinch, pairs easily with your home audio or theater setup, and delivers deep, resonant bass with minimal distortion. Polk, meantime, says its engineers have worked to optimize the woofer’s motor structure, voice coil alignment and suspension, to “bring you the best possible performance even at extreme listening levels.”
What we like: Polk’s intelligent amplifiers deliver a surge of power when you want the bass turned up high, but actively works to conserve power when playing at low volumes or on standby mode. If you have a small space — say, a studio apartment, office or den — this woofer will deliver. People looking to deck out a larger room or home theater system might want to consider some of the larger models on this list. Purchase: $299.95 on Amazon.com.