Subwoofer vs Amplifier

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Updated October 26, 2022

If you’re trying to create a spectacular home or car audio system, it’s important to know it takes more than owning the best speakers; you also have to power them. The debate around how to power the best subwoofers is hotly contested because there are a few popular ways to give them juice. So, to shed some light on this bass-related debate, below, we’ll discuss the differences between subwoofers vs amplifiers.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • There are multiple types of subwoofers, some come with built-in amplifiers, and others require an external power source.
  • Powered subwoofers are likelier to have optimized power levels, increasing volume, and low-frequency sound output.
  • External amplifiers are helpful for those trying to hook up multiple subwoofers at once.

If you want more, our coverage of subwoofer content doesn’t stop here. We also have guides on things like sealed vs ported subwoofers. Additionally, we have buying guides, like this one, on the market’s best 6.5-inch speakers.

Insider Tip

A powered amp usually saves money in the long run because you don’t have to buy an external amp and additional speaker wire.

Comparing a Powered Sub vs a Sub and Amp

When powering subwoofers, consumers have two options. The first is to get a powered subwoofer with a dedicated amplifier built into the enclosure (also known as an active subwoofer). The other option is to get a speaker that hooks up to an external amplifier (also known as a passive subwoofer).

The choice over a passive vs active subwoofer isn’t always easy, but depending on which you choose, there are implications to the sound quality, price, and installation process. For further reading on sound setup, we have a great primer outlining the differences between subwoofers vs speakers.

Low-Frequency Sounds

Many factors play into a speaker’s sound quality and bass production. The main thing to consider is that your speaker’s power is the right size and volume for your space.

Both active and passive subwoofers can produce stellar bass frequencies, but an active subwoofer may be a safer bet because the built-in amp is more likely to power the speaker accurately. However, remember that if you do your research, you can optimize low-frequency sounds just as well with an external amplifier as you can with an active subwoofer.

Power Supply

The great thing about powered units is that you’re almost guaranteed to power the subwoofer adequately. With amplifiers, you risk getting one that cannot power the speaker, which forfeits volume. Likewise, you don’t have to worry about incompatible resistance ratings with active units, which can damage a speaker if you connect a speaker to an amp with higher resistance.

Warning

Wiring speakers in parallel decreases the resistance, making it more likely to burn out the amplifier accidentally.

Versatility

Using an external amp is the way to go if you’re working with multiple bass speakers and want to experiment with different wiring settings. Active speakers only work for the single unit and don’t allow owners to switch between parallel and series wiring.

Convenience

Between a powered subwoofer and an external amp, the setup is much easier when using a type of subwoofer with a built-in power supply. Overall, there’s much less wiring to worry about with powered subwoofers.

STAT: A good power rating for a subwoofer in a small room is between 100-300 Hz. (source)

Subwoofer vs Amplifier FAQs

How do I know if I should get a 2-Ohm or 4-Ohm subwoofer?

Determining what Ohm rating is right for you comes down to knowing your purpose for the speaker. For example, if you prioritize volume and low-pitched audio frequencies, go with the lower resistance.

Do subwoofers only play bass frequencies?

Smaller diameter subwoofers, while still used for bass, can produce a frequency response beyond 200 Hz.

Do you need a unique amp to power a subwoofer?

All you need is an amp that is powerful enough and has a compatible resistance rating.
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