The Best Car Subwoofer
Whether you want a powerful bass to show off to your friends or just a little more punch and clarity on the low end of your car audio systems, the best car subwoofer can completely change your car audio experience for the better. However, finding the best car subwoofers on the market can be difficult, especially for people just getting into high end car audio.
There are plenty of things to be aware of—in addition to a speaker’s objective specs, like wattage, there are more subjective things, like clarity of sound. On top of all this, powered car subwoofers can be a bit difficult to set up, and you’ll need to get other components (amps, wiring) that complement the subwoofer you’re interested in.
I’m here to help, though. I’ve selected five of my top subwoofer brands choices to review in detail in this article, and I’ve included some helpful tips on selecting and setting up a subwoofer as well. When it’s all over, I’ll tell you what I think the best car subwoofer speaker is on the market right now — and help you set up your car stereo systems.
Here’s a table that lays out the basic specs and some of the features of the five subwoofer speaker models that I’m about to review. It should help you understand the reviews better and make your final selection. If there’s anything here you don’t understand, don’t worry—this buyers’ guide is meant for those new to car audio, as well as the more experienced.
Kicker is a brand that’s been around the car audio scene for some time and has always been a respected producer of subwoofers and amps. Like a lot of car audio companies out there, they produce a lot of models for different market segments, so you’ll find some budget choices and some high-end models under the Kicker moniker.
The 44DCWC122 12 inch subwoofer is definitely a higher end model, so it is at a high price point, but it also comes with virtually everything you need to get started.
When this setup showed up on my doorstep, I was excited to get it installed and tested as soon as possible. First, though, I tapped on the box and felt the speaker cones to see if they were really as well put together as I’d heard from friends who had tried this product. I was not disappointed.
One of the Toughest Setups Out There:
The speakers themselves are well made, too, and of a tougher material than most speaker cones, which should prevent them from distorting during heavy use.
Serious Volume and Quality
When I got everything set up and tried it out, I was impressed with this kit’s volume and clarity. That being said, I did end up replacing the wiring kit soon after and noticed an improvement in sound quality immediately after doing so.
Though I’m glad this kit comes with wiring from a value perspective, the wiring isn’t as well-made as the rest of the kit.
May Need an Upgrade
I may end up changing out car amplifier, too, or at least test out some other amps to see what these speakers can handle, but right out of the box this kit is quite impressive.
Though I’d suggest changing out the wires eventually and maybe upgrading the amp, this is enough to get you started and leaves room to customize the kit to your own taste.
If a complex setup is daunting to you, or you’re worried about accidentally buying an amp that’s too powerful or too weak for your chosen type of subwoofer, a powered sub setup like Fosgate P300 12 inch subwoofer might be the best choice for you.
Unlike a traditionally separated car amplifiers and sub, powered car subwoofers pack everything into one unit.
Rockford Fosgate is a brand that’s always impressed me with the quality of their products’ construction, and this powered sub unit is no exception. Everything from the subwoofer box to the speaker itself seems very well-made and durable.
Great Sound at a Great Price
The unit’s sound is also highly impressive. Although it’s not the loudest speaker I’ve ever heard, it does remain clear even at the highest volumes it can handle.
Last but not least, I was impressed with this unit’s value. It’s certainly not the cheapest type of subwoofer system around, but it packs in a lot more value than a lot of both cheaper and more expensive units out there.
Set Your Expectations Right
That being said, Rockford Fosgate P300 not a completely perfect unit, and there are some downsides. As I mentioned, it’s not an extremely loud subwoofer, so I wouldn’t recommend it for a very large vehicle (a van or large SUV, for example) or for anyone who really wants their bass to thump and boom.
However, the reasonable volume might be a plus for some users who don’t want to change their car audio systems so much as just enhance the low end.
Hard to Access
One definitely drawback was the placement of the unit’s controls on the side of the enclosure instead of on the top—while this is standard for a lot of powered subwoofers, I’ve never understood the logic.
Depending on how you install the Rockford Fosgate P300 12 inch subwoofer, it may be hard for you to access the controls and tweak the sound quickly and effortlessly.
In addition to the drawbacks, there is one thing that hasn’t caused me a problem yet but does worry me.
That being said, the Rockford Fosgate P300 12 inch subwoofer seems very well made, so I’m not worried about the amplifier inside dying. I would definitely recommend this unit for its durability and simplicity, and for the clarity of its sound as well.
MTX is another well-known, traditionally respected brand in the car audio world, and their Terminator series of speakers are top rated. I was excited to try out this set of two Terminator 12 inch subwoofer, 1200 watt speakers, and wasn’t disappointed when they first arrived.
Unbelievably Solid Enclosure
The enclosure the MTX Audio Terminator Series TNE212D are built into is incredibly solid, and the speakers themselves seem very high quality as well. Even the black carpeting covering the box is a noticeably better than average quality.
Choosing the Right Amp Makes All the Difference
When I got them hooked up, first using a Boss Riot 1100 watt amplifier and then a somewhat higher end Kicker 1200 watt peak model, I was impressed with their sound quality as well as their construction.
This setup strikes a nice balance between volume and clarity and is one of the best sets out there to satisfy those with diverse tastes in music.
Finally, I tested the MTX Audio Terminator Series TNE212D subwoofers with the recommended MTX 500.1 amp and found they worked really well with that one too. I’d definitely recommend getting a good monoblock amp for these if you want both clarity and volume or at the very least a well-made two-channel amplifier.
Watch Your Power
The only major con of this unit is the speakers’ durability. They’re not bad or weak by any means, but they are pretty easy to over-power or physical damage.
I would definitely recommend these speakers to anyone looking to get a more pronounced lower end in their car audio setup, and they come at a great value.
Everything is well made and works great, but keep in mind that you need to get the right amp for these (not more than 600 watts RMS or 1200 watts peak) and run it at the right power level.
Earlier in this buyer’s guide, I talked about powered car subwoofers, which are subwoofer setups with the amplifier built in. Now I’ll tell you that an “active” subwoofer is the same thing. This is another all in one unit, with the amplifier and sub in one enclosure.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this unit when a friend first told me about it, but after listening to it in her Mini Cooper, I was impressed and had to buy one for myself. When I set my own up, I stayed impressed.
A Small Subwoofer Setup for a Small Space
That being said, I do have to say that this unit is not intended for large vehicles, and it’s not going to add much to your sound if you pop it in the trunk of your Escalade. This unit is great for truck cabs and small sedans, and the car speakers sounds best to me when it’s right under my seat.
When it’s in its proper setting, though, it really enhances the powerful bass sound of just about any style of music. While I normally test my speakers in a Subaru Outback with lots of space, I popped this one into the cab of my pickup truck and was blown away by how much better it made my system sound.
Easy to Use, Even for Beginners
The setup of this unit was incredibly easy, and I was delighted to find plenty of easily accessible controls built into its low profile enclosure. Like I said, this unit sounds best when it’s right under or right behind the seat, and with the right settings dialed in it creates a perfect soundscape.
In fact, since ordering this one to test for reviews, I’ve ordered another and plan to set up two under both front seats of my Nissan Sentra, in which my MTX setup was a bit too loud. When the Rockville RW10CA is set up and placed properly, you can feel all the thumps of the bass and hear the low frequencies just like with a larger setup.
Another thing this unit has going for it is its extremely reasonable price point. It also looks nice, though everywhere I’ve set it up has been out of sight, so that’s pretty much a moot point.
Not Quite Perfect
Though the powerful subwoofer enclosure and amplifier seem very durable overall, I don’t think the Rockville RW10CA would fare well running for long periods of time on hot days.
Everything You Need
This is not a powered sub unit, but does come with both a subwoofer enclosure (with two 12” speakers) and a watts amplifier, so it’s pretty much a complete package—all you need is the wiring kit.
It also comes at a great price, so if this unit offers everything it says it does, it’s a great value for sure.
When this package arrived on my doorstep, I was excited to get everything set up. Like the 12 inch Kicker subwoofer model I reviewed above, it was a bit more of a complicated installation than a single powered subwoofer but still was not overly difficult.
The amp’s controls and jacks were intuitive and easy to use.
These speakers are very responsive, and I quickly adjusted the amplifier to my ideal settings. The sound quality stayed consistent throughout testing this package, and I had quite a few nice drives listening to a variety of music through these speakers.
That being said, at such a great price, and with an amplifier that can easily be swapped out for an even better model at any time, I’d recommend this unit to anyone looking for clearer, louder bass in their car audio setup.
Buyer’s Guide and FAQ
The individual reviews I wrote for you above are important—but they’ll make a lot more sense if you know what all these specs and features mean. In addition, while I can pick out one or two of these top five car audio subwoofers as the best on the market, what will matter more to you is your personal taste. This section will help you understand some of the technical aspects of car subwoofers so that you can better find out what’s best overall and choose what’s best for you.
What Subwoofer Size is Best?
The debate about subwoofer size is an age-old one and one that doesn’t seem like it’ll resolve anytime soon.
Personally, I generally prefer 12-inch subs—but I’ve seen and heard 10 and even 8-inch subs that have absolutely blown my mind, and 15-inch subs that look and sound amazing too.
In short, I don’t think anyone size is better than another overall. However, one size or another may be best for you based on your music tastes and what you want out of your sound.
I like 12-inch subs because they’re the most balanced. A good 12-inch sub can be tuned to give you all the rumbling boom, all the clear punch, or a little bit of both, just by tweaking other factors such as the amplifier and box.
As such, I almost always recommend 12-inch subs. They’re also the most common size out there because they meet a wide variety of needs.
However, you may be interested in a different subwoofer size based on your individual tastes. Generally, 15-inch subs sound better with hip-hop and electronic music, where the low end of the beat is meant to be felt as much as heard.
If you listen to rock music, country, or jazz with intricate bass lines that don’t get quite so low as the electronic sounds in techno and rap, a smaller speaker will give you more clarity and punch.
That being said, these guidelines are general, and a good subwoofer of any size will add a clearer and stronger low end to your car’s audio system.
In addition to considering your music tastes and what you want your system to sound like, you also need to consider the space you have available and the look you want your car to have.
Luckily, if you need or want a different size, each of the brands listed above offers speakers in a variety of sizes, so you can still find a great sub for your particular needs.
Why Do You Need a Sub Enclosure?
I talk to a lot of people every day about making their car audio dreams come true even on a tight budget, and invariably a lot of these folks ask me if they really need a sub enclosure.
The answer is unequivocal yes. With any speakers, a loudspeaker enclosure essentially directs the sound the right way for the listener to hear it. Remember, a sound is a vibration.
In addition, some subwoofers (known as “powered” or “active” subwoofers) actually house built-in amplifiers inside the sub enclosure. Even “passive” subs (without an amplifier built in) often have a lot of important features in their enclosures, to keep the air and heat being moved around by all the activity inside under control.
What Do These Specs Mean?
However, a measure of power is simply that—how much electricity (in wattage) a speaker can handle without the sound distorting. There are other important factors, such as sensitivity, that actually plays a bigger role.
- Speakers and amplifiers are both made with a particular impedance in mind. While there are certain tricks you can use to make an amplifier work with a speaker that doesn’t directly match its impedance, I don’t recommend it unless you’re a car audio professional. This can cause serious damage to your amp and your subs
- Lower impedance amps and speakers use power more efficiently, which increases their sensitivity. This is why not all 500-watt speakers sound the same—some will be quite weak, while others will be very loud. This is why wattage does not absolutely equal volume
Frequency, the last important topic I’ll go over, is essentially how low or high a given sound or note is. Things like vocals, cymbals, and horns in music are high frequency, while bass and drums are low frequency.
This is for two important reasons. The first is that some very low-frequency musical sounds are almost impossible for people to hear at average listening levels, but still add something to the music.
The second is that high bass, bass that you can feel, really lets you feel the music because the vibrations are so significant.
Why Sensitivity Matters?
Sensitivity matters just as much as wattage. Wattage is the power going into the speaker, and sensitivity is how much of that power actually gets used to produce sound. The rest is generally given off as heat.
Most subwoofers are designed for either 4 ohms or 2 ohms. Both of these use power very effectively compared to other sound equipment, but 2 ohms is much more sensitive than 4 ohms.
There are also very high end and custom made systems that use 1 ohm or even 0.5 ohms, but these are rare, and sometimes produce too much volume to be comfortable inside a car.
Recommended Sensitivity Levels
Impedance: Is 2 ohm or 4 ohm Better?
There’s a lot of debate on this question because there are no easy answers. There are pros and cons to both 2 ohm and 4 ohm systems, and a well-made system at any impedance is a good thing to have.
That being said, there are some things for you to consider.
Lower impedance means higher volume. However, it also means there is more likelihood of distortion, more movement of the speaker, and other sound quality problems.
While these shouldn’t be noticeably present in any truly high-quality sound system, they are more likely with lower impedance systems.
What is a Powered Subwoofer?
A powered subwoofer is a subwoofer enclosure with its amplifier built in. This simplifies things a lot because you don’t have to find an amplifier that matches the impedance and wattage of your speaker setup; you have exactly the amp you need already built in. It also saves you some money.
What is a Subwoofer Pre Out For?
A subwoofer pre out is a jack on the back of a receiver—in the case of a car subwoofer, the stereo deck in your vehicle—that sends only low-frequency signals to be played over the subwoofer. This is especially important for hooking up active subwoofers.
Conclusion: What is the Best Car Subwoofer on the Market?
That being said, I have come up with a clear winner, the 12 inch subwoofer by Kicker 44DCWC122.
This setup combines the best aspects of the powered subs and the packages that are just speakers in enclosures. Like speakers by themselves, this setup can be highly customized to suit your tastes and needs.
In addition, its high-quality materials make me believe it will last and last. As long as this system is taken care of, I can see it bringing you audio bliss for quite a while.
However, I’d also like to recommend the Rockville RW10CA for anyone with a smaller car or a truck without much room in the cab. I was genuinely surprised by how great this system sounded when I first heard it, and I’m happy that there’s such a good alternative for great bass sound in vehicles without huge trunks.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this buyer’s guide and learned something about car audio today, and that you choose the best car subwoofer which will be perfect for you. Thanks for reading!