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“You know you can get a lot better sound in your car, right?”
My wife’s brother, Nick, said that to me last Thanksgiving. Nick, 19, is 15 years younger than me and has been obsessed with car stereos for as long as I’ve known him. The two of us were on our way to pick up some last minute items from the grocery store. We’d been listening to music for a while when he suddenly said that my car stereo wasn’t nearly as good as it could be.
Turns out, Nick knows a ton about car stereos, especially car subwoofers. Over the next few months, I asked him many, many questions while I considered which subwoofer would best suit my needs for my car and what are the best car subwoofers on the market.
Here’s a quick overview of 10 car subwoofers Nick and I both like. We’ll go into additional detail about individual features, pros and cons below.
10. Pioneer TSW311D4
Unique VAST technology creates powerful surround sound
Rockford Fosgate is a trusted name in car stereos, and this P2 12-inch subwoofer has a lot to offer. The dual-voice-coil has paper cones reinforced with Kevlar fiber for bass you can feel in your bones. Rockford Fosgate uses unique VAST technology to create a 25% increase in the surface cone. Also includes a diamond-cut cast aluminum ring.
The Punch Series subwoofers from Rockford Fosgate produce big bass tones with a stylish design. The Flex Fit Basket design creates high-density, poly-foam surround sound. A Nomex reinforced collar with high-temp voice coils allows for extended play without the risk of overheating. The Peak Power Rating is 800 watts with 400 watts RMS.
Nick says, “There’s a lot to like here. Rockford Fosgate is a trusted name in audio, and this subwoofer has plenty of power and a large surface cone.”
A complete kit with all components necessary
This is a complete subwoofer package which includes two subwoofers, a subwoofer enclosure, amplifier and installation kit.
The 10” subwoofers are rated 1500 max. They feature a polypropylene cone, butyl rubber surround and dual voice coils.
The two-channel Boss AR16002 amplifier has a maximum power level of 1600 watts with RMS power of 260 watts at 4-ohm.
This is an all-in-one kit with a dual-sealed Q-Power 10” subwoofer box. Features 5/8” particle board construction with a dual chamber design which allows for 1.4 cubic feet of air space per chamber. Also includes a charcoal carpet covering for a subdued dash of style.
The kit features power cables, ground cable, speaker wire and everything else you need. Also includes a MOSFET power supply, hi/low pass crossover and a bass remote control. This is a complete kit with many separate components. Recommended only for people who are comfortable with electronic installation.
Nick says: “If you’re looking for a complete kit, Boss has a great package for a great price. Just make sure you’re comfortable installing everything on your own. If you are, this is one of the best 10 inch subwoofers on the shelves.”
High quality with a low price tag. Perfect for anyone new to car subwoofers
My brother-in-law is a total audiophile who has no problem dropping a lot of money on stereo components. But many subwoofer newbies are understandably reluctant to spend big bucks on their first subwoofer. The MTX TNE212D 1 is a high-performing subwoofer with an affordable price tag designed for even a modest budget.
With over 40 years of experience, MTX has a sterling reputation for developing speakers and stereo components. The TNE212D is an all-in-one subwoofer kit containing a dual 12” sealed enclosure with a single terminal cup.
Terminator subwoofer can handle 200 watts of RMS power individually for a total power level of 400 watts. Unique Spider Plateau Venting cools the voice coil to allow for safe performance during extended play times.
The polypropylene dust caps are durable enough for even the bumpiest roads. The enclosure is made from 5/8” medium density fiberboard. Unlike thinner boards, this medium density helps contain low-frequency sound. Plus, the black aircraft-grade carpet both protects the speakers while adding a touch of understated style.
Nick says: “The high-quality, durable TNE212D is proof you don’t have to spend big bucks to get big sounds. Easily one of the best low priced subwoofers.”
Simple installation with a durable enclosure
Another high-end product from Rockford Fosgate, the P300-12 Punch Subwoofer is designed for anyone who wants big bass sound without a lot of hassle. This is a complete system which includes subwoofers and a custom sealed enclosure. The durable enclosure fits securely in a trunk, backseat or cargo area.
Installation is easy. Simply connect the power, ground and a signal. The 300 watt, Class D amplifier is powerful enough for a consistently deep sound. Also includes a remote control for easy bass adjustments while driving. The sealed enclosure produces a rich, full sound suitable for all types of music.
Nick says, “A complete kit with easy setup and lots of power. Great for the average driver who is comfortable installing their own subwoofer.”
Big-time, bass-heavy sound from a ported enclosure
This is a complete subwoofer package with an amplifier, wiring, speakers and everything else you need for powerful sound. The ported enclosure includes true gauge wiring for a high ratio of bass output per watt. Peak power level is 1200 watts.
Setup is easy. As Nick explained, you simply connect the power, signal and subs. Then you just need to tune the amplifier. Even if you’re new to subwoofers, you should easily be able to get the subwoofer installed and running quickly.
The ported enclosure allows for a big, open sound. A great choice for people who enjoy incredibly bass-heavy music like dance and rap.
Nick says, “Looking for a subwoofer which will rock the block? This pair of ported subwoofers produces amazingly loud, low tones.I think this is one of the best dual enclosed subwoofers.”
High performance from a manufacturer you can trust
Kenwood is a trusted name in audio and their KFC-W3016PS subwoofer shows why. Peak power output is 2,000 watts with RMS power of 400 watts. An oversized diaphragm produces an oversized sound which fills the car (and, at high enough volume, also the surrounding area).
Durability and quality combine. The subwoofer’s heavy-duty polypropylene cone is reinforced with tough rubber. Also includes a single 4-ohm voice coil. Works well with a 500-watt single output amp.
Nick says, “In my opinion, the Kenwood KFC-W3016PS is one of the best 12 inch subwoofers. Lots to like with this one.”
Solid construction helps prevent blowouts and other malfunctions
Don’t judge a subwoofer on its size alone. Big sounds can come in small packages.
Long, loud play time is no problem thanks to the triple stack motor assembly and two-inch high temp copper voice coil.
Note this is just the subwoofer. You’ll need to purchase an amp and enclosure separately. Use a sealed enclosure if you want a full range of low tones. Ported will work better if you want a booming sound.
One benefit of the small size of the speaker is that the enclosure can be small, too. This is a great choice if you have limited space in your trunk, cargo bed or backseat.
Nick Says “I’m always going to recommend 10 or 12-inch speakers. But if your vehicle has limited space, and you want subwoofers on the small side, Skar Audio’s VVX-8v3 is what I’d recommend.”
A complete kit which is small in size but big in sound
Interested in a smaller subwoofer but don’t want to hunt down individual components? This eight-inch subwoofer kit from Alpine Electronics includes a built-in amplifier and aluminum enclosure. The entire system is 13.5 inches long by nine inches wide and three inches deep. Fits easily into a trunk or other out-of-the-way location in your vehicle.
The enclosure is made from die-cast aluminum, which offers a high degree of durability and will last for many years. The included amplifier produces 120 watts of power. This is a quad-coil subwoofer with a frequency response between 32Hz and 150Hz.
Connecting the unit to your sound system is easy with the Auto-Sensing Speaker Level Inputs located on the side panel. Sound setup and customization options on the panel include Phase, Gain, LP Crossover and Remote Sub Level.
Nick says, “Alpine subwoofers are known for their high quality and PWE-S8 is one of the best 8 inch subwoofers around. Small, durable and powerful.”
A big 15” for large vehicles looking to create big sound
Want to go big? Kicker’s 15-inch car subwoofer is definitely ready to rock. Includes both the subwoofer and a single-vented sub box.
The box has 2.7 cubic feet of airspace. Vented design helps increase sound output while also helping to prevent overheating. Total size of the enclosure is 21 inches by 16.25 inches by 18 inches. Made from MDF wood, it’s strong enough to withstand bumps and bangs. The enclosure has a mounting depth of 7 7/17 inches.
Inside the enclosure is the Kicker 43C154 subwoofer with 600 watts of max wattage and 300 RMS power. This is a single four-ohm subwoofer with a 45-ounce magnet structure. Unique ribbed surround helps prevent blowout even at sustained high volumes.
Nick says, “Not many people really need a subwoofer this big. But if you’re interested in having the loudest car subwoofers on the block, this model from Kicker is arguably the best 15 inch subwoofer to claim that title.”
Unique construction minimizes damage while delivering powerful sound
Pioneer is another trusted name in audio. This two-layer fiber-reinforced elastic polymer construction has a max power handling of 400 watts with a peak power handling of 1,400 watts. These are two-inch subwoofers with Dual 4-Ohm voice coils.
The unique IMPP Composite Cone is rigid and powerful. Newly redesigned, the subwoofer has a single piece cone and drive cone. Delivers powerful sound with minimal risk of cone failure at high-pressure levels.
Nick says, “Pioneer uses a lot of one-of-a-kind design elements but it really pays off with a subwoofer which is strong but unlikely to blow out.”
I’ve always gotten along well with my brother-in-law. But we didn’t have many common interests. So imagine my surprise when we started to bond over car stereos and subwoofers.
Finding impartial information online can be a challenge. Many buyer guides are thinly disguised advertisements for specific products. That’s just not impartial enough for me. So, with my brother-in-law’s help, I set out to create a 100% honest buyer’s guide for selecting the best car subwoofer for your needs.
When my brother-in-law first told me I should consider adding a sub-woofer to my ride, my first thought was “no way.” Subwoofers just didn’t seem like my thing. I figured they were better suited for people who mainly listened to very loud, very bass-heavy music.
But Nick explained that subwoofers are far more versatile than I imagined. Subwoofers add depth and richness to the sound far beyond what factory speakers are capable of. They can do far more than just bump the bass.
While Nick loves loud, bass-filled music (Wu-Tang Clan is one of his favorites), subwoofers actually enhance all types of music. When installed and setup correctly, bass won’t overpower the rest of the song.
“People who want to rattle windows with bass really aren’t doing it right,” said Nick. “When a subwoofer is properly setup, the sound inside the car will be full, but the bass won’t overpower everything else. I mean, I actually want to hear the vocals in a song, not just never-ending low tones.”
The inside of your car is actually a pretty unique shape. While that might sound obvious, Nick explained how a car’s shape can have a drastic effect on acoustics. Nick described how even the best factory speakers aren’t able to create the ideal wavelengths within the relatively small space of a vehicle.
Low tones are the hardest frequency range for factory speakers to reproduce naturally. This is because low tones require the movement of a large amount of air. For instance, 20Hz requires a wavelength of 56 feet.
Car subwoofers fill your car with sound. They’re able to create low, midrange and high-range frequencies. Subwoofers are also designed to properly regulate the power provided.
Subwoofers can produce big sound. So the bigger a subwoofer is, the better, right? What are the best car subwoofers
Subwoofers range in diameter. The typical range is between eight and 15 inches. Larger subwoofers produce lower frequencies.
“If you really search, you can find subwoofers in basically any size,” said Nick. “But the most common types, and my personal preference, are either 10-inch or 12-inch subwoofers.”
He explained 10 and 12-inch subwoofers have the perfect balance between sound and power use. They can reach 20Hz, which is the lowest tone humans can hear.
Rattling windows wasn’t my goal. But Nick still recommended I focus on subwoofers which can reach 20Hz. Subwoofers are designed for low frequencies, so you might as well get one with the lowest possible range.
He then explained I didn’t have to pay as much attention to the high-frequency range of the subwoofer. The standard car stereos can handle those frequencies just fine. In fact, car stereos tend to produce high frequencies better than subwoofers. The position of the driver relative to the factory speakers usually means you’ll hear vocals and higher tones clearly.
I was so focused on the audio aspect of subwoofers I never really considered the power issues. Nick explained how subwoofers connect to your car’s power supply. Because they move such a large amount of air, subwoofers require a fairly substantial amount of power – much more than the power required to operate your car stereo speakers.
Nick explained why I need to consider the sensitivity of the subwoofer. Sensitivity is the measurement of the subwoofer’s efficiency. Sensitivity is rated by the decibel output at one meter away from the subwoofer with a power output of one watt. For every three decibel increase in sound sensitivity, the power output is decreased by half. For instance, 90dB sensitivity needs 100 watts but a 96dB subwoofer only needs 25 watts.
Nick then went on explain the importance of continuous power handling. That’s the amount of time a subwoofer can play without distortion or damage. Typically, the biggest power demands will occur during the crescendo of a song. A high power rating prevents the speaker from blowing out at high volumes.
“Most subwoofers are perfectly fine for most songs,” he said. “Problems can happen with long, sustained, low tones. You want to make sure the subwoofer can handle an occasional decibel spike.”
Nick then went on to explain that I didn’t listen to music which was “weird” enough to run much of a risk. Certain EDM and rap songs are more prone to a volume spike, but it’s not an issue with most mainstream music.
The enclosure is the box which contains the subwoofer speakers. Most vehicles don’t have a pre-mount installed to hold a subwoofer securely. Nick explained that there are two options. You can buy a complete subwoofer kit which includes an enclosure and mounting brackets.
The other option is to build your own subwoofer enclosure. Most experts recommend pressed fiberboard. Light thickness will work okay, Nick explained, but ideally you want fiberboard with a medium thickness or better. He recommends fiberboard with a thickness of 5/8th of an inch. That helps contain the low frequencies while also providing plenty of protection from accidental damage.
“I’ve made a few enclosures and the thickness of the wood really matters,” said Nick. “Really thin enclosures help the sound spread through the car. But the problem is thin fiberboard can easily be punctured. That can totally mess up your speakers.”
“On the other hand, if you go too thick, the sound will be muffled. Fiberboard which is 5/8ths of an inch thick is really the perfect balance for both sound and security. If Goldilocks was building a subwoofer enclosure, that’s what she’d use.”
Enclosures can be either sealed or ported. Whether you’re building your enclosure or buying one, the type can make a big difference in the sound quality. Nick helped me understand the difference between the two types.
Sealed boxes have the clearest bass lines and most accurate low-end bass. If you want distortion to be minimal, or even non-existent, you’ll want a sealed enclosure. The interior air pressure is stabilized with the outside air when the subwoofer is in operation. Stabilized air causes minimal movement of the subwoofer, which results in a clearer sound. Sealed boxes take up less space but require more power.
Ported enclosures create a thicker, heavier sound. The port is a hole in the enclosure which lets the woofer move freely. “The woofer basically punches the outside air,” said Nick. He then explained the sound from a ported enclosure purposefully has a distorted, almost abrasive quality. Ported enclosures create a bigger sound and require less power than a sealed enclosure.
“If you want the best subwoofer for deep bass, get a ported enclosure,” said Nick. “If you listen to a wide variety of music, and aren’t as concerned about the deepest bass possible, a sealed box is probably better.”
Typically, you’ll want to put the subwoofer either in your backseat or trunk. Nick explained that both have advantages and disadvantages. Backseat placement really lets you feel the rush of air. For audio guys like Nick, this is pretty important. But a subwoofer in the backseat basically sacrifices all passenger seating.
At the same time, trunk placement muffles the sound. Personally, I don’t notice a difference but audiophiles like Nick certainly seem to. Trunk placement frees up seating, but you’ll end up with less trunk space. “That’s just the price you gotta pay for kick-butt car audio,” said Nick, laughing.
A one-year warranty is usually pretty standard. Some more expensive models will have longer warranties. Five years is typically the maximum. Nick recommended buying a subwoofer with at least a one-year warranty.
Even though I was new to the world of the car subwoofers, I already had a good idea. The best car subwoofers are made by brands you’ve heard of. Brands which have been around for a while. Rockford Fosgate, Alpine, Kenwood and other established brands are all pretty much a safe buy.
“Look, you’ve got to understand that there’s an enormous gulf between the good and bad in the world of subwoofers,” said Nick. “While people like me love to argue about the intricate differences between, says, Alpine and Kenwood, that’s really kind of missing the point.”
“No-name mystery subwoofers tend to flood the industry. Ever been approached by some guys in a van with a story about a ‘delivery error’ who are looking to sell some subwoofers at a deep discount? Yeah, that’s a total scam.”
Apparently a timeless one, because the type of people he described were all over town when I was in college, which was over 20 years ago.
“You want to purchase subwoofers in a store or online, and only from an established company. You always want at least a one year warranty for any speakers you buy.”
He then went on to make an important point I’d never considered.
“If you’re buying online, that warranty is especially important,” he said. “Subwoofers are pretty safe when they’re securely fit inside a wooden box in your trunk. But when they’re being shipped across the country, they’re actually pretty vulnerable. You want to make sure you can get a replacement if anything arrives damaged.”
I ended up with a Rockford Fosgate 12” Punch Series with a sealed enclosure for my car. But then I went with the MTX Audio Terminator Series TNE212D for my wife’s car. She loved the sound system in my car so much she wanted a subwoofer on her own, but didn’t want us to spend a lot of money.
All in all, I’m super happy I decided to install a subwoofer. The improvement to the overall sound quality is simply tremendous. I had no idea what I’d been missing.
I’d also like to take a quick moment to thank my brother-in-law Nick. Thanks Nick! Couldn’t have done it without you!
Both Nick and I hope our guide to the best car subwoofers has been useful and informative. Whether you want fuller sound inside your car or want a bass boost to rattle every window in time, there’s a subwoofer out there which is bound to be perfect.
Simon graduated with a Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Degree. He has over 20 years of servicing experience in both Japanese and German car dealerships. He now acts as a freelance mechanic's instructor for local schools.