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What is a Subwoofer? How is it different from woofers and speakers?

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  • 4 min read

For most of us, sound systems simply comprise speakers. However, what you may be missing are the low-frequency sounds that you’ll get if you add a subwoofer to your setup.

But what is a subwoofer? How is it different from woofers and speakers, and do you really need to get one? Read on to find out.

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What is a subwoofer?

A subwoofer is a specialised speaker that delivers low frequencies, usually in the 20-200Hz range that a usual two-channel or even surround sound setup can’t deliver. 

The low frequencies coming from instruments like kick drums, bass guitars, pipe organs or even sound effects like explosions can’t be reproduced by regular speakers, no matter how good, because they’re simply not capable of covering such a wide frequency range. 

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Regular speakers can’t cover the lower frequencies as seamlessly as a subwoofer can.

While you may (or may not) get some bass from putting your speakers on an acoustic surface like a bookshelf or using floor standing speakers, a subwoofer goes the extra step and makes you feel the sound or the bass, more explicitly speaking. 

If you listen to bass-heavy music like EDM or hip hop without a subwoofer in your system, you’re leaving a lot on the table by not getting a subwoofer. If you want studio-quality, though, you’re going to have to get your hands on a THX-certified subwoofer.

Down-firing vs Front-firing subwoofers

There are also two major types of subwoofers, namely

  • Downfiring subwoofers.
  • Frontfiring subwoofers.

There’s no significant difference between the two, and frankly, the choice comes down to personal preference and your sub’s placement. All you need to know is that a subwoofer works best when not drawing attention to itself and blending with your speakers seamlessly.

How many subwoofers do you need?

Depending upon your setup, one big subwoofer might be all you need. However, if you’re expanding or have your system distributed across a rather large area, getting a second or even a third one will help evenly distribute bass across the room.

For bigger setups, one subwoofer might make it difficult to variance in bass response relative to where you are. That’s why getting a second sub can help better the experience. If you’re starting out, though, consider picking up at least one.

Where to place your subwoofers?

Placing your subwoofer can have a huge impact on its performance. Now since all rooms are constructed differently, there’s no fixed spot per se where you can place your subwoofer. You could place it just about anywhere, but if you’re in an acoustically poor room, your sub won’t be able to do much.

For most people, putting your sub on the floor under a desk will get the job done. However, if you want to make the best out of it, you might have to make some acoustic improvements to your place, including getting acoustic panels, diffusers or even bass traps.

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Woofer vs Subwoofer vs Speaker: Key differences

We’re all familiar with speakers; after all, they’re everywhere, from your phone to your smartwatch. However, as mentioned before, speakers aren’t capable of capturing such a wide frequency range. 

While this makes speakers great for listening to just about anything considering most sounds lie in a speaker’s frequency range, lower frequencies or bass is just too low for a speaker to produce as efficiently as a subwoofer does.

This difference in frequency range means your system is incomplete without either. If you’re only using a subwoofer, all you’re going to get is the bass; if you only use speakers, you get everything but the bass.

Speaking of woofers, they’re basically louder speakers. They work on the same principle as a speaker does; they’re just optimised for a lower frequency range and, in most cases, generally help give you some bass.

To put it in perspective, a woofer is a specialised speaker optimised for low-frequency sounds. On the other hand, a subwoofer is a specialised speaker that works on an even narrower frequency range. 

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Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah is a Computer Science graduate who writes/edits/shoots/codes all things cybersecurity, gaming, and tech hardware. When he's not, he streams himself racing virtual cars. He's been writing and reporting on tech and cybersecurity with websites like Candid.Technology and MakeUseOf since 2018. You can contact him here: