How Do I Choose the Best Car Subwoofer?

C. Mitchell
C. Mitchell
Extensive audio systems could drain a car's battery.
Extensive audio systems could drain a car's battery.

Choosing the best car subwoofer can be a complicated endeavor, but is made simpler by focusing on three main things: the sort of sound you are hoping to generate; the space you have available in your car; and your car’s technical specifications, particularly where battery power and speaker output are concerned. Selecting a professionally installed subwoofer is usually the simplest way to ensure a product that is compatible with your vehicle. This route can be very expensive, however, and often comes with only limited options. Doing a bit of research into the different types of subwoofers available for your car audio system can often reduce the overall cost dramatically, all the while ensuring that you end up with exactly what you want.

Subwoofer accessories do not typically come standard in any vehicles. Some car audio systems, particularly those in high-end vehicles, are able to amplify some bass sounds, but few can really compete with the bass-heavy concentrations of most subwoofers. Car owners must usually purchase these components separately. Some come as speaker replacements, while others are entire units that must be installed somewhere within the vehicle, often in the trunk or in a backseat. Understanding what sort of sounds you are hoping to achieve is the first step to making your car subwoofer decision.

Intense bass pulses are characteristic of all subwoofer units, but there is a great deal of variety within the field. Subwoofers work by isolating and amplifying the lowest chords and sounds transmitted through audio cables. Amplification happens in an inverted speaker, and reverberates through a cone. How that cone is made and how big it is are often the most telling factors when it comes to sound quality.

The next thing to consider is compatibility with your car. It is sometimes possible to hook up an ordinary subwoofer to a car’s sound system, but this must usually be approached with some caution. Units designed for home audio use often require intense power supplies and may drain a car’s battery or max out its auxiliary power systems.

Large subwoofer parts can also be quite heavy, which can damage small cars’ drive trains. Some can also be damaging to listeners’ ears in the small space of a car interior. Know your car’s specifications before making your choice, and read any manufacturer warnings when using systems designed for anything other that auto installation.

Physical space requirements are also an important consideration. Subwoofers themselves can be quite large, but in most cases their realized size will be bigger still once an enclosure is factored in. In order to remain stable and provide consistent sound, a car subwoofer must be enclosed in some sort of casing, which must them be mounted to the car floor, door, or speaker socket. Enclosures can range from the sophisticated to the simple, but usually serve to transform the subwoofer’s original cone shape into a more uniform box or cube. It is these dimensions, not the dimensions of the cone itself, that are essential to car subwoofer selection.

Pricing and installation are some of the final considerations for many in the car subwoofer market. Just as the sound systems are available in a range of styles, they come also with a range of price tags. Installation is not usually included in a quoted cost and, owing to the custom nature of most jobs, can be quite expensive. Many audio enthusiasts elect to install car subwoofer parts themselves to save money. If this is your preference, be sure that you are familiar with your car’s electronic system before beginning and know where to ask for help if you run into problems.

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    • Extensive audio systems could drain a car's battery.
      Extensive audio systems could drain a car's battery.