Subwoofer vs Speaker: Who Wins The Battle?

If you’re in the process of choosing a home theater system, you may be wondering about the various types of speakers. Though there are many types of speakers, the major types are the subwoofers and the speakers. At first glance, they look similar, and both generate audio sounds, making it easy to think they’re the same.

But if both of them serve the same purpose, what sets them apart? The key difference between subwoofers and speakers lies in their frequency range. Subwoofers reproduce low-range frequencies, also known as sub-bass responses, while speakers produce mid and high-range frequencies.

So, which is the better option between the two? Let’s find that out in this article on subwoofer vs speaker.

What Is A Subwoofer?

When people hear “subwoofer,” they usually imagine that big box speaker making a booming effect. It’s true that most subs on the market are large and known for their substantial impact on audio. People also call a subwoofer a “sub.” Subwoofers have a straightforward purpose, which is to play low-frequency sounds. 

However, the frequency range depends largely on the subwoofer’s price. Subwoofers can typically reproduce sound frequencies between 20 Hz and 200 Hz. Even if you opt for a budget subwoofer, choosing wisely can significantly enhance sound quality. 

Having a subwoofer in your sound system makes the sound crisper, and the music feels more like a three-dimensional experience. Subwoofers usually come with bigger enclosures and drivers compared to regular speakers and need more power to function. They are commonly used in audio sets aiming for powerful, deep bass and home theater systems.

Understand The Types of Subwoofers

There are two kinds of subwoofers, which are passive and active. Below we will discuss them in detail:

Active Subwoofers

Active subwoofers have a built-in amplifier and the speaker of the subs in the same box. They require only one power supply to function. In addition to drawing AC power from the electrical source, active subwoofers must be connected to your home theater system’s AV receiver. 

This setup lessens the power load on the receiver or amplifier, making it simpler for them to power the tweeters and mid-range. The majority of home theater systems use active subwoofers. 

Using an active subwoofer makes the sound better because both the speaker and the amplifier get power from one amplifier. Thus, you can keep an excellent balance between the subwoofer and speaker by fine-tuning the crossover frequency.

Passive Subwoofers

Subwoofers that rely on an external amplifier for power are known as passive subwoofers. When it comes to amplifiers, passive subwoofers, and speakers are almost the same because an external amplifier powers both of them. Sometimes, one amplifier powers both the passive subwoofer and the main speaker.

When dealing with low-frequency sounds, extra power is needed to produce deep bass.  Therefore, the amplifier or receiver must supply sufficient power to run the subwoofer without depleting its power. The amount of power needed in this case depends on the speaker’s requirements and the size of the room.

What Is A Speaker?

A speaker is basically a loudspeaker that generates sounds and amplifies the sound output to people in a specific area. Instead of reproducing low-frequency sounds, speakers generate mid to high frequencies that can be heard more easily by our ears. Speakers are known as electro-acoustic transducers, and they convert electrical signals into sounds. 

This makes the speaker vibrate and amplifies the sound waves in the air. Speakers are broadly used with computers and various other audio systems. A speaker generally consists of various components, which include the crossover, the driver, and the enclosure. 

The driver has a magnet, a cone, and a voice coil, and it is responsible for producing the sound. The enclosure is a box that comes in different sizes and shapes based on the speaker’s type. It houses the driver. The crossover is a circuit that splits the sound signal into low, mid, and high frequencies and transmits them to the proper driver.

How Do Subwoofers Compare to Speakers?

There are many differences between a subwoofer and a speaker that you should consider while choosing between one of them. These include frequency range, sound quality, power output, and more. Let’s check out some of the most significant differences between a subwoofer and a speaker.

Differences in Power Output

The power output of a subwoofer can vary. As subwoofers need more power to generate low-frequency sounds, it’s important to match them with a compatible amplifier for their effective operation. Some subwoofers have a built-in amplifier, while others do not have it. Both of these factors fall under the active and passive subwoofers categories.

The great thing regarding active subwoofers is that, as they have their own power supply, they put less pressure on the main amplifier. On the flip side, you can power up speakers straight from an audio source like an amplifier or receiver. 

Comparing Frequency Range

One key difference between speakers and subwoofers is the range of frequencies they produce. Speakers are created to play a broad spectrum of frequencies, which means they can produce high, mid, and low frequencies. This is true for every type of speaker, regardless of size or brand. Speakers generally produce frequencies between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. 

It’s a common misconception that powerful speakers can serve as subwoofers, but this is not accurate. A speaker can’t serve as a subwoofer, no matter how large it is. On the other side, subwoofers specialize in reproducing bass and sub-bass, which are basically low-pitched sound frequencies. It’s the kind of audio that regular speakers struggle to capture. 

Some advanced subwoofers are able to capture frequencies that are very low for the human ear to detect. However, subwoofers can’t play audio of medium or high-frequency range. A regular subwoofer’s frequency range for consumer use falls between 20 and 200 Hz.

Use Case Differences

The speakers are largely seen in most of the devices, and they can work independently. While speakers can play low-frequency bass, their quality is usually not great. That is why speakers are generally designed to excel in playing medium and high-frequency sounds. Different brands create speakers tailored to their particular tasks. 

Unlike the past, where speakers were made without much thought, today’s market offers speakers designed for particular purposes. Although these specialized speakers may be pricey, they deliver clear and high-quality sound. 

On the contrary, subwoofers aren’t meant to function alone. Using a subwoofer by itself is challenging without additional equipment. Subwoofers work best as companions to speakers, and when they work together, they can deliver high-quality sound.

Comparison of Sound Quality

Subwoofers reproduce two low-range audio frequencies, which are bass and sub-bass. When you add an active subwoofer to your sound system, it improves the mid-range sounds, generates deeper bass, and reduces the pressure on your sound system. 

Including a subwoofer in your audio system significantly improves the overall sound quality because it relieves the primary speakers from the responsibility of reproducing low-frequency sounds. Playing speakers to loud volumes can often distort the sound, which can ruin your listening experience. 

Fortunately, this is where the subwoofer excels, lifting the pressure off your speakers and creating an optimal audio environment. On the other side, speakers are designed to aid you in improving your sound quality. Speakers produce higher frequency sounds than subwoofers and deliver the finest output of overall sound quality.

Design and Size Differences

When it comes to size and design, there are less notable distinctions between speakers and subwoofers. Generally, speakers are more portable and smaller compared to subwoofers. They have various designs and shapes, such as in-wall, bookshelf, and floor-standing speakers. The design of a speaker does not follow a particular pattern, and it mainly depends on the brand.

On the flip side, a subwoofer is bigger and needs more space to function. It is often designed as a portion of a bigger home theater system or as a standalone unit. Recognizing a speaker from a distance can be hard, but you can very easily identify a subwoofer from afar.  Subwoofers typically come in a big box, making them easily recognizable.

The significant size of the box in a sub is crucial for making the boom effect. In addition, speakers come with a tweeter, which is important in balancing the audio. They also have a circuit, which is recognized as a cross-over. This circuit divides frequencies between high and low frequencies.

In contrast, a subwoofer doesn’t have a cross-over or a tweeter. Rather, it has a big magnet and a large coil to handle powerful signals. Subwoofers also have a sturdy and big speaker, which is crucial in aiding them out during excursions. 

Comparing Prices

Determining the cost difference between speakers and subwoofers can be difficult. Typically, subwoofers were pricier compared to speakers, but now some speakers cost more. The real distinction lies in their individual specifications. 

The more specifications a subwoofer or a speaker has, the higher the cost will be. Therefore, comparing the cost between a subwoofer and a speaker is challenging. Nevertheless, both are crucial components of your home theater system.

Final Words: Which Is Better between Subwoofers and Speakers?

Now that you know the differences between the subwoofer vs speaker, it can be safely said that a subwoofer needs a speaker to work properly. On the other hand, a set of speakers alone can generate sound easily and let you listen to music without a sub. 

However, without a subwoofer, the music might feel a bit flat. It’s like missing something. Furthermore, if your subwoofer isn’t good, then the music will not provide you with that immersive sound experience because it will not have much bass. 

Finally, speakers can do their job without a subwoofer, but it is a whole better experience when you pair one or two subwoofers with them. However, the final choice between speakers and subwoofers is yours, depending on your individual preferences and requirements.

David Huner
David Huner
I have completed my graduation from The University of Phoenix. Being a graduate, I’ve been writing on tech tips and products for several years. I love to write about all the latest trends in technology, as well as give my personal take on new products. If you’re looking for some inspiration or just want to read more articles like this one, check out our website!
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