Because every car comes with its own unique acoustical landscape, it can be quite challenging to achieve the perfect audio experience. A car subwoofer, however, can get you the best audio possible for your car. A regular speaker encounters extreme difficulty in accurately producing the low-end bass in whatever music you’re playing. This is because of the sheer volume of air that the woofer is required to move. The wavelength for a 20 Hz frequency, for instance, is 50 ft. Standard car speakers simply cannot handle such a wavelength. The most convenient way to drastically improve your listening pleasure as you drive is to add a subwoofer.
If your car is equipped with the best subwoofers, you will feel every beat as you hear it. High and mid-range frequencies will come out easily and more detailed as your speakers can focus on them. As you glide through the freeway, you’d feel like you’re attending a live concert. Among the best brands of car subwoofers available on the market today are Infinity Reference, JBL GTO, and Pioneer Champion primarily because they are able to blend high quality low-end sounds with proficient power handling.
Simply put, a car subwoofer is a large speaker. The diameter typically ranges between 8 and 15 inches, with the frequency range getting lower as the subwoofer gets bigger. The size, however, isn’t much of a factor in accurate sound reproduction. Among car audio enthusiasts, 10” and 12” subwoofers are the most preferred size because they can effortlessly reach the human hearing basement of 20 Hz. They likewise don’t need the amount of power that bigger subwoofers would require.
A subwoofer, however, would need more power than a regular car speaker because it is tasked to move a lot more air. Thus, it is recommended to pay close tabs on your power handling ratings if you add subwoofers to your car audio system. The enclosure to install the subwoofers on must also be considered as most cars don’t come with pre-made subwoofer mounts. Before you read our reviews, take a few moments to read through our complete guide for the best 12” subwoofers and familiarize yourself with some of the key things to consider.
Best 12 Inch Subwoofer Complete Guide
Pioneer Ts-w3003d4 12" 2,000-watt Champion Series pro Sub-woofer
Infinity Reference 1262w 12-Inch 1200-Watt High-Performance Subwoofer (Dual Voice Coil)
Kicker 40CWRT122 CompRT Series 12 inch Subwoofer Dual 2 Ohm
Polk Audio AA3124-A MM1240 12-Inch Subwoofer
MTX Audio Terminator Series TNE212D 1,200-Watt Dual 12-Inch Sub Enclosure
Which Subwoofer is Loudest?
The “loudness” of a subwoofer is measured in terms of SPL or sound pressure level. If you want a model that delivers the maximum SPL, the enclosure type, sensitivity, and available power must be considered. A subwoofer that has a high sensitivity (efficiency) rating, and housed in a bandpass or ported box is a good start.
The next step would be to power the subwoofer with an amplifier. Just make sure that the amp’s power output is within the recommended power range for your sub. Go for the top 1/3 of the given range, and not any lower. This way, you can get achieve the sound level you are aiming for. A bass boost control-equipped amp wouldn’t hurt, and a multiple subwoofer setup may also help. It will use up more power, but it will definitely play louder music. Check out our reviews for some of the loudest subwoofers around.
Which Subwoofer is Deepest?
In general, a large-sized subwoofer in a sealed box can produce the lowest bass tones possible. This is most ideal way to lower the frequency response. Sufficient wattage is also crucial if you want to listen to the lowest bass tunes that a sub equipped with an extremely low frequency response rating can deliver. Mainly because of its size and excursion capability, a large subwoofer can play much deeper than its smaller counterparts.
Power requirements depend on the particular subwoofer model you opt to use. Refer to the recommended power range in terms of RMS or continuous watts that comes with the device. The lower number indicates the barest minimum wattage required to produce decent results. More power is generally better since bass tones are typically power-hungry. To help your sub deliver the best possible performance, go for amp ratings within the upper 1/3 of your model’s maximum power range. You may go over your subwoofer’s max RMS rating, but be sure to keep close tabs on the sound quality produced. Once the bass begins to break up or gets distorted, it’s a sign that the limit of your system’s optimum performance is reached. Turn the volume down a little to keep your woofer safe. Remember that clean, high-volume sounds will do no harm to your speakers.
Subwoofer Box – Trunk Placement
Unless your trunk is soundproofed and sealed, there is no reason you cannot hear bass. Bass sounds typically pass through materials that separate the trunk from passenger areas easily. If you think the sound waves are blocked by rear deck materials and backseat, you can easily address the issue by making a few small holes in the back deck. Just make sure to cover the holes with materials that are acoustically transparent.
Similar to a speaker cone, a subwoofer cone is made of synthetics (such as Highly Oriented Polyolefine), composites (such as injection-molded quartz or aluminium), or treated paper. While paper may not tend to be durable, it has the ability to respond more quickly compared to other materials simply because of its light weight. All the above-mentioned materials, however, sound good. You just need to do a little experimentation with various sounds to determine which subwoofer material is best suited for your needs and preferences.
While the material may seem flimsy and cheap for a subwoofer cone, it is actually among the best materials available. Since it is lightweight, paper has a faster response time than other cone materials. Various substances can be used to treat paper to enhance cone durability, and help prevent damage brought about by moisture as well as other environmental factors. Paper is prone to moisture damage because fungus can thrive on its fibers if the conditions allow it. With proper treatment, however, paper can be an ideal material for use in subwoofer cones.
Carbon Fiber Paper – A popular coating for paper, carbon fiber helps increase rigidity, resist moisture and temperature changes, and improves sound quality.
CSX – Also known as composite/sandwich cone, this is used by some manufacturers to ensure minimal decay and ensure precise sound for their products.
Polyglass – These is made of tiny (as in microscopic) glass microspheres that is used to coat over lightweight paper to improve its stiffness and enhance the cone’s performance.
Kevlar Paper – When combined with paper fiber, helps produce a cone that is more durable and more rigid than just paper.
Although another lightweight subwoofer cone material, polypropylene is a lot more rigid than its paper counterpart as it provides more protection through a coating that can resist moisture, mold, and mildew. Some users prefer the material because of its neutral sound. Other subwoofer materials, to a certain degree, add to the sound; polypropylene does it minimally. It is likewise among the cheapest materials used for subwoofers.
Aluminum and Magnesium
These materials are both used for subwoofers and speakers, but aluminum and magnesium tend to perform better when used in subwoofers than in most speaker types as the materials can cause resonance in higher levels that can significantly affect the speaker’s sound quality. This, however, isn’t an issue with subwoofer cones as the subwoofers produce very low frequency sounds. Compared to aluminum, magnesium is deemed to be slightly better simply because it is more rigid.
A common metal material in bulletproof vests, Kevlar has also been used in subwoofers and speakers for several decades now. It is strong, flexible, and lightweight – all desirable qualities for an ideal speaker cone. When used is subwoofers, Kevlar provides better sound dispersal. This is because it has the ability to preserve its shape even with constant exposure to stress.
This material is popular for use in subwoofer cones because like Kevlar, carbon fiber is lightweight and extremely durable. While it is rigid, it is still flexible. A carbon fiber cone, due to its durability, can easily reach a high output level without risking damage to the speakers.
Triangular or Square vs. Round Subs
Determining which shape is better is subjective as it depends on the user’s preference. Squares and triangles are definitely imaginative, eye-catching and stylish. In terms of performance, these subs reproduce bass sounds well. Just check out Kicker’s square-shaped woofers that are currently making waves in competitions. On the other hand, traditional round shapes are considered to be more accurate. Triangles are great space savers since they can easily fit into tight spaces that cannot accommodate standard boxes.
The bass sound produced by your car audio isn’t contingent on the subwoofer alone. A tightly-constructed, strong enclosure is a must for your sub to perform at its best. Without an enclosure, you can’t achieve full bass as the sounds coming from the rear of the speaker cancels out certain low frequencies generated at the front-end of the speaker.
Sealed boxes – The enclosure is airtight. It is ideal for playing music that requires accurate, tight bass. With a sealed box housing your subwoofer, you can expect excellent power handling, deep bass extension and flat response that is not necessarily boomy. Because this type of enclosure requires more power compared to ported boxes, it is recommended to use an amplifier that can provide sufficient wattage to achieve optimal performance.
Ported boxes – A ported box uses a vent, known as a port, for low bass response reinforcement. For any given amp wattage, it provides more output than a sealed box. Some people say that sounds coming from a ported box is ideal for heavy metal, rock, and other hard-hitting music genres. Ported boxes provide deeper bass than what sealed boxes can offer. To accomplish that, however, the ported box must be bigger than its boxed counterpart.
Bandpass boxes – A special variation of the ported box, a bandpass box is intended for the ultimate slam. It is mounted inside a box with two chambers – one ported, and the other one sealed. The sound waves emanate from the ported side. The port reproduces extra loud sound within a narrow range of frequency. Because it is extremely efficient within that given range, it tends to “boom.” The aggressive sound produced by a bandpass box is best for reggae, rap, and hard rock. However, not all subwoofer types work well when enclosed in a bandpass box. Thus, it is best to consult a product information specialist to be on the safe side.
Free-air subwoofers – In a free-air system, woofers are board-mounted and attached at the back deck or installed against the backseat inside the trunk. Serving as an enclosure for the subwoofers, the car trunk isolates sounds coming from the speaker’s back, addressing the issue of sound cancellation that usually affects subwoofers without enclosures. A free-air system is a space-saver and its frequency response is flat. Use only subs that are intended specifically for free-air use. Without a box, it is easier to install, but it typically comes with much lower power handling levels than boxed models.
Important Specs to Consider
Power – If you are after a “booming” system, be ready to supply a lot of power. Pay closer attention to the device’s RMS power rating, and not on the peak power rating. The RMS rating indicates output or continuous power handling and is more realistic than the peak power rating. The subwoofer’s power handling must be a match for the power output of your amp.
Power handling performance – Sensitivity or the measure of efficiency is the power handling indicator that is considered as the most important. The sensitivity rating is measured by decibel outputs at 1m from the sub, using 1w of power. Keep in mind that the required power to produce a particular volume is decreased by half for every 3dB sensitivity increase. A subwoofer with a 90dB sensitivity rating, for example, uses only 25w. Continuous power handling is another important rating. It shows the maximum power the sub can handle within a given amount of time without getting distorted or damaged. Peak power handling, on the other hand, indicates the upper power limit that the sub can endure for short bursts, which is typically a song’s crescendo. The ideal car subwoofers should be able to handle a significant amount of power in an efficient manner. This can be demonstrated by how well your system can play a window-shattering playlist.
Frequency range – The frequency range lets you know how low your woofer can play. Remember, however, that the woofer’s actual performance depends on numerous variables such as the type of enclosure that houses it.
Enclosure type – The type of enclosure that your subwoofer is mounted on affects the quality of sound produced. Generally, sealed boxes offer the most accurate, deepest sounds, while ported and bandpass varieties provide more volume.
Quantity of voice coils – For car audio enthusiasts who demand flexibility in their sound system wiring, the dual voice coil (DVC) subwoofer is very popular. While a conventional subwoofer only has one voice coil, a DVC utilizes two distinct voice coils. Each coil has its own connections that are mounted on a cylinder that is hooked up to the same cone.
Impedance – Many subs come with 4 ohms impedance ratings, though 2 and 8-ohm, as well as DVC subwoofers have started to become prevalent on the market. Once you have decided on a subwoofer model, find a matching amplifier in terms of impedance and power rating. It should be relatively easy to find a match since there is an abundance of amp types today. This will make sure that the subwoofer you have selected will perform at its finest.
Best 12 Inch Subwoofers Reviews
1. Pioneer Champion TS-W3003D4 Review
There’s no doubt that a good subwoofer is a must if you want to achieve the best possible car audio experience. The Pioneer Champion subwoofer series will make you feel like you are in a concert, experiencing a full-bodied sound experience. With a frequency response and power handling ratings that are probably the highest on the market, as well as its 96dB sensitivity rating, it definitely delivers – regardless of your bass preference, be it defined and crisp, or punchy.
The Champion series offers 3 subwoofer sizes, with each size providing an superior low-end to your listening experience. The 12” subwoofer comes with the largest woofer, and as such, it produces fuller and deeper bass. The difference with a 10” model, however, is minimal as both considerably increase the sound quality of your audio system. While the 8” sub may not have the capacity to compete with the larger speakers, it is still a good option, particularly if you are faced with space limitations.
The best subwoofer is all about producing the lowest sounds: the bass frequencies. The human hearing basement is around 20Hz. The Pioneer Champion easily reaches that as it has the lowest available frequency response. Among all subwoofers mentioned in this review, Champion has the narrowest frequency response. Its maximum is 150Hz, but higher frequency responses don’t matter much with subwoofers since car speakers usually cover frequencies that go beyond 80Hz.
Among the top features of the Champion is its sensitivity rating of 96dB. A speaker’s sensitivity is measured by the volume at 1m that it creates with a single watt of power. Because the required power is lowered by half for each 3dB sensitivity increase, the Pioneer Champion can be considered as the most efficient of its kind on the market. If, for example, a sub that is rated at 87dB utilizes 200w to generate a certain volume, the Champion subwoofer would need only 25w to generate the same volume.
Its superior power handling capability places the Champion at the top of its class. The 12” model’s RMS power handling rating is 600w, peaking at 2000w. Not too many similarly-priced brands can match up to its high power-handling marks. You can thus push the subs further without having to fear the speaker blowing up on you. This kind of power handling capability will allow you to rattle the windows of the other cars you meet while driving on the road.
The enclosure is typically 1.25 cu. ft. This is larger than most other models. When using a ported box, however, the volume is usually only 1.5 cu. ft. Although it is bigger than a sealed box, it is smaller when compared to the size of the biggest ported enclosure models. The size won’t matter if you do not have any space constraints.
The enclosure type you select for your Champion subwoofer determines the bass sound quality you will feel and hear. For a crisp and snappy bass, go for a sealed enclosure. This is because the movement is minimized by the air pressure between the atmosphere and the woofer. This results to more accurate and low-end sounds. On the other hand, if you prefer to hear more bass notes, a sealed enclosure will be the ideal choice to install your sub on.
To achieve big and thumping bass sounds, installing the subwoofer in a ported enclosure will do the trick. The enclosure is equipped with a vent that allows in and out movement of the air. The free-air movement provides a punchier sound as the woofer punches the air out literally of the port from the speaker’s front. This type of enclosure performs well for big-sounding bass, though in the process compromising clarity.
2. Infinity Reference 1262w Review
This subwoofer produces some of the highest quality low-end sounds you’ll ever hear, and the Infinity Reference delivers it quite efficiently at a 96dB rating. Its frequency response rating of 23Hz, however, is higher than what some other models offer. However, its 25Hz resonant frequency rating is the lowest among the subwoofers in this review.
The Reference has a stiff and rigid polypropylene woofer that generates low end sound accurately even at a high decibel. It does very well whether housed in a sealed or ported enclosure to produce the kind of bass you want to hear, whether round and well-defined, or big and punchy. You can play heavy music like hip-hop or punk rock and the subwoofer will play it as if you are listening live.
Frequency response rating is between 23Hz and 400Hz. With the higher frequency range, you can crossover some of the lower frequency sounds produced by your car speakers. This can really fill the guitars out, providing rhythm guitars the heavy and thick flavor of metal and hard rock sounds. While the lower frequencies miss the human hearing basement by 3Hz, this is minimal and cannot be noticed when listening to most types of music.
The high 96dB sensitivity rating is probably the Infinity Reference’s biggest advantage as it is higher than average ratings for other subwoofer models by a good 8dB. Sensitivity ratings are measured by the volume at 1m using a power of 1 watt, and it is decreased in half with every increase in sensitivity by 3dB. Thus, the Infinity subwoofer would need a power of just 12.5w to generate the same output that a car subwoofer rated at 87dB using 100w would need.
The very high sensitivity rating is important as the continuous power handling rating of 300w is one of the lowest in the models in this review line-up. Producing high quality bass output free from distortion or without damaging the woofer requires an efficient subwoofer. Luckily, this model’s high sensitivity rating lets you optimize use of the low power handling. Thus, you can still experience rear-view mirror-rattling sounds if you desire. The peak power handling rating of 1200w provides a lot of allowance for power spikes.
FS or resonant frequency is the measurement used for how freely the sub resonates with the air before the device is enclosed. The Infinity Reference’s is rated at 25Hz, the lowest among this review’s line-up of subwoofers. The FS is important to consider when you tune your enclosure, although it really has no effect on the audio quality.
1.25 cu. ft. is required for an ideal sealed enclosure to house the 12” sub in order to generate round and accurate bass. If you prefer classical music, funk or jazz, you would want your bass to be crisp and clear. With a sealed enclosure, woofer movement is minimized because the enclosure stabilizes it with atmospheric and internal air pressure. While the 10” model does not need as much space, it does not have come with a similar low-end response.
Genres that have less defined low-end frequencies, but are instead big and full like punk rock and heavy metal, a ported enclosure with 2 cu. ft. volume may be best for your reference subwoofer. The enclosure comes with holes that provide air with free in and out movement. This way, the woofer can be more “violent” in producing huge and punchy bass sounds. Expect, however, that accuracy and definition will be sacrificed in favor of fullness.
3. Kicker 40CWRT122 CompRT Series Review
Adding a subwoofer to your car’s audio system comes with several issues, not the least among which is size. To generate low-end frequencies, you need a speaker that will make it possible for air to move around freely; thus, you can see a lot of mini cannon-looking subwoofers. The Kicker CompRT subwoofers, however, are nowhere near looking like that. They can be installed even in tight areas where average models can’t fit, because its mounting depth is only half of other models’. For a sealed enclosure, you would only need 0.5 cu. ft. of space. The ported enclosure, meanwhile would require only 1.75 cu. ft.
The low-end sound that the Kicker subwoofer produces can be described as “booming,” thanks in part to the mounting depth. The 12” and 10” models’ frequency response can reach as low as 25Hz. The 500Hz high frequency reach, however, means it has the capability to boost low-end frequencies. This is where you can hear male vocals or the warmth in guitars. Trying to achieve this may cause a muddy mix, though.
Sensitivity rating is pegged at 87dB, just a little under the average. The sensitivity rating is indicative of the efficiency with which the subwoofer is able to convert power into volume, as previously mentioned in this review. For purposes of comparison, the best-rated subwoofers for cars have sensitivity ratings of 96dB. Thus, the CompRT model would require 100w to generate the same audio output of a 96dB-rated sub that uses only 12.5w. This, however, doesn’t mean you cannot produce rear-view mirror-rattling sounds. It simply means that the speaker would need more power to produce the effect.
It’s comparatively poor sensitivity rating is compensated for by its superior power handling feature, which is one of the best. Rated at 800w continuous power handling capability, dangerous volume levels can easily be achieved. The speakers need no clipping as well since the Kicker compRT is rated at 1600w in terms of peak power handling, among the top 2 in this review line-up. Thus, you will need a lot more muscle if the intention is for your sub to kick your car windshield out.
Subwoofers in the Kicker CompRT series are designed with a shallow mount that allows installation in tighter enclosures compared to other models. Even with a seeming lack of depth, the sound fullness isn’t compromised because the bass can really boom with the model’s high power handling rating that practically negates its less-than-stellar sensitivity rating.
4. Polk Audio AA3124-A MM1240 Review
If you want a high excursion 12” subwoofer with superior SQ, or a low-profile model that is ideal for small sealed enclosures and tight spaces, or even a model that is waterproof that can be used for marine applications, the Polk Audio MM1240 is the only subwoofer on the market that has it all – and more.
For an experienced and highly-regarded company in the speaker and subwoofer industry like Polk Audio, to be competitive means your products must cater to all kinds of buyer needs. This is particularly important for the 12” subwoofer category, which is currently the most popular among buyers. Some manufacturers offer various models in this category at the same price point. There is a standard model intended for general market appeal, maybe another model with slim design intended for installation in tight spaces, and probably a waterproof model for marine specialist applications. Polk, however, has chosen to go a different route. With the ingenuity it is known for, the company found a way to combine all these features into a single innovatively designed subwoofer model – the Polk Audio MM1240. With a model that can provide features of different products, why go for different models.
The MM1240 is not actually promoted as a low profile model for tight installations, although it can very well be so. The model is designed with a slimmed-down depth. This is apparent by how the cone’s curvature from the front onwards is less “bowled,” and the space saving feature of having the wide spider located close to the cone. While this model is not as slim as others with a similar design, the slimness is enough for those constrained by narrow spaces available for enclosures. The mounting depth totals 13.3cm, easily 4cm shallower compared to the DB1240 model from the same manufacturer. The MM1240DVC performs well in more compact sealed enclosures that measure as small as 28 lit, even if the recommended SQ options are the larger volumes.
The Polk Audio subwoofer is fitted with a unique composite cast carbon frame similar to the style of a JDM alloy wheel. While there is only one magnet, it can still be considered as a powerful and large unit that surrounds a 50mm 4-layer voice coil. The device is cooled by radial vents in the frame perimeter, a vented pole piece, and mesh-covered holes situated around the cone base where the spider is connected. The spider has progressively wound coils that provide more linear stroke aft and fore. The moving mass is afforded an even tension through its movements.
As for the thermal/mechanical power handling of the subwoofer, it is rated at 400 WRMS or somewhere near that. The large spider and the back plate that is heavily bumped are an indication that the unit provides room for a lot of mechanical excursions. This is obvious from the full inch available for linear excursion within the reach of the magnet. If this model is overcooked, there will more likely be a thermal issue, and not one that is mechanical in nature.
The MM1240 comes with a thick foam gasket to securely seal it with, regardless of the type of enclosure you opt to use. Connection is likewise easy because of the durable push terminals that accommodate as much as an 8 AWG cable, in case you prefer one. Plain speaker wires can do the job as well.
The Polk Audio subwoofer not only offers effortless SPL that works fine with any power you may have available. It also sounds fuller, livelier, weightier, more accurate, and practically better in all aspects. A single MM1240 will provide as much SPL as what 2 units of a lesser model can offer. When installed inside a ported box, perhaps only one MM1240 would be all sufficient to produce mirror-shaking bass levels.
If you intend to get a Polk Audio subwoofer as the next step after your entry-level subwoofer, or want to use it for low-profile solutions, or for marine subwoofer applications, the MM1240 will not disappoint. Simply put, it is an excellent subwoofer, no matter how you intend to use it or how you look at it.
5. MTX Audio Terminator TNE212D Review
While not every user is partial to pre-enclosed subwoofers, the MTX Audio Terminator is perfect for you if you need two subwoofers that will immediately provide a lot of crazy bass sounds. This particular model from MTX Audio has impressed a lot of users and is currently eating up its share on the electronics and audio market. The power wattage doesn’t easily go unnoticed with a max rating of 1200w. While it isn’t exactly the most powerful, it is sufficient to rock low frequency sounds. Just make sure that your car trunk has enough room for it.
If you are one to base your decision based on figures alone, the Terminator may not come out on top of your list as its wattage ratings are not the highest in their category. However, if you consider its price, there is no doubt it is worth every cent you spend. If you turn the volume up, the unit can really rock. For two 12” subwoofers, you can expect to get lots of bass, regardless of RMS ratings. One unit can already rattle; imagine how much more you can get if you have 2 in your car audio system. Depending on your mood, you can turn the volume up or down without any problem.
For its particular price point, the build is quite solid. It comes with a standard medium-density 5/8” fireboard. Some subs use ½” materials for the board, which can be a cause of concern because it provides less protection. The Terminator is stable and you can expect it to withstand the rigors of wear and tear, and not easily break. You just have to place it securely without any loose things lying around the unit.
If aesthetics is an important factor for you, then you may like this model because it comes in a sleek black design. Most people prefer to install it in the car trunk, probably to make it easier for them to show it off to friends. Note however, that it may take a lot of your trunk room, which may not leave sufficient room for bulky things you may want to put in there.
This review considers it among the best pre-enclosed subwoofers available today; and most other brands offer only one sub. For less than $200, you get a powerful subwoofer system to suit your car audio needs. Overall, the 12” MTX Audio subwoofer is the ideal solution to your bass needs. It is affordable and the perfect centerpiece for your sound system. There’s no need to worry about enclosures as it’s already covered. Likewise, it comes with enough power to keep your trunk rattling should you decide to turn up the volume. Because of its size, however, you need to make sure that your trunk has enough room to accommodate it.