If you are interested to build your home theater system or simply want to improve the sound quality in your room, investing in a woofer or subwoofer is a great first step. The quality of a sound system hinges on its ability to replicate all the low and high notes. Some types of music will benefit from a subwoofer more than others, but adding quality bass to a stereo system will surely bring the music to life.
This article will mostly discuss the two loudspeakers – woofer vs. subwoofer – and how they differ. Figuring out how they vary and what they are best suited for will help you decide between getting a woofer or subwoofer for your needs. Since woofers and subwoofers are speakers, they work by converting electrical signals into sounds, using the concept that variations of an electric signal facilitate the speaker’s movement with it and create sound waves through the air (or water). So whenever there are audible differences and distortions noticeable in the sounds, that’s all because of your woofers.
While they have similar features, there are distinct ways to use a woofer vs. a subwoofer. We’ll help you narrow down on which one you’re better off buying between the two by describing each type, differentiating them, and listing down the factors to consider depending on the sonic experience you are looking for.
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What is a Woofer?
First off, woofers are loudspeakers. What makes a woofer unique is because it specializes in the lower end of the audible spectrum of sound. Funnily enough, the term ‘woof’ from woofer refers to the low sound of a dog’s bark.
In a typical home audio setup, the woofer is part of the main speaker system. These are usually the floor-standing speakers you see in home theatres or living rooms. It helps the tweeter with mid-range frequencies since they typically have a range of about 20 to 2 kHz (kilohertz), which enables it to play low to mid-range frequencies. Since they have a wider range of sounds, woofers are perfect for use in home theatres!
What is a Subwoofer?
A woofer is a specialized speaker, while a subwoofer is a specialized woofer that covers a more narrow frequency range. Subwoofers are used to emphasize the deeper bass notes.
There are many subwoofer variants in the market. You can differentiate among these products by looking at efficiency, cost, size, and even their distortion and power handling capabilities.
Normally the structure of a subwoofer is a plastic or wooden enclosure that has one or more woofers fitted into it. However, the focus on the lower frequency ranges causes the subwoofer to be often designed as a larger speaker than woofers are. This larger size allows the driver to move a lot of air while maintaining the required low frequency. Remember that it matters how you place your subwoofer because it can make room for the emergence of multiple subwoofer variants in that area.
Subwoofers are made up of one or more woofers mounted on a wooden loudspeaker enclosure. This enclosure is built to withstand air pressure and resist deformation as these variables affect the sound quality produced. The common subwoofer designs are bass reflex, horn-loaded, bandpass, and infinite battle.
The frequency range of your subwoofer is determined by how you use it. For a subwoofer at home, the frequency range will usually be between 20 to 200 Hertz (Hz) and around 100 Hz for subwoofers used in enclosed professional settings, like a church or a hall.
Since subwoofers concentrate on a narrower spectrum of frequencies, you should carefully place them to have a fuller sound. This “fuller” sound effect cannot be achieved on a regular woofer. However, this can get tricky because your sound system is now more complex. You may need to invest and add other speakers to cover the higher range of frequencies and make the most out of your subwoofer setup.
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Can a Woofer Be Used as a Subwoofer?
Since a subwoofer is a specialized type of woofer, you might be wondering if a woofer can function as a subwoofer. The simple answer is yes – a woofer can be used as a subwoofer, but the resulting sound is still that of a woofer.
You can use a woofer as a subwoofer by installing the same driver in its box with its amplifier. This way, it functions with an LFE or low-frequency effect.
Drivers classified as subwoofers are often designed for lower frequencies than the range that typical woofers cover. So while a woofer can be used as a subwoofer, you still cannot expect the lower frequencies to be as crisp on your woofer vs. subwoofer.
The Differences Between Woofer Vs. Subwoofer
The key difference between woofer vs. subwoofer is the frequency range. Subwoofers are used to produce a wide range of low sounds and are great for loud bass sounds, unlike woofers. Woofers cover high frequencies as well as the mid and treble range.
With woofers, while their covered range of frequency is pretty adequate for most of your applications, you might want to get a subwoofer if you want the best sound quality.
It all depends on what you want the sound system effect to be. If you plan on a sound system that has more than two speakers, then opt for woofers. But if you want better sound quality from your sound system – now is the time to ask if you should get a subwoofer or a woofer.
Subwoofers from reputable brands will have high accuracy in producing low frequencies. Since the human ear can hear sounds ranging from 20 kHz to as low as 20 Hz, artists and producers feature special low-frequency effects of LFEs in their content to make it more entertaining. This goes for movies, films, music, and every creative thing in between. Directors want their audiences to make the most out of their viewing experience, so they utilize this range and work with more LFEs.
Let’s say that in your home, you are using floor-standing woofers to handle low-frequency waves. Your woofers will generally reproduce sub-bass sounds ranging from 40 Hz to 2500 Hz. Unfortunately, this means that much of the LFEs falling in the narrow range of below 35 Hz will generally be lost. You, unfortunately, will not be able to hear or enjoy them in the way that artists, directors, or producers had hoped or designed.
But if you have a subwoofer, they can reproduce even the extremely low frequencies ranging from 20 to 200 Hz! This way, they can handle the narrow frequency ranges that create earth trembling effects. Imagine your favorite movie and all its bass sounds! You can replicate this experience right at home by getting the right subwoofer set up.
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Types of Subwoofers
Another important thing to note is there are two types of subwoofers you can choose from.
This will help you determine if you want the specialized features that subwoofers offer or if these are unnecessary and you are already satisfied with a woofer.
Active subwoofers are also known as powered subwoofers. This type is self-contained. It has line-level inputs and outputs, a built-in amplifier, and a volume control panel. It doesn’t require an external amplifier to compensate for the power. Instead, it relies on its built-in amplifier, which does a pretty decent job of providing the required power to amp up the large speaker driver.
However, you will need an independent power source. This means that your active or powered subwoofer should be plugged in a power outlet for it to work.
It has its volume control panel, too. In addition, the powered subwoofer comes with its independent gain and volume controls separate from those in the receiver. These controls will allow you to tune it to meet your required specifications or sound preferences.
Meanwhile, a passive subwoofer works with an external amplifier (similar to a typical loudspeaker). The subwoofers use more power to decrease low-frequency sounds. Passive subwoofers have a subwoofer driver, enclosure and are powered by an external amplifier. This type relies on the external amplifier to achieve the best sound; otherwise, this is sacrificed. If this is what you have (or want), you will need to first connect the amp to the preamp output of the receiver. This way, the preamp will send clean audio signals to the amplifier for amplification. You will certainly make the most out of having a passive subwoofer.
When dealing with a passive subwoofer, the amplifier or receiver should have enough power to handle the bass that your subwoofer will produce. Otherwise, the energy supply will be drained from your amplifier. They require a lot of power, so setting it up properly and accurately is a necessary step. Failure to add an external amplifier means that your subwoofer won’t have enough power to reproduce the deep floor trembling bass. You basically won’t get to make the most out of your subwoofer and your listening experience.
If you are looking to buy a subwoofer, here are the factors to consider because they will impact your listening experience:
Like previously mentioned, active subwoofers have built-in amplifiers. These are more powerful because it gives you more control over how the power is used.
It would be best if you also looked into the driver. The larger the driver, the deeper the bass. This is ideal if you have a lot of space to work with and prefer loud bass sounds.
On average, individuals lean towards subwoofers that have 10 to 12-inch cones.
#2. Cone Mount
There are two ways to mount a single cone subwoofer – down-firing or front-firing. Since the subwoofer’s cone moves back and forth to produce sound waves, the way these are mounted makes a huge difference in the quality of sound you can expect.
Keep in mind that down-firing cones are mounted on the bottom of the subwoofer cabinet. Front-firing cones will be on the side of the cabinet. Cone mounting is a matter of personal preference, so take note of the space you are working with and the overall look and sounds you want to achieve.
Casing plays a big role in the quality of sound from your subwoofer. The way its encased makes a huge difference, and even the build of the case affects the way it functions and produces sound.
Acoustic suspension is where the woofers are inside of a box, producing a base response sound. The sound produced by an acoustic suspension enclosure is precise and clear.
Meanwhile, base reflex casings have a port. This makes the foundation of your subwoofer bigger and more extended. Having a port allows some of the power produced by the woofer to come out. The enclosures are better on power but less accurate.
#4. Sealed Box
A sealed box produces a smooth bass line, resulting in an even flow of music. In addition, sealed box woofers tend to have better low-frequency ability compared to other types of boxes. It will also produce a transition from one note to the next, which is quick and clear.
However, a sealed box also has its cons. These types of boxes require more power because they lack efficiency. In addition, they do not produce at the volume levels that other boxes can.
Because of that, you can easily damage your subwoofer as it’s more reliant on power. More power means more heat, but a sealed box – hence the name – does not let the heat escape. You will also notice distortion in the signal because it will be heard in the upper base note resulting from your subwoofer.
#5. Ported Box
A ported box comes with a port. The result with this box is better because the port adds more boom the quality of bass sound from the subwoofer.
The port will mimic a speaker, which gives you a rounder and fuller sound. Plus, this ported box has a better low frequency compared to a sealed box. There is also better circulation and airflow since it is not sealed. This allows frequencies to produce a better boom, and you can play the speaker for longer periods without worrying about overheating or draining the power source.
But ported boxes can be tricky to adjust with certain speakers. The design can distort within the speaker. Unfortunately, heat does not have a chance to spread out evenly when the speaker is played long and hard. Think of it as your typical wear and tear as with any gadget or appliance.
The ported box also does not provide a cushion for the speaker, which can cause issues in both functionality and sound.
Lastly, these types of boxes are larger. Therefore, you will have to consider the space you are working with before purchasing a ported box.
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Conclusion – Which One Should You Buy Between a Woofer Vs. Subwoofer?
Subwoofers are perfect for home theatre systems and clubs because they give a more realistic and engrossing sound. Just imagine the thumping bass from your favorite club. That sound is thanks to the bass speaker abilities of a subwoofer that woofers cannot offer. If you are more particular about personal settings for your listening experience, you’re better off with a subwoofer because it allows for more control.
Meanwhile, woofers are more appropriate for compact and portable systems such as your car. They are usually smaller, so it is more convenient to set them up and transport them. In addition, woofers consist of just one speaker driver inside an enclosure. Since there is not much technical wiggle room here, opt for a world-class brand to get the high-quality sound.
There is no general rule of thumb if a woofer or subwoofer is better. It depends on your needs, preferences, and budget!
Invest in a quality woofer or subwoofer for an amazing sound experience, but keep in mind that not all speakers are created equally. Always go with a trusted brand with many good reviews that can provide you with the amazing sound experience you deserve.
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John Fleming is the senior editor for Audiophilez.com, covering everything from headphones to smart speakers. He is a graduate of Music Production and Technology. Before Audiophilez, John began his career as a staff writer for two different magazines, where he became a skilled storyteller across different mediums. When he isn’t writing, he can be found biking, reading books, and playing the piano.