A decent subwoofer can completely change your music-listening and movie-watching experience. If you’ve had your eyes on a cheap, used subwoofer for a while, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth buying. Do subwoofers go bad with age, or do they always sound like they’re from the factory?
Subwoofers do not go bad with age. An old subwoofer usually sounds similar to when it was new, and the audio quality won’t degrade over time. However, if one of the components in a subwoofer fails, the subwoofer will stop working altogether. Replacing the damaged component will fix the old subwoofer.
This article will explain why and how subwoofers go bad with age, how long they last, and if a subwoofer can actually get better over time after a break-in period.
Also read: 9 Reasons Why Your Subwoofer Sounds Weak
Do Subwoofers Go Bad With Age?
As brought out before, subwoofers don’t go bad with age. A passive subwoofer doesn’t have many components that can degrade over the years if stored properly and not abused. However, an active subwoofer can go bad with age if the resistors and capacitors degrade and don’t get replaced.
An old subwoofer either works correctly or doesn’t fire up in the first place. There’s no such thing as a “zombie” subwoofer that has half the bass it used to.
A subwoofer’s cone is completely different from that of a regular speaker. This is because low-end frequencies require a lot of power to reproduce, making the sub rattle at high volumes.
Some people believe that this constant, extreme vibrating makes a subwoofer wear out faster than a regular speaker.
And it’s true – to an extent. The spider and the voice coils are the two parts of a sub that die the fastest. After all, they’re responsible for the powerful cone vibrations, so it makes sense.
However, aging components won’t really affect your subwoofer’s sound much.
Anyone who has used a 20-year-old sub can tell you that it sounds like the day they bought it. It’ll still have the same warm, punchy vintage bass sound.
That said, this largely depends on how it was used, powered, and stored. If you keep blasting your music at max volume with the bass cranked up to 11, you’ll kill any subwoofer in a couple of years.
How Long Should a Subwoofer Last?
A subwoofer should last 15-20 years, or even longer. The lifespan of a subwoofer depends on build quality, materials, use, and storage. A high-quality subwoofer can last a lifetime – if it’s not abused and gets maintained regularly.
If you’re shopping for a used sub, you’re likely to stumble on a few good deals for a vintage model. But is it worth buying a subwoofer that’s almost as old as you?
If the sub works correctly, why not. You’ll instantly upgrade the sound system in your house or car with a decent subwoofer.
And if you’re concerned about the lifespan of a new subwoofer and whether you should buy one, the answer is again a yes. A new subwoofer can easily last a couple of decades if you take care of it. This involves keeping it in a dry spot out of the sun, using an amplifier with the right power rating, and a few other things.
However, if you don’t treat your subwoofer nicely, it won’t last you very long, no matter how old it is. An amplifier that’s too weak or too powerful to drive your subwoofer is the most common way people fry a subwoofer.
Be especially careful with the gain knob. It’s not a volume knob, so don’t use it like one. The gain knob adjusts the frequency response to prevent a distorted bass sound. Setting gain higher than what a sub can take will cause it to overheat and blow up.
Also, if you want your subwoofer to last, don’t play exceedingly loud music on it. Loud music puts a lot of stress on the subwoofer spider by making it stretch and contract excessively. And the high power output can damage the voice coil and break your sub completely.
Do Subs Get Better Over Time?
Subs don’t get better over time. The sound quality of a good subwoofer will stay similar as time goes by. Moreover, the subwoofer break-in period is often exaggerated. A subwoofer won’t sound drastically better after a break-in period.
Essentially, if you don’t like the way a subwoofer sounds right now, don’t buy it on the promise that it’ll sound better after a bit of use.
If you don’t know what subwoofer break-in is, it’s the period after buying a new subwoofer during which you’re supposed to play certain bass frequencies to allow the driver to loosen.
People who believe a subwoofer needs breaking in say that the sub’s spider has to stretch under different bass frequencies to work optimally. The spider is made of tightly-woven fabric, so it makes sense.
Additionally, they say that a sub can sound dull or underpowered if it’s not broken in properly. The subwoofer can’t reach the lowest bass frequencies if it’s not broken in yet.
Even manufacturers claim that a subwoofer must be broken-in correctly to achieve optimal performance.
Frankly speaking, that’s just an excuse they use to justify low-quality materials and clumsy quality control. Don’t fall for it. If a subwoofer doesn’t sound the way you expected it to, don’t buy it. It won’t get much better over time.
Although a break-in period may improve sound quality slightly by allowing the suspension system to loosen, it’s not night and day.
Watch this YouTube video to see how a broken in sub sounds against a brand-new one:
Apparently, the only difference is a 0.1% increase in volume after it’s broken in.
You won’t get a warmer, punchier bass by playing hundreds of bass boosted tracks. You’ll only get it if you buy a better subwoofer.
The break-in period doesn’t apply if you’re buying a used subwoofer. It was probably used a lot, so the spider had plenty of time to stretch and contract.
Subwoofers don’t sound noticeably different after being used for a while. Although the break-in period can make the subwoofer ever so slightly louder, it won’t make a massive difference.
If a subwoofer sounds good to you now, buy it. If it doesn’t, it won’t magically turn into a good subwoofer no matter how much you use it.
- MSPOT: Why Some Subwoofers Rattle and What to Do About It
- AVS Forum: Do subs lose performance over time?
- Caraudio.com: So I fried a subwoofer
- Crutchfield: Kicker Solo-Baric® L3 Series 11S15L32
- YouTube: What happens when one sub is broken in and the other isn’t? – Tech Stuff Tuesday
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.