Best Home Theater Subwoofers on a Budget

When it comes to creating a home theater, one of the most important features is the subwoofer.

Designed for low-pitched audio frequencies, subwoofers are in control of the bass sounds and often help to make music and movies sound ‘fuller’ or more complete. With this in mind, I’ve created a guide to help people find a subwoofer on various budgets!

My Top Picks for Home Theater Subwoofers

After several hours of researching and testing, I now feel satisfied with my selections and believe that you will be too. As you’ll see, there are six products and they come in at different price points.

Subwoofers and home theaters shouldn’t be restricted to those with the most money, so I’ve included something for everyone in this list! Click on the links below to check the current prices on Amazon.

1. Best Under $150 – Polk Audio PSW10

Click here to see the Amazon listing.

Polk Audio PSW10

At this first price point, you might have visions of a cardboard box and a few cheap wires poking out to offer some sort of bass audio. In reality, I think you’ll be surprised.

Working with any speaker and offering clear audio (even with higher volumes!), this is the perfect starting point for those building their first home theater.

What I Like About the Polk Audio PSW10

When I first decided to test different subwoofers, I expected to hate my experience in these lower price brackets. Yet, the Polk Audio PSW10 outperformed even my wildest expectations. It isn’t perfect (and I’ll look at some potential drawbacks later), but the 10-inch driver and cubic case combine beautifully to produce great sound.

With the box itself, the silver front is complemented by a black oak body. With the thick walls and MDF barriers, the formation of standing waves is prevented, and you also don’t get any unwanted resonances.

In terms of connection, the RCA cable allows you to connect to both inputs with the subwoofer. Alternatively, it works just as well when a single output cable is connected to either of the input slots.

After adjusting the variable low-pass filter (I recommend the highest frequency), this will set the internal low-pass filter higher than that of your receiver.

After starting with this product, I had to tear myself away because I found brilliant sound quality with 35Hz frequencies; this is rare in a product so affordable.

Thanks to the integrated 50-watt RMS amplifier, this doubles the amplifier power to 100 watts and keeps the subwoofer stable even as the volume increases beyond levels your neighbors would find frustrating (not that you should do this, of course!).

Finally, a fluctuation or outage in power isn’t a problem for the Polk Audio PSW10. Due to the smart sensing circuitry, the device will automatically shut off. As you may know, power surges can cause damage to any electrical device, but Polk Audio has considered this.

In fact, the device will come back on once the energy source is stabilized once again. This isn’t something I experienced myself while using it, but it’s good to know the technology is there if ever required.

What I Found Missing

Ultimately, this is an entry-level subwoofer. Therefore, those who have had home theaters for many years and are perhaps looking to take the next step may feel disappointed. If this is your first subwoofer, on the other hand, I highly recommend the Polk Audio model.

Elsewhere, some people will miss the lack of LFE input. Meanwhile, one issue I had was not related to performance but the small rubber feet. If you’re heavy-handed with the subwoofer, the rubber feet look as though they will damage quite easily so care is required.

2. Best Under $250 – BIC America F12

BIC America F12

Click here to see the Amazon listing.

Now we’re spending a little more money, what does this get you? I decided to go for the BIC America F12 for the best option under $200. Why?

What I Like About the BIC America F12

First things first, the basics include a 12-inch injection molded woofer, a heavy-duty surround, BASH designed amplifier, 475-watt power, and what BIC America say is a frequency response of between 25Hz and 200Hz. However, I don’t want to start with any of these features. Instead, I want to talk about the many connection points.

With the sub-in connector, you can switch between DTS surround-sound or Dolby Digital 5.1, 6.1, 7.1 receivers and Dolby Pro-Logic receivers. For those who don’t have the option of a sub-out due to an older two-channel AV receiver, the speaker level input and output can actually be used as an intermediary between the subwoofer and the receiver.

When playing particularly demanding movies and music, one of the most common problems is port noise. Thankfully, BIC America has dealt with this with their ‘Venturi’ vent. As a patented piece of technology, you won’t find it anywhere else in the industry. You might find similar designs, but not this one exactly.

Something else I enjoyed with the F12 while testing was the adjustable volume control and adjustable crossover. Not long after playing some music, I had checked the volume meter several times because the bass response made you feel as though it was louder than it actually was.

With this in mind, you do have to be careful with bookshelf speakers or a small sound bar because it can easily overpower and affect the sound negatively.

If you look at the sensitivity, the manufacturer rates the subwoofer at 90 decibels. This is relatively high, and it shows just how efficient the design is at creating sound from energy. If you’re worried about the low power rating, don’t; the amp is superb and will still allow for the low-end sound you desire through the speaker.

Away from the technical aspects, I should mention the unit itself because you don’t want a huge eyesore in your home. Fortunately, BIC America has used a sleek black and classic design for this subwoofer. If you want the metallic cone on display, the mesh grille can be removed.

Before I mention some considerations with this product, you’ll also enjoy the five-year warranty. Although the BIC America website looks a little old, the manufacturer is still active and offers their contact details. In all, this is one of the longest warranties you’ll find.

What I Found Missing

If I were to pick out a couple of negatives, I would point to the temperature of the unit. After placing some stress on the subwoofer and playing songs with a heavy bass, you might notice some overheating.

The overheating doesn’t necessarily have any short-term issues (the product wouldn’t be allowed on the market if it got too hot during testing), but there’s a danger of overheating reducing the life of your subwoofer.

Secondly, I recommend paying close attention to the dimensions of the product. While some companies split their investment, you can see that BIC America invested most of their money on the amplifier and driver. The casing can be quite large and clunky, so make sure it fits in your desired space before purchasing.

3. Best Under $300 – BIC Acoustech PL-200 II

BIC Acoustech PL-200 II

Click here to see the Amazon listing.

At this point, we start to move away from the ‘beginner’ or ‘first home theater’ market. Yet, I’m sticking with BIC and this is because the Acoustech PL-200 II is highly impressive. If you’re looking for differences between the two BIC models, pay attention to the power.

What I Like About the BIC Acoustech PL-200 II

Much like the F12, the Acoustech PL-200 II has a long-throw subwoofer and the fantastic BASH amplifier. However, we’re now looking at 1000 watts of dynamic peak output rather than 475 watts.

Also, users will benefit from the 250 watts RMS continuous power. With this, frequency response falls between 22Hz and 200Hz while sensitivity is 110dB at 30Hz.

As a result of this tremendous power, volume just isn’t a problem. You could say we’re still in the ‘budget’ market considering the price of the most expensive subwoofers, yet you can keep pushing (further than with the two models we’ve seen so far) this subwoofer and the foundations are in place to deal with it. Even with high volume, the Acoustech PL-200 II doesn’t shake.

If you’re someone who has had a home theater for some time, you’ll like the fact that this subwoofer will blend with other speakers with ease. Also, the crossover and volume are both adjustable and this always makes the experience more enjoyable.

We’ve compared the Acoustech PL-200 II to the F12, but what about the first PL-200? Well, one of the biggest changes is the two small ports on the front. I was lucky enough to use the original, so I can say that there is a difference between the sound clarity and depth.

With the amplifier controls, these can sometimes be a little confusing on budget subwoofers, but BIC has done a fantastic job at labeling the different controls.

As you can see from these features, and from the F12, BIC seem to have mastered this end of the market. Their designs are economical, they don’t mess around with unnecessary features, and they produce solid subwoofers for under $300 and $200.

Sure, they might have their limitations compared to the subwoofers we’ll see later, but BIC’s fantastic work means that those wanting entry-level subwoofers don’t need to put up with a sub-standard sound experience.

What I Found Missing

Was there anything lacking? Sometimes, the power can be overwhelming so it’s important you get the settings right. When the bass overwhelms the volume (or vice versa), the sound is distorted, and it can ruin your favorite album.

In the interest of giving a fair review, I should also mention that some customers have had a problem with the design. They dislike the polished copper on the driver and say it looks like cheap spray paint.

Each to their own; aesthetics is something that will always divide opinion. As long as the sound is good (and it is!), appearance is probably something you can ignore.

4. Best Under $400 – Polk Audio PSW505

Polk Audio PSW505

Click here to see the Amazon listing.

We’ve seen what Polk Audio can do with a tiny budget, but what do they improve and change with a larger one?

As you can probably tell by now, the results are going to be good because I’ve tried and tested the product. Will it live up to the more expensive products though?

What I Like About the Polk Audio PSW505

Starting with the most important features, this is a 12-inch woofer with up to 460 watts, a frequency response of between 25Hz and 125Hz, detachable grille, magnetically-shielded LFE input, Phase Toggle Switch, and slot load venting (to improve bass response).

If I were to use one word to summarize the Polk Audio PSW505, it would be ‘balance’. No matter what volume, the lows are still rich, and distortion seems to be rare. Yes, the unit itself is quite large and this will cause some problems for many.

On the other hand, the phase control and tunable crossover allow you to match all speakers up to the same system. When this is achieved, all subs fire in unison and you have a listening experience well worth the money; now all you need is the right album or film (let me know which you would choose!).

I must say that I also enjoyed the slot load venting design because none of the pressure builds inside the unit and then affects performance. Instead, pressure can escape from the chassis and this reduces the likelihood of turbulence.

When turbulence is reduced, this allows for a tighter response. Actually, I credit this clever design for the punch and clear sound; it often sounds like there is more low-end.

Whenever the subwoofer doesn’t pick up a signal for 15 consecutive minutes, the amplifier will shut off and the feet stop the unit from slipping and sliding across wooden surfaces; just two more small features I enjoyed.

In terms of a warranty, you’ll get three years for parts and labor with the amplifier and five years parts and labor with the speaker. While the first two subwoofers are probably more suited towards smaller rooms, these past two have the power or clever features to be utilized in medium-sized rooms.

What I Found Missing

The first negative is less what I found missing and what I found there to be too much of…and the answer is weight. Though the solid MDF construction is appreciated, the weight of 56 pounds can be a little much for some.

If power is your main concern, this model doesn’t quite live up to the same standards as the BIC Acoustech PL-200 II. Instead of 1,000 watts, Polk Audio uses 460 watts dynamic power output and 300 watts continuous average output.

5. Best Under $500 – SVS PB-1000

SVS PB-1000

Click here to see the Amazon listing.

Now, we come to one of the elite brands for the final two products; SVS. If you’re willing to spend up to $500 on a subwoofer, this suggests you’re building a home theater that will impress all friends and relatives who come to visit.

What I Like About the SVS PB-1000

For a sub-$500 budget, this is the best subwoofer in the market (hence its place in my list!). Despite its large size perhaps going against it, the sub certainly packs a punch.

As well as all the connections you would usually expect, you’ll find a 10-inch drive and distortion is avoided with the addition of an FEA-optimized motor. The amp itself is a Sledge STA-300D which offers over 700 watts peak dynamic power and 300 watts RMS continuous power.

So far, I haven’t told you anything special. No, this comes with the front-firing 3.5-inch high-flow port (which itself has inner and outer port flares).

In this price bracket, it’s uncommon to see ported subwoofers but SVS has allowed us this luxury. According to the manufacturer, the sub will drop to 19Hz (the lowest we’ve seen so far!).

I’m used to companies exaggerating results to make sales, but this sub really does perform. If you don’t believe me, just read through some of the amazing reviews online.

Personally, I connected the sub using a shielded RCA cable to an AV receiver. By using the LFE low-pass filter, turning the volume control to the neutral position, and setting the phase control to zero, the auto calibration routine worked a treat and I was up and running in no time.

One of my favorite things about this sub is that it managed subtle, delicate sounds beautifully. Whenever I test a new sub, I get nervous because many have all the bells and whistles as a distraction from the poor performance with quiet sounds. With this SVS model, it just wasn’t an issue and it allows you to immerse fully into a film or piece of music.

What I Found Missing

I didn’t experience this myself, but I could tell that this sub needs proper placement. Without correct placement and good acoustics in the room itself, I can see some people getting frustrated with the sub.

I recommend looking for advice on sub placement online, otherwise you won’t make the most of your investment.

6. Best Under $1,000 – SVS PB-2000

SVS PB-2000

Click here to see the Amazon listing.

Of the six subs I’ve included in this list, the first and last were hardest to choose. Why? Well, those with a small budget of $100 are relying on me to recommend the very best subwoofer. Meanwhile, there’s a large gap (and many, many products) between $500 and $1,000. This being said, I think I’ve found the right option.

What I Like About the SVS PB-2000

What makes the SVS PB-2000 different from all the other subwoofers we’ve discussed today? Why should you even consider investing this much?

For me, it’s the ability to fill large rooms with a deep, thunderous bass. When testing, I used the PB-2000 directly after the PB-1000 and there was a noticeable difference. Especially with movies, the step up is clear with low-frequency effects.

When you first look at pictures of the two, you’ll notice that the design is similar. This is true, but there are some important differences.

Firstly, we’re now up to a 12-inch driver rather than ten inches. Secondly, the front grille is now a perforated metal design rather than speaker cloth. Thirdly, there has been a wonderful increase in power. Rather than 300 watts of RMS power, you now have 500 watts. Additionally, peak output is up to 1,100 watts from 700.

As you can see, this makes the SVS PB-2000 the most powerful subwoofer on this list. There were two things that I noticed after using this sub initially;

  • There was no noise coming from the port (a concern for many ported subwoofers)
  • The ‘noticeable difference’ I mentioned was that the bass was not overly noticeable

I know, I’ve probably confused you with this second point. What I mean is that the bass blends into the rest of the sound stage rather than standing out and making a nuisance of itself.

Over the years, this is something of which I’ve come to learn the importance, so I admire SVS for getting this right. The whole sound system works together rather than the bass pulling everything else along and this was perhaps most obvious with the ‘20th Century Fox’ movie introduction.

What I Found Missing

Personally, I couldn’t find any major issues with this model (not enough to warrant comment here anyway!). Therefore, I had to revert to customer reviews online.

I managed to find two recurring themes; a dislike of the grille’s aesthetic and an annoying front light. When you can’t find complaints about the actual sound performance, this is when you know a product is strong for its price range.

Conclusion

Thank you for reading, I hope you find a reliable subwoofer that matches your budget in this list. I had great fun testing these subs and am certain you’ll have fun too (just look at the great reviews for them all on Amazon!).

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