There are two uses for a subwoofer in music. First is the physical – low note that you’re attempting to reproduce.
If it was initially intended to be low, you want a subwoofer to play it and not sound like some bloated room-induced monotone sound.
Good bass is textured, and you can hear the sound variance.
The second use of low bass is to reproduce the space. There are a lot of ultrasonic or low-level noises that are audible, but we ignore them.
These low-level sounds are subtle, but with a good subwoofer, they get recreated, and you open up the sound stage broader and more profoundly.
I’m not a 2-channel purist. And coming from a music background, I am a massive believer in proper bass management.
Adding a subwoofer isn’t just about more bass. With a great subwoofer, the system’s dynamics rock harder, and soundstage depth and spaciousness enrich.
A well-matched subwoofer will dramatically improve the overall sound of your system, and adding the right subwoofer will make a more significant difference than upgrading electronics.
In this article, I’ll reveal the best subs for a 2-channel stereo I tested and give you some tips that helped me.
A Short Introduction
For subs, I’m a massive believer in SVS. Polk and Martin Logan make good stuff but don’t blend in and become invisible like an SVS. And their app is a sweet bonus.
Of course, some folks don’t like a subwoofer that pays little attention to itself. If that’s you, SVS could be a good choice.
- I suggest the SB-1000 Pro or SB-2000 Pro for integrating with 2-channel stereo. The SB-2000 Pro has a higher dynamic output and extends deeper, but both have plenty of output.
- For cheap subtle bass, Monoprice 10in 200-Watt Powered Subwoofer did great with my cousin’s 8″ in-walls.
The goal is a seamless blend, and it should sound like your speakers gained another octave of deep extension.
The sub should not be plainly running in the system – if you hear it calling attention to itself, the volume is set too high.
2-channel equipment with a sub out often has no bass management, i.e., no filter for the speaker to match crossover frequency.
One benefit if you go SVS is the app will allow you to tune it from the listening position. You could also do that with a mini DSP if you use a different brand.
In that case, I highly recommend getting a miniDSP 2x4HD + UMK1 (Amazon links) and learning Room EQ Wizard to EQ your new sub to the room. It is worth the extra money and the time spent learning it, especially if you’re a perceptive listener.
Room interactions are much more important in the sub-bass range than in the higher frequencies, so if you sense like you’re not getting the sound you want right away, don’t assume the subwoofer itself is the problem- be prepared to spend time playing with position and EQ.
The Guide to Subwoofer Calibration and Bass Preferences is a good resource if you’re unfamiliar with that process.
Whatever you choose, remember that once you get it home, the subwoofer will be at the mercy of the space in which it lives.
If you need a handy guide on how to add a subwoofer to a 2-channel stereo, just follow the link! I recently did my best to explain it as simply as possible.
Top 4 Best Subwoofers for 2-Channel Stereo
Best Subwoofers for 2-Channel Stereo Reviews
1. REL T/7x (8-inch)
Most likely the best expensive small subwoofer on the market. With some tweaking, this REL T/7x can provide the following:
- Decently articulate lows.
- Solid abrupt punch with minimal flap-out (if set correctly).
- Mimic the warmth and perceived musicality of larger high-end subs containing far greater quality loudspeakers.
Excellent features, solid connections, and controls, great rumble is on tap for flicks, and serious beef can be dialed in for any music.
These subs have a complementary component that does exactly what it is supposed to without being overly placement-sensitive.
Just watch the level settings on the unit. From your receiver or preamp, you can efficiently overburden or overload it, turning a satisfying experience into an alarming flap-out of immense proportions, shortening your driver cone’s life as well.
If you can’t feel and hear dramatic bass and profound low-midrange compliments to your existing reference speakers, try moving it around rather than simply turning it up.
The key to good musical subs is playing fast with your main speakers. You want a minimal delay. REL’s use of analog crossovers is known to blend easily.
These RELs will NOT play low enough for electronic or rock, though, which may take some of the enjoyment out.
The great design would benefit from a bigger magnet and beefier voice coil to handle some insane rumble without approaching an overloaded flap-out.
But without getting too petty, this one is a fantastic choice for integrating with a 2-channel stereo. You can get it on Amazon for around 1000, but it’s worth every penny.
2. SVS SB-1000 Pro (12-inch)
The SB-1000 Pro (Amazon link) is a good balance of price, performance, and features, and its retail availability worldwide makes it effortless to try.
If you love it, you’re done. If not, knowing what you liked and what you didn’t will help build a picture of where to go next.
I purchased the SB-1000 one year ago to double as a home theatre and music-listening sub, and I have been very pleased.
Both cinematic and musicality are superb.
Setting the frequency utilizing the control knob on the back of the subwoofer to match the frequency of your main speakers is essential for optimal performance.
Also, with SB-1000, it’s best to ensure the sub’s placement is in a corner, right or left of the fronts on the same wall for optimal implementation to 2-channel stereo and pleasure.
Also, set the volume employing the knob on the rear to the center position and then spin the volume to the + or gain to correspond to the output level of your main speakers.
This will only benefit your result in sound if you have a surround amplifier.
Another piece of advice – if your SB-1000 is on the carpet, try placing a rigid material such as a good size piece of tile to set the subwoofer on so the 12″ bottom-firing woofer reverberates off the hard surface instead of getting muffled or eaten up by carpet fibers.
All in all, fantastic subwoofer and also easy EQ and integration to 2-channel stereo using the SVS app.
3. Polk HTS 10 (10-inch)
This relatively small 10″ 200-watt sub really rocks when coupled with a good receiver. Polk HTS 10 is a boom for the buck, small in size but strong.
This sub looks pretty tight with a solid stereo and will shake the fixtures. It’s excellent for music and has survived a turn-on with the receiver volume at full.
My friend owned this sub for about two years, and whenever I heard it, the words that crossed my mind were: control, loudness, authority, and realism. Now he wants another one to go dual.
His oldest son is bringing all his college friends over to hear it. Need I say more?
When integrating this one with a 2-channel stereo, you need to set the front speakers to large and have a substantial base signal going through the leads to the subwoofer’s level inputs, then out to the mains.
If you don’t match this sub with high-end speakers that produce pretty deep mid-range frequencies, the Polk HTS 10 and your cheaper, lower-end speakers will sound horrible together (you will notice a huge gap in the sound spectrum).
This subwoofer is designed to fill in the rest of the low-range frequencies that even your high-end towers or bookshelves can’t produce.
4. SVS SB-2000 Pro (12-inch)
The SVS SB-2000 Pro (Amazon link) is by far the best sub in its price range, and trust me, I have tested many subs in the past and even built my own subwoofers.
It has a beautifully tight and punchy bass. It plays very loud and extremely low without the slightest hint of distortion or boominess. Except if you set the frequency cut-off too high.
What I’m most thrilled about, though, is the fantastic accuracy and tightness the SB-2000 Pro exhibits. Bass drums sound punchy and speedy with this subwoofer, even at exceptionally high volume levels.
I always had to turn the volume on my front main speakers to get more punch and stop boominess. No more!
Every slap of a well-produced bass or tom-tom drum, of which there are a bunch of in, for example, Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” from the Brothers in Arms album, comes through as neat and tight as I’ve ever heard.
The soundstage seems like the full sound of your system gets better, even the higher frequencies.
If you are looking for a great-sounding subwoofer and can afford to go with its price, go with the SVS, you will not be dissatisfied.
Has a great warranty, an excellent return policy if you don’t like it, and an outstanding reputation.
My brother debated between a Polk, REL, and SVS, but then he decided on the SVS and has no regrets.
The bottom line: if you are considering a subwoofer in the $1000-$1500 (and up) price range, it would be a massive mistake to miss this one!
Small or Large Subwoofer for Stereo?
Big subwoofers go deeper, better, and louder. HOWEVER! Larger subwoofers are more challenging to match to the room. The lower they go, the more room modes you’ll likely find.
A good 12″ sub will do music or movies with any speaker with proper room treatment and solid EQ. Without those two, a small subwoofer is far less risky and more likely to function for you.
The most significant effect on how a subwoofer sounds is its placement and the room. Room treatments help with ringing and DSP with frequency response at the listening position.
The bass traps help de-energize the ringing and make DSPs possible. You can even sweep nulls this way.
Actually, the mixture of sub-placement, room acoustics, and DSP all contribute.
Nicely done, they are lightning-fast and completely organic sounding, and bigger = better. However, poorly done, with limited placement, no bass traps, and no EQ, a small sub may often sound better.
Room modes finish below the frequency where the bass wave is double the length of the longest space dimension. For 18 ft, this is 31hz. Smaller rooms, it is higher.
Subwoofer size has nothing to do with how boomy, swift, or slow it sounds. That is a role of QTC and group delay.
What if You Have a Smaller Space?
You can’t “golden ear” subs, but the easiest ones to integrate into a 2-channel stereo and allow good EQ would be sealed subs.
Sealed is easy to get decent results, with the downside being poor efficiency VS everything else (ported, passive radiator, bandpass, transmission line, front loaded horn, tapped horn, infinite baffle, etc.)
An 8″ small sealed sub will not pressurize your basement but will give about the most performance for the size, and if you want improved performance, it will play better with more sealed subs in the future.
In a small space, you don’t need something earthshaking; a great subwoofer in a 2.1 stereo setup blends to the point where you aren’t always hearing it outright.
You likely don’t require anything above a 10″ sub. I’ve listened to many of the newer REL subwoofers, and the REL T7i (around $1k) seems to get great praise for music listening and home theater.
Given its driver size, it doesn’t seem likely to be too in-your-face, and with miniDSP, you tune it up just how you like it.
Its reviews are also surprisingly favorable (for example, one from HiFiplus.com), and the subwoofer lends itself pleasingly to music setups.
Finding out how to get the best placement and chances to get close requires some information.
Dr. Earl Geddes has a free download e-book on room acoustics, subs placement, and setup. He uses three subwoofers to get it right in a very precise configuration. He also has floating walls and varying room dimensions, so I’d call him the “subwoofer audiophile.”