10″ and 12″ subwoofers are very common and there are many arguments about how they compare with each other and which is better.
So, what’s the difference between a 10″ and 12″ subwoofer? Can you use both types in your sound system? Which is more powerful?
We will answer all these questions and more in this article.
There’s little difference between 10″ and 12″ subwoofers, except that 12″ subs deliver more bass. Any other difference between the two is marginal at best. For example, 10″ subs are a bit faster but don’t push as much air as 12″ subs (so the 12″ should be a bit louder at the same wattage). In addition, 10″ subs may offer a better transient response, meaning they may be a bit more accurate. However, most people will not notice any difference, unless you’re an audiophile.
Let’s get into more details about how 10″ subwoofers compare to 12″ subwoofers.
10″ vs 12″ Subwoofer Comparison Table
|10" Subwoofers||12" Subwoofers|
|Accuracy||Slightly more accurate||Slightly less accurate|
|Bass Output||Less bass output||Greater bass output|
|Performance and Loudness||Less loud||Louder|
|Sound Quality||No difference||No difference|
|Distortion||Less distortion||Greater distortion|
|Tonality||Tight, controlled mids||Better at lower frequencies|
|Resonant Frequency and Frequency Response||Narrower response||Better response at the low end|
|Size, Weight and Power Demands||Smaller, lighter and use less power||Larger, heavier and use more power|
It is true that smaller subwoofers tend to be slightly more accurate than larger subwoofers. Meaning they are normally “tighter” and “cleaner”. This is why woofers are a bit more accurate than subwoofers.
Well, why are 10’s a bit tighter than 12’s? That is because smaller drivers have lower Q’s because manufacturers normally put large cones on smaller motors to increase SPL and sensitivity.
To further explain, the manufacture gives you less power to work with the smaller sub. This reduces stress on the identical materials used in the 12. As such, you will get more accurate sonic reproduction at the expense of lower volume output with the smaller sub.
This means you can expect 10″ subs to be slightly more accurate than 12″ subs, the 10s will hit faster because it is smaller.
Let’s say that again, the difference will be slight. However, an audiophile will notice the difference. If you’re not an audiophile, you probably won’t. For this reason, many people will say 10″ subs are not “tighter” than 12″ subs, that it’s all a myth.
They do make a good point because magnets today are too powerful for there to be much difference. However, this is of course assuming that we’re talking about decent to high-quality subwoofers.
They also make a good point because in general, high Qts drivers are not any less “tight” than well-dampened drivers.
However, they do require larger boxes or enclosures and less internal pressure to prevent ringing. Remember, there is a point where the subs Qts and Fs become the systems Qtc and Fc, so these considerations are important for audiophile sound quality.
2. Bass Output
The main difference you will notice with 10″ and 12″ subs is that the 12″ will deliver more bass. The larger driver will have a little bit more total output due to more cone surface area.
However, the fact is, with any decent to high-end subwoofers, it would be hard for you to hear a difference just based on size.
In general, a 12″ driver will move more air than a 10″ one and is theoretically capable of accurately producing lower frequencies and is capable of producing more bass. It’s important however to realize that the other parts of the subwoofer system will affect all of this as well.
By this, we mean it all depends on several factors such as available airspace, amount of power available, and the type of sound system (SQ, SPL, SQL).
Now if you were to compare two similar systems with plenty of space and enough power, the fact is, the 12″ will deliver more bass no question. This is especially true for midbass. A larger midbass will make you feel it more than a smaller midbass at the same volume.
Why does the larger driver deliver more bass? well quite simply, the larger driver doesn’t need to move as far as the smaller driver for the same volume to deliver the same bass.
In other words, the larger 12″ sub has a larger surface area, and more area equals more volume of air is excited which means more bass. Simply put, a 12″ can physically move more air than a10″ subwoofer which means it can go louder given the same wattage.
One thing to keep in mind if you are comparing these subs for bass output is that you will have to be pushing these subs hard to notice this effect.
3. Performance and Loudness
The 12″ sub will be louder than the 10″ sub for the same reason that the 12″ will deliver more bass. As we said, this is due to the larger surface area of the driver which requires increased power and is therefore louder. Remember, subwoofer loudness is created by moving air.
Let’s take an example.
Let’s look at the JL Audio 10W7 and JL Audio 12W7. The JL Audio 10W7 uses 500w to achieve peak performance while the JL Audio 12W7 uses 750w to achieve peak performance.
Remember, these are similar drivers. Both these drivers are built similarly and use the same material for the different components including the cone, basket, magnet, voice coil, and all other parts.
One point to note is that the increase in bass from the 12″ sub is not proportional to the decrease in response accuracy. As far as we are concerned, it’s a fair trade.
Now we have said that 12″ subs will typically be louder than 10″ subs. However, power handling considerations are very important.
Here’s a question, which of these subwoofers will be louder? Between a 10″ and a 12″, both rated at 1000W RMS, each placed in their own optimized box and each driven by the same 1k amp?
Normally, you could just say the 12″ but that won’t always be the case because of power handling.
Not all subwoofers handle power the same way. This is especially true if the subs are different brands. In this case, there could be a significant enough difference in air displacement based on how well power is handled.
Sensitivity is also an important but overlooked factor when it comes to loudness. as an example, a 94db sensitivity speaker will be almost twice as loud as a 91db sensitivity sub for the same applied signal power.
4. Sound Quality
Is there any difference between 10″ and 12″ subs in terms of sound quality?
Only at the highest sonic levels.
If you are comparing the same family of drivers and the only difference is cone size, you won’t be able to tell a sonic difference between the two.
The only instance in which you will be able to tell is when you have reached the limits of the 10″ at which point you’ll begin to notice distortion.
Sound quality is a complex metric and the size of a driver is just one factor that helps to determine the quality of sound that a driver can deliver. Other factors include magnet size, spider stiffness, cone material, etc.
As we have said, the 12″ sub will certainly have greater output in terms of bass, but that doesn’t mean greater sound quality. Once your subwoofers are decent, it will be very hard to nearly impossible to hear a sonic difference from just a size difference.
However, here is one instance in which you may notice a difference.
Let’s start by saying that bigger drivers have a better response down low and smaller drivers up high
Now, if you drive these subs within their optimal operating frequencies, they will certainly sound different! However, if you drive both the same way using the same range of frequencies, you probably won’t notice much of a difference.
Also, remember larger subs can handle greater power, so you will notice a difference if you are stressing the small driver. So, sonically the drivers should sound the same when driven at volumes where the smaller driver is not stressed.
5. Bass Control
As we have mentioned, you won’t find that there is any great tradeoff in sound quality when choosing between 10″ and 12″.
However, as far as bass control is concerned, smaller subwoofers tend to be a little more controlled on fast tight bass notes over bigger subs.
If we talk about sound quality, we need to also talk about distortion. Remember, all subs will physically warp and distort to varying degrees during operation.
When we compare matching 10 inch and 12-inch subs, you will find that the 12-inch sub will distort slightly more during operation due to the larger surface area and increased power or load.
If tonality is important to you (SQ or SQL), there are certain things to consider. Firstly, go with a sealed enclosure regardless of which driver you use.
By comparison, 12″ subs will play lower frequencies than the 10″ subs. On the other hand, the 10″ subs may have a tighter, more controlled sound in the lower midbass region.
Here are the conditions under which you should choose each driver to get the best output in terms of tonality:
10″ Subs: If your setup will include a subwoofer, midrange and high frequency (tweeter or horn-loaded compression drivers). Do the same if you are using a woofer instead of a subwoofer.
12″ Subs: If your system includes a pair of dedicated midbass drivers in the 60-250 Hz range. Remember, 12″ can play lower bass.
8. Resonant Frequency and Frequency Response
Here is the quick summary – bigger drivers have a better response down low and smaller drivers have a better response up high. This means 12″ will respond better at lower frequencies and 10″ will respond better at higher frequencies.
However, here’s the question – do you want a sub that hits hard for 1/5 of your music or one you can enjoy for all of your music?
In general, surface area it is a tradeoff that favors low frequencies more. Why is that? Well because you have to use less movement to hit an SPL.
However, keep in mind that you will also increase moving mass, and thus the gains on higher frequencies are not proportionally equal to those at lower frequencies.
As such, as far as bass frequency response is concerned, the 12″ sub is the better choice. If you should compare a 10″ sub and a 12″ sub in proper boxes, the 12″ sub will outperform the 10″ in terms of bass frequency response.
An additional consideration is the resonant frequency of 10″ vs 12″ subs. 12″ subs have a lower resonant frequency. Remember, below the resonant frequency, you will get reduced output and increased distortion.
This means that it will take longer for the 12″ sub to distort as you play lower and lower frequencies.
However, if you are more interested in balance, a 10″ is probably a better choice. However, if you are using a bigger box, the 12″ will still outperform the 10″ in terms of balance.
9. Size, Weight and Power Demands
For many people, the only reason they choose a smaller bass driver is spae considerations, weight, and potential power considerations.
In such cases, it is understandable except that there is only a 2-inch difference between 10″ and 12″ sub.
However, that does not mean that you should put a 12″ sub in a box that is too small and not ideal for ist maximum bass effect. In general, if space permits it, always go with the larger speaker.
At the end of the day, you can accomplish anything with any sub if you manipulate enough variables. Subwoofer output is not just based on size, it also comes down to brand,s power handling, enclosure, and so on.
However, as far as 10″ subs and 12″ subs are concerned, while you probably won’t notice much difference between the two in terms of sound quality, the 12″ will have better bass output, and the 12″ sub will have better frequency response at the low end.
For us, bass output is the most important consideration, so if you can fit a 12-inch sub, do it, because of the greater bass output. Remember, larger subs are louder and boomier while smaller subs may be slightly more accurate, punchy and of course more compact.