Last Updated on January 5, 2023 by Norvan Martin
For music lovers, subwoofers are a must-have in your living room or car. Moreover, the correct choice of a sub puts you in a position to enjoy some really cool bass. However, you may be wondering whether picking an enclosed subwoofer or a free air subwoofer is the better choice. We have the answers.
Free air subwoofers are intended for open-air environments because they move air easier than an enclosed sub. This also means free air subwoofers require less power from the amp than an enclosed subwoofer of the same power rating and size.
Let’s get into more detail about enclosed vs free air subwoofers.
But What Is A Subwoofer In The First Place?
Subwoofers are audio devices specifically designed to produce low-frequency sound or bass.
The value and impact of a subwoofer especially by audiophiles who value descent, sensuous, accurate, and soul-touching music in their rooms or cars can be a thrill.
When you go out to shop for a decent sub either for your car sound system or for your home use, you will most likely encounter free air and enclosed subwoofers.
If you are not an experienced sound tech, it may be quite difficult to choose between the two. Read on to get the details about the differences and similarities between enclosed and free air subwoofers.
Do You Need A Subwoofer?
No matter your audio preference, if you add a subwoofer to your stereo, you will be able to get richer-sounding bass to improve the impact and fun of your music.
This is why a subwoofer is required for the most basic 2.1 surround sound system.
Whether you are adding an enclosed sub or a free air sub, the impact you get in terms of sound quality and bass will be worth it.
What Are Enclosed Subwoofers?
Enclosed subwoofers are those subs that are placed in subwoofer boxes or enclosures. The box can either be ported or sealed.
Sealed subwoofer boxes are designed to be completely closed and are made airtight to block air movement either in or out of the sub. On the other hand, ported subwoofer boxes have small holes that permit air movement in or out of the sub.
Enclosed subwoofers can either be passive or powered (active) subwoofers. Powered subwoofers are designed with an inbuilt amplifier.
They will therefore operate without requiring connection to an external amplifier. However, the sub has to be connected to the car battery or other power source to power the amplifier.
On the other hand, passive enclosed subs do not have amplifiers built in. They will therefore require an external amplifier.
However, as opposed to powered enclosed subwoofers, they do not need to be directly connected to the battery or other sources of power.
Advantages Of Enclosed Subwoofers
Let’s look at some of the advantages of enclosed subwoofers.
1. Tight Bass
Enclosed subs are built in a way such that they move more air by the cone on the outer surface than the inner.
They, therefore, give more assurance of tighter and louder bass that comes with more clarity than those from their free air counterparts.
You, therefore, get much tighter bass when the subwoofer is completely sealed and airtight such that there is no movement of air into or out of the enclosure.
This also means that you need to know how to measure a subwoofer correctly to get that tight seal. This is very important and should not be ignored.
2. Booming Bass
If you are interested in taking part in a sound or bass competition for instance with your car, you will care about booming bass.
In this case, an enclosed subwoofer is a good choice as it is specifically designed to produce earthshaking bass.
Disadvantages Of Enclosed Subwoofers
As much as enclosed subs can be good to have, they also have some shortcomings. These include:
1. More Expensive
Enclosed subwoofers are generally much more expensive than free air subwoofers. The extra cost is actually due to the enclosure. Powered enclosed subwoofers cost even more.
If you are operating on a tight budget, you may need to choose between passive enclosed subwoofers or free air subs.
2. Require More Space
Because enclosed subwoofers come in enclosures, you will have to clear a sizeable space in your car or room.
The size of the sub box increases with the size of the sub itself. This means, if you require a larger sub, you will have to sacrifice some space.
Enclosed subwoofers are therefore not a good choice for music lovers with a small room or with very little car space.
3. Power Hungry
Enclosed subwoofers produce much tighter bass. As a result, they demand so much power to be able to sustain the sound quality.
This is because the airtight box requires more power to move the voice coil and cone and reproduce sound. This makes them more power-hungry than free air subwoofers.
What Are Free Air Subwoofers?
Free air subwoofers are specially designed so they do not require an enclosure. You can check out our complete guide on what are free air subwoofers. In any case, they do not have subwoofer boxes and do not come with inbuilt amplifiers. You will therefore need an external amplifier to power them.
Free air subwoofers are therefore speakers that have been properly designed to produce adequate sound without requiring an enclosure or sub box.
They are built for mounting on rear car decks. It is important to get an actual understanding of these subs and how they work before investing in them.
Advantages Of Free Air Subwoofers
These subwoofer systems also come with some advantages over their enclosed counterparts. These are:
If you have limited space in your car or even room and still want to enjoy cool bass, you need a free air subwoofer.
The speaker can be easily mounted on the car deck, on the door, or anywhere you feel comfortable.
Besides, you can have free air subs installed on every door and still add more speakers and tweeters on the dashboard. You can therefore save on space with these types of subs.
As we already mentioned, free air subwoofers are generally a cheaper alternative. This is basically because they do not have enclosures and inbuilt amplifiers.
They are therefore suitable if you already have an amplifier and a small budget.
3. Low Power Consumption
Free air subs move air much easier as they are designed for for open-air environments. For this reason, they do not require so much power to drive.
If you compare a free air sub with an enclosed sub of the same size and similar power rating, the total power consumption of the free air sub will be much lower.
Disadvantages Of A Free Air Sub
As much as these subs come with several advantages over enclosed subwoofers, they have some disadvantages:
1. The Bass Is Weaker
If you need a sub that will make you a car music champion, free air subwoofers are not the better choice.
They are only good for basic bass requirements but will greatly fail a music enthusiast who demands more and more earthshaking bass.
2. The Bass Is Not Tight
Because they operate in an open-air environment, the bass they deliver is not as tight as that of enclosed subs.
They are therefore a bad choice for music lovers who are looking for subs with the most accurate and tightest bass.
What Is The Difference Between Enclosed Vs Free Air Subwoofers?
Enclosed subwoofers are carefully built and mounted in enclosure boxes, while free air subs can be attached to a board in the car trunk or the rear deck. That’s the main difference between the two as we mentioned.
If you want your music to “pop”, free air subs will sound muddy while giving you more punch. On the contrary, you will get much better sound quality from an enclosed setup.
As an example, with a genre like rock, the free air sub will get louder while the enclosed sub gives you more emphatic bass.
Also, you get more accurate base quality and hit on every note with enclosed subs. You will also get the sound more appropriately melodious as the sub will attempt to deliver audio with its original rhythm.
In contrast, free air subs tend to constantly fall out of tune with periodic distortions as though the music is missing some key elements.
It is therefore clear that the two types of subs will perform much differently with different styles of music.
So, Which Is Better?
Before deciding which is better between the two types of subwoofers, it is good to analyze your sound requirements, budget, space, and even the power options available.
Since each type delivers some good sound quality depending on the use scenarios, style of music, and level of loudness, it is not expressly easy to say which is better.
The choice is therefore a complete opinion based on the preferences of the listener.
For instance, if you want booming and tight bass and you have enough space in your car, an enclosed sub will be the better choice. However, if you have a strained budget and the car space is limited, you will need a free air sub.
Should A Subwoofer Be Enclosed?
The simple answer to this particular is yes. You can place a subwoofer inside a cabinet. Nevertheless, there exist some metrics you ought to adhere to to make sure that your subwoofer’s performance is at its best without significant sound distortions and reverberations.
What Is The Most Efficient Subwoofer Enclosure?
By and large, and practically so, the most efficient enclosures are the two narrow-bandwidth band-pass designs with the dual-reflex version that has a slight edge. Next in line, the wide-bandwidth dual-reflex and the ported enclosure exhibit excellent efficiency as well. These two present the top and most efficient sub-enclosures ever known.
Is More Port Area Better?
Not necessarily. Smaller cross-sectional areas make ports simpler to move and lower without making the port too long.
Another benefit of tiny ports is that they are simpler to achieve high air velocity.
Can a Subwoofer Port Be Too Long?
Yes, a subwoofer port can be too long. When a ported subwoofer is tuned low and has large enough ports to keep airflow at a reasonable level, the result can be long ports.
Which Way Should Subwoofer Port Face?
For the best sound quality, it is important to put your subwoofer in the right spot. It should be facing out of the room with its port away from a wall.
When you play music on your speaker, try to make it point toward the space in your room where you want to listen to it.
Choosing between free air subwoofers and enclosed subwoofers depends on factors such as the type of car you have, your budget, passion for music, and the size of the battery in your car among other factors. Besides, the type of music you prefer will also play a big factor in determining your choice of sub.
Norvan Martin is the founder of BoomSpeaker.com. He is a professional Electronics Engineer and is passionate about home theater systems and AV electronics. BoomSpeaker was created as an online hub to share his knowledge and experiences as it relates to home theaters and home audio electronics.