SQ vs SPL Subwoofers – Which is Better?

Norvan Martin
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If you are checking out subwoofers, there are two main factors or tradeoffs to consider – bass production and sound quality. 

The fact is, in most cases, if a subwoofer can produce a tremendous amount of bass, the sound quality won’t be great. This is why there are essentially two types of subwoofers being marketed today:

SQ or sound quality subwoofers are designed to accurately reproduce sound with clarity and fidelity at the expense of producing a massive bass output. SPL or Sound Pressure Level subwoofers are designed to produce thundering and earth-shaking bass but at the expense of sound quality in terms of accuracy.

To put this simply, Sound Quality (SQ) has to do with producing clear and accurate sound, making sure each note in the song is vivid and noticeable. On the other hand, SPL (Sound Pressure Levels) is about producing a loud volume by measuring the internal pressure in the cabin.

Let’s get into more details. What is the difference between SQ (Sound Quality) Subwoofers and SPL (Sound Pressure Levels) Subwoofers? Which is better? Which should you choose as a music lover or audiophile?

Read on.

SQ vs SPL Subwoofers Comparison Table

CriteriaSQ SubwoofersSPL Subwoofers
Frequency ResponseBalanced and accurate reproductionEmphasis on high SPL levels
Power HandlingModerate power handling for controlled bassHigh power handling for extremely loud bass
Enclosure TypePerform well in sealed or ported enclosuresBenefit from ported enclosures for efficiency
SensitivityModerate to high sensitivityVery high sensitivity for loudness
Sound SignatureNeutral and natural sound signatureAggressive sound signature for impact
Build QualityHigh-quality materials and constructionRugged construction to withstand high SPL
Intended UseIdeal for audiophiles and enthusiastsSuited for car audio competitions and extreme SPL

 

What are SPL Subwoofers?

SPL stands for Sound Pressure Level and is the pressure level of a sound, measured in decibels (dB). Basically, it is a measure of how loud your speakers and subwoofers are. SPL subwoofers generate a lot of sound pressure which produces a tremendous amount of bass.

What are SPL Subwoofers

However, this is at the expense of sound quality. To find out more, we have an entire article on SQL subwoofers where we discuss details on what is an SQL subwoofer, what they are used for, and more. 

Determining your system’s sound pressure level is vital for people interested in producing powerful high-pitched audio.

If this is you, you need speakers and subs with the ability to move as much air as possible. 

What are SQ Subwoofers?

SQ stands for Sound Quality, and it is all about using audio systems that create the perfect sound.

What are SQ Subwoofers

By this, we mean these subwoofers are excellent at producing sound with clarity and fidelity. This way, you will be able to hear every single frequency of the song clearly.

For SQ subs or speakers to give you accurate and tight bass, they should be able to eliminate overbearing frequencies and ensure superb tonal accuracy and excellent staging. Of course, this is the dream of every passionate audiophile. 

Ported vs. Sealed Enclosures

The purpose of SPL and SQ determine the type of enclosures that are suitable for each of them.

Ported vs Sealed Enclosure

The cabinets also have unique pros and cons that they ultimately pass onto the speaker system. SPL uses ported enclosures, and SQ requires sealed enclosures. There are many differences between ported vs sealed enclosures. 

SPL: Ported Enclosures

Ported enclosures are the best for SPL setups, and for good reason. As we have seen, sound pressure level is more about filling your room with bass than creating the perfect sound.

Ported Enclosures

These speakers perform best in ported cabinets (also known as bass reflex enclosures) since they are designed to produce booming sound.

Ported enclosures have one or more ports that allow the free flow of air, which leads to greater output. These enclosures allow the lower bass response to roll off at not less than 24Db/octave.  

Since the front sound waves and the rear sound waves couple, SPL speakers significantly increase output around the tuning frequency. This is good news for those who have turned to SPL to get more bass. That is the reason they are mostly used in rap and hip-hop genres. 

Key Points Why Ported Enclosures Best for SPL

  • Reduce distortion
  • Create high-sound pressure
  • Free-flowing air creates the desired sound effect

Key Points Why Ported Enclosures Less Favorable for SPL

  • Harder to design
  • Are large
  • Can cause poor overall sound quality

SQ: Sealed Enclosures

Sealed enclosures are the best for all types of SQ audio equipment. SQ is more about creating the perfect sound than filling the room with sound.

Sealed Subwoofer Enclosures

This makes sealed enclosures, also known as acoustic suspension enclosures, the most suitable. 

The air inside these enclosures helps in controlling the cone’s movement. Since the cabinets lack vents, their lower bass response rolls off at 12dB/octave. 

When appropriately built, sealed enclosures produce highly accurate sound. They can have a smooth bass response and hard-hitting sound. Unlike ported enclosures, they are typically small in size. Large sealed cabinets can behave and sound like an infinite baffle

Key Points Why Sealed Enclosures Best for SQ

  • Smaller
  • Accurate sound quality
  • Excellent transient response

Key Points Why Sealed Enclosures Not the Best for SQ

  • Sealed air restricts one movement, limiting the frequency

Though these two types of enclosures have some cons, they serve their purpose. Ported boxes are the best at creating loud, booming bass, which most SPL lovers seek. 

Sealed enclosures help SQ speakers create high bass and play crisply, which is the users’ goal. 

How can I Measure SPL and SQ, and Why Does that Matter?

The ability to measure whether any audio system meets your requirements is essential. It allows you to assess the performance objectively and take the best action.

However, to some audiophiles, there is much more to this than getting objective feedback. Perhaps, that is the reason you need to know which of these best meets your unique needs.

SPL Measurement

You can use a sound pressure level meter to measure the SPL in decibels (dB). This means SPL is objective, and you can accurately determine whether your speakers are pushing the required amount of air and creating enough pressure.

So, you can ascertain whether you have achieved your goal.

SQ Measurement

Many people are working hard to create the perfect sound. However, they may not achieve this goal since sound quality is subjective.

You have no proven scientific way to ascertain whether you are getting tonal accuracy and balanced proper sound staging. 

Remember, many factors can affect your sound quality. Here are some that specifically impact sound staging:

Speaker Placement

Since SQ is subjective, you should rely on your judgment to determine whether the sound staging is proper.

If poor placement creates artificial sound, you are likely to assume wrongly that your SQ system is ineffective. For example, placing your subwoofer behind the couch may improve bass, but placing your sub under the coach will not.

You can solve this by adding other SQ speakers. Passionate audiophiles will do more than this and ensure their speakers are positioned to provide optimum performance.

However, beginners who rely on any device to determine how to improve sound quality are highly likely to make the wrong decision.

Interior Acoustics

A room’s interior can also influence your sound staging. Different surfaces have varied responses to sound waves. For example, glass walls reflect sound, causing it to bounce around and negatively affect the sound quality. Other surfaces such as upholstery absorb sound waves.

So, if you are using sound staging as one of the parameters for determining your SQ speaker’s efficiency, you may likewise get it wrong.

So, between SPL and SQ systems, which one is better? From the above explanation, SPL can help you fill your room with bass at the expense of clarity and fidelity.

At the same time, SQ promises to give you perfect sound but fails to provide you with an objective method of assessing its efficiency. So, we can’t talk about perfection here. 

FAQs

Is SPL better than SQ for car audio?

Whether you should go for SPL (Sound Pressure Levels) or SQ (Sound Quality) in terms of car audio systems largely depends on your personal taste and priorities.

  • If high volume levels and strong bass are what you’re after, particularly if you enjoy participating in competitions or simply love the feel of intense sound waves, then SPL may be more up your alley. SPL-focused configurations typically include potent amplifiers and massive subwoofers, all tailored to promote maximum volume.
  • Conversely, if crystal clear sound, fidelity, and the overall quality of noise reproduction in your car’s audio system are important to you, then SQ would be the preferable option. SQ setups are designed to provide a balanced and accurate sound throughout all frequencies, resulting in a deeply engaging and pleasurable auditory experience.

In the end, deciding between SQ and SPL boils down to what matters most to you in your vehicle’s audio setup: raw power coupled with loudness or high-fidelity, detailed sound. Some music enthusiasts aim for a mix of both worlds by constructing systems that possess characteristics of both SPL and SQ according to their likings.

Do SPL subs sound good?

SPL (Sound Pressure Level) subwoofers are designed to provide tremendous volumes and strong, resounding bass, making them perfect for those who value intense loudness and bass effect.

However, they sometimes overlook certain elements of sound accuracy and excellence, causing distortions at louder volumes and mainly concentrating on lower frequency ranges.

Whether SPL subwoofers sound “good” or not is a matter of personal taste and depends on your specific requirements; if you’re looking for overpowering volume and bass, these might be the right fit for you, but if you want a balanced and top-notch listening experience, subwoofers engineered for sound quality (SQ) are usually a superior option.

What makes a sq subwoofer?

SQ subwoofers are designed for precise and harmonized bass, ensuring a consistent frequency response and minimal distortion. They provide tight and regulated bass, making them perfect for music lovers who value top-quality sound.

Thanks to the superior manufacturing process and diverse casing options, SQ subwoofers elevate the overall audio experience by guaranteeing accurate and powerful bass delivery.

Conclusion

If you want to choose either SQ or SPL audio equipment, remember that neither of them is better than the other. It is really about preference.

These terms are somehow controversial in the music industry today, but understanding how they differ can mean a whole world of difference.

Nevertheless, understanding how to take advantage of the small details can mean a significant difference. The choice ultimately comes down to your preference.

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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. My email: [email protected]  Connect on Pinterest and Linkedin