Bass is produced by low-frequency drivers such as woofers and subwoofers. For this reason, many people often get confused by the two. Are woofers and subwoofers the same? Well, subwoofers are a type of woofer, but they are substantially different in several ways and for good reasons.
Both woofers and subwoofers are designed to produce low-frequency sound. However, a subwoofer is designed to produce lower frequencies than a woofer. Also, woofers can produce a wider range of frequencies than subwoofers.
In this article, we consider the differences in detail to help you to select the one that best suits your audio requirements.
Woofer vs Subwoofer Table
|Frequency range||Produces bass within the range 20 Hz to 200 Hz||Produces bass within the range 40 Hz to 2.5 kHz|
|Active/Passive||Passive bass drivers||Active and passive drivers|
|Drivers||Multi driver systems (low, mid and high drivers)||Single low driver systems|
|Crossover||Most don't have a built in crossover system||Built in crossover|
|Power||Use less power|
10-20 W RMS of power
50 W RMS of power
100 W RMS of power
|Use more power
200-300 W RMS of power
250-500 W RMS of power
1000 W RMS of power
|Sound Quality||Sound is not as tight||Fuller sound due to narrower frequency range|
|Complexity||Less complex because they cover a wider frequency range||More complex because they cover a smaller frequency range|
|Number of Drivers||2-way,3-way or 4-way driver system||Single or Dual-driver system|
What Is A Woofer?
A woofer is also a loudspeaker that specializes on the lower end of the audible spectrum or bass. In other words, it is designed to reproduce low-frequency sound. Generally, a woofer reproduces sound ranging from 40 Hz to 2,500 Hz. The ‘woof’ from woofer refers to the low sound of the bark of a dog.
What Is A Subwoofer?
Simply put, a subwoofer can be defined as a loudspeaker with a driver that is used to give bass when listening to audio.
Most subwoofers have an in-built amplifier and support an audio frequency range from 20 Hz to 250 Hz when used at home. More professional subwoofer used in say a concert hall or church will normally be around 100Hz.
Frequency around 60Hz and below up to 37Hz is called ‘Sub Bass’ while frequency above 250 Hz is called ‘Bass Presence Region.’
Before you buy a subwoofer, it is essential to ensure that you have a good, clean power supply since these devices require much power to vent out air from them and produce a bass frequency.
There are two types of subwoofers – active subwoofers and passive subwoofers. An active subwoofer has an in-built amplifier, while a passive subwoofer needs an external amplifier as is made of just the subwoofer driver and enclosure.
The structure of a subwoofer is generally a plastic or wooden enclosure that has one or more woofers fitted into it. However, because subwoofers provide lower frequencies than woofers, subwoofers are often designed larger than woofers.
In terms of types of subwoofers, bass reflex, horn-loaded, bandpass and infinite baffle subwoofers are some of the common subwoofer designs you will encounter on the market.
1. Frequency Range
In general, woofers produce sound frequencies with a range of about 50 Hz up to 1000 Hz. In fact, some woofers can produce frequencies within the 40 Hz to 2,500 Hz range.
At these higher frequencies, these woofers go into the mid-range territory and may be called mid-woofers.
However, subwoofers can only produce frequencies that range from as low as 20 Hz to 120 Hz. However, only a few may go as high as 200 Hz. In general, subwoofers do not produce frequencies below 20Hz. Only rotary or propeller subwoofers can produce such frequencies.
This means subwoofers handle the lowest frequencies within the human hearing range. Remember, humans can hear down to about 20 Hz at ordinary sound pressure levels (SPL). As such, subwoofers handle the very lowest two or three octaves (from as low as 20 to 80 or 120 Hz). Only rotary subwoofers can produce frequencies below 20 Hz.
This means woofers are mainly suitable for people who need a wider frequency range but subs are for those who need a narrower frequency range at the very low end. This is why woofers are mainly used in portable systems such as car sound systems.
Most users often find the frequency range that woofers cover to be adequate for their needs.
However, if you are an ardent music lover who needs more realistic and heart-thumping bass effects, you need to consider a subwoofer.
However, in general, the subwoofer’s unique frequency range makes it perfect for home theater systems and PA systems to augment the bass response.
Subwoofers are also often larger than woofers. When creating subs, designers pay close attention to the lower frequency range.
To create these lower ranges of 20 Hz to 120 Hz, subwoofers need more space.
This is why sub designers create additional space in the sub enclosure, which allows the driver to move larger volumes of air while maintaining the lowest frequency range.
Even though you can also find giant woofers, the size has very little to do with the quality of bass that they produce. They still cannot hit the lowest frequencies as subs do.
3. Number of Drivers
Most woofers come with multiple drivers, but a sub is a single driver system. If you see a subwoofer with more than one driver, it’s possibly custom made.
A 2-way woofer setup consists of a tweeter and a woofer. On the other hand, a 3-way setup comprises a tweeter, midrange driver, and woofer. A few others can have a super-tweeter in addition to the three drivers.
Woofers with multiple drivers, including high-range and mid-range, allow for a more dynamic frequency range in the home-theater-system. This means you can produce low, mid, and high frequencies with them.
As we have said, a subwoofer is unique in that it typically consists of a single driver. But you can find multiple subs in a single enclosure. In this case, each sub is still a single driver system.
As such, we can say that a single enclosure can house several subwoofers, but one speaker ‘basket’ often houses multiple drivers that make up a single woofer system. When woofers and subwoofers are used in a home theater system, the sub adds a more consistent range.
For many people, adding more subs is always better. Additional subs can reduce room resonance and enhance the overall experience.
However, it is essential to understand that this involves distributing bass evenly throughout the room rather than adding stronger bass. having said, there are many ways to get more bass out of your subwoofer.
4. Active and Passive Bass Drivers
Woofers and subs are powered using different methods since they serve different purposes. Woofers are passive bass drivers. This means that for you to power them, you need an external amplifier or Audio/Video (A/V) receiver.
As long as you can establish a reliable amplifier-output connection, you can power your woofers and get the quality music you want.
Unlike woofers, subs are designed as either active or passive bass drivers. This means, if you have a passive sub, you can use regular amplifiers for powering ordinary speakers to power the subwoofer. In other words, you can use the same method of powering woofers to power these kinds of subs.
However, active subwoofers differ significantly as these subs have inbuilt amps. So, you don’t need an amp with a dedicated subwoofer output to connect the head unit. But, you also need to connect the sub to the power source. This way, you ensure the inbuilt amp gets the power required to drive the subwoofer.
5. Crossover and Clean Bass
Active subwoofers come with inbuilt crossover circuitry. However, not all woofers have this feature.
If you want cleaner bass, you can adjust the sub’s phase and the crossover setting. You can also adjust the gain.
To properly set the gain, turn the gain knob until it overpowers the satellite speakers without causing distortion.
After that, adjust the crossover downward until the mid and high frequencies disappear. The low-pass filter in the crossover is responsible for removing the frequencies you would never want your subwoofer to reproduce. As such, active subs can produce cleaner bass.
Of course, this is different for a complete woofer system with low, mid, and high drivers.
If you fail to get the best quality sound by adjusting the sub gain and crossover, you can do the following:
- Get a more spacious subwoofer box
- Extend the heat sink
- Positioning the subwoofer correctly in the room, for example, placing the sub behind the couch for better vibrational effects.
- Tuning the sub properly
- Adjusting the bass boost
- Eliminating distortion
- Using an efficient amplifier
6. Power Usage
Due to the difference in frequency ranges, woofers and subwoofers consume different amounts of electric energy.
Subs also need much power since they move a lot of air. Low-frequency sounds are incredibly large soundwaves that only a large driver can produce. Many of these drivers often range from 8 to 12 inches. This means subwoofers require more energy.
Woofers do not need to hit the lowest frequencies and are not designed to move a lot of air. At the same time, the high-frequency sound-waves are small enough, and small drivers can produce them. As a result, woofers need a smaller amount of power.
The difference in power requirement may mean you may not want to use a subwoofer if you have an unstable power supply.
If you need to use a sub and are concerned about your sub’s power consumption, you can add a capacitor to your sound system to store electrical charge and feed the amp with instant electric power requirements. However, most subs already have this built-in anyway.
Structure Of A Subwoofer
1. The Enclosure
Most subwoofers are enclosed in some black box structure. In some, it is not always black but could be white or your favorite color. This enclosure help ‘tune’ the output of the sub through its shape and size.
The enclosure may be sealed or ported housing one.
2. The Ports/ Passive Radiants
Another component that adds to its structure is the ports or passive radiator, which deals with excess pressure due to the push and pull of the driver within the ‘box.’
The port vents out and lets in air, allowing the substance to play a lower frequency louder than sealed.
3. The Amplifier
The amplifier is a crucial component of active subwoofers. Passive subs do not have amplifiers, though. The amp determines how much power is drawn and the level of sound delivered.
4. Driver Or Woofer
This is the component that creates the sound waves from the enclosure. The rule here is that the larger the surface area of the active drives, the deeper the subwoofer can play.
There are two designs of subwoofers. That is:
· Sealed Subwoofers
The sealed subwoofers can also be referred to as acoustic suspension or air suspension.
They are a traditional woofer with a single opening for the drive and an installed amplifier in the rear. The rest of the parts are permanently sealed.
· Ported Subwoofers
The second type of subwoofer is the ported one, also known as the bass reflex. This subwoofer uses a tuned port to increase the subwoofer’s output by allowing more energy to emanate from the port and the woofer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Can a woofer be used as a subwoofer?
Answer: A woofer can be used as a subwoofer if you are not going below say 40Hz. Remember, woofers are generally within the range of 40 Hz to 2,500 Hz while subwoofers are within the range of 20 to 250Hz. As such, woofers cover the range of a subwoofer except for about 20 to 40 Hz or so.
In other words, drivers that are classified as subwoofers are designed for lower frequencies than the range of typical woofers.
Q. Which is better Woofer or subwoofer?
Answer: Neither is better. It depends on what you need. If you need very low frequencies as low as 20 Hz or within the range 20 to 205Hz, then go with a subwoofer. However, if you need a much wider frequency range of 40 to 2,500 Hz, then go with a woofer.
Q. What makes a speaker a subwoofer?
Answer: Remember, subwoofers are really loudspeakers that are capable of producing sound with the low-frequency range of about 20 to 250 Hz. Most regular speakers won’t go as low on the frequency spectrum unless you are talking about a full-range speaker, many of which cannot go as low as 20 Hz.
Comparing woofers and subwoofers, we can see that subs produce the lowest frequencies within the bass range, which makes them ideal for most home theater systems. Woofers hit a wider–low-frequency range, making them perfect for portable systems like car sound systems.
However, they can also be used at home, as they allow the full dynamic range needed for home theater systems and provide a cheaper option. Subwoofers are also typically smaller than woofers and use much power.
Besides, unlike woofers, they are single driver systems and can have inbuilt amps. We hope we have assisted you in making the right choice between woofers and subwoofer as well as understanding their similarities and differences.