What Is A Powered Subwoofer?

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If you’ve decided you want a subwoofer in your vehicle, you have a few choices to make.

First, for the uninitiated, what is a subwoofer?

What Is A Subwoofer

A subwoofer is a device that amplifies bass in a sound system. Subwoofers are often to amplify the bass in an in-auto car system.

But how does it do that? And why would I want additional bass in my vehicle’s sound system?

People with subwoofers added to their vehicles are people who have a vested interest in maximizing the bass (all the way, sometimes, to 11, a la Spinal Tap) in their vehicles. These people are sometimes rockers, rappers, to DJs themselves, though other times they’re just people looking to get down to a much greater degree than they had been in the past.

So, the question of ‘why’ is reasonably simple: those who desire more bass, also may desire a subwoofer.

The question of ‘how,’ on the other hand, is significantly harder to answer.

The Basics

Your car stereo sends current to your car speakers. The intensity of this current is measured with the following metric: watts roots-mean-squared (watts RMS).

By default, most car speakers emit a relatively low level of current, and cannot do a lot in terms of RMS, which means they can’t handle very much in terms of bass output.

If you don’t have a subwoofer, you may have noticed your car speakers buckling and crackling when the song you’re listening to runs into a patch of heavy, deep bass. This is because your car stereo is giving out a greater amount of RMS than your speaker can handle.

If you notice your car speaker experiencing this glitch often, it might be time for an upgrade.

It might be time, in short, for a subwoofer, which is guaranteed to bring the extra bass into your vehicle.

This brings us to the original question: What is a powered subwoofer?

There are, essentially, two different kinds of subwoofers.

One is the passive subwoofer. The passive subwoofer is the opposite of a powered or active subwoofer, and understanding how it (the passive subwoofer) works can help give us a greater understanding of how the powered subwoofer--the subwoofer with which we are primarily concerned--works.

What Is A Powered Subwoofer - passive - soundbeatandbass

Earlier, I mentioned RMS.

If your car speakers sometimes lost it at the part of the song when the bass hits hard, your car stereo is likely producing more RMS than its speakers can handle.

Subwoofers are essentially speakers that can handle a greater quantity of RMS without sacrificing the sound-fidelity of its bass.

If you’ve been around a subwoofer, though, you’ll know that they're, really, truly loud, and it’s true that they don’t achieve this effect on their own.

Every subwoofer needs an amplifier, which will amplify the current running from the car stereo into the output source (the speakers).

The difference between a passive subwoofer and an active subwoofer is that an active subwoofer does not have an amplifier attached to it. It is, in short, a freestanding subwoofer, while an active or powered subwoofer will always have an amplifier attached to and/or built into it.

Once you understand what a subwoofer is and how it achieves its effect, it’s easy to understand what an active subwoofer is.

An active subwoofer is a subwoofer that has an amplifier attached to it, while a passive subwoofer is a subwoofer that requires a separate amplifier in order to work on a full functioning level.

So, which is better?

It’s a good question, and it’s one without a clear answer, necessarily.

The quality of the subwoofer is really not dependent on whether or not the subwoofer is powered or passive; there are quality powered subwoofers, and quality passive subwoofers. That said, the powered subwoofer is definitely more popular, while the passive subwoofer is generally used for custom jobs. 

Passive subwoofers are usually more difficult to assemble, but they can usually be mounted in different places within the vehicle. Active subwoofers are harder to mount within, say, a wall, since they’re bulkier and larger, and, thus, harder to store.

If you’re planning on installing your own subwoofers, as might be the case, and if you’re fine storing those subwoofers in a standard place like the trunk, then you should just go ahead and invest in some active subwoofers.

That way, you’re not going sacrifice anything serious in terms of quality, and you’re going to have a pretty easy time setting them up. It’s the clear choice for a novice user, someone just looking at getting going with their own set of subwoofers.

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