Subwoofers Vs Speakers – What’s the difference?

In plain terms, a subwoofer and a speaker are the same. Both of these are transducers; a device that converts one form of energy to another. If both these devices have the same function, i.e., to produce sound, what makes them different from each other?

Here’s our subwoofer vs speakers debate.

What’s the difference between a speaker and a subwoofer?

The major difference between the pair is that the subwoofer, also known as a sub, is capable of reproducing bass and sub-bass which have very low frequencies. 

On the other hand, speakers cannot produce deep bass like a subwoofer, but it covers mid-frequency and high-frequency sounds. To have a better understanding, let’s discuss the subject in greater depth below.

Subwoofers

Subwoofer

A subwoofer has a single role, and that is to reproduce low sound frequencies. Some of the best subs have a frequency range of 20 Hz to 200 Hz, while subs used for professional purposes have a range below 100Hz.

Subwoofers are not designed to be used alone. They are most commonly used in an audio system where there is the main speaker. One of the best reasons why subwoofers improve sound quality is because the mid-range sound improves dramatically when your main speakers are freed from low bass.

Subwoofers are often enclosed in a box made of wood, usually with a vent or a port. Similar to speakers, some subs have a built-in amplifier, while others don’t. These are classified as active and passive subwoofers, respectively.

The great thing about the active subwoofers is that the load on the main amplifier is greatly reduced since the sub has its own power source. In this setup, low frequency is removed from the signal by filtering the line-level output before it is sent to the amplifier powering the main speakers. 

Also read: Best subwoofers for music only

The sound produced by an active subwoofer is considered to be much better because the speakers and the sub are fed by a single amp, and the crossover frequency can be adjusted to provide a perfect balance between the sub and the speakers.

In some passive subwoofers, the amp which drives the main speakers is also used to power the sub. In this setup, low frequencies are removed by a crossover in the sub. The filtered signal is directed to the main speakers whereas some subwoofers use the same signal used by the main speakers.

The best quality sound is produced when the main speakers are freed from low frequencies. Perhaps it’s the reason why a subwoofer was designed in the first place; to absorb low range sounds and amplify it.

You can check out the best budget subwoofer you can get today, here.

Pros of Subwoofers

  • Adding an active sub improves the mid-range sound, delivers deeper bass, and reduces any strain to your audio system.
  • The main speakers don’t have to play the low-frequency sounds, and a result, the overall sound quality is greatly improved.
  • The low-frequency driver reduces a lot of stress on the main speakers and allows them to play at higher volume with clarity.
  • Since the sub and the main speakers share their own different range of sounds, they sound even better than a full range speaker.

Cons of Subwoofers

  • Many subwoofers are not well-engineered, and as a result, they often come with many complications.
  • Subwoofers cannot be used on their own. They have to be combined with speakers at all times.

Speakers

speakers

Speakers are common and widely used to work with computers or any other audio systems. Usually, the speakers are classified as active and passive speakers. Regardless of the type of speakers, they are designed for the same purpose.

When it comes to sound frequencies, the sound produced by instruments like violin, or harp is high-frequency sound waves. While a bass drum or a bass guitar produces low-frequency sound waves. It must be understood that even regular speakers can reproduce all of these different sound frequencies, but with varying intensity.

The sounds at the lowest range can be translated, but they’re inaudible or muted because speakers cannot amplify those sounds with the same intensity as the sounds in the mid-range.

In audio systems, it is the speakers that are responsible for creating maximum distortion. Although they are not good at reproducing the audio spectrum’s lower parts, the audio system is not complete without the speakers. They can reproduce mid to treble range sound frequencies with perfection.

The majority of audio systems such as computer speakers are usually produced in pairs. This is done to create a stereo sound, which means both the right and the left speakers are fed with separate channels. A surround system consists of several speakers and a sub when all of these are combined. They reproduce a realistic sound. 

However, not every audio system necessarily needs a subwoofer, which means, a speaker can pretty much function on its own, but it won’t provide you with a realistic experience.

Pros of Speakers

  • They can produce pretty good sound even without a sub.
  • Speakers are more budget-friendly when compared to subs.

Cons of Speakers

  • They cannot produce deep bass

Frequently asked questions

Does a subwoofer improve sound quality?

Absolutely! Most speakers cannot reach the low frequencies the subwoofers were created for. An excellent subwoofer can reach down as far as the human ear can hear, below 20Hz. Revealing a whole range of sounds you never would have heard if you didn’t own a subwoofer.

Often times, playing speakers at a loud volume can distort the audio, ruining your hearing experience. Thankfully, this is where the subwoofer shines and can really take the load of your speakers and creating your optimum audio.

What’s the difference between a subwoofer and a woofer?

In a physical comparison, both of these are very similar. Where these two show their differences is when we talk about frequencies.

Subwoofer

A subwoofer usually has a range of around 20-200Hz, allowing a lower frequency as we previously discussed. Subs were designed to provide a constant bass for most media while allowing the volume of the bass to increase without distorting the mids or lows.

Woofer

Woofers have a wide range anywhere between 40-400Hz, which makes it ideal for low to mid-range frequencies. For home theater use, a woofer is great as it offers a wide range of sounds that take advantage of the dynamic range of the woofer. However, the range and quality are massively impacted by how much you pay.

Can subwoofers be used as speakers?

In theory, you can use a subwoofer as a speaker. However, I would not recommend as you will only be able to reach the lower frequencies of the media you are listening to. Mids, highs, and vocals will be pretty much non-existent or at best, lacking clear quality.

You are much better off even pairing your speakers with a cheap subwoofer if budget is a concern and visa versa.

Conclusion

We hope this article helped you understand not only the difference between a speaker and a subwoofer, but also the pros and cons of each. If you’d like to know what the difference is between a soundbar and a speaker, you can check it out here.

About Shawn Shepherd

Hi, I'm the owner of the Hifi Guide and have been an audio lover enthusiast for over 16 years. I have a Bachelor's degree in Sound Engineering and I work on producing content for the Hifi Guide in my spare time. My love for audio stemmed from my Dad who was an audio technician, and now I share my knowledge here on this website!

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