Powered vs unpowered subwoofer



Do you love the rumble that you experience when watching films with explosions? Or how about the sound effects of explosions, war movies, and games?


Or how about feeling the bass that comes from hearing certain music. I know that hip hop and EDM music is enhanced when you can hear the full impact of the bass.


If the above sounds like you then you will love the power of a subwoofer.


I suppose when one thinks of subwoofers, they picture some hip guy blasting music through his car. But subwoofers can be very useful for parties and functions that you host from home.


The technicalities of subwoofers can get complex, but in this article, I hope to clear up all of the terminologies and tell you which is better between powered and unpowered subwoofers.


Put everything else down and pay attention for the next 10 minutes.


In the rest of the article, I will run through both kinds of subwoofers, their pros, and cons, and under what circumstance each one will be used.




Prior to understanding the differences between a powered vs an unpowered subwoofer, let us talk a little bit about what a subwoofer is and how it works.


A subwoofer, often named “Sub”, is a loudspeaker that is exclusively designed to play low-pitched sound frequencies.


These frequencies are termed sub-bass and bass. The normal frequency range of a subwoofer is less than 100 Hz for specialized live sound, between 20 and 200 Hz for consumer items, and less than 80 Hz in a THX-approved system.


THX is an acronym for “Tomlinson Holman’s experiment. It is a standard that ensures quality and uniformity across all theater systems that play a company’s audio.


THX certifies that an audio system follows strict rules for ultra-high-quality digital sound playback


A subwoofer works by enhancing the low-frequency range of a simple or basic loudspeaker, while covering the higher frequencies.


It consists of one, or more woofers that are technically mounted in an amplifier enclosure.


A subwoofer is capable of resisting deformation and withstanding air pressure.


A subwoofer amplifies a current and the converts it into sound via magnetic coil. This magnetic coil crafts vibrations of the driver’s cone.


As a result of these vibrations, low frequency sound waves are scattered in the environment through the air medium.


Without making it super boring, I hope the content has been reasonably digestible till this point… ready for the actual ride? Let’s dive in!




Keeping it simple, there are two main varieties of  subwoofers called Active Subwoofers and Passive Subwoofers.


These two types are also known as Powered Subwoofer and Unpowered Subwoofers.


The main difference between the two types are as follows


Active subwoofers are those which have an internal amplifier already present.


While on the other hand, Passive Subwoofers, needs to be driven with an external amplifier to perform optimally.


In both the types, the user needs to merge the subwoofer with the rest of their system.


The actual difference depends on the way you connect the two types to your system.




  • A subwoofer is given the name “active” when it enjoys a built-in amplifier which is accompanied by its own power connection.



  • With respect to Powered vs Unpowered Subwoofers, an active subwoofer is commonly used in commercial movie theaters and home theater systems.


  • An active subwoofer usually requires line-level inputs for example, RCAs or 1/4-inch TRS audio cables. Some of the designs also allow for high-level inputs like speaker wire.




  • A powered subwoofer is predictable. This is because the amplifier is already present in the subwoofer and matches the loudspeaker, as the manufacturer has tested it.


  • You do not need to have additional equipment racks for the sake of external amplifiers. As the purchaser, you get all the required components to enjoy a thrilling bass journey in one convenient package.



  • The equalization needed is pretty little to negligible as the amplifier is already tuned to the loudspeaker.


  • Powered subwoofers are best for those who are unfamiliar with the sound systems due to their simple and easy-to-understand setup.


  • This is especially true for people like myself who are not fond of complicated complexity when handling electronics




  • A powered subwoofer may lose one point due to requiring more lifting power.


  • This is because of its portable powered loudspeakers that usually require additional support and rigging in the setup room.




  • A subwoofer is given the name “passive” when it requires an external amplifier to power it.


  • Passive subwoofers are usually found in car sound systems.


  • Passive subwoofers may have a built-in crossover that is responsible for preventing high frequencies from passing through the cone of the speaker.


  • It does not however have its own power supply.





  • Passive subwoofers are flexible in nature. They allow the user to carry out potential upgrades without replacing both the loudspeaker and the amplifier.


  • Unpowered or passive subwoofers get the signals from a standard loudspeaker wire; hence they do not need any of the XLR or power cable.


  • These types of subwoofers are lighter in weight and can therefore be easily lifted for portable systems.


  • For both the amplifier and the loudspeaker, the service is more straightforward. This is because the amplifier is accessible and both components can be exchanged with a temporary one.




  • The risk of losing signals over a long distance is much higher.


  • For the best sound quality and volume, the amplifier needs to be a perfect match with the loudspeaker.





  • If you are planning to get a subwoofer for your home theater system, then a Powered subwoofer is the ideal choice.


  • This is because a single self-contained powered subwoofer is the most economical option as it saves you from buying separate amplifier, speaker, and crossover.


  • These subwoofers also do not need any special wiring configurations, and are thus ideal for users who want a simple connection.


  • Also, if you are on a budget, powered subwoofers can retail at a reasonable price range


  • For perfect sound quality and volume, you do not need to worry about the mismatch mechanism of an amplifier and a loud speaker.





  • Unpowered subwoofers can be a great option if your surround system’s receiver includes a built-in amplifier which is exclusively dedicated to the bass channel.


  • It can be taken home for your home theater only if you plan to use multiple subwoofers in your setup. This is because multiple passive subwoofers can be easily connected in a series with a single powered amplifier and a single crossover if needed.


  • It can deliver quality sound if the amplifier and the loudspeaker frequencies match.




So, in summary, if you are on a tight budget, and you only need a subwoofer for purposes of your home cinema, then the active subwoofer is for you.


You will get great sound quality and need not be an expert on all the frequency settings.


On the other hand, if you are not on a tight budget and have a wide enough space to fix various components together, then a passive subwoofer will meet your needs.


Also, if you are an expert (or pseudo expert) in the frequencies-science, have a knowledge of power calibration and can connect and matching the components perfectly, a passive subwoofer may take you to sound-heaven.


The selection entirely depends upon your needs and circumstances.


Always keep in mind why you need the subwoofer and stay up to date on new technologies in the market.

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