Setting up a booming stereo system for your vehicle? Chances are that if you’re planning out a system, you’re thinking about subwoofers. And, you’ve probably heard a lot of talk about “2 10s or 2 12s? Best subwoofer size.” However, unfortunately, it’s a topic that it’s nearly impossible to get a consensus on.
Sure, 12s are bigger and deeper, but is that always the right thing to look for in your system? It turns out that there are a whole lot of factors involved in deciding are 10 inch or 12 inch subwoofers better. And that’s what I’m going to look at here.
What’s the Difference Between 10s and 12s?
Before you simply decide that bigger is better, let’s look at the differences between 10-inch and 12-inch subwoofers. After reading this, you might change your mind about what you are looking for from your subwoofers.
Subwoofers are supposed to bark, and like bigger dogs, bigger subs have deeper voices. A pair of 10-inch subs will give you some huge bass, especially compared to the piddling factory speakers that came with your car (probably 6.5”?).
They’re going to offer deep, low frequencies and give them to you with enough power to feel them. However, a pair of 12-inch subs will go even lower. They’ll delve into the deep, deep end of the bass frequencies and let you hear and feel more.
The human ear can reliably hear sound waves in the range of 20Hz to 20,000Hz (or 20 kHz), but this decreases significantly as we get older. Most 10-inch subwoofers will get down to about 40 and maybe even 35Hz, which is pretty good. But, if you take it a step further to 12s, you’ll be able to hear down to 30-35Hz.
While that could mean just a 5-10Hz difference, you can notice the difference. These are also the low rumbling frequencies that you start to feel inside your ribcage. So, at the same power and volume, the 12s will rattle you around more.
Let’s assume that you’re choosing between speakers with the same Wattage to be used on the same amplifier. However, do 10 inch and 12 inch subwoofers have the same volume? Or, as might be asked, “2 10s or 2 12s? Best subwoofer size?”
This depends on the speaker sensitivity rather than the diameter. More-sensitive speakers will convert more energy into sound. So, for the same power, they will sound louder. What you might notice is more clarity of the low-end.
Therefore, you will hear deeper bass with less distortion with 12s than 10s. That doesn’t mean they are louder, though.
In general, 10-inch subs are going to have tighter EQ profiles than 12-inch ones. But, other than that, there’s not any other hard and fast rule. Sound quality will depend more on the brand and quality of components used in the speakers, rather than just the size.
However, if you compare two speakers of the same model and brand but different sizes, you will hear some general differences. The 10-inch subs will sound tighter and pluckier, with more clarity in the higher bass frequencies.
The 12s will give you more oomph and also more buzzing. But, you’ll feel more of the low-end in your chest. So, this becomes more of a matter of preference than a question of sound quality.
Get more for your money…
If you want to improve the tightness and definition of any speakers, regardless of size, you can do this by mounting them in ported boxes made of dense wood or MDF. You can even skip all the tricky mounting business and buy a package with speakers already mounted in a box.
Dual Electronics has a decent model with 2 12s in a box with 1200 Watts peak power and a blue LED feature. Or, you could go bigger with Rockville’s dual 12s, including an amplifier, giving you 2800 Watts peak power.
Well, it should be clear that there is a size difference here. But, of course, you have to think about more than just the diameters.
First, the diameter difference between the 10-inch and 12-inch speakers is just two inches. But, when you change the diameter a little, you change the area a lot. This means you need to have a much bigger grille to protect them and a much bigger box to put them in if that’s the plan.
As an example, these Rockford Fosgate 12s require a vented box size of 1.79 cubic feet of displacement each. By contrast, the same model of Rockford Fosgate 10s only needs a 1.4 cubic foot box each.
The other thing is that 12-inch speakers are also typically deeper. So, while 10s might have a 5-5 ½-inch mounting depth, 12s will likely require six or more inches of depth.
All told, you will need a lot more space if you want to install 12-inch subwoofers. In smaller cars, they simply may not fit anywhere, and you may be forced to mount them in the trunk.
Are 10s or 12s Better For Your Setup?
After looking at the main differences between 10-inch and 12-inch subwoofers, you still have to make a decision based on what’s best for your situation. Should you install 2 10s or 2 12s? The best subwoofer size for a car is the one that makes your music sound the best, right?
Let’s talk about car size…
If you’re driving something compact or even mid-sized, you’ll probably want to lean towards smaller speakers. Why? In a small space, too much sound will make your head melt.
If you end up installing big 12-inch subs in a small car, they will get loud, and everything else will have to get loud along with them, or all you’ll hear is bass. And that’s probably volume that you simply don’t need.
If you’re driving something bigger, like an extended cab truck, an SUV, or a van, 12s might be a good choice to bass up all that space. You will end up with more clarity in the low-end, and you’ll also feel them a lot more.
So, that’s one consideration…
The other is your preferred type of music. If you’re into bass-heavy music like Hip-Hop, Electronica, or even Metal, you might have to just bite the bullet and go big. You’ll probably want 12s to give a better definition to the low-end that’s going to be slapping anyway.
However, if you mostly listen to Rock, Pop, or Country music, the bass isn’t as full and aggressive. Therefore, you might do better with tighter-sounding 10s, even in a big vehicle.
And, don’t feel like you have to get the biggest bass possible just because that’s what other people do. Your stereo should be your style and give you what you need to make your music sound great.
Blasting Your Stereo
Now we all know that car stereo systems aren’t just for listening to while you’re in the car. How many times have you thought about how wicked it would be to roll up to a tailgate party, the beach, or a bonfire and rock that party with your sound system?
If you intend to go big and get tons of volume from your car stereo, by all means, go with bigger subwoofers. A pair of 12s will make that difference in clarity. That way, when you blast your volume, you’ll get a lot more clear bass and less distortion than if you use 10s.
However, please consider the safety of your system…
The EPA warns that prolonged exposure to sound levels over 70dB can cause hearing damage over time. The safe built-in cut-off for most headphones and safe level for bars and clubs is usually between 105 and 110dB. So, consider that this is where your system should be as well.
You can use the iPhone’s built-in Health App to check sound levels in your vehicle. Or, get the Sound Meter app for Android from the Google Play store.
Sound dissipates quickly in the open air. So, the sound level outside your ride will be a lot lower than inside. You can check what it is from 10 feet or 20 feet away. If you’re blasting tunes outside, be aware of the municipal sound ordinances. These vary from city to city but will range from 70-85dB.
How to Make That Bass Slap
So, 2 10s or 2 12s? Best subwoofer size aside, everyone wants their bass to sound the very best. After all, what’s the point of putting time and money into a great stereo system if it’s not going to perform to its very best?
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but I don’t know any of them. What I do know is how you can get your bass slapping by following some simple steps. These will help you figure out how to get the best performance from any car subwoofer.
To set up your subwoofers, first, choose an appropriate piece of music for your tests. This should be something typical of what you like to listen to. Although, maybe with a little more bass than average.
Set Max Volume
Start playing your music and turn up your main stereo volume until you start hearing distortion in the low-end. Bass distortion happens when your subs rattle too much and can’t handle the power of the low sound waves.
Turn down to just below the level where you get distortion and record that level. That’s the maximum volume you will want to play your system at.
Set the Gain
Next, we’re going to adjust the gain to the ideal level. Gain is the pre-amplified signal coming from your stereo’s head. And, this signal alone can distort if turned up too high. So, start with the gain turned down, and bring your main volume up to the 70% mark.
If you have a digital display, this should be easy. But, if you don’t, you’ll have to estimate based on the number of tics on your control knob. This 70% level is loud enough to get you good volume without overworking your amp. And, it should be lower than the max volume setting you just figured out.
Take hold of the gain dial and start turning it up until you hear distortion. Once again, turn to just below this level and record where it is.
Set Your Low Pass Filter Frequency
Also known as the crossover level, the low pass filter frequency is a cut-off. Higher frequencies will be sent to your other speakers, but lower frequencies will be allowed to pass through to your subs. But what frequency should you choose?
Keep the volume to 70% and the gain at the ideal setting you just found, plus the low pass filter at its highest setting. You should hear no distortion. Listen carefully to the subs, and you should hear some mid-range frequencies coming through them.
Start turning down the low-pass filter until you reach a level where you only hear bass coming through the subs. That’s the right place to set your low pass filter frequency. You want to hear bass and drums coming through the subs, but no guitars or vocals.
Now, your system is ready to play some banging tunes…
The subs are focused on only the low-end to give you the best and clearest bass. And the levels are set to let it come through without distortion. Of course, if you ever hit a juicy bass-driven song, you may need to turn down the gain, so the bass doesn’t overpower the rest of the music.
Want Your Ride To Sound Great?
We have you covered. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Car Subwoofers, the Best Under Seat Subwoofers, the Best 12-Inch Subwoofers, the Best 15-inch Subwoofers, the Best Competition Subwoofer, and the Best Subwoofers for Single Cab Truck you can buy in 2023.
Also, take a look at our detailed reviews of the Best 6×8 Speakers, the Best 6.5 Speakers, the Best Car Amplifiers, the Best Monoblock Car Amplifiers, the Best 2000 Watt RMS Amps, and the Best 3000 Watt Amps currently on the market.
2 10s or 2 12s? Best Subwoofer Size – Conclusion
In the end, it depends on the music you like, the car you drive, and how you’re going to use your stereo system. Those 10-inch subwoofers can do a great job in a smaller car. But, with a bigger ride or just for massive bass, you might want to level up to 12s.
Just remember that once you do install your system, it still takes some fine tuning to get it perfect. But, once you do and that bass is slapping, you’re going to be more than happy you dropped some cash on a great pair of subwoofers.
Until next time, happy listening.