If you’ve ever heard a high-end audio system blasting in the back of a sweet ride, you know that to make all that noise, you need quite a few quality components working seamlessly together. Not only to make the sound loud but well-defined as well.
If you’re anything like me, you like a well-balanced sound with plenty of overall power. This means that you’ll need to get your speaker setup just right. However, like most things in life, it’s not that simple.
Why is that?
There are speakers called subwoofers, and then there are others called woofers. And, when it comes to woofer vs subwoofer, they are quite different in capabilities and purposes.
However, taking some time to familiarize yourself with these basics will go a long way in putting together a good system for whatever purpose.
The Way Sound Works (Lows, Mids, and Highs)
Before I dive into what woofers and subwoofers do, let’s acquaint ourselves with the different parts of the audio spectrum. This will make the definitions that follow easier to comprehend.
All sounds can be placed in a scaling system that we call the audio spectrum. The audio spectrum can be used to measure frequency and loudness.[bl]
- Frequency – Measured in Hertz (Hz) and Kilohertz (kHz), 1000Hz = 1 kHz.
- Loudness – Measured in Decibels (dB).
Examples of the audio spectrum…
The audio spectrum is often visually represented using two axes. The horizontal axis measures the frequency content and goes from low (left) to high (right). The vertical axis measures loudness in decibels.
Therefore, low-frequency sounds like kick drums and bass guitar register on the far left-hand side. Vocals and guitars will concentrate towards the middle. And finally, high-pitched sounds, like backing female vocals or cymbals, will register on the far right of the spectrum.
If you are still struggling to understand this visualization, check out Google images for “audio spectrum division.” This should help a lot. With that out of the way, let’s sort out how woofers are different from subwoofers once and for all.
What is a Woofer?
A woofer is a speaker designed to produce low and mid-range frequencies. They are versatile and usually quite powerful. For home theater and car audio systems, these types of speakers are used on the front and rear channels.
These speakers are often added to sound systems to improve audio quality as well as overall output. Woofers are compact and have a wide frequency range output. This can range anywhere from 40Hz to 2500Hz or 2.5kHz.
As mentioned before, these speakers reproduce low and mid-range frequencies. For example, drums, bass, vocals, guitars, and other mid-range elements.
- A good woofer can be used as a subwoofer because it can reproduce a wider range of frequencies.
- Often sold in pairs to produce a balanced stereo sound.
- Generally less expensive than subwoofers.
- Being “all-arounder” speakers, these aren’t specialized for superior quality in any one frequency range.
What is a Subwoofer?
Subwoofers are designed for the sole purpose of reproducing low and low-mid frequencies. Additionally, these speakers are very specialized and can range from quite affordable to stupidly expensive.
Being specialized speakers, subwoofers aren’t as versatile in their capabilities as normal woofers. But, when it comes to reproducing a deep bass sound with power and great definition, a quality subwoofer will take the trophy every time.
So, is a subwoofer an essential component?
Subwoofers are not necessities but additions to be added to a sound system. Being so specialized, they are often more expensive to purchase because they are not traditionally sold in pairs. Also, subwoofers take up more physical space than woofers.
Furthermore, depending on the power of the subwoofer you purchase, you can end up using just as much, if not more, power than other components in your system.
As mentioned, these speakers are made for reproducing only low frequencies. Therefore, they have a very limited frequency range capability compared to normal woofers, usually around 20Hz to 200Hz, although some will go slightly higher.
- Improves audio fidelity by lowering the amount of distortion your system will produce at high volume.
- Provides a much richer sound due to a more present and well-defined low-end. The other frequencies, while not being physically affected, will sound better simply because of the definition in the low-end.
- Take up more physical space than normal woofers.
- Require a lot of power to run.
- Generally more expensive to buy.
Woofer vs Subwoofer – Specifications and Uses
Let’s now take a look at some of the characteristics and uses of woofers and subwoofers.
Number of Drivers
Woofers are often included in an enclosure with multiple drivers. The most popular are two and three-way speakers. A two-way speaker has two drivers, one woofer for bass and mids and another driver for the high frequencies, called a tweeter.
A three-way woofer has one driver for bass, one for mid-range, and a tweeter for high frequencies. Some high-end speakers are equipped with four drivers, which adds yet another “super tweeter” to the mix for shimmering high end.
Subwoofers have only one driver since they produce only one frequency. However, there are aftermarket and custom setups that have multi-driver setups. And, of course, many audio systems will have multiple subwoofers installed, which essentially makes it a multi-driver subwoofer system.
A woofer can produce lows, mids, and in some cases, highs as well. Therefore, it can be used to create a “complete” sound image. Therefore, you can use it as a standalone system, although you would need two to get stereo.
A subwoofer, on the other hand, can only produce lows. That means if you have a bunch of subwoofers and an amp, you still won’t have a “complete” stereo image. Subwoofers are, as mentioned, only additions to already complete systems.
A subwoofer is generally going to drain more power from your system than a normal woofer. That’s because low frequencies take the most power to produce. So, a subwoofer needs to work harder, meaning it needs to draw more power.
Woofers, on the other hand, will generally require less power. However, if you have a woofer with more drivers for bass and mid-range, then it will draw more power. But, it will never cross over into subwoofer territory.
Subwoofers draw power from 40 to 200 watts, whereas most woofers will draw from 100 watts upward.
Generally, a subwoofer is larger than a woofer and are often sold in enclosures.
Why is that?
Bass frequencies move more air around than other frequencies. As a result, subwoofers have diaphragms that allow for more movement than normal speakers. This means they need more space.
The size of a subwoofer will depend on whether it’s a powered or passive subwoofer. But generally, they are going to be larger than other components in your system.
Subwoofers generally measure around eight to twenty inches in diameter, whereas woofers will generally be around three to eight inches. That being said, there are powerful, high-end woofers that are much larger that will handle lower frequencies with ease.
Powered Vs Passive Subwoofers[bl]
- Powered subwoofers include not only a speaker and enclosure but a power source, usually a plate amplifier. This makes them great for home theater systems and performance setups. These subwoofers usually also include some sound shaping tools in the form of Low-pass (high cut) crossovers/filters, as well as EQ and volume controls.
- A passive subwoofer is just a speaker installed inside an enclosure. This means you need to have a power source and amplifier to hook up to the subwoofer. Otherwise, it will be useless. These are often used in high-end car audio systems. But, many professional recording studio setups can include passive subs as well.
Can A Woofer Be Used As A Subwoofer
It is possible to use a woofer as a subwoofer. And in many cases, high-end woofers can perform as well as dedicated subwoofers. This is because they can produce low frequencies with improved definition. But they have to be hooked up to the right output from your power source.
That being said, if you are looking for a real, powerful bass sound that blows you away, you will have to get a proper dedicated subwoofer.
What Size Should I Get?
People often forget that you literally fill up a space with moving air when you produce sound. That means that you can, metaphorically speaking, fill the glass with too little (not enough sound and/or power), or you can overfill it (too big and powerful for a small space).
Therefore, it is prudent to ask a professional for the optimum size and power output for your room or car. If you get the size and power right, your not only going to be loud enough, but you’re going to sound great even at the loudest volume levels.
Woofer vs Subwoofer – Final Thoughts
Whether you’re planning on giving your ride some serious audio or looking to build and/or upgrade your home audio system, knowing the difference between subwoofers and woofers will be crucial.
Woofers are your workhorse speakers. They take up less space, cost less, and have more capabilities. You can’t go without them.
Subwoofers, on the other hand, are only for your low-end. They take up more space and generally cost more. They aren’t strictly necessary, but they make the music boom like nothing else.
Until next time happy listening.