Subwoofer vs Speaker: What’s the Difference?

Subwoofer vs speaker: what’s the difference?. If you have been wondering what the difference is between these two devices, then in this article you will know the difference and a comparison of both devices.

subwoofer vs speaker, subwoofer and speakers

Both subwoofers and main speakers are speakers and are both essential for a home theater system to deliver quality sound and help create that awesome experience you want to have. In short;

The basic difference between subwoofers and speakers pertains only to the frequency range the operate efficiently. Subwoofers are used for the lowest part of the audio spectrum and are great for bass and sub-bass sounds. Whereas, the speakers usually handle the medium to high-frequency sounds of the audio spectrum.

To have a better understanding of these two devices, let’s get into more details below.

What is a Subwoofer and How Does It Work?

A subwoofer is mostly enclosed in a wooden box usually with a port or a vent. The main role of a subwoofer is to reproduce low sound frequencies usually in a frequency range between 20Hz to 200Hz, with more professional ones having a range below 100Hz. A subwoofer is often referred to as a Sub.

Subwoofers are mostly used in an audio setup alongside the main speaker. They are not designed to be used alone. They work with the main speakers to improve the sound quality of the main speakers to be able to deliver better sound quality because the main speakers are freed from the low bass.


That is why when setting up your home theater system, there is a crossover frequency which you need to set as well. By setting the crossover frequency of your main speakers, you are telling the AV receiver which lower frequency range should be sent to the subwoofer and from what frequency the main speakers should be handing.

Regular speakers can reproduce a wide range of frequencies but they often lack the ability to replicate the deepest bass frequencies.

A subwoofer uses a built-in amplifier as well as a larger woofer that amplifies the lower frequency signal to provide a deeper and cleaner bass. Most subwoofer often needs their own power supply from the electrical outlet to be able to power the built-in amplifier.

This is not necessarily so for all subwoofer, because passive subwoofers do not require their own dedicated power supply. Instead, they use the power from the  AV receiver’s amplifier.

The simplest way to explain how a subwoofer works is that the subwoofer even though maybe powered by its own power supply, it is also connected to the AV receiver or preamplifier. The receiver sends the lower frequency signals( usually 20 Hz to 200 Hz) which are mostly referred on soundtracks as the low-frequency effects(LFE)  via the

Types of Subwoofers

Subwoofers are classified into two categories. They are passive and active subwoofers. The difference between the two types are explained below:

Passive Subwoofers

Passive subs are usually powered by an external amplifier.  Just like the other speakers in your system. In some passive subwoofers, the amp which drives the main speakers is also used to power the sub.

Extreme bass needs more power to reproduce the low-frequency sounds, so the amplifier or the receiver must be able to output enough power to drive the sub without draining the amplifier.  The amount of power will depend on the size of the room and the requirements of the speaker.

Active Subwoofers

Active subwoofers have the amplifier and the subwoofer speaker inside the same cabinet. They need a standalone power supply to operate. Besides the AC power from the electrical outlet, they also need to be connected to the home theater AV receiver.

This arrangement takes a lot of the power load away from the amp/receiver and allows the amp/receiver to power the mid-range and tweeters more easily. Most subwoofers used in home theater setups are the powered type.

The sound produced by active subwoofers are considered to be better because the speakers and the sub are fed by a single amplifier, you can adjust the crossover frequency to give a perfect balance between the sub and the speakers.

Advantages of Subwoofers

  • Relief the main speakers of straining to play low-frequency sounds
  • Improves the overall sound quality of the stereo system by reproducing deeper bass and sub-bass
  • Since the sub and the main speakers share their own different range of sounds, they sound even better than a full range speaker.

Disadvantages of Subwoofers

  • subwoofers cannot be used alone on their own. They need to be combined with speakers to produce realistic sound
  • Many subwoofers are not well designed and can sometimes give complications

What is a Speaker and How Does It Work?

A speaker is basically an electroacoustic transducer which is able to convert an electrical audio signal into a corresponding sound.

Speakers are commonly used to work with computers or any audio system. In this contest, we are talking about the main speakers in your home theater system.


Speakers are mostly powered by a receiver and it can reproduce all frequencies in the audio spectrum.  However, the reason why the main speakers don’t work well with lower frequencies is that, even though they are able to translate the sound, but it is inaudible or muted. This is because the speaker cannot amplify these sounds with similar intensity as the sounds in mid-range to high frequency.

In most audio systems like home theater systems, the speakers are usually in pairs. This is done to create a stereo sound. This means that both the right and left speakers are fed with separate channels.

A surround system usually comprises of many speakers and a subwoofer. When all of these speakers and sub are connected, they reproduce a surround sound.

It is worth mentioning that not all audio systems setup needs a sub. You can use a basic setup that only utilizes speakers and they will function pretty much on their own, however, they won’t give you that realistic experience you would expect.

But, you cant use a subwoofer on its own alone without speakers.

Types of Speakers

Whether speakers are used with cars, computers, or other audio systems, they are classified into two main categories. These are active and passive speakers. They work just the same way I explained with the types of subwoofers. Regardless of the type of speakers, they are designed to save the same purpose; thus amplifier audio sounds.

Advantages of Speakers

  • Speaker can produce a good sound without even a subwoofer
  • Speakers are also budget-friendly when compared to subs


  • Speakers are unable to reproduce audible deep bass and sub-bass.

Can a Subwoofer Be Used As Speaker?

So, you asked; can a subwoofer be used as a speaker?. Well, the answer is absolute No. It can only happen in theory.

This is because a subwoofer function in an audio stereo system is to reproduce low-frequency signals which might become inaudible to the main speakers. Subwoofers are designed to handle only low-frequency signals and to act as supporting speakers to improve the sound of stereo systems. Hence cannot be used alone as speakers without the speakers themselves.  Mids, highs, and vocals will be pretty much non-existent or at best, lacking clear quality.

You may also be interested in knowing the importance of the center channel speaker. In this article, I went into more detail about the center channel speaker in your home theater system. You can check it out.

Does Subwoofer Improve Sound Quality?

Subwoofers are best in reproducing low-frequency audio sounds. Whether you are using the sub in your car or its part of your home theater system, installing a sub will improve the overall sound quality produced.

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.

Does Subwoofer Have to be the Same Brand as the Speakers?

The subwoofer doesn’t have to be the same brand as the other speakers because it is only handling the low-frequency bass and sub-bass. They’re rarely any reason to match the same brand of sub with your main speakers other than maybe for decor.

In fact, there are several companies that specialize in subwoofers such as SVS, Velodyne, Epik, Rythmik, and many more.

However, it is not recommended to mix and match different brands of speakers, especially in a surround sound system. There can even be a problem if you mix different lines of the same brand of speakers.

Final Thoughts on Subwoofer vs Speaker Difference

Subwoofers are just speakers that operate at a low-frequency audio spectrum to help create quality sound in whether your home theater system or other applications you might deem fit. Speakers can reproduce these bass and sub-bass but the problem is that they are impractical at low frequencies.

Therefore it is better to have a good speaker with a low-quality subwoofer than to have a high-quality subwoofer with low-quality speakers. Speakers alone can operate fine even though you might not hear the low-frequency sounds but subwoofer can be used alone.

They both work hand in hand to create that perfect experience you want with your stereo system.

I hope you gained the clarity you were seeking for in your search for the difference between subwoofer and speakers.


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