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Most factory-equipped car audio systems are decent at best. Adding a subwoofer is a quick and easy way to not only add a boost to the low-end frequencies but also improve mids and highs by removing that load from the factory speakers. While you may have visions of thousands of dollars worth of speaker boxes and amplifiers filling up your trunk, you can add a powered subwoofer for under $500, and in some cases, you can mount it in a way that makes it nearly invisible.
This guide provides a selection of subwoofers that are meant to bring bass lines to life and add a little more kick to the drums. These aren't going to rattle the fillings out of your teeth or announce your terrible taste in music to people three blocks away, but that kind of thing hasn't been cool since mini trucks died out anyway. Pick one of these powered subwoofers for improved bass in minimum space.
Rockford Fosgate P300-10
- A 10-inch woofer mounted in a sealed enclosure provides tight and focused lows
- The built-in amplifier provides 300 watts(RMS) power with a peak of 600 watts
- Wired remote control allows for bass level control while driving
- It's big, requiring a 19 x 10 inch foot print in your trunk
- Some owners complained bass level isn't linear with the system volume
MTX TN8MS Terminator
- You aren't going to find a powered subwoofer with decent sound quality with a lower price than this
- It's only 3 inches thick making it easy to hide under a seat
- Tight bass for producing music, not just shaking body panels
- There are reports of it overheating with hard use in hot environments
- Some owners compaliend it didn't boom enough at low frequencies
JBL BassPro Hub
- Fits inside the spare tire of your car for a 100% hidden installation
- Big performance from an 11 inch sub with 200 watts (RMS) power
- Single plug wiring harness for easy removal to access spare tire
- It only fits a select number of vehicles with the right type of spare tire mounted inside the car
- Not as effective in a sedan as it is in a hatchback/SUV/wagon
I've been in and out of the car audio hobby for a few decades. I've watched it evolve from being a niche community to being mainstream with non-enthusiasts having higher expectations for sound quality. Years ago, a decent system required removing all the factory equipment and starting from scratch, but as factory equipment has gotten better, and in some cases, an integral and non-removable part of the car, the aftermarket has found ways of augmenting those systems. One way is the powered subwoofer which provides greater low-frequency response, usually lacking in a factory system, that also improves the performance of the existing speakers by letting them focus on the mid-range, which they do best.
We judged these products on ease of installation, performance in producing real music, and not just noise and, obviously, they had to get in under the price cap of $500. Besides having used several products in this category in my own car, I also consulted owner and professional reviews online. Complaints and single-start reviews with "not loud enough" or "didn't fit in my car" were discounted. If there were only a handful of reviews that were quality-related, we didn't give those that much weight as any product that is sold in the thousands is going to have a small percentage of QC issues. I gathered what I considered to be the best bang for the buck in easy-to-install powered subwoofers.
Best Subwoofers Under $500 Reviews & Recommendations
Bridges the gap between a custom sub enclosure and a compact unit
It's 300 watts of power is more than most powered subs
Clean sound from the sealed enclosure
It's on the large side for this category of subwoofers
As with any of these subwoofers, ease of installation is a relative thing
If you're looking for an off-the-shelf solution that provides performance a little closer to something custom, this is a good choice. It has a higher power amplifier than most competitors in this size and price range at 300 watts RMS and will produce more bass.
We like the cleaner sound the sealed enclosure provides compared to a ported box, and the adjustable level provided by the wired remote control is also a nice touch, although certainly not all that unique. There is a trade off to the more powerful amp and higher volume enclosure, which is obviously the space required to mount it. This isn't going to fit under many seats and it will take up a considerable amount of space in smaller trunks or in the back of truck cabs.
This is a great option for people looking to take their car's stereo to the next level, while still remaining under our $500 budget. It does take up space, but it isn't that much work to remove if occasionally you only need your whole trunk or need to carry something that required dropping your back seats.
This is well under the price cap and still performs well
It's just 10 x 14 x 3 inches so it'll fit in just about any car
Having it inside the passenger compartment means it sounds more powerful than 135 watts would suggest
Very affordable but be sure to factor in the price of install kit
Watch those temperatures so you won't overheat the unit
It can be tough to jump into the car audio hobby when it seems like it takes hundreds or thousands of dollars to get started. Adding a small subwoofer like this is an easy way to jump into it and see actual results. This small unit fits just about anywhere in your passenger compartment, so the low power still provides a noticeable boost in bass performance.
At 135 watts RMS, it isn't going to blow your roof off, but it'll allow you here bass lines over the car's road noise. This unit was designed for ease of installation, so it will take the signal straight from your existing speaker wiring or you can use RCA from the head unit if available. For installation, you will still need an installation kit to get power straight from the battery along with a remote turn-on wire and a fuse holder. This isn't particularly challenging to install, but that's all relative.
A great stealth option that still provides good performance
Designed to be easily removed in case you need to use your spare tire
Big bass response from an 11 inch woofer in a small enclosure
There are a limited number of cars this will work with, check specs before ordering
Works best in hatchbacks, wagons, or SUVs where there's no separation between cabin and trunk
There's a decent variety of powered subwoofers in the below $500 category, but the Rockford Fosgate P300-10 is a standout and earned Best Overall for its punchy bass and quality. For those looking for an entry-level option, the MTX TN8MS is our Best Value not only for its performance but its ease of installation.
Features To Consider When Buying A Powered Subwoofer
There are a few terms and a little bit of knowledge you will need to make the process easier.
Power From The Amplifier
When looking at audio equipment you will normally see two different power ratings, measured in watts. The first and arguably the most important is called out as RMS, or Root Mean Square. This is the constant power output that an amplifier can produce – or that a speaker can use. There is also the peak rating, which is normally about twice the RMS number, which as you can probably guess, is the power an amplifier can produce for a short burst. Some unscrupulous brands will only give peak power to make their products look better.
Installation Of A Powered Subwoofer
Installing one of these powered subwoofers is far easier than designing and building a box, and having to purchase a separate amplifier. But, installation is not just plug and play. You will need to run a power cable to the battery which will require getting under the carpet or at least removing some interior trim pieces. You will also need to get a signal from your head unit. Some of these subwoofers will allow you to tap into existing speaker wires, while some will need RCA inputs run to the back of the head unit. When budgeting for the project, be sure to include everything you need to make it work.
You've got questions. The Drive has answers
What do I need to install a powered subwoofer in my car?
Using a powered subwoofer as you see here makes life a lot easier. You need the unit itself, a wiring kit for power, and a remote turn-on. And in some cases, you will need a line output converter with RCA cables.
Does a powered subwoofer require an amplifier?
No, if it is classified as a powered subwoofer it means the unit comes with the amplifier built into the unit.
Can you use a subwoofer with a factory radio?
Yes, some will allow you to connect straight to your existing speaker wires while others will tap into those wires, but require a line output converter before going into the sub's amplifier.
Will my factory stereo bass control work with an aftermarket subwoofer?
It will work, but most powered subwoofers offer separate bass boost controls either on the unit itself or through a remote control.