Best 12-Inch Subwoofers: All About That Bass

Bass — there is no substitute.

byMark Webb| UPDATED May 24, 2022 8:05 AM
Best 12-Inch Subwoofers: All About That Bass
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I wish I’d known about 12-inch subwoofers when I was in high school. I drove a hand-me-down Olds Cutlass with an AM radio and my first paycheck ever bought a Radio Shack AM/FM cassette deck and a pair of muddy-sounding five-inch speakers. Two weeks later, I used my second paycheck and bought an amplifier with a seven-band graphic equalizer. I immediately hooked up that bad boy — and blew my crappy five-inch speakers.

My third paycheck went to a sweet pair of Pioneer 6x9s. Ask my 17-year-old self what heaven sounded like and he’d tell you it’s Van Halen’s “OU812” on the tape deck. But when I switched to Rob Base and Digital Underground, I realized I was missing something. Bass.

You may have no idea who Rob Base is, but if you like any kind of music, you know how important bass is. The best way to get a great bass sound is with a subwoofer, preferably a 12-inch subwoofer, which is ideal for most vehicles. While you may not appreciate my taste in music, I hope we can share a love of premium car audio. Because I’ve rounded up the best 12-inch subwoofers and I’m about to break it down.

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Summary List

Our Methodology

I’ve built a few car stereos and learned some things by trial and error and the occasional electric shock. One of those lessons is that good quality speakers are essential for great audio. When it comes to subwoofers the keys are power, frequency range, and sensitivity. Where I didn’t have firsthand experience with a subwoofer, I used the specs and price to create a shortlist. From there, I looked at expert and owner reviews to break any ties. The result is a list of subwoofers I feel confident recommending, meeting The Drive’s impeccable standards for gear and product reviews.     

Best 12-Inch Subwoofer Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • RMS Power: 600 watts
  • Frequency Range: 28 to 250 hertz
  • Sensitivity: 85 dB

Pros

  • Solid anodized aluminum cone for durability
  • Delivers crisp clear bass sound
  • Adjustable mounting options
  • Made from high-quality components

Cons

  • Low-frequency range isn’t as low as other models
  • 85 dB sensitivity is lower than other models

If you want great all-around sound quality and bass response, the Rockford Fosgate P3D4 should be at the top of your list. With 600 watts of RMS power and a peak power rating of 1,200 watts, it provides any music with full, low, resonant bass.

Part of why the P3D4 provides great sound is Rockford Fosgate's VAST technology or Vertical Attach Surround Technique. It’s a fancy name for the technology that increases the speaker’s effective cone area. Combined with the lightweight anodized aluminum cone, VAST provides responsive, full-sounding bass and can be used in a sealed or ported enclosure.

Drawbacks are minor but include a lower sensitivity rating than other subwoofers. At 85 decibels, it doesn’t convert power into volume as well as other models. Additionally, the frequency range stops at 28 hertz. That’s fine for most applications but won’t give you the subsonic rumble you feel more than hear.

But if you favor sound quality over rattling your fillings, it doesn’t get better than Rockford Fosgate’s P3D4. It’s a handsome, well-made, durable subwoofer that provides resonant all-around bass sound. The flex-fit frame makes it adaptable to fit just about any 12-inch space. It will also look good in that space, and more importantly, sound incredible.

Best Value
Pyle PLPW12D

Specs

  • RMS Power: 800 watts
  • Frequency Range: 2 to 3,000 hertz
  • Sensitivity: 90 dB

Pros

  • Low price
  • High RMS power output
  • Rubber suspension and magnet boot

Cons

  • Sound quality isn’t as good as other models
  • Paper cone doesn’t have the response or durability of other materials

Pyle is an underrated name in the electronics industry and produces a wide range of inexpensive good-quality car audio components. The PLPW12D is a great example of what I mean. The price is dirt cheap yet it’s capable of cranking out 800 watts of RMS power and more than 1,600 watts of peak power. It also has a good sensitive rating and can handle a wide range of sound.

The Pyle includes a rubber suspension and magnet boot to limit speaker fatigue, but there is some debate about the paper cone. While Pyle’s non-press paper cone is well made it is not as durable as polypropylene. It also doesn’t sound quite as good and can come across a little muddy, especially at higher volumes.

But if the paper cone keeps the price down, it’s a worthy trade. In addition to the sturdy rubber suspension, the PLPW12D features a steel basket, specially treated foam surround, and bumped and vented motor construction. Those features help the Pyle not only withstand the punishment of loud bass but the punishment brought on by living in your trunk.

Honorable Mention
Kicker 44CWCS124

Specs

  • RMS Power: 300 watts
  • Frequency Range: 27 to 500 hertz
  • Sensitivity: 88 dB

Pros

  • Durable build quality with ribbed polyurethane surround
  • Great sound quality
  • Attractive design
  • Shallow mounting depth

Cons

  • Not as powerful as other subs

Some vehicles have limited space for a subwoofer. In those cases, you can either go with a smaller size sub or a shallow mount sub. Both options are good choices. But if you have the space for a 12-inch shallow mount sub, you won’t regret the Kicker 44CWCS124.

The ribbed polyurethane surround reduces vibrations, improving both sound quality and durability and the CompC voice coil provides distortion-free bass. It’s also attractive with yellow stitching providing a nice visual contrast, especially when visible in a mono-color case.

Rated at 300 watts of RMS power and 1,200 watts of max power the Kicker 44CWCS124 doesn’t provide monster power but it’s enough for most applications. It gets plenty low with a 27 to 500-hertz frequency range. If you prioritize bass sound quality over loudness and have the space to plant a 12-inch shallow mount sub, it’s hard to beat this Kicker, especially for the price.

Best Dual Subwoofer Setup
MTX Audio Terminator

Specs

  • RMS Power: 1,000 watts
  • Frequency Range: 37 to 150 hertz
  • Sensitivity: 80 dB

Pros

  • Loud, powerful bass
  • Attractive, well-made box
  • Durable polypropylene cones
  • Built-in amplifier with bass control

Cons

  • Low sensitivity rating
  • Large, bulk size

The Audio Terminator is a killer name for a subwoofer, especially one as good as the MTX. The size alone will impress your friends and the bass will rattle their bones. It’s a good thing the polypropylene cones are rigid and durable to handle the abuse. With 1,000 watts RMS and 2,000 watts peak power, it gets loud enough to feel in the car next to you.

It’s also as large as a Terminator, as in the cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The 14 x 29 x 13-inch dimensions might not fit in your trunk or even your backseat. It’s a great setup for an SUV or car with a hatchback or large trunk. But if you want to levitate a Miata or Mini Cooper with powerful bass, you will want something smaller. Fortunately, MTX offers smaller-sized enclosures.

At least the Terminator speakers are lightweight and they look as good as they sound. The vented enclosure ensures the bass hits hard while keeping the speakers cool. You can also control the bass with an external knob that can be mounted to your dashboard or console. The one-wire control setup is easy and lets you decide how much bass you want.

The base MTX Terminator doesn’t include an amplifier but you can order one with the speakers and enclosure if you need it. Or there’s a complete sound package that includes everything you need to hook it up to a factory OEM stereo. But whatever setup you go with, the Audio Terminator will either make your neighbors jealous or hate you for the loud, booming sound.

Specs

  • RMS Power: 300 watts
  • Frequency Range: 27 to 500 hertz
  • Sensitivity: 12 dB/octave

Pros

  • Easy hookup and installation
  • Excellent bass sound quality
  • Attractive sealed enclosure

Cons

  • Bulky size

Sometimes it’s easier to buy a complete subwoofer package. However, many leave something to be desired with build or sound quality. The Rockford Fosgate P300-12 has no such issues. The built-in amplifier provides 300 watts of RMS power and 1,300 watts of peak power to get the job done. Whether you’re adding a subwoofer to an OEM factory stereo or an aftermarket setup, all you have to do is hook it up.

It also comes with some nice extras like auto on/off and a variety of connection options. There’s also a built-in bass equalizer allowing you to adjust the frequencies of the baseline to adapt to the music. The sealed enclosure is made of durable plastic and provides resonant, deep bass with clear notes and a clean sound. It’s an attractive box but a big one. It will fit in most trunks but won’t leave room for golf clubs or large suitcases.

Some people like to build their own subwoofer enclosures, wire up speakers and amplifiers, and obsess about car audio down to the brand of speaker wire. If you’re one of those people, the Rockford Fosgate P300-12 isn’t for you. But if you want an all-in-one subwoofer that provides big resonant bass sound in a handsome durable enclosure, and is easy to hook up, this is most definitely it.

Best for Low Bass Response
Skar Audio EVL-12

Specs

  • RMS Power: 1,250 watts
  • Frequency Range: 25 to 250 hertz
  • Sensitivity: 85 dB

Pros

  • Deep, thundering bass sound
  • Durable build quality
  • Efficient cooling setup

Cons

  • Muddy sound quality at high volumes

If you want loud, ground shaking bass that can rattle brick, don’t sleep on the Skar Audio EVL-12. This subwoofer pushes out 1,250 watts of RMS power, more than a lot of subs' peak capacity. And with 2,500 watts of peak power, you can make some serious noise.

Not to mention low, rumbling noise — 25 hertz on the low end will replicate thunder. The only drawback is the harder you push the Skar EVL-12, the muddier it sounds. That may be due to Skar’s competition-grade paper cone and high roll foam surround. But the good news is the efficient airflow cooling and high-temperature voice coils will handle abuse.

Skar advertises the EVL-12 as an ideal sub for competition and daily applications. No question it will hold up. Just keep the volume at or under RMS capacity and you’ll be fine.

Our Verdict 

There are a lot of good 12-inch subwoofers out there but some are better than others. The Rockford Fosgate P3D4-12 rates as the best overall pick because of its combination of value, build quality, and sound quality. For a budget option, take a look at the Pyle PLPW12D and if you need a shallow mount option, the Kicker 44CWCS124 is an excellent choice.      

What to Consider When Buying a 12-Inch Subwoofer

Space is important when considering 12-inch subwoofers. That’s where a tape measure comes in handy, as you’ll need to make sure you have enough space to mount a 12-inch subwoofer where it can effectively produce sound. Equally important is sound quality and what sounds best for your music. That’s why when shopping for a subwoofer, it’s important to consider the following three things:   

Power 

Sound volume is based on power measured in watts. There are two numbers to look at for power:  

  • RMS Power: The maximum constant power rating for a speaker. 
  • Peak Power: The absolute peak power rating for short bursts of time.  

The higher the watt output, the louder the sound volume.  

Sensitivity

Sensitivity doesn’t just work for Hugh Jackman or Harry Styles. It’s also important when evaluating speakers. If you compare two speakers with the same RMS power but one sounds louder, check the sensitivity ratings. Sensitivity is measured in decibels (dB) and indicates how well a speaker converts power into sound volume.  

Frequency

Measured in hertz (Hz), frequency range indicates the dynamic range of sounds a speaker produces. For subwoofers, the lower the Hz, the deeper, richer, more rumbly the bass sound. A good sub produces sound in the 30 to 250 Hz range.  

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: Are 10- or 12-inch subwoofers better? 

A: Bigger subwoofers produce a louder and more powerful bass sound. All other things being equal, a 12-inch sub handles more power than a 10-inch sub and many people feel they sound better. 

Q: Which is better: a 12- or 15-inch subwoofer? 

A: “Better” is a matter of personal opinion and available space. Many people believe a 12-inch sub is a better size for a car because of space limitations and because it generally provides crisper sound. 

Q: Are 12-inch subs loud? 

A: Loud compared to what? 12-inch subs are typically louder than 8 and 10-inch subs. It depends on their RMS power rating but most people feel like 12-inch subs deliver more booming bass sound than smaller subwoofers.  

Q: What size subwoofer is best for bass? 

A: The most popular sizes for subwoofers are 8-, 10-, and 12-inch. Many people think a 12-inch subwoofer is known for generating extra bass production with decent bass response  

Q: Does the size of a subwoofer matter?

A: Size matters if you’re looking for sheer volume of sound but there are other factors that determine sound quality. Frequency range, power, and sensitivity are just as important as well as the quality of the speaker.