Subwoofer vs Speaker

subwoofer vs speakerWhether you’re listening to your favorite music using an iPod, a Smartphone, a computer, or a home entertainment system, a speaker is a very crucial peripheral that will help you hear the sound that’s being produced. Without it, there wouldn’t be any audible sound at all. But, when you dig deep into the world of audio systems, you’ll learn about subwoofers and speakers.

Although people often use these two terms interchangeably, is there truly a difference between the two?

Now, one similarity between these two is that they’re both transducers as they convert AC signals into mechanical energy in form of sound. But, despite that, is there anything that sets them apart?

Since this is one of the main areas most people are curious about, I’ve readied a comprehensive guide that will discuss several factors that will help to differentiate between a subwoofer and a speaker. Please read on to find out.

Do They Have any Similarities?

Before we discuss the difference between a subwoofer and a speaker, I would like to mention that these two types of loudspeakers have quite a number of similarities. One major similarity is the fact that both are designed to convert complex AC signals into mechanical energy in the form of sound.

Both of them have voice coils connected to a permanent magnet to produce sound waves whenever the voice coil vibrates to and fro. With that in mind, let’s now get to our main topic where we’ll discuss some key differences between a subwoofer and a speaker.

Speaker vs. Subwoofer: What’s the Difference?

Just before we get started, allow me to mention that one of the main differences between a subwoofer and a speaker is the type of frequency they’re tasked to handle. The subwoofer on its side is usually tasked to handle the low-frequency waves which are the bass and the sub-bass.

On the other hand, the speaker is assigned to handle the mid and the high-frequency waves. Since it can’t produce the bass due to its design, it only thrives on the high-frequency sector. Now, when listening to music, you’re likely to hear different sounds such as tenors, basses, sopranos, and altos.

Since singers, DJs and bands want you to hear every effect of these sounds, having different sized speakers is very important as it allows the entire range of sound to be handled by each speaker. With that said, let’s discuss this subject more comprehensively to help you understand.

What is a Subwoofer?

A subwoofer is a large speaker in the middle of your home audio system that’s tasked to reproduce only the low frequencies. In most cases, this speaker handles the bass and the sub-bass in frequencies ranging from 20Hz to 200Hz. Since it only handles the low-frequency part of a sound wave, a subwoofer is not designed to work alone.

Instead, it works alongside the main speakers to help improve the quality of sound being produced. Since it handles the bass effects quite well, this will help to free the main speakers from this burden to allow them to focus only on the mid-range frequency.

When shopping for a subwoofer, you need to understand that these speakers have larger and more powerful drivers that are concealed in a wooden box to allow them to reproduce the deepest bass frequencies with clarity. They also come in different categories such as passive and powered subwoofers with concealed or ported boxes.

Powered Subwoofers

Most home theater systems use this type of arrangement where the subwoofer and the amplifier are housed in one wooden box. Since the amplifier is usually built-in, a source of AC power outlet will be required to power the amp.

The best thing about active or rather powered subwoofers is that the built-in amp focuses on powering the subwoofer while the A/V receiver powers the mid-range speakers and the tweeters. This way, there will be shared responsibility which will lead to a cleaner and clearer sound output.

Passive Subwoofers

Another setup you’re likely to find in most subwoofers is the passive setup. This one, the subwoofer is powered by an external amplifier which powers both the sub and the main speakers. Since the powerful subwoofer doesn’t need an AC power outlet to power any in-built amp, an external amplifier will need to be added between the A/V receiver and the subwoofer to feed the sub with the needed power.

Benefits of a Subwoofer

  • The first major benefit of a subwoofer is that they handle the low-frequency waves quite well. By doing this, the sub tends to free the main speakers from straining to reproduce the low frequencies to focus on the mid and high frequencies.
  • By shouldering the burden of taking care of the bass and the mid-bass, the subwoofer allows the main speakers to sound at their best with greater clarity even at high decibels.
  • Since each speaker system is assigned a particular frequency range, a combination of both the main speakers and the subwoofer results in a 3-dimension surround sound that is pleasant to the ear.

What is a Speaker?

When I mention speakers, what I’m talking about (as per my context), are the main speakers that come with your home theater system. In most cases, these types of speakers come in pairs to offer a surround sound effect when listening to your favorite music. They’re powered by a receiver and are mostly focused on reproducing the mid to high frequencies with ultimate clarity.

Earlier on, we mentioned that the subwoofer only handles the low-frequencies. The same happens to the speakers which only handle the high-frequencies. If you happen to task these speakers to reproduce the low-frequencies, what happens is that there will be maximum distortion on the sound and in most cases, those deeper bass tones will be inaudible or muted.

For this reason, a subwoofer will have to be added to take care of the low-frequencies to free the main speakers to focus on the high-frequencies which they’re engineered to handle. Finally, just like subwoofers, speakers to are classified as either passive or active. However, regardless of whether you’re using them with your laptop, desktop computer, your car, or your home’s audio system, these peripherals work in a similar fashion.

Benefits of Speakers

  • One of the major benefits of a speaker is that it’s somewhat independent. Since sound is what matters, speakers can work alone without needing a subwoofer. However, such a situation only works for those listeners who don’t need any bass as speakers cannot produce the low frequencies.
  • Another benefit of speakers is that they’re less costly as compared to subwoofers.

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve mentioned everything you need to know about subwoofers and speakers, how much do you really know about woofers? The reason why I asked is because most people fail to tell these three types of speakers apart. Just to give you an eye-opener, a woofer is a type of a subwoofer that’s less powerful and only handles low frequencies ranging from 40Hz to 2500Hz.

The difference between them and subwoofers is that subwoofers are more powerful and can handle lower frequencies as low as 20Hz to 200Hz.

All in all, when choosing a home theater system, you need to be very keen on the type of the speakers you’re getting to ensure that they work in unison with your subwoofer. Always remember that speakers are designed to handle mid to high-frequency sounds while the subwoofer is tasked to focus only on the low-frequencies.

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