Difference Between Woofer and Subwoofer


Woofers and subwoofers are important because the low frequencies are also the ones that help produce the full, rich, three-dimensional effect we love in movie soundtracks and in music. Without a woofer/subwoofer, you’ll be missing out on some of the explosions and gunshots for movies and videogames. Music-wise, you will partially miss some instruments like the bass, tuba, and trombone. So how different is a woofer from a subwoofer? Well, this article gives an overview of this question in a more precise way.

What is a woofer?

A woofer or bass speaker is a technical term for a loudspeaker driver designed to produce low frequency sounds, typically from 50 Hz up to 1000 Hz. The name is from the onomatopoeic English word for a dog’s bark, “woof”. The most common design for a woofer is the electrodynamic driver, which typically uses a stiff paper cone, driven by a voice coil surrounded by a magnetic field.

In most cases the woofer and its enclosure must be designed to work together. Usually the enclosure is designed to suit the characteristics of the speaker or speakers used. The size of the enclosure is a function of the longest wavelengths (lowest frequencies) to be reproduced, and the woofer enclosure is much larger than required for midrange and high frequencies.

How Does a Woofer Work?

One of the fundamental laws of physics is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. This principle is no different in the world of audio systems, woofers, speakers, and tweeters.

Bass speakers usually connect to audio receivers and amplifiers. These receivers typically send low-frequency signals in the 20 Hz to 2000 Hz range through electrical current.

The current is usually amplified and converted to sound by a magnetic coil that causes the driver’s cone to vibrate back and forth, creating low-frequency waves.

What is a subwoofer?

A subwoofer (sub) is speaker, that is dedicated to the reproduction of low-pitched audio frequencies most commonly referred to as bass and sub-bass, lower in frequency than those which can be (optimally) generated by a woofer. The typical frequency range for a subwoofer is about 20–200 Hz for consumer products, below 100 Hz for professional live sound, and below 80 Hz in THX-certified systems.

Subwoofers are never used alone, as they are intended to augment the low-frequency range of loudspeakers that cover the higher frequency bands. While the term “subwoofer” technically only refers to the speaker driver, in common parlance, the term often refers to a subwoofer driver mounted in a speaker enclosure (cabinet), often with a built-in amplifier.

Subwoofers are made up of one or more woofers mounted in a loudspeaker enclosure—often made of wood—capable of withstanding air pressure while resisting deformation. Subwoofer enclosures come in a variety of designs. Each design has unique trade-offs with respect to efficiency, low-frequency range, cabinet size and cost.

There are generally two types of subwoofers: passive and active subwoofers. Passive subwoofers have a subwoofer driver and enclosure and they are powered by an external amplifier. Active subwoofers include a built-in amplifier.

Woofer vs Subwoofer: Key Differences

SizeTypically smaller, around 6-10 inches in diameter.Generally larger, often 12 inches or more in diameter.
Frequency RangeHandles mid-range and low-end frequencies, usually from 40 Hz to 2 kHz.Primarily designed for very low frequencies, typically from 20 Hz to 200 Hz.
Sound OutputProduces moderate bass and mid-range tones.Specializes in deep bass and sub-bass frequencies, providing powerful low-end sound.
ApplicationUsed in full-range speakers for balanced sound reproduction.Dedicated to enhancing the bass in audio systems, often as part of a multi-speaker setup.
CrossoverRequires a crossover network to separate low and mid-range frequencies.May have a built-in crossover or rely on an external one for frequency filtering.
Power HandlingGenerally handles lower power levels compared to subwoofers.Designed to handle higher power levels to produce strong bass.
Enclosure TypeOften used in sealed or ported enclosures for various applications.Typically used in ported or sealed enclosures optimized for bass response.
WiresThe woofer doesn’t need any large wires to connect with the voice coil.Subwoofer requires larger wires.
Driver SystemWoofers have multiple driver systems, which typically include midrange and high-range drivers to achieve a more dynamic sound quality.A subwoofer is a single driver system given that it wants to achieve a narrower spectrum of frequencies.
DesignWoofers are designed as passive drivers, they need an external amplifier to power them. There is the need to connect the woofer to the amplifier’s output for it to produce sounds.Subwoofers are built either passive or active. Passive subwoofers work just like woofers. Active subwoofers have built-in amplifiers inside the sub box. 
Home Theater SystemsLess commonly used as standalone units in home theaters.Often a crucial component of home theater systems for deep, immersive bass.
Music ProductionUsed in studio monitors and reference speakers for accurate sound reproduction.Typically not used in studio monitors but may be used in mixing for monitoring bass.

Key takeaways

  • A woofer is a loudspeaker driver that produces low-frequency sounds, responsible for handling bass and usually in the form of a large stiff paper cone. It prevents sound distortion, improves accuracy in sound reproduction, and provides a better listening experience. 
  • A subwoofer is a loudspeaker that can produce low-frequency sounds.  In general, the low-frequency sound range for a subwoofer is between 20Hz and 200Hz. These low frequencies come from instruments such as the kick drum, bass guitar, and pipe organ, as well as movie sound effects like explosions.
  • In other words, Subwoofers are designed to reproduce a band of frequencies below 30Hz level and woofers produce sounds above it.
  •  A subwoofer box is typically designed to be larger than a woofer due to the frequency range it needs to achieve.
  • Subwoofers are typically powered by only 1 driver, while a woofer is powered by multiple.
  • Subwoofers draw much more power due to their focus on lower frequency waves.
  • Subwoofers are constructed in a much larger housing than woofers.
  • Subwoofers can only be used in a separate design, such as sealed or ported for lower frequency.