What is the Difference Between a Woofer and a Subwoofer?

When we talk about home theater system or sound system in general, we quite often come across the speaker systems called a woofer and a subwoofer. Some of you might think that there is not much of a difference between these two types of speaker systems. Well, you are wrong – there is are differences between these two, especially in their frequency ranges, and let us discuss more about the same.

Woofer and subwoofer might be doing more or less similar job in delivering bass performance, which is the reason why we often get confused by the two. The difference might be little, but understanding the same is very important because only then you can decide which kind of speaker systems you must purchase to achieve the desired sound experience overall. If you are planning to install a home theater at home or car or even for your next party event, understanding the difference is very important. Woofers and subwoofers can be installed to deliver better sound quality only if you know what each of those are made to deliver.

Woofer – Overview

A standard woofer system is a low-pitch speaker which is tuned to produce sounds in the range of 20 to 2000 Hz. A woofer performs at its best within this particular range, but one thing to note here is that the sound quality is poor in the low and high end of this frequency range. Another type of woofer is the mid-woofer which operates in the frequency range of 200 to 5000 Hz. As you can see from the range, it cannot reach lower frequency range like a standard woofer but could reach a higher frequency of 5000 Hz. Low and high end frequency loss is still existent in both these speakers.

A subwoofer is designed mainly for the low end audio range of 20 to 200 Hz. Another type of subwoofer is the rotary subwoofer, which is designed to operate on an even smaller frequency range, below 20 Hz. In the case of rotary subwoofers, there are fan blades which help in creating high air pressure rather than the conventional coil and cone design philosophy. This is the main difference between all these 4 different types of low pitch speakers. We will now look at woofer and subwoofer in detail.

Woofer – In Detail

Woofer is a low pitch speaker, which is entirely different from that of many high frequency speakers known as tweeters. The name woofer was derived from ‘woof’, the deep barking sound of a dog. Woofers come in 4 different types as mentioned earlier and they have wide frequency operating range. These low pitch speakers work based on electrodynamic mechanism wherein a cone would be attached to the voice coil and magnetic field. The way this works is quite simple – as current passes through the voice coil, it forces the coil to move back and forth, which then forces the speaker cone to move in and out. As a result of this process, low frequency sound waves are produced. The most interesting aspect of all is that all the 4 types of woofers have the same construction but operate differently.


This particular type of low pitch speaker is made to produce very low frequency bass sound waves in the range of 20 to 200 Hz. Subwoofers generally consist of many woofer drives placed in one large loudspeaker enclosure. They are different from that of a woofer, because it only focuses on the extremely low frequency range of bass sound waves. The beauty about the subwoofer construction is that it is capable of creating air movements at high pressure and at a very slow speed, which is hard to achieve in other low pitch speakers. As a result of this, it allows very low frequency sound wave transmission without any compromise in sound quality and volume. Subwoofers work remarkably in delivering low frequency bass sounds both in house and cars.

Subwoofer Types

Subwoofers come in different types, such as active, passive and rotary subwoofers.

  • Active – In the case of an active subwoofer, speaker and amplifier are housed in the same loudspeaker enclosure. If you have multiple tweeters and speakers, then you should go for an active subwoofer since it reduces load on your receiver to a great extent.
  • Passive – This type of subwoofer is straight opposite to the active one, and here, an external amplifier or receiver is a must to power the subwoofer. This type of speaker is similar to most of the traditional speaker types you might find. One downside of this type of subwoofer is that they tend to put a lot of power load on the external amplifier or receiver.
  • Rotary – This type of subwoofer is very rarely used. Here, you will find a fixed fan having multiple blades, which alter angles. You won’t find a cone, coil and magnetic field in this type of speaker. Rotary subwoofers are perfect for amplifying all the sounds below 20Hz frequency, which is usually not sensitive to the human ears.

Frequency Overlap

As you might have seen, there is a frequency overlap in a woofer and subwoofer. From the outset, you might not be able to find the difference, but once you start listening to a music, you will understand how different a woofer and subwoofer sound from one another. Subwoofer when used in addition with a tweeter and driver will deliver a wide and consistent output. Woofers on the other hand add sound dynamics to your home theater system.

Main Differences

  • Frequency range – Woofer delivers an output in the range of 20 to 2000 Hz whereas a subwoofer delivers 20 to 200 Hz sound output.
  • Speaker enclosure – Woofer consists of a single speaker driver inside the enclosure whereas subwoofer includes multiple speaker drivers.
  • Sound quality – Quality of sound in the low and high end frequency range of the woofer is poor. Subwoofer on the other hand operates only on the low frequency range but sound quality is pretty amazing across both the frequency spectrums.
  • Product quality – If you end up buying a low end woofer, then you’d experience a distorted sound experience, which also gives away a ringing noise, not good for achieving the best sound entertainment. You won’t get any such problems in a subwoofer.
  • Size – A subwoofer would be larger in size compared to a woofer or any other speaker for that matter.
  • Placement – With respect to placement of these two speakers, you might not be able to find flaw in sound performance even if you place the woofer in a wrong position, but subwoofers have to be placed correctly or else you’ll not be able to find the difference quite evidently.

If you are looking to achieve an immersive sound experience in your home theater, then you should definitely install a subwoofer. Subwoofers are responsible for delivering a true sound experience. Subwoofers when used in addition with a tweeter and driver, ensure that the sound performance is wider and consistent throughout.


Woofer and subwoofer might be similar in construction but the performance output varies considerably. Although the frequency range overlaps in these two, there is a sound quality difference between the two. Woofers offer versatility with a wide frequency range, which is good for ensuring a dynamic home theater system but it lacks in sound quality. While on the other hand, subwoofers might not be versatile still they deliver high quality, low end sound performance, which is exactly what you need.