Buyers guide

Everything You Need to Know About Car Powered Subwoofers + 5 Top Picks

Car powered subwoofers solve a great number of problems for many vehicle applications.

In this post I’ll explain the details of them, pros and cons, and finally I have a list of 5 great choices I recommend for you (see at the end below).

Not everyone needs (or wants) a more permanent amp + speaker box installation. Additionally, they offer a compact and tidy way to add good bass sound in a limited space in many cars, trucks, jeeps, and more.

Like anything else, the quality and performance of these all-in-one car amp subwoofer systems can vary widely.

Let me help you get the best quality and enjoyment for your money.

Contents

Car powered subwoofer basics

Image of a powered bass tube car subwoofer

Car powered bass tubes like this one used to be one of the few options available for customers wanted better bass sound with limited room in their vehicle. Expensive custom-made speaker boxes were the other alternative. Fortunately today we have much better choices!

Many vehicles over the years (even as far back as the 1980s) have had factory-installed powered woofers in their premium level sound system. Typically this was because of the extremely limited space in some of the smaller vehicles produced over the years.

Unfortunately while those provided a bass “boost”, they were low-power and low-volume bass devices.

Many would begin to distort quickly under higher volume.

You’re no longer stuck with using a cylindrical powered speaker tube like the Bazooka brand that was once popular. Additionally, new speaker and amplifier technology has made it possible to get far better sound in a very compact size than ever before!

How they work

Car powered subwoofers are more specialized than standard mix-and-match aftermarket subwoofers, amps, and boxes. The most critical difference is that in order to produce bass in a small space, these are carefully designed to match a subwoofer to the speaker enclosure.

In other words the subwoofer is carefully matched to the small enclosure it will be used in.

Each type of speaker has a set of particular parameters that allow a designer to determine how it will perform acoustically in different sizes and types of speaker enclosures.

These are called Thiele-Small parameters. I’ve used them frequently in custom speaker projects of my own – they’re extremely valuable to avoid “guessing” if a speaker will perform well in a certain size box or not.

Additionally, they’re different in other ways too:

  • A special-purpose amplifier is built-in
  • Amp rated power is designed only to support the speaker used
  • A low-pass crossover is normally used (with adjustable controls)
  • The assembly is a single product, with all installation connections made in one central area
  • They are often designed to complement factory stereos easily

A reduced-size, reduced power amplifier designed just for the product is built into the design and this reduces cost as well (since you won’t normally need extra channels of sound or extra features, for example).

More often than not a car powered subwoofer is designed to be very modular and can be installed as a single piece of equipment aside from an option like a wired remote knob.

Getting a signal and producing sound

When a powered speaker is installed, connections are made to get an input audio signal which is amplified and used to drive the subwoofer for bass sound.

Normally this is supplied with RCA type connections (low-level signals) available from aftermarket stereos or speaker to RCA adapters, or the signal can be derived from pre-existing speaker wiring. This is called speaker-level or “high level” inputs because of the voltage required to drive a speaker.

From there the signal is amplifier, high frequency sounds are filtered out and blocked, and the subwoofer produces only low, clean bass. Other options sometimes exist like bass boost and adjustable bass volume controls.

Quick Tip
Note – some powered subwoofers also contain additional speaker channels and can power a complete car audio system if desired.

Side view of a car powered subwoofer connection panel
Close up view of the side of a powered subwoofer. This example (Rockford Fosgate P300-12) has various audio controls for tailoring the bass sound that works best once installed. A bass boost is included to improve the bass response even if the original signal is lacking or has no bass controls to do so.

Installation problems they solve

As you probably already know, the average factory installed car stereo has poor bass. Space is very limited in vehicles like some small pickup trucks, Mazda Miatas and other sports cars, and perhaps even the family minivan!

They’re fantastic for a number of applications:

  • Adding good sound to lower-end factory stereo systems
  • Having an all-in-one solution for do it yourself (DIY) car audio projects on a budget
  • Leased vehicles in which you would like to keep your audio investment at the end of lease
  • Vehicles like Jeeps or other open-air vehicles that may be prone to theft and a removable solution is best
  • A simplified and budget-priced way to shop for a subwoofer system for those with less experience

Another great benefit is that they save on installation time and effort! There’s no need to have to figure out how you’ll mount a separate amplifier and so forth. It’s not an issue!

Disadvantages

Unfortunately despite all the advantages they provide, a powered subwoofer does have unique disadvantages as well. It’s also important to have realistic expectations for how much bass and how much volume you’ll get from your system.

This does vary greatly by brand and product, of course (see my reviews and recommendations below for some that perform well).

When a malfunction occurs and the subwoofer is no longer working, the entire unit must normally be removed and replaced unlike a conventional system in which you may be able to replace just one component.

A sealed powered subwoofer is much more difficult to diagnose and troubleshoot if problems arise.

You’re more limited in your options in terms of the amount of power and volume you can achieve. Because of their compact size, compromises have to be made for the volume and bass limits a powered subwoofer can provide. Of course, the better products provide great results I’m sure you’ll be happy with.

Don’t expect earth-shattering bass sound like the more expensive subwoofer systems with large enclosures and super-high power amps. It’s not reasonable to expect the same level of performance.

Installation parts and information

For the most part, a powered subwoofer is installed the same way as a standard car amplifier & speaker box. It requires an amplifier wiring kit and RCA cables (or small gauge wire if speaker-level inputs are used) and in some cases brackets to mount the product solidly inside of a trunk or other location.

Belva BAK82BL amp wiring kit all included imageAn amplifier wiring kit may still be needed – it includes the required wire and accessories needed to install a powered subwoofer. The 8 gauge kit shown above is both very affordable and a great choice.

Quik Tip
Don’t get ripped off or spend a ton of money on amp wiring for a powered subwoofer! More often than not a quality 10 gauge power wire size is fine. For a powered subwoofer with a much higher power rating 8 gauge may be fine. Don’t get talked into spending a huge amount of money on an expensive kit.

If you own a Jeep or other vehicle and you’re concerned about theft you can easily remove the subwoofer. During installation be sure to use a quick disconnect like this one. I highly recommend you do so if it’s a worry for you!

Image of a 10 gauge quick disconnect wiring adapterA quick disconnect is an inexpensive installation accessory which allows you to remove your powered subwoofer easily. I highly recommend them for people with vehicles that may be prone to theft. Jeeps, boats, and other vehicles with easily accessible areas are theft targets.


★ 5 Of The Best Car Powered Subwoofers ★

These are great powered subwoofers that will work for a wide range of installation applications based on my car stereo professional experience.

Quick Tip
When given a choice between different sizes of subwoofers, buy the largest you can one if you have the available space and money. Large subs can produce more volume and bass, so why not get the most you can?

1. Rockford Fosgate Punch P300-12 / P300-10 – GREAT bass, excellent quality, and a great value!

Side view image of Rockford Fosgate P300-12 The P300-12 (12″ woofer) and P300-10 (10″ woofer) are both an amazing choice for many reasons if you have the space.

They’re durable (featuring scuff and cut resistant vinyl covering) and they’re made from strong 5/8″ MDF material for great sonic performance and a “real” subwoofer box design.

These aren’t the weak plastic subwoofers like the competitors are producing – these are the real deal.

The internal Class D amplifier is nearly 90% efficient and can power the subwoofers for up to 300W with very little heat! Of course, full crossovers with adjustable frequency and a bass boost are included.

Thermal and over voltage protection are built-in as well. Both RCA and speaker level inputs make installation easy. A remote bass level control is also included so you can control your bass level anytime upfront while driving.

Side view of a car powered subwoofer connection panel

If you’re looking for high-impact, clear bass that’s reliable – and a great value too – then look no further! This is one of the best I’ve recommended yet, and one I’m happy to pass along to friends and family.

Measurements are approximately 11 x 19.8 x 15 inches.

At close to $260 or so it’s one of the best-sounding compact powered subwoofers you’ll find.

Head over to see the current low prices and more buyers raving about it at Amazon.

2. MTX Audio RT8PT – A low-profile winner and great bass in less space!

MTX has always been an innovator in American car audio technology and still to this day has an excellent reputation for reliable, well-built, and most of all, great sounding and powerful products. I’ve installed many MTX products over the years and I’ve always been impressed.

The RT8PT is no different. Capable of delivering a true 120W of power, that means you won’t come up short on sound when it comes time to crank it up.

Based on the classical cylindrical speaker enclosure design, it features an 8″ MTX high-output subwoofer matched to a vented tubular enclosure for great bass sound.

The Class D integrated amplifier features an adjustable low pass crossover and top quality connections for power, ground, and remote lead wiring during installation.

Image of MTX MTX Audio RTP8A powered subwoofer in a vehicle

It, too, includes an External Bass Control (EBC) remote to make adjustment extremely easy to do without having to stop and open the rear of your vehicle! Installation works with any aftermarket or factory stereo system as both RCA or speaker-level inputs are possible.

It has a slightly lower height than conventional subwoofer boxes as it measures 22.6 (L) x 11.2 (W) x 11 (H) inches in size.

MTX RT8PT car powered subwoofer amplifier panel closeup image

Great for the back of your SUV, many cars, and especially many trucks where rear space is limited but you want to finally enjoy real bass sound! 

I do recommend adding a protective grill to it, however. I’m not sure why they decided it wouldn’t have one from the factory.

It’s a great-sounding solution for limited space. Don’t miss out on great sound!

Take a look at the great reviews and check the price today at Amazon.

3. Alpine Electronics PWE-S8 8″ – One of the smallest car powered subwoofers available today!

The Alpine is definitely not the least expensive product on the market, selling typically for a little above $200, but for that price you get one of the best ultra-compact self-enclosed powered subwoofers on the market.

Also for your money you  get a real cast aluminum enclosure – a far cry from the typical low-cost plastic many others use!

It measures a remarkably small 13.5” L x 9” W x 3” D in size (yes, only 3″ tall and 9″ wide!)

The PWE-S8 uses a quad voice coil speaker driver to produce additional low-end bass that compliments any system lacking low-end sound. It’s designed as a solution for extremely limited space applications like under-seat mounting, sports cars with almost no free interior space, and many, many other possibilities.

As you might expect, unlike other products on the market, Alpine’s audio engineering expertise means they’ve produced a unique design of their own rather than simply repackaging the same mediocre products like so many other brands today do.

Inside is an efficient amplifier with built-in and adjustable low-pass crossover capable of delivering 120W of continuous power.

Alpine Electronics PWE-S8 end viewA remote bass level control is provided so you can adjust the bass level any time you like and it accepts both RCA and speaker level connections. An auto-sensing feature means if a remote-on lead is not available at the time of installation you don’t have to worry as it will power on and off by itself!

In today’s vehicles where finding a +12V switched wire can be tricky to find this is an added plus.

If you don’t need booming bass but want to add good low-end sound in tight areas, the PWE-S8 is a great choice.

Head over and check out the great reviews and current price at Amazon.

4. MTX AUDIO RTP8A 8″ 120W Vented – Affordable but well-built. Great sound.

Image of MTX AUDIO RTP8A powered subwoofer side viewMeasuring height 13″, width 13″, and depth 13.75″, the RTP8A may be conveniently small, but don’t let the small size fool you. It features a true 120W amplifier matched with a great MTX subwoofer in a vented enclosure for great low-end bass extension. It sells near $150 typically.

The side-mounted amplifier features easily accessible connection points and metal panel-mount RCA connectors along with easy fuse access too.

RCA or speaker-level inputs are provided and like other similar models a remote External Bass Control (EBC) is provided.

MTX AUDIO RTP8A powered subwoofer side viewIt’s rounded out by an adjustable amplifier gain and adjustable low-pass filter. A great sounding little subwoofer, and perfect for your truck cab, SUV cargo area, or car trunk. (I would recommend adding a protective grill).

Love great bass? Want an excellent all-in-one solution? The RTP8A is it!

Be sure to find out why it's one of the best subwoofer choices at Amazon today.

5. Infinity BassLink SM 8″ Ultra-Compact – Affordable, quality sound that’s great for under seat or truck cab space

Image of Infinity BassLink SM car powered subwoofer front

The Infinity BassLink SM is a more affordable but well-designed and reliable alternative to the Alpine PWE-S8, and is slightly larger but still a great fit for pickups and even under seats! It’s different in that it provides side-accessible controls and wiring connections rather than on the end like others.

An 8″ driver is paired with the Class D amplifier for getting the most bass to compliment your music system without turning a great deal of it into heat like conventional amplifiers.

Image of Infinity BassLink SM car powered subwoofer side

The bass controls can be tailored to your liking (including boost) and the low-pass crossover is adjustable as well. It measures 7 x 17 x 14 inches. A remote level control is included as well.

Got a factory radio? That’s no problem. It works well with both factory or aftermarket stereos.

The Infinity Basslink 8M is great choice. Go take a look at the many satisfied buyers and get it with free shipping from Amazon.


Final thoughts

Car powered subwoofers are great for many car audio systems – especially those where space is limited. They’re a great way to avoid having to completely replace a factory sound system.

It’s important to remember 2 things when shopping:

  • Buy a good quality model and if space allows buy the larger size option where possible.
  • The most compact models provide bass “extension” that can complement a system and great sound for their size, but not the “thump” of larger subwoofers. It’s important to have realistic expectations before purchase.

Additional information

Don’t forget that you’ll need to purchase an amplifier installation wiring kit as well. I recommend a 10 gauge power wire size and one with RCA cables if you’re using an aftermarket stereo. You’ll save money rather than buying RCA cables separately.

Avoid getting a crappy amp wiring kit! You can read my amp wiring kit guide to make a great choice.

Feel free to comment below or contact me if I can be of any help.

Your comments are welcome!

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