How To Connect A Subwoofer To A Receiver Without A Subwoofer Output

So your receiver doesn’t have a subwoofer output. You’re probably wondering what the heck you can do about it, and you might be worried if you’ll have to spend a lot of money for either a new receiver, subwoofer, or both!

I’ve got great news – there are several simple ways to connect a subwoofer to a receiver without a subwoofer output.

Read on and I’ll show you several options along with easy and clear diagrams to help. There’s no need to throw away your old receiver or break the bank!

Home stereo subwoofers explained

Passive vs active home subwoofers diagram

Comparison of non-powered (passive) vs powered (active) home stereo subwoofer enclosures.

Home stereo subwoofers are available in two different types: powered (“active”) and non-powered (“passive”).

  • Powered subwoofers use a low-signal signal which is boosted greatly using the built-in speaker amplifier, power supply, and crossover. These types are one of the most common and in many cases use an RCA type input jack to connect to the receiver for sound.
  • Passive (non-powered) subwoofers are simply a subwoofer speaker inside the bass enclosure which is directly wired to the speaker terminals or a passive bass crossover inside. These types are less common.

How a subwoofer produces bass

The subwoofer works by resting inside of an enclosure designed for it and to produce deep bass when playing music limited to low-end bass sounds.

In order to produce clean-sounding bass without vocals or other sounds a subwoofer can’t properly produce, a low-pass crossover is used to allow only bass frequencies to pass & be produced. The problem comes when you try to connect a subwoofer to a signal without a crossover – it sounds terrible!

The subwoofer output jack on a receiver is normally limited to passing bass only, either from stereo music production or from the “.1” subwoofer channel (dedicated subwoofer music content) of a surround sound system.

For example, when you hear references to “5.1” or “2.1” speaker systems or surround sound audio for movies, the first number represents the number of main speakers. The “.1” is used to represent a sound channel limited to only bass for optional subwoofer use.

Powered subwoofer inputs & controls you may (or may not) have

Powered subwoofer example with inputs and controls labeled

Example of a powered subwoofer with 2 types of signal inputs (speaker level and RCA jacks) along with sound controls. Note: Not all subwoofers have speaker level inputs, which makes it a problem connecting them to a receiver without a subwoofer output.

Powered subwoofers usually have several inputs and controls, but it always depends on the brand and model. Here’s an example of what you’ll usually find:

  • Power input (AC outlet power)
  • On/off switch
  • RCA input jack or a pair of jacks
  • Subwoofer crossover adjustment
  • Subwoofer level adjustment know (the amplifier’s boost level)

The subwoofer input jack usually connects to a single mono (monaural, meaning both stereo channels are combined into one) output jack on the receiver.

Receiver subwoofer output jack example

Example of the mono RCA subwoofer output jack found on many home receivers. These connect with a single male to male RCA cable to a powered subwoofer.

Some models also include speaker level inputs, meaning they can be used with any modern or old home stereo receiver without a subwoofer output.

While that’s nice, if yours doesn’t have that feature, ordinarily you’d need to buy a different subwoofer and waste money.

In fact, some of the information you’ll find right now on the internet says that you have to buy another subwoofer if you don’t have a receiver with an output jack. That’s simply not true.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my article there are several ways to work around this problem.

Diagram & examples: Connecting a subwoofer to a receiver without a subwoofer output

Diagram showing how to connect a subwoofer to receiver with no subwoofer output

1. Connecting a receiver to a subwoofer with RCA input jacks

Example of a powered subwoofer RCA jacks & RCA Y adapter cable

Left: Example of a powered subwoofer with 2, instead of the typical 1, RCA input jacks. Right: An RCA Y adapter that can be used with a line level converter to connect to a subwoofer with a single RCA input jack.

For subwoofers with only 1 or more RCA input jacks (no speaker level inputs), a simple way to connect them to a receiver with no subwoofer output is by using a line level converter.

What is a line level converter, and how do they help?

Line level converters are small devices that accept speaker wire connections and scale down the speaker level signal to a low level signal (RCA jack) type output that the subwoofer can accept. They’re extremely handy in the car stereo world because they make it possible to connect a stereo without RCA outputs to any amplifier.

They’re not commonly used for home stereos but still really useful there, too.

Image showing examples of line level RCA converters

Shown here are two examples of line level/RCA speaker level converters that work well for home receiver/amp to subwoofer use. A line level converter takes the higher voltage speaker signal from an amplifier or home receiver and scales it down significantly so it’s safe to use with RCA inputs.

How much do line level converters cost?

Line level converters range in price (for a good one) of about $15-$25 each. They’re connected to the speaker leads of a radio, receiver, or amplifier. RCA cables are then connected to the jacks provided. The internal electronics not only scale down the speaker output voltage from a receiver but also help prevent noise from the audio path, too.

If you’re using a subwoofer with a single RCA subwoofer input jack, you may want to pick up a “Y” RCA adapter to combine both receiver channels on the output side into one.

Subwoofers with 2 (stereo) RCA jack inputs, however, will need a standard male-male RCA cable.

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2. Subwoofers with speaker level inputs

Example of subwoofer speaker level inputs

If you own a subwoofer with speaker level inputs you’re in luck! You can connect these directly to your receiver’s speaker outputs, either by themselves (on unused speaker terminals) or at the same time with speakers connected to the receiver.

These subwoofers with this feature contain internal electronics that scale down the speaker signal from the receiver before it reaches the internal amp that powers the sub.

Additionally, there’s a low-pass crossover built in as well to produce great-sounding bass and no unpleasant parts of the music – just pure, low-end bass.

Connect these directly to the receiver just like you would another pair of speakers. 

Note: Subwoofers with speaker level inputs and outputs provide a way to easily connect both at the same time. The outputs are internally connected to the input connectors, making it easier to add speakers and the subwoofer to a receiver simultaneously.

3. Connecting a receiver to a passive (non-powered) subwoofer

Example of a passive subwoofer low pass crossover

Example of a passive subwoofer low-pass crossover. Passive crossovers, unlike electronic crossovers, work using capacitors and inductor coils instead of electronic components.

If you’re wanting to use a non-powered (passive) type of subwoofer, there’s still hope, although it can be a bit harder to find the right parts and set up vs using a powered subwoofer.

To use a non-powered subwoofer, as shown in my diagram above, you’ll use a low-pass subwoofer speaker crossover which is connected between the receiver and the subwoofer enclosure. These filter out higher frequency sounds before they reach the sub to help provide clear & nice-sounding bass only.

How to choose subwoofer crossovers and where to find them

Speaker crossovers such as this are sold both in a single (one speaker) or dual (2-speaker) model, depending on the brand & supplier. They also have to be matched correctly to the impedance (Ohms rating) of the sub.

For example, subwoofer crossovers designed for 8 ohm speakers must be used only with those. Otherwise, the sound filtering is radically different and won’t sound as expected since the speaker load will react differently with the design.

Normally you’d choose one with a low-pass frequency of close to 100Hz or in that range. Speaker crossovers are sold where speaker parts & related components are sold as well as marketplaces like Amazon or Parts Express.

Stereo vs surround sound receiver subwoofer output differences

Stereo vs surround sound receiver differences diagram

Unlike older or standard stereo receivers, surround sound receivers have a unique output that comes from the surround sound movie or music source. However, in regular stereo listening mode, they act the same as regular receivers.

One thing to bear in mind is that when connecting a subwoofer to a receiver without a subwoofer output, you can’t get a separate “.1” bass channel as you can with surround sound receivers.

On the other hand, it may not even be an issue. In fact, the surround sound receiver “LFE” (low-frequency) output is considered optional – hence the “.1” name. There is a drawback, though: for some movies, especially action or other types, the bass channel can be very enjoyable.

Using a receiver without that output means you can’t get the same effect, but that’s only for surround sound mode. The good news is that in stereo mode, both new and old receivers have very similar subwoofer behavior when connected as you’ve seen here.

Just something to be aware of if you’ve ever considered upgrading later.

More helpful speaker info & diagrams

I’ve got lots more information to help you get your sound system going:

Got questions or comments?

Feel free to leave a question or comment below if I can offer help. (Please be specific with information when referring to speakers, receivers, amplifiers, or other parts so I can help you the best I can)

You can also reach me directly at my Contact page. Thanks!

Your comments are welcome!

  1. Yes sir you were probably the most informational person that I have seen when I’m asking my questions about my stereo stuff very informative of the way you describe it and it answered my questions for my home stereo but I’m going to have some for my car stereo and it’s going to be that I have a 1,500 watt audiopipe amp stable at one ohm and now I have two power acoustic Gothic 12-in subwoofers that are 1200 watts a piece RMS and I was just wondering if you know how to set my amp to help best accept those speakers

    Reply
    • Well what Ohms rating are the subwoofers? If they’re 2Ω you can wire them in parallel for that amp since it’s 1Ω stable.

      Reply
  2. I have two powered subwoofers . I want to use an external amplifier to power them
    Channel 1 output to sub 1
    Channel 2 output to sub 2
    Will the subwoofers work with only one channel wired on each subwoofer

    Reply
    • Yes, they will, but if it’s stereo sound being played some bass will be different between the two. That’s not really noticeable with two subwoofers though.

      Reply
  3. I remember decades ago I had a passive sub that had speaker passthrough to separate the lows from the mid-highs all in one 2-channel connection… ie. two channels into the sub and then two outputs from the sub to “satellite” (I think it was called) …it was very efficient and easy to use—I wish I still had it…but do they make anything like that now?

    Reply
    • Yes, I believe Bose may still make some (Acoustimass series) and some outdoor speakers are, too. I’m not sure if the Bose are still in production or not though. You can do the same thing yourself if you have the right 2-way crossovers.

      Reply
  4. Marty, I just installed your recommended PAC LP3-2 L.O.C. PRO Series 2-Channel Line Output Converter one of my home stereo systems. What a difference!

    I am using a NAD Pre-Amp going to a Crown XLi 1500 power amp out to a pair of Bose 901’s. Now the 901’s usually produce a somewhat mild bass signal, and are usually quite enjoyable, but the addition of a sub-woofer has made all the difference.

    The clarity, diagrams and simplicity of what you display on this site is fantastic. I really appreciate all of the information you have gathered and made available.

    Cheers from Bobcaygeon, Ontario, Canada

    Reply
  5. This is a fantastic article! Helps clarify some many issues for me. But one remains – All (most?) AVR receivers have the ability to set the crossover frequency for the signal sent to the subwoofer which I believe then cuts off the bottom end of the signal sent to the bookshelf or tower speakers so that the sound signatures don’t overlap. In these cases that you’ve offered above, both the subwoofer and the bookshelf/tower speakers are getting the full signal. I can see from the back of the powered subs in your article that I can set the cutover frequency BUT the speakers are getting the full signal. Does this create issues?

    Reply
    • Hi there. Assuming the receiver doesn’t pass full range to the main channels (which is very commonly the case), then the crossovers should overlap and/or the subwoofer output is a separate low pass output.

      It wouldn’t make sense otherwise for the crossover function(s) to not provide an overlap otherwise there would be a “gap” in the sound.

      If you’re using a powered subwoofer you can just turn the low-pass filter to its highest frequency if you’re using that option in the receiver to prevent the subwoofer’s crossover from affecting that. The speakers getting a full signal won’t make any difference aside from the sound you hear and may need to adjust as far as the amount of bass is concerned.

      Reply
  6. I have a Yamaha active subwoofer from a home theatre system (SW-P130) with L/R RCA sockets and no crossover control. Can I use a line converter to connect this to the amp (Rotel RX-1052)?

    Reply
  7. Hi Marty,

    I bought Denon AVR S750H and Klipsch R-12SW subwoofer. When I connect my subwoofer to the receiver the subwoofer does not generate any output. I’m using the RCA jack provided by Klipsch. One end connected to subwoofer LFE and the other end of same color jack is connected to receiver subwoofer 1.

    Reply
  8. Can you show me a pictured diagram to connect a powered sub woofer Klipsch R-10sw to a vintage Marantz receiver 2252b using rca Y adapters. Marantz has main in & pre out. Sub has rca L&R only.

    Reply
    • Hi, well there’s no diagram needed. Just try connecting the RCA pre outs to the inputs on the subwoofer. The L/R connections won’t matter. If you don’t get sound, however, you may need to use a line-level adapter as shown in the diagram provided. (It depends on the functionality of the preouts on a given stereo receiver)

      Reply
  9. Hello
    I used the scosche loc80 line level converter on my home system per your suggestion . It works, however, there is a slight hum on the subwoofer when I turn off the stereo, I mean very slight. Your ear needs to be close to the sub to hear it. Main thing is the sub does not power down since there is a sound. Is this normal? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Jim it sounds like you have a ground loop noise issue which is not uncommon. You can use a ground loop isolator to eliminate that or try grounding the line level converter in different places to see if that removes the issue as well.

      Reply

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