One of the first questions many people ask when shopping for the best subwoofer is, which is better a ported or sealed cabinet design?
Despite the common misconception, it’s not as simple as choosing a sealed subwoofer if your preferences lean towards music, and ported if they favor home theater. That’s an over-simplified way of thinking that may not get you the desired result given your situation.
With that in mind, we asked our partners from top subwoofer manufacturer SVS to offer some feedback on what differentiates the two designs and what you should know when choosing between the two. Check out their explanation of sealed vs. ported subwoofers in the video, below:
Before understanding which subwoofer design is better for you, it’s essential to understand the performance and design characteristics that differentiate ported and sealed subwoofers as well as the limits of your room and other potential factors. With that said, here are the four most important things to consider when choosing between a ported and sealed box subwoofer design:
# 1. Sound Quality
A sealed design allows a subwoofer to exhibit lower group delay, which is a measure of how fast the acoustic phase of the system changes. In layman’s terms, phase is the time difference between two soundwaves as they reach your ears and sealed subwoofers can move air a little quicker to align with speaker output, so you get a slightly more coherent and better-integrated sound. That’s why the sound of sealed subwoofers is sometimes described as “tighter” and more “articulate” and often chosen for critical music listening in audiophile systems.
Ported Example - SVS PB-4000 13.5" 1200W Ported Box Subwoofer
Ported subwoofers can reach lower on the frequency spectrum and render the most demanding low-frequency content with more vigor at higher volumes, meaning it can play louder and lower even with the same amplifier power and driver measurements, and the larger cabinet volume has a lot to do with this. However, let me be clear, a ported subwoofer can also be incredibly musical, just like a sealed subwoofer can unleash palpable, chest-thumping bass for home theater. It’s more about a preference towards one sound or the other and the subtle distinctions, along with other variables than a hardened rule.
2. Playback Levels And Preferences
If you like to play movies, music, and TV and at high volume and really crank up the sound pressure levels (SPLs), the science says that a ported subwoofer has the advantage when pushed with intense deep bass effects—especially with Blu-rays and other formats with demanding, high fidelity soundtracks. Don’t get us wrong: A well-engineered sealed subwoofer can absolutely produce concert and cinema level bass at high volumes, but its strength versus ported is in its musicality and speed in transients.
Now, if you’re more into classical music and listening to music with a highly discerning ear, a sealed subwoofer generally has a more accurate sound with pinpoint transient speed so it can stop and start on a dime. This design favors instrumental bass where you really want the pluck of a bass guitar string or the strike of tympani to sound as natural as possible whereas a ported may be better if you’re into EDM and love the bass drop down below 20Hz to hit like a sledgehammer.
Sealed Example - SVS SB-4000 13.5" 1200W Sealed Box Subwoofer
3. Room Size
If the dynamic limits of a sealed subwoofer are well-matched to the room size and playback level, a sealed subwoofer will envelop any room inarticulate, powerful bass. However, because ported subwoofers produce higher peak dynamic output, they have an edge in large rooms where less inherent “room gain” is present, especially with extremely demanding playback material. Room size can always be mitigated by going with two or more subwoofers, and using two smaller subwoofers versus one large one is often the best solution to allow for more even bass output throughout the room.
4. Visual Impact
Among sealed and ported subwoofers with the same size driver, the sealed subwoofer is likely to be more compact and offer a cube-like design that blends more easily into listening rooms with less visual impact and floor space required. The extra cabinet space required by ported subwoofers allows them to play slightly deeper and louder, but also gives them a bigger footprint and overall presence in the room.
One of the SVS subwoofer design philosophies is to narrow the gap between ported and sealed models. Meaning, sealed SVS subwoofers have incredible output, and low-frequency extension and the ported models are exceptionally quick with pinpoint accuracy and speed in transients. If you’d like to dig deeper into this topic, there is an insightful conversation unfolding on SVSound.com: Sealed vs. Ported Subwoofers – A Comparison, or you can always ask a World Wide Stereo representative to set up a demonstration so you can hear and see the differences for yourself.
Regardless of whether you choose ported or sealed, adding a subwoofer to your home audio system is one of, if not THE most impactful sonic upgrades you can make and will bring a new level of feeling and energy to all music, home theater, and audio experiences.
Ready to add a subwoofer or upgrade today? Shop all SVS subwoofers here.
This is a guest blog post from Gary Yacoubian, President & CEO of SVS, and someone we're proud to call a friend. With more than 25 years invested in consumer electronics on the retail and corporate side, Gary is an industry icon and global leader in high-performance audio who, let's face it, knows his bass.
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