Down-Firing vs Front-Firing vs Side-Firing Subwoofers (Explained!)

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  • Learn the difference between various firing subwoofers
  • Discover what works best for you
  • Also, check out the difference between subwoofers and woofers

When people shop for a subwoofer, they first look at the size and design. While these are attractive features, there’s more to consider.

Researching subwoofers presents many options – namely, down-firing, front-firing, and side-firing. What’s the difference, and what works best? 

Down-firing, front-firing, and side-firing subwoofers all refer to the direction of sonic vibrations. What works best for your setup will depend on what you listen to, your placement, and what type of musical experience you prefer.

This guide will break down the differences and help you choose which subwoofer is right for you. 

Down-Firing vs Front-Firing vs Side-Firing Subwoofers: Differences

‘Down-firing’, ‘front-firing’, and ‘side-firing’ all refer to the direction of sonic vibrations produced by the subwoofer . What works best for your setup will depend on what you listen to, your placement, and what type of musical experience you prefer. 

Read on as we dive deeper into each of them.

What Are Down-Firing Subwoofers?

As the name implies, down-firing subwoofers face downward. Their job is to amplify sound, specifically deep, low bass.

Down-firing models are capable of producing deeper bass and lower frequency responses compared to their front and side-firing counterparts. 

These models account for the deepest notes compressing downward before rippling out, usually across the floor. This can create a strong ‘rumbling’ effect. 

Keep down-firing subwoofers close to the listening area, not necessarily to where the TV is. This way, sound dispersal is more even. 

What Are Down-Firing Subwoofers Best For? 

The best use for a down-firing subwoofer is in a home theater. Their shape and design naturally reinforce the longest sound waves. Movies with deep, low notes, like your favorite horror or sci-fi flicks, will benefit from a system that can capture those frequencies. 

The depth-perception capabilities of a down-firing subwoofer create immersive, room-filling experiences. 

What Are Front-Firing Subwoofers? 

Front-Firing subwoofers, on the other hand, cast sound vibrations out into the air. The sound produced by a front-firing subwoofer is airy, fast, and highly impactful. The bass is not necessarily deeper – that’s where a down-firing setup comes in, but there is more of it. 

With drivers mounted to the front panel of the subwoofer’s enclosure, front-firing models can offer rich, clear sound. 

Placement is key when the sound is being pushed out, as it is in a front-firing subwoofer. These setups cannot be placed somewhere that will cause sound vibrations to hit a wall. They’ll need to face openly into a room. 

What Is A Front-Firing Subwoofer Best For? 

Front-firing subwoofers will create an excellent listening experience for music. They disperse outward, much as a conventional speaker does. Because it isn’t reflected, the sound is much more accurate when it reaches the ear. 

What Are Side-Firing Subwoofers? 

Side-firing subwoofers refer to the placement of a subwoofer at the sides of a theater system. Side-firing subwoofers need specific placements to best direct sound but are functionally the same as front-firing models. 

Down-Firing vs Front-Firing vs Side-Firing: Which Is Best? 

The true difference between these models is noticeable to those who are truly invested in their sound quality. What makes one better than the other is a matter of perspective. 

For a home theater, the most common sound systems use down-firing. These work excellently, especially for movies with deep, rumbling bass in their soundtracks. 

Down-firing systems aren’t recommended for those living in apartments or condos. People below you might not appreciate having sound pounded directly into their ceiling – no matter how good your music tastes. 

A front-firing setup for music, especially tracks with brass and strings, will allow for a richer listening experience. 

The best type of subwoofer is one that combines down and front-firing capabilities. An omnidirectional experience will make for the best of both worlds. Deep, rich bass combines punchy accuracy for astounding sound quality. 

The truth is that down-firing vs front-firing is a hotly debated topic among AV enthusiasts. Ultimately, the battle of the subwoofers comes down to how you’re using it and what you want to hear. 

These are some of the quick comparisons between down and front-firing models. 

  • Driver direction. A simple comparison. Front-firing points out or sideways, and down-firing points toward the floor. 
  • Effects on floor/surface. Down-firing models will ‘shake the floor’ – so much so that that’s a common expression. Front-firing styles have minimal to no impact on the floor or surface they’re on. 
  • Sound dispersal. Front-firing setups push the sound out, similar to a conventional speaker, while down-firing ones push the sound down. 
  • Sag. Down-firing subwoofers have much more sag than front-firing ones. 
  • Sound masking. Less bass on front-firing and more bass on down-firing. 
  • Driver protection. Front-firing has minimal driver protection compared to the higher level of down-firing configurations. 


Can You Place A Down-Firing Subwoofer On Its Side? 

Redirecting the sound from a down-firing subwoofer outward, rather than down, can be tempting. However, down-firing subwoofers were not built for this type of sound dispersal.

Simply put, doing so ruins the sound profile, negating the purpose of a subwoofer in the first place. 

Front-firing and side-firing subwoofers can rest on their sides, provided that doing so will not impede the flow of sonic vibrations. 

Are Subwoofers Better On The Floor? 

Down-firing subwoofers need to be placed on the floor. Their cabinets are usually designed for floor placement, and they work best when they can easily disperse that low bass through solid ground. 

In general, however, most people position their subwoofers at floor level, regardless of their firing type. The low frequencies handled by a respectable subwoofer are less directional than mids and highs. Even lower frequencies are usually more of a feeling than a direct sound. 

Sound naturally propagates across that surface when a subwoofer is kept on the floor. The resulting sound is cleaner and more organic. 

This does not mean that the floor is the only way to go. Some prefer to elevate their subwoofers – usually only 1-2 feet maximum – to improve musicality. This is because the sound will be dispersed more at listening height, especially for front-firing models. 

Which Way Should A Subwoofer Face? 

To optimize sound quality, place your subwoofer with the speaker facing out toward the room if it is a front or side-firing configuration.

It is usually placed near the rest of the central sound system to allow the bass to blend with the rest of the audio channels. 

Corners are not the best spots for a subwoofer. When placed in a corner, the bass waves bounce off the wall in different directions. They cross paths in the process, thus obscuring or muddying the tone. 

Before you go, check out our guide on How To Connect A Powered Subwoofer To Passive Speakers Easily!