Sealed and ported subwoofers make up the vast majority of the market. Neither one stands out as more popular than the other, and they both have features that are preferred among consumers.
So is one better than the other? Here’s the short answer:
A ported sub is louder, and capable of producing extended bass. Sealed subs on the other hand, sacrifice that extra ‘oomph’ in favor of slightly better accuracy.
There is a lot to like about either subwoofer. If you prefer your music to rattle the windows or vibrate your trunk, a ported sub is a perfect choice. If you prefer accuracy and enjoy the subtle delivery of a rich, more balanced base, a sealed sub is the better choice.
Difference Between Sealed and Ported Subwoofers
The “sealed” and “ported” terms aren’t some kind of techno-jargon. They are adjectives that define exactly what kind of subwoofer you are looking at.
A sealed subwoofer is an airtight box, whereas a ported sub has a small hole below the cone that allows restricted air movement.
Since a sealed sub is air-tight, it allows the trapped air inside the box to act as an absorber. That’s why sealed subwoofers are not as loud as their ported counterparts. As the cone vibrates, that sealed air acts as a cushion against it.
The result is a richer and more detailed experience that isn’t overwhelmingly loud. The bass is much tighter with a lower frequency. It adds richness and accurate detail to the audio without overpowering it.
For instance, if you are watching a movie with a home theater system, a sealed sub will add the appropriate bounce and heft to background music and foreground noises/talking without becoming so loud you have trouble hearing the important parts.
It’s the same with music. It doesn’t drown out the vocals or the other instruments in the background. It produces a more high-quality sound, assuming what you are looking for, without becoming abrasive.
Comes in smaller, more constrained sizes
Size doesn’t affect output capabilities
Better, more detailed audio
Doesn’t drown out other instruments or dialogue
Enhances the overall experience
Power amplifiers are required if you prefer an enhanced bass
Loud bass is largely prohibited by the design
Ported subwoofers are known for their booming bass and far higher reverberance. The port is more than just an outlet for the air inside the box. It redirects the sound as well, essentially creating a double whammy of sound.
Ported subwoofers don’t require an amplifier, and they will work just fine with one as well. Without the trapped air inside the box, the cone has larger freedom of movement, hence the higher reverberations and greater boom potential.
The port also creates an interesting air dynamic that strengthens the cone and vice versa. You’re not just getting sound and bass from the cone but the port as well.
It does mean that ported subwoofers are much bigger than their sealed counterparts.
Since there is no air seal, building a ported subwoofer on your own is far more difficult because the measurements have to be precise, and you have to have more materials to get the job done right.
Plus, ported subs have to have a large cone to compensate and capture low bass, as high bass is not a problem in the least.
Ported subs reduce distortion
The bass is higher and louder
More efficient than a sealed sub
Amplifiers are optional with ported subwoofers
Bass can easily overwhelm everything else in the audio
The outside air can affect the quality of the sub
Larger and more difficult to place than sealed subs
Internal pressure build-up can damage the cone
Room Size Requirements for Ported or Sealed Subwoofers
When you’re making your choice between the two subs, your room size matters. For instance, a massive room will have little use for a sealed sub since it can’t reach the deep or high bass levels of a ported sub.
A sealed sub also can’t reach the frequency of a ported sub.
In reverse, a ported sub would probably be more of an annoyance than a benefit in a small room, especially if using it for a home theater system and you’re trying to hear the dialogue.
You would have to dial back the bass so far that you would essentially waste your money on the ported sub, never utilizing its potential.
Since sealed speakers are airtight, the air moves faster, producing more coherence integration. If the volume is down, you can tell the distinctive differences between a sealed and a ported speaker. The sealed will generally sound better.
We know ported speakers have a much higher range but a much lower range. They can play low-frequency content without the constraints of a sealed box. This difference is embraced by audiophiles, whose job is to critique music.
They often go with the sealed subwoofer for clarity purposes.
All in all, you’ll get a much louder and more visceral experience with ported speakers. If you are using a ported sub with a home theater system, you can make the adjustments necessary to keep it from overwhelming everything else.
While sealed subs may be the perfect speaker for audiophiles, the general consumer will probably prefer a ported speaker. The sound quality is definitely different, but not necessarily a failure on the part of either speaker.
So, Which One is Worth Your Money?
If you’re dealing with a massive room with high ceilings, ported subs are likely the way to go. This is especially true if you prefer bass that is largely felt more than heard. Regardless of frequency, ported subs are the all-around best choice.
With smaller rooms and an extensive speaker setup, sealed subs just meld with other speakers better.
If your main speakers are your highlight and you want something that will accentuate them rather than completely override them, a sealed subwoofer is the better choice.
Of course, if you want all of the latter but have a large room, you can throw two sealed subs in there rather than just one. It’s also easy to forget that not all speakers are created equally.
You could end up with garbage ported or a garbage-sealed sub.
You also have to worry about a ported sub bottoming out the driver. There is such a thing as too much. A sealed sub could potentially do the same thing, but you would have to overwork it to the point where it’s purposeful.
If you’re gaming for some additional filter that protects the driver from such things, you sacrifice some low-end roll-off.
Neither a ported subwoofer nor a sealed subwoofer is better than the other. Choosing which one is good for you is more a matter of your personal needs than a failure on the part of either speaker.
Both speakers have something to offer, whether it’s subtle harmony with primary speakers or roof-lifting bass.