The Best $500 Powered Subwoofers for 2023
- Product Name: Speedwoofer 10S MKII, PL-300, R-121SW, HTS 12
- Manufacturer: RSL, BIC Acoustech, Klipsch, Polk Audio
- Review Date: February 06, 2023 00:05
- MSRP: $450 - RSL Speedwoofer 10S MKII, $450 - BIC Acoustech PL-300, $600 - Klipsch R-121SW, $500 - Polk Audio HTS 12
- First Impression: Gotta Have It!
We have recently reviewed a handful of what are the best subwoofers that hover around the $500 price range, and in this article, we will compare them to make it easier for subwoofer shopping in this price range. These aren’t the only subs in this price range, but many other $500 subs don’t look like they could compete in performance due to far smaller woofers and amplifiers because they seem to be made for situations that call for very small enclosure sizes. Since performance is such a high priority for us, that is one of our main criteria for what constitutes ‘best’ for inclusion on this list, and that necessarily excludes many of the small subs that can be had for the same price. However, sheer performance isn’t our only criterion, and we also weigh feature sets, appearance, and build quality.
Many list articles might rank these subs from best to worst, but we have found that each sub has its own strengths and weaknesses, so what is best would be situational. In other words, the best choice among these subs depends on the user’s individual circumstances. We encourage buyers to take a close look at each subwoofer’s performance profile as well as other design aspects to determine if that is the best choice for them. Let’s now go over the subs that we consider to be among the best in the $500 price range…
RSL Speedwoofer 10S MKII
Speedwoofer 10S MKII
| Buy the Speedwoofer 10S MKII
As we stated in the conclusion of our review of the RSL Speedwoofer 10S MKII, its main strength is that it has no real weaknesses. It is a very well-rounded subwoofer for the money that exhibits good design in every aspect. It has very good performance for its class with real extension below 30Hz as well as a good amount of output throughout the traditional subwoofer range. Its combination of respectable extension along with good output is a minor miracle considering that it is also the smallest sub in our roundup. What is more impressive is that it can keep up with all of the other subs in our roundup despite only having a 10” diameter cone as opposed to the 12” cones in all of the other subs. The build quality is excellent for the cost, and this is largely due to the extra bracing that is required for RSL’s compression guide technology. That makes it a solid little box. The styling is a bit plain, but it isn’t offensive looking nor will it stand out. The feature set is definitely above-average for a subwoofer in this price range. Some stand-out features include line-level outputs, speaker-level inputs, and the convenient and inexpensive option to add RSL’s wireless transmitter for $50. For those interested in reducing cord clutter, that is a very nice touch since most wireless subwoofer signal systems are north of $100. The digital signal processor provides bulletproof protection from over-driving the sub, so you can really blast it and not have to worry. The Speedwoofer 10S MKII just doesn’t give us anything to complain about, and anyone can see that for themselves since RSL offers a 30-day in-home trial period with only a $25 restocking fee if they don’t want to keep it for any reason. It is an all-around great entry in its price range.
BIC Acoustech PL-300
PL-300 Review | Buy the PL-300
Within our roundup, our testing of the BIC Acoustech PL-300 showed it to be the sub to get for those interested in deep bass, but that does come with a catch; its mid-bass performance above 60Hz faltered somewhat. It can be adjusted to have a flat response down to below 20Hz which makes it the only sub in our roundup that can crack infrasonic frequencies without being pushed to the limit. However, that comes with an upper-frequency roll-off that drains it of some mid-bass punch. This isn’t a problem for those who can accommodate a lower crossover frequency such as systems where the front left and right speakers are towers that can easily play down to 60Hz, but smaller bookshelf speakers could have a problem doing that. Its excellent low-frequency extension is also abetted by its good time-domain performance, and that is a rare combination in a home-theater-focused budget sub. In other words, it’s an inexpensive sub that can do deep bass but isn’t boomy and doesn’t have any overhang or bloat. Its feature set is pretty standard, except it does have variable tuning and is the least expensive sub on the market to boast that feature. Variable tuning allows the user to exchange deep bass output for deep bass headroom. The PL-300 has multiple ports, and the user can seal a port for deeper bass, although the cost is that some dynamic range is lost across the deep bass region altogether, and that may be a worthwhile trade for some users. In appearance, it is okay, and I think it looks better with the grille on for a more understated styling. The solidity and build quality are fine; there are subs with more robust cabinets and others with less robust cabinets, so the PL-300 is pretty typical in this regard and is not bad for the class. As we said in our review, the PL-300 may be the most sensible purchase for those with tower speakers, since it should lower the bass extension more than the other subs in our roundup, and its mid-bass deficits can easily be remedied by using a 60hz crossover frequency which any floor-standing speaker should be able to handle with no problem.
R-121SW Review | Buy the R-121SW
The Klipsch R-121SW is a good subwoofer but it isn’t tremendously competitive at its $599 MSRP. While it is generally similar in performance to the other subs in this roundup, it isn’t an output monster in any particular range of frequencies. It doesn’t look bad, but it is a fairly routine black box for a sub, differentiated only by the traditional Klipsch copper cone. The feature set is basic, but at least it doesn’t lack anything important. The build quality is also standard for the segment and not all that special. So then why include it on this list? Klipsch frequently puts on on sale for fairly steep discounts, and below a certain cost, it becomes a really good deal. As I said, it is a good sub and doesn’t have any serious flaws. It is a strong limiter that prevents it from getting into any trouble that could endanger the sub. The time domain performance is quite good and well above average, so you won’t get any sloppy or laggy bass from it. The distortion profile at all but the highest drive level is very low and does not exceed 10% THD, so the bass that it does produce is clean. At its near $600 MSRP, there are more compelling options, but it regularly goes on sale at discounts that can range between 25% to 50%, and during those sale prices, it is a great deal and offers a whole lot of bang for your buck. The bargain hunter who can wait for one of its customary sale periods can be rewarded with a good subwoofer for a terrific price.
Polk Audio HTS 12
12 Review | Buy the HTS 12
The Polk Audio HTS 12 is, in my opinion, the nicest-looking sub around its price point. But if it was only nice looking, I wouldn’t recommend it. Thankfully, however, it has real performance to back those looks up. In our testing of subs in its price range, it proved to have the most mid-bass punch of any of them. In our burst testing, it averaged 111dB from 50Hz to 100Hz, and that is a mighty punch from such an affordable subwoofer. It does give up some extension to do that, and it rolls off pretty quickly below 30Hz, so buyers interested in ultra-deep infrasonic bass can look elsewhere. In a way, its performance is like an inversion of the BIC Acoustech PL-300. But a 30Hz extension is not bad for a sub of its pricing and size, and most buyers would be quite happy with the sound it can make. The vast majority of low-frequency content lies above 30Hz, so buyers looking for a lower-priced sub for music that can pack a punch have a good choice in the HTS 12. Its feature set is relatively standard, and it doesn’t offer many amenities that you won’t find on other subs. The build quality, on the other hand, is very much above average for its pricing. It has multiple window-pane braces, lots of acoustic stuffing, and a thick plastic base on which it rests. Its ‘Power Port’ is also special, and, thanks to that technology, this is one sub that you won’t have to worry about port noise at all. It is also strictly limited from producing much harmonic distortion, so it can belt out a lot of bass but not ugly distorted bass. The time-domain performance is good as well, and this sub’s transient behavior is sharp and crisp. There is a lot to like about the HTS 12 and not much to complain about, and that is reflected in our full-length review. It is an all-around good subwoofer.
The subwoofers discussed above are our top picks for the $500 price range at the moment, but we hope to get our hands on others as the year progresses. Here we will mention some alternatives. For patient shoppers, we have seen the Starke Sound SW12 go on sale for less than $500 at points during the year, and that makes it a great bargain for those looking for a stylish sealed subwoofer with great mid-bass output. Similarly, Monoprice’s Monolith 10” THX Select can sometimes be discounted to get close to a $500, and its performance would be utterly superlative for that pricing as would be its build quality. An interesting alternative for the adventurous on a $500 subwoofer budget might be two Dayton Audio SUB-1500 subwoofers. While we have yet to test that model, two of them with intelligent placement could yield a very smooth in-room response that a single subwoofer solution couldn’t hope to match. Those shoppers interested in the most linear bass for the money might take a very close look at a solution like that. And if you have any other good suggestions for subs in this price range, please let us know in the comments section!
Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.
MacProCT, post: 1592392, member: 48041I would have listed it if it were a current model. Its availability in the outlet store is too sporadic to list. But yes, if you can get one for $500, that is a really good deal.
I'm very surprised that the SVS PB1000 is not included in this roundup. It's a great subwoofer and thought it's not a “current” model, SVS still frequently has it available in their clearance/outlet store (for under $500).
shadyJ, post: 1590122, member: 20472Thanks
We have recently reviewed a handful of what are the best subwoofers that hover around the $500 price range, and in this article, we will compare them to make it easier for subwoofer shopping in this price range. These arent the only subs in this price range, but many other $500 subs dont look like they could compete in performance due to far smaller woofers and amplifiers because they seem to be made for situations that call for very small enclosure sizes. Since performance is such a high priority for us, that is one of our main criteria for what constitutes best for inclusion on this list, and that necessarily excludes many of the small subs that can be had for the same price. However, sheer performance isnt our only criterion, and we also weigh feature sets, appearance, and build quality.
READ: The Best $500 Powered Subwoofers for 2023
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- Best Subwoofers for Under $500
- 6 Best Powered Subwoofers Under $500 for 2020
- RSL Speedwoofer 10S MKII Review: Improved Performance, Great Value!
- BIC Acoustech PL-300 Subwoofer Review: Legit 20Hz Extension for Under $500?!?
- Klipsch Reference R-121SW 12" Ported Subwoofer Review
- Polk Audio HTS 12 Ported Subwoofer Review
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