4 Things to Consider When Choosing Between Ported and Sealed Subwoofers
One of the first questions many people ask when deciding to buy a new subwoofer or replace an old one in their home theater or HiFi system is, should I go with a ported or sealed cabinet design?
Despite the common misconception, it’s not as simple as choosing a sealed subwoofer if your listening preferences lean towards music and ported if they favor movies and home theater. It’s an over-simplified way of thinking that may not get you the desired result.
To know which type of subwoofer is ideal for your tastes, it’s important 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.
OK, so it’s partially true, 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, with phase being the time difference between two soundwaves. Confused?
In simpler terms, sealed subwoofers tend to be a little quicker and are better equipped to maintain transient speed with speakers, so you get a more coherent and better-integrated sound. Therefore, the sound of sealed subwoofers is often described as “tighter” and more “articulate” and is often considered stronger for critical music listening.
Ported subwoofers can reach lower on the frequency spectrum and render the most demanding low frequency content with more authority at higher volumes, but it’s not the only consideration. Ported subwoofers can be incredibly musical just like sealed models can provide tactile, chest-thumping bass for home theater. It’s more about a preference towards one sound and other variables than a hardened rule.
If you like to play movies, music and TV and at high decibel levels and really crank up the sound pressure levels (SPLs), a ported subwoofer has the advantage when pushed with intense deep bass effects, especially with Blu-rays and formats with demanding, high fidelity LFE tracks. A great sealed subwoofer can absolutely produce concert and cinema level bass at high volumes, but its strength is quickness and speed in transients.
When the driver size is the same, sealed subwoofers are more compact and often come in cube designs that blend easier into listening rooms with less visual impact and floor space required. The extra cabinet space in ported subwoofers allows them to play slightly deeper and louder, but also gives them a bigger footprint and overall presence in the room.
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 in articulate, powerful bass. However, because ported subwoofers produce higher peak dynamic output, they have an edge in large rooms where less room gain is present, especially with extremely demanding playback material. Room size can always be mitigated by going dual or adding more subwoofers, and it often makes the most sense to go with two smaller subwoofer versus one large one.
One of the SVS subwoofer design philosophies is to narrow the differences between ported and sealed models. Meaning, their sealed subwoofers have amazing output and low frequency extension and their ported subwoofers are exceptionally quick with pinpoint accuracy and speed in transients.
If you’re thinking of comparing sealed and ported models, stop into an Electronics Expo showroom where we have both types of subwoofer available to demo so you can hear the differences for yourself and choose which is best for you.
Regardless of whether you choose a ported or sealed, adding a subwoofer to your home audio system is perhaps THE most impactful and immersive upgrades you can make. Deep, heart-pounding bass brings a new level of feeling and energy to all music, home theater and audio experiences.