Does a Subwoofer Only Play Bass? - What Is the Purpose of a Subwoofer?

When you are in the process of getting a home theater system, the first thing you will pick up is a couple of speakers. However, everyone will tell you the same - you need a subwoofer to complete your listening experience.

So, what exactly is the purpose of a subwoofer? Subwoofers play the bass sounds, but is that it - or can subwoofers play more than that?

Well, that is what we're here to determine, so keep scrolling!

What Is a Subwoofer?

SVS Subwoofer

The subwoofer is now an essential part of a home theater system, and it's a special type of speaker that produces low-frequency sounds. The subwoofer typically has the bass - which falls into the lower frequencies, between 20 and 200 Hz. 

Your regular home theater with two pairs of speakers cannot handle the bass sounds. However, to get that full three-dimensional listening experience, a subwoofer has to be put into the equation. 

Subwoofers don't exactly work on their own; they complement the entire surround system. If you use it on its own, you will have difficulty hearing the instruments and the vocal part, as the subwoofer needs help to handle high-frequency sounds.

What Is Bass?

Frequency Ranges

Before determining if a subwoofer only plays bass, we must first find out what bass is. Bass is a term used to describe low-frequency sounds, mainly between 20 to 160 Hz. 

Essentially, there are two forms of bass - the bass and the sub-bass. Sub-bass is all the sounds in the lowest frequencies - commonly between 20 and 60 Hz. 

Bass is something that people can easily detect as a sound, but the human ear can't detect sub-bass. Sub-bass is more felt than heard, as it appears as vibrations that shake the floor or the water in a cup. 

If you are out shopping for a new subwoofer, you can see that each subwoofer has a label showing the lowest frequencies it can handle. Sometimes, a subwoofer is labeled as if it can handle frequencies of 1Hz; that subwoofer has to feature a special design, as such low frequencies can only be felt because it's more of a vibration than a sound.

Does a Subwoofer Only Play Bass?

Frequency Response

Considering all the information we have covered, it can be safe to say that a subwoofer only plays bass. Because of the subwoofer's size and construction design, it can only reproduce low-frequency sounds.

When you hear a thuddy sound from your speakers while, for example, playing a certain song, you can be positive that it's coming from your subwoofer. High-frequency sounds, such as instruments playing or vocals, come from regular small and mid-size speakers. 

The subwoofer cannot play at such frequencies, and its purpose is to enhance the sound and add depth using low-frequency sounds. 

The construction of the subwoofer enables it to play low-frequency sounds because it consists of one or a couple of woofers in a speaker enclosure. The enclosure is typically made of hardwood to prevent deformation from air pressure. 

The enclosures can vary greatly, and the subwoofer can have a couple of radiator speakers or just one. The design of the subwoofer can make it more efficient or built with a broader frequency range.

So, Can You Use a Subwoofer as a Speaker?

Subwoofers may look very similar to your speakers, but the subwoofer produces different sounds compared to the regular small speakers. The structure of the subwoofer prevents this type of speaker from making high-frequency sounds.

So, if you want to try playing your subwoofer as a speaker, you will find that the song sounds rather underwhelming. You can hear only the drums, while the vocals will be either undetectable or barely detectable.

Essentially, there are three types of frequencies - high frequencies, mid-range tones, and low frequencies. So, if you want to hear everything well, from the drums to the vocals and the guitar strings, you will need a few mid-range speakers coupled with a decent subwoofer. 

However, if that doesn't quite cut it, and you want to enjoy more high-frequencies such as strong vocals, we advise you to invest in a couple of small speakers, commonly called tweeters. Tweeters will be able to make those sounds without much trouble. 

The last point is - if you want to enjoy some bass-strong music, your regular speakers will not be able to reproduce those sounds for you. If you want to enjoy the music fully, you should invest in a subwoofer - plenty of fantastic low-cost options exist.

Final Thoughts


Now that we have established that a subwoofer only plays bass, it's time to find a great subwoofer for your home theater. Sure, a home theater can work without a subwoofer, but this addition can make a great difference in your listening experience.

Because of how the subwoofer is built, it can only handle low-frequency sounds, which we typically perceive as bass or vibrations. So, if you use a subwoofer to play a song, you can hear the drums and the bass guitars, but the vocals will be impossible to hear.

A subwoofer's vibrations can be too much, but we have several ways to help you reduce the vibrations!

Barry Allen

About the author:

Barry Allen

I grew up to be a self-proclaimed stuck-up audiophile, and I – partially – blame Pinnacle Speakers for it.

The whole point of me starting this website was to keep the tradition going. Although the means have changed, the mission remains the same: Bringing „sterling sound“ as they once put it into home theaters and sound systems worldwide! 

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