Best Subwoofers Under $5,000: The Best Sub Models for Music and Home Theater


As you start to cross the $1,000 threshold you start to get a number of options for subwoofer performance and value. Subwoofers in the $1,000 – $5,000 price range will tend to give you larger woofers, better amplification, deeper and tighter bass, and include multiple input options (balanced and unbalanced), and get you to a real sweet spot between price and performance. Most subwoofers in this category will tend to be made locally in the home country of the manufacturer–USA, Canada, Great Britain, etc. Build quality, engineering, and materials are all top-notch including those models made overseas in China.

If you are serious about your audio and home theater performance and cannot afford the best of the best subwoofers that are out there (the over $5,000 category), then this is the ideal target range for your best bang for the buck.
Sure, you can spend more than $5,000 and go up yet another level in performance but if I had a choice, I’d prefer spending that extra money on better left and right front speakers.

The subwoofers in this category have a tendency to cure the audiophile upgrade disease. These subs will easily keep up with speakers ranging from $2,000 all the way up to $25,000 or more. Subwoofers making this cut will take hold of any medium size or large listening space with masterful finesse. I’ve auditioned many of these subs personally in setups with incredibly expensive speakers from Paradigm, Revel, and Wilson.

These subs will finally start to do justice to the delicacies and weight that bass notes in music require in addition to the brute force and impact for LFE movie channels. For those fortunate enough to be shopping in this category and for those aspiring to own subs in this select group, here’s my shortlist sorted by price from most to least expensive:

Best Subwoofers $5,000 and Under

REL Gibraltar G-1 Subwoofer

REL Acoustics Gibraltar G-1 (MSRP $4,499)

For years, REL has been the go-to-brand of subwoofers for audiophiles. In fact, some audiophiles will go so far to tell you that REL subs are the most musical subs on the market. Nevertheless, as good as REL’s reputation has been, some have shied away from using them for home theater or high-end multipurpose music and theater environments. REL’s certainly changing that opinion with their Gibraltar subwoofers. Deliberately conjuring up images of the massive monolithic limestone rock, the Gibraltar G-1 doesn’t’ disappoint. It features a 12″ long-throw carbon-fiber driver driven by a conservatively-rated 600W amplifier that will play down to 15 Hz (-6db). And this isn’t your run of the mill Class-D amplification. REL has chosen to go with a Class A/B amplifier to power the Gibraltar series. Offering all the musical magic REL has been known for while adding the bass extension to play the deepest organ notes and the slam to please home theater enthusiasts, the REL Gibraltar G1 should be at the top of anyone’s list to audition.

JL Fathom f113 Subwoofer

JL Fathom f113 (MSRP $4,300)

The Fathom line ushered in the age of JL Audio’s domination of the subwoofer world. I’ve never seen so may high-end dealers drop other brands in favor of JL Audio subs. The Fathom f113 builds upon the legacy of the Fathom line. By being on this list, you know that this is one of my favorite subwoofers under $5,000. Its fit, finish and build quality are without equal and the Fathom f113’s performance is also at the top of the charts. If you want to truly replicate the best movie theater experience in your home, then put in a pair of Fathom 113s and prepare to be blown away. The f113’s 2,500W of raw power brings thunderous, brute-force performance. If you haven’t heard this subwoofer, then you need to make an urgent appointment for an audition.

MartinLogan Balanced Force 212 Subwoofer

MartinLogan Balanced Force 212 (MSRP $3,995)

MartinLogan has done it again. The Balanced Force 212 features two 12″ aluminum cone diaphragms driven by dual 850W amplifiers for a total of 3400W peaks. The oppositional 12″ diaphragms will play down to 18Hz +/- 3dB and cancel out distortion caused by cabinet vibrations. The optional MartinLogan Perfect Bass Kit (sold separately) is one of the true gems of the room correction world and will fine-tune the bass to your room. The one-two punch of the Balanced Force 212’s incredible performance and Perfect Bass Kit integration makes this subwoofer an unbelievable performer worthy of inclusion in any discussion of best subs.

Paradigm Sub 15 Subwoofer

Paradigm Sub 15 (MSRP $3,499)

I need to make a confession. This is the subwoofer that I have long wanted to own. And now let’s be honest blunt and honest, who wouldn’t? This is a sub capable of low frequency extension down to 12Hz. Let me say it again, 12Hz. That will make you feel like you’re re-experiencing your entire movie collection for the first time. The Sub 15’s 15-inch woofer is driven by 1700W of continuous power from dual 850W amplifiers capable of delivering 3400W of dynamic peak power. The Sub 15 has a USB port that provides built-in-integration with Paradigm’s Perfect Bass Kit (PBK) which is among the best room correction solutions available. If you are a serious bass-aholic then you may have found your perfect match with the Paradigm Sub 15.

JL Fathom f110 subwoofer

JL Fathom f110 (MSRP $2,600)

It’s unfair to call the JL Fathom f110 the f113’s little brother. In fact, auditioning to the f110 will tell you immediately that this is one little guy who can handily stand on his own two feet while letting you know right away that his pedigree is all JL Fathom. Crisp, clean, amazing bass within its stated frequency range (down to 27Hz) is all you’ll get from the f110. It’s amplification is slated to be 900W RMS for short term peaks but wow does this sub perform like it has so much more. The f110 is an ideal solution if you have a smaller or medium size room, where you cannot accommodate the larger footprint or price tag of the f113, or you just don’t need or want ultra-low frequency extension. I heard the legendary home theater demo train wreck scene from the movie Super 8 through a pair of JL Audio f110s and it was an awe-inspiring, chest-thumping thrill ride. Don’t believe me? I dare you to take a pair out for an audition.
Paradigm Sub 12 Subwoofer

Paradigm Sub 12 (MSRP 2,499)

If you’re looking for something more modest than the Paradigm Sub 15’s price tag and size but don’t want to compromise an iota in  performance or the deep octave reaches of the world’s great organs, then the Paradigm Sub 12 may be your answer.  The Sub 12 features a single high-excursion driver with a built-in Ultra-Class D amplifiers.  Like it’s larger sibling the Sub 15, this baby is all about performance and control.   The power output of the Sub 12 is identical the Sub 15.   The Ultra-Class D amplifiers are capable of producing a continuous 1,700W (from dual 850 watt amps) while thrusting out 3,400W peaks.  Low frequency extension is rated to go down to an awesome 16Hz.  The Sub 12 comes in a number of gorgeous wood finishes to fit into any decor.  And, like it’s larger sibling, the Sub 12, comes ready to work seamlessly with Paradigms optional Perfect Bass Kit (PBK).  If you have a high-end two-channel system without room correction or with inferior room correction, the PBK will root out any room anomalies affecting the awesome potential of this sub in your room.

SVS PB13-Ultra Subwoofer

SVS PB13-Ultra (MSRP $1,999)

The SVS PB13-Ultra is a 155lb monster that’s ready to tackle any source material. Unlike the SB13-Ultra, which is a sealed design, the PB-13 Ultra is a triple-ported design with three 3.5″ ports and allows it to go far deeper than the SB13-Ultra. You can tailor the PB13-Ultra to perform in one of three tuning modes, which alters its frequency response to match any room. You can set the sub for sealed mode, 20Hz mode, or 16 Hz mode. In 16 Hz mode, the sub will go all the way down to 14 Hz +/- 3dB. If you prefer the flexibility and want the impact of the lowest possible subterranean bass notes then the PB13-Ultra is your sub. If, however, you prefer the traditional merits of a sealed design then the less expensive SB13-Ultra may be a better fit.
SVS SB13-Ultra Subwoofer

SVS SB13-Ultra (MSRP $1,599)

The Rocky Balboa of the subwoofer world. The SB13-Ultra subwoofer has no right to sound as awesome as it does at its price point. If you think you need to spend thousands for dominant subwoofer performance, then the SB13-Ultra will disabuse you of that misperception. In fact, the SB13-Ultra will likely cure you permanently of the subwoofer upgrade itch. Without breaking a sweat, the SB13-Ultra will compete with and even beat out other subwoofers costing 2x – 3x its price. Build quality is exceptional. A 13-inch woofer and 3” voice coil are powered by a DSP-controlled 1000W Sledge STA-1000D amplifier that’s capable of 3600W peaks. With a 45-day in-home, no risk trial, you can try out the SB-13 in your own setup. If you’re looking for champion performer then you’ve found your sub. The SB13-Ultra is probably the best price/performance value in subwoofers, period. How much did I like the SB13-Ultra subwoofer? I purchased the demo pair after my review. I dare you to try them in your home for the risk-free 45 day trial. You won’t send them back.


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