Do I need a subwoofer with a soundbar? We decide definitively on what makes the best audio

How much tech is too much tech? An audio expert explains what kit you really need to get the best at-home sound

Samsung TV shown with a soundbar in a living room
(Image credit: Soundbar)

If you’re shopping around to enhance your TV’s audio, you may well ask yourself one question: do I need a subwoofer with a soundbar?

Clearly, the answer is no: you don’t need one. But getting one of the best soundbars with a subwoofer (or a model that will allow you to connect one at a later date) will provide a fuller, more immersive soundscape from your TV — and it won’t necessarily cost you all that much more, either.

What is a subwoofer, anyway?

A subwoofer is a speaker that’s dedicated to low-pitched audio frequencies to deliver bass notes that would barely register on other kinds of speakers. 

They deliver sound within the 20-200Hz range, which is far lower than what other speakers are capable of reproducing. And while some bigger speakers have a subwoofer built in, typically, a dedicated subwoofer is a large unit which sits on the floor nearby the TV. 

If it wasn’t already obvious from that, a subwoofer won’t be usable on its own: it’s designed to augment other sound systems rather than do it all by itself.

What sort of content benefits from a subwoofer?

Given a subwoofer only provides deep, bassy audio and nothing at a higher frequency, there is some stuff that you don’t need a subwoofer for. If you mainly watch dialogue-heavy dramas, the news, quiz shows or sports, then you won’t be listening to much that requires the extra bassy oomph that a subwoofer provides.

But if you use your living room TV for immersive movies, gaming, or action-heavy drama, then a subwoofer is certainly worth its cost as it’ll make everything sound better. Having a subwoofer will make gun fights, explosions and engine sounds more impactful. And while it’s not essential for dialogue, voices will have added depth too. 

It’s also pretty much non-negotiable if you also happen to use your soundbar for music. Without it, you won’t hear the low notes of the bass guitar and tracks will just sound altogether more tinny and hollow.

Do soundbars come with a subwoofer?

Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar

(Image credit: B&W)

Some soundbars — such as the JBL Bar 5.0 (opens in new tab) — offer substantial built-in bass, which is handy if you’re trying to save space. But generally speaking, solutions without a dedicated subwoofer will either sound weaker, or cost a lot more to come close.

Some do, and some don’t. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference though, as the subwoofer will be a whole different speaker, so a quick glance at the product picture will give you the answer. 

Can I add a subwoofer to my soundbar at a later date?

Once again, it depends on the soundbar. For some, it just won’t be an option, while for others it will be, but you might have to use the manufacturer’s own model, limiting your options. This is true for something like the Sonos Beam (opens in new tab), which is designed to pair neatly with the Sonos Sub (opens in new tab).

If you think you may want to add more bass at a later date, bear that in mind when picking out your soundbar and do your research.

Do I need a subwoofer with a soundbar?

So, to recap, no you don’t need a soundbar to go with your subwoofer. The sound coming out of even the cheapest one will beat that of your average TV’s built-in speakers, and the best soundbars have decent if not spectacular bass even if they don’t have a dedicated external subwoofer.

But if you’re into your movies, music or gaming, then your soundbar will certainly benefit from the added low-frequency sounds that an external subwoofer can offer. 

Whether you decide to buy a soundbar with a bundled sub or purchase one that can be upgraded with one at a later date, it’s certainly worth considering if you’re serious about your sound.

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. He often writes for T3 and Tom's Guide. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.