Can Ported Subwoofers Sound Good With Music?

Got a tech question for Sound & Vision? Email us at

Q I’ve heard that sealed subwoofers sound better than ported ones with music, but that ported subs handle LFE in movie soundtracks better. I want a sub that will sound good in my large, open living room with both music and movies. Do people only use sealed subs in smaller rooms? How will a ported model sound different when playing music?—Matt Carlton

A Sealed subwoofers are a good match for small rooms for two reasons. First, they generally have a smaller-size cabinet than ported models, and for that reason fit better into a smaller-size space. Second, in small rooms the limited bass output in the sub-40 Hz frequency range that’s typical of sealed subwoofers is compensated for to a degree by room gain—something that doesn’t happen when they’re placed in large, open spaces.

With a large ported subwoofer, on the other hand, the greater interior volume and port create efficiencies that allow for higher output at the lowest frequencies compared with a sealed model. In a small room, the match could prove overwhelming, but in a larger space where room gain isn’t an issue—and you’re more likely to crank the volume loud—large, ported subs make for a good option.

Also, yes, a well-designed ported sub sound should sound perfectly good with music. (The design gets a bad rap due to the many cheap subs out there that use ports to maximize bass quantity at the expense of bass quality.) More important, a ported design will be the best match for your large room and deliver the bass impact you'd want with movies.

Ovation123's picture

I went through this debate before choosing my sub last month. I went with a ported sub for two main reasons. One--for LFE content, the ported design (of the two I was considering: SVS PB-2000 and SVS SB-2000) performed better. Two--my room size is large enough to accommodate the higher output of the lower frequencies in the sub 40HZ range (though only just, as an Anti-mode 8033 has proven very useful at taming the 22hz peak that is a natural byproduct of my room).

I have run many types of music through the system since I've installed everything and I can detect no problems (classical--symphonic and small ensembles, jazz, big band, prog rock, classic rock, my daughter's "boy band stuff", bluegrass, a bit of electronica--Daft Punk, folk). It all sounds great, with clean, articulate bass.

I have heard cheapo ported subs that sound horrible with music but Mr. Griffon's answer explains why they sound bad.

In a music only system, in a small room (one day, my kids will become adults and I can set something like that up in one of their bedrooms, I plan to go with a 2.1 set up with a sealed sub and some nice stand mounts. But for a mixed use set up, especially in a large room like yours, go with a ported sub. There are a number of really nice ones out there.

mnc's picture

That is great to hear that your PB-2000 sounds great with music! I am actually thinking about dual PB-2000s for my room.

K.Reid's picture

Matt, I strongly recommend you audition the new JL E series subs, either the e110 or e112 . Many theater/ audiophiles find subs not to sound natural with music. It can be challenging to get the integration, placement and phase correct. If you do not know, The Absolute Sound's senior editor Jonathan Valin spoke about this very issue in the last edition of magazine. He raved about the above subs as being the first he has heard that sounds good and well integrated and not "just a bass add on". I generally find I prefer a sealed (acoustic suspension design) to sound better with music due to superior pitch definition. That said there are some good sounding ported and push-pull subs especially M&K

mnc's picture

Actually after more thought, I think I will go with a PB-12 Plus which gives more features, tuning, and substantially better build quality and will add a second one when I can. I just don't think a small sealed sub ( or even two) will give me the high volume lfe bass I want from movies in my open room.

Ovation123's picture

If I'd had the budget, I'd have gone with a PB-12 Plus, so enjoy.

instybob's picture

Lots of HSU Research subs allow you to plug the ports and adjust sound to your liking.