Review: Monoprice MSUB-A122 Subwoofer

Check it out: 12-inch driver, 150-watt amp, and a really nice-looking curved enclosure, all for a mere $84.10 (plus $9.72 shipping and handling). If you asked me how inexpensively someone could sell a 12-inch subwoofer—and I’m talking everyday prices, not blowouts on eBay or Amazon — I’d have probably guessed $200, and that would be for something really ugly and cheap-looking.

Home theater aficionados know Monoprice as the place where you can get 6-foot HDMI cables for $3.50 a pop. But the company has been expanding its “unbelievably low price” business into other categories: accessories, of course, but also speakers and now subwoofers. In addition to the MSUB-A122 12-incher, there’s also the MSUB-A082, a 60-watt 8-incher for just $57, and a full 5.1 system for the same $84.10 price as the MSUB-A122.

There’s nothing obviously missing from the MSUB-A122. The amp looks like standard-issue Chinese stuff, with line ins and outs, speaker-level ins and outs, and crossover and level controls. The driver is an inexpensive stamped-basket model, but it seems reasonably well-built. The enclosure looks at a distance like it came from Sonus Faber, although if you look close you can see it’s covered in a surprisingly realistic vinyl wrap instead of real veneer. It even has nice plastic cone feet on the bottom that provide breathing room for the downfiring port and also do a dandy job of piercing your carpet so the sub’s weight rests on the more stable flooring underneath.

Still, anyone who’s dabbled in home theater must be wondering if there’s a catch. Yes, there is. That under-$10 shipping cost tells you the MSUB-A122 has a small woofer magnet and a very lightweight enclosure. The back and front panels are made from roughly ½-inch MDF, which doesn’t seem as dense as the MDF used in most speaker cabinets. The top and sides seem to be of the same stuff or even something a bit thinner, and there’s no bracing inside to stiffen the cabinet walls. A rap on the side produces the kind of hearty, resonant “thunk” I hear when I bump against the cheap-yet-stylish end tables I bought at Target. This hints that the sides of the enclosure might vibrate a lot, potentially altering the frequency response and reducing the sub’s punch and impact. (It also hints that a carefully cut rib of particleboard wedged between the sides and secured with Gorilla glue might be a useful tweak for this sub.) The good news is, the port has a large, curving duct inside, which indicates someone actually put some engineering effort into this thing.

By the way, shout out to my friend Steve Guttenberg at Cnet who told me about this sub.