10″ vs 12″ Subwoofers – Which is the Best for Music or Movies?

Our hobby is plagued with myths that continue to get thrown around despite objective research and facts. Case in point: 10” vs 12” subwoofers – which is the best for music or movies? Is there a benefit to having a smaller subwoofer for music and a larger one for movies? Some will say that one is better for music than movies. But is there any truth to this? Let’s discuss!

What Are The Myths?

There are a couple of myths to unpack here. And yes, I am calling them myths now, which should tell you what side I land on.

Myth 1 – Smaller Woofers Are Faster, And Better For Music

This myth has no objective merit to it at all. Most of this myth comes from the dark times (think ’90s audiophile magazines). Back then, subwoofers were a dirty word. No one worth their salt would be caught dead with a (gasp) subwoofer augmenting their full-range tower speakers. But, IF you were a peasant and couldn’t afford towers and had to get a subwoofer, an 8-10″ subwoofer was better for music. Why? Because it was faster!

Yup. A 10″ driver, because it is physically smaller, will move faster than a 12″ driver. And what research did they have to prove this? Their golden ears. Plus, because the smaller driver is faster, it’s more accurate. Again, no objective data is provided. Instead, you get comments like “The 10″ woofer helps fill in gaps between instruments on stage, so everyone feels part of the show!” Perfect for those jazz or rock LPs in your collection.

Myth 2 – Larger Woofers Are Louder, And Better For Movies

But there is (so they claim) some downside to the 10″ woofer. Because it’s so fast and accurate, it’s terrible for movies. It can’t dig down low enough for those massive explosions. For that duty, you need a 12″ (or larger) subwoofer! That’s right, folks, there ain’t no replacement for displacement. When you want a massive boom in your room, only a 12″ woofer can do it.

Yeah, those are massive!

Plus, if you listen to music like hip hop, R&B, or dance, a 12″ is a MUST for those bass-heavy tracks! That’s right. The long throw of the 12″ subwoofer is the only way to reproduce those loud explosions and heavy bass! But it comes at a cost. A 12″ subwoofer is “muddier” and distorted than its svelte 10″ cousin. Right!

Why These Myths Are Pure BS!

As cool as all those articles sound, they are subjective BS. The size of the woofer is not the determining factor in how accurate, loud, fast, or distorted it will be. Factors like the material of the woofer and surround, the size of the cabinet and ports, the design of the voice coil, and the amount of power are THE determining factors for woofer performance.

The SVS PB 1000 is a ported, 300w, 10″ subwoofer capable of 19Hz (that’s low). SVS played with materials for the woofer, designs for the box, and the amount of power needed to hit that response accurately and flatly. SVS had dozens of designs and prototypes of PB 1000 before they took it to market! It was not an accident that they were able to hit the accuracy and response that they wanted. They literally designed it to do that.

But wait, their sealed 3000 Micro has 8″ drivers, 800w, and can hit 23Hz (that’s still pretty low!) No, it’s not as low as the PB 1000. But I bet if they put those woofers in a larger enclosure (the Micro 3000 is half the size) with a port, they could get darn close to that.

But You Don’t Have A 12″ Subwoofer!

Well, I happen to have a 10″ and 12″ subwoofer in my home theater! I am the proud owner of an SVS PB 1000 Pro, 12″ subwoofer (review soon, I promise!). It has a “massive” 12″ driver capable of a staggering 17Hz. Take that, ya puny 10″ driver!

Look at that 12″ Beast!

Ok, Skippy, settle down. Sure, it goes down lower (you won’t hear it). But it has an extra port and more power. So much of that lower extension is owed to design and power, not just the physical size of the driver. And guess what, if you set up your subwoofers properly, you won’t hear a difference between the two.

I hate to burst your bubble, but subjectively, I can not hear a difference between my 10″ or 12″ subwoofers for various music and movies. And no, I didn’t break out the mic and do measurements. First, I don’t know enough to accurately interpret what I am seeing. And secondly, it is exceedingly hard to get everything equal so we are comparing apples to apples. But audiophiles don’t reply on objective data, so I get a pass.

Our Take

In the debate of 10” vs 12” subwoofers – which is the best for music or movies? Well, that depends. In some cases, a 10″ driver and enclosure are physically smaller and may fit better into your room. But if you have a huge room, you may need the raw output that a larger subwoofer with a 12″ (or larger) woofer can bring. That’s right, folks, a lot of this debate on 10″ vs 12″ (vs 16″) can be settled on sound level output. A 12″ woofer can better fill a large space with sound, the way tower speakers can fill a large room better than bookshelves.

But there is also a price to consider. Small, loud, cheap – pick two. That’s the rule of subwoofers. So yes, you can get a smaller subwoofer just as capable as your 12″ subwoofer, but you will pay for that size/performance.

But most of all, do your research. Look at specs, read reviews, and do in-home demos. While your ears are not as good as a measurement mic, they tell you when something is noticeably better. And I am willing to debate that most folks couldn’t tell the difference between a good 10″ or 12″ subwoofer!

1 Comment on 10″ vs 12″ Subwoofers – Which is the Best for Music or Movies?

  1. Michael A

    Yea, mostly the speaker-size will be for more push, and their construction (including cabinet) will dictate their character (plus the interaction with their environment). – But I will say that “the larger, the floppier” (hehe) in ways. I mean, I have a 12″ (hehe) and it tends to not be as focused. – Is that due to a poorer construction?… I don’t know, it’s a Kenwood (not for cars), but I doubt this thing was cheap (I’m not the first owner). – I can definitely tell that some 6 or so inch woofers I’ve tried were simply tighter because of their smaller build. I don’t mean better or worse, but just that they… didn’t “flop” around as much and were much more focused at their functions. – That said, there was a difference between a similar-sized Eltax, which is a bit more “serious”, and a JVC, which is a bit more “general consumer” (yet not cheap), probably due to their build. – Where the Eltax has a bit more “tone” or “character”, the JVC is a bit more “air” or “rumble” for the sake of it. But both still push a lot of waves, so there’s no lack of power there.

    So yea, it all depends, as usual. Cause at the same time I’ve also heard TV-speakers or soundbars with more impressive sound than some bookshelf speakers, just because they were engineered well.
    But also with most things you’ll often be in a good sweet spot right down the middle, not to mention placement and tweaking.

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