Where to Spend Your Money – Better Speakers or Better Subwoofer?

You’ve got a limited budget but not a limited imagination! You want a home theater system and you want to get the best you can afford. You know that eventually you’ll have enough money for everything…but you’d like to start buying now. You figure you have enough money to spend for a better subwoofer and a couple of middling speakers or those “forever” speakers you’ve been eyeing and a pretty crappy subwoofer. Which do you choose? Let’s discuss!

Planning For the Future is Hard

We love that you are thinking long-term. Too many people make an impulse buy in home audio and then try to make it work. The thing to remember is that a good speaker or subwoofer purchase will last you a very long time. Much longer than nearly any other home theater purchase. Considering your purchases carefully is important as you’ll likely be living with them for years.

Your first consideration is your living arrangements. Where do you see yourself in five or ten years? Is it in your current home or dwelling? If so, you can buy more confidently. But most of us can’t definitively answer that question. We don’t know where we’ll be one year from now much less ten!

Your Room is Important

The problem is that your room plays a large role in what speakers and subwoofers you might buy. The total volume of air in your room is the deciding factor on what subwoofer you should buy. Generally speaking, how far you sit from your speakers plays a big role in what size speakers you buy. But if your room is overly large, that can also make a difference.

Generally, if you are not absolutely sure that you are changing rooms soon, you should buy for the room you have, not the room you think you might have. Yes, if your situation changes you might have to upgrade (or even downgrade) your speakers. But life is like that. You can’t plan for everything.

Step-by-Step Decision Guide

When we are trying to figure out where to spend our money on better speakers or a subwoofer, we start with the room. Figure out what sized room you have (THX has a general guide). You’ll also want to determine how far away from the speakers you’ll likely sit. These numbers are important for determining your speakers and subwoofers. Now that you have them, we can start shopping.

Step 1: Subwoofer Pricing

Start with shopping for subwoofers. Yes, we understand that you’d rather shop for speakers but we’ll get to that. Figure out which subwoofer you’d buy for your room. Sure, you could come up with a few, but chances are you’ll settle on one fairly quickly. You’ll want to make sure that the subwoofer can fully pressurize the full volume of air in your room. Remember, buying a subwoofer that is rated for a larger room is a waste of money.

Step 2: Pick Your Speakers

Next, you’ll want to pick out your “dream” speakers. By “dream” we don’t mean “cost is no object.” We mean speakers that you feel are within your budget but still have all the sound quality and aesthetics you desire. In particular, you want to pick out your fronts (left and right) as well as your surround speakers. This is important. Sure, some people think your center speaker is the most important (we don’t). But we are working with a budget.

Step 3: Compare to Your Available Funds

We are now going to compare your choices to your available funds. If you’ve made all your choices based on your room and you have enough money to cover it all…that’s great! But chances are you don’t. Generally, we’d recommend trying to afford either:

  • Your “dream” front speakers.


  • Your subwoofer and the speakers you’re planning on placing in the surround position

This means you’ll either end up with a 2.0 system (two speakers, no subwoofer) or a 2.1 system (two speakers with a subwoofer).

Advantages of the 2.0 System

If you end up with enough money to get your “dream” front speakers, you’ll start with a 2.0 system. Yes, this means you won’t have a subwoofer at first. That’s okay. You won’t lose any bass. Front speakers are farther from you and tend to be more capable and therefore more expensive. These alone may take up the majority of your budget. If so, just grab these and call it a day. No, don’t get tower speakers (if your room doesn’t warrant them) just because you won’t be running subwoofer at first. You will be getting a subwoofer soon.

The clear advantage is that you are going to start with a quality stereo system. Yes, you won’t have the lowest bass but you’ll be surprised by how much bass even bookshelf speakers can output. Just enjoy them and save for your subwoofer.

Advantages of the 2.1 System

Welcome to the world of thunderous bass! Yes, you’ll have your dream subwoofer, but you’ll be pairing it with two speakers that really aren’t meant for the front of your room. This means they’ll likely need to have the crossover set quite high. It also means you probably shouldn’t blast them too loudly. Just keep saving and you’ll have your front speakers soon enough and be able to move these smaller speakers to surround duties where they belong.

Next Steps

Both of these are good options. The key is that you’ll end up with speakers that you will end up using in your future system. Many people start purchasing without considering the end goal. If you have your full system in mind, you can purchase without regret. Spending money on the best (or better) speakers or a subwoofer doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. You can do both!

Have you bought a home audio system piecemeal? How did you shop? Let us know in the comment below!

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