In this article: We'll review our best free air and infinite baffle subwoofer picks for your car or boat with quick product reviews, photos and price comparisons to save money on the sub you choose.
- Key Information About Free Air Subwoofers
- Best Free Air Subwoofers List
- 1. Best All Around Free Air Subwoofer: JL Audio M7-12IB
- 2. Best Marine & Boat Free Air Subwoofer: Wet Sounds REVO 10 FA
- 3. Runner Up, Best Marine & Boat Free Air Subwoofer: Kicker KMF124
- 4. JL Audio M6-10IB
- 5. Best Power Handling: Infinity Kappa 123WDSSI
- 6. Best Free Air Subwoofer on a Budget: JBL Stadium 122SSI
- 7. Lanzar DCTOA15D
- How We Chose the Best Free Air Subwoofer
- Stock Replacement, Infinite Baffle, and Free Air
Free air subwoofers are a great way to pump up bass in your car without wasting tons of space on an enclosure. Free air systems are lighter weight, too. In order for a free air subwoofer system to work well in your vehicle, you need to start with the best subwoofer for the best price. Finding just the right subwoofer for your application can be a challenge. There are many traditional subwoofers out there that perform fantastic in a box, but won’t sound good when installed in a free air setup. We did the hard work, shuffling through dozens of products from numerous manufacturers to find you the best free air subwoofers.
Key Information About Free Air Subwoofers
There are a few features that you should look at when selecting a free air subwoofer system to install in your car. A free air subwoofer is designed to produce good bass response without an enclosure. Subwoofers mounted in a box use the air trapped inside as a baffle, both controlling the rear-moving air waves and allowing the speaker to push the bass forward. A free air sub has to have features that accomplish this without the use of an enclosure. A free air sub will need more power input than a typical subwoofer, and also can’t be driven as hard without damage. A solid, robust free air subwoofer will produce solid bass response and will take the abuse with ease.
The key to finding the best subwoofer for a free air setup is finding subwoofers that have a high level of power handling, durable construction, and excellent range of frequencies. A sub that can handle a ton of power but has a flimsy support that is intended to carry the speaker in a box will never produce the kind of booty-shaking bass you are chasing.
Undersized subs, or those that are not intended to hit frequencies you are counting on simply won’t add the complex dimension to your jams. Most subwoofers today are engineered for exceptional power handling, but it is vital that you pay attention for deceptive marketing -just because a speaker says it can handle a huge amount of peak power doesn’t mean it is going to sound good.
Best Free Air Subwoofers List
1. Best All Around Free Air Subwoofer: JL Audio M7-12IB
- 12” free air/ infinite baffle subwoofer
- 600 watts RMS
- 4 ohm impedance
- Marine-grade subwoofer
- 4” voice coil
- Heavy-duty suspension
- Requires 200-600 w amplifier for optimal performance
- Transparent polypropylene cone with integrated 7-color LED lights
JL Audio M7-12IB Quick Review
Getting big bass in your boat means you need a big subwoofer that can handle the power and the environment. The newest free-air sub from JL Audio is sure to rock your boat, in a good way. It’s exceeded industry testing to make sure your day doesn’t get ruined by a subwoofer that can’t take a little spray. JL Audio engineers each marine-grade speaker it makes to provide durability you can rely on.
We had the opportunity to install TWO of these in our own Nautique G23 Stereo Upgrade and review them in person. You can read our My-12IB First Look Review on these as well for more details about the sub as we pulled them out of the box. There's a reason why these are on the top of our list. Check out the links above and read more about them – They're clear, crisp and loud. We used these as an alternative to the W6 and W7 that we would have loved to have on our boat but needed a Free Air Application sub. And they didn't disappoint.
With the M7, JL Audio went big. This 12” subwoofer features an oversized four-inch coil and a specially-designed suspension so you don’t have to worry about your sub coming apart right in the middle of that deep bass riff. It’ll handle up to 600 watts RMS, so plan on using a big amp – JL Audio recommends a range of 200 w to 600 w for optimum performance. Like all free air subs, it doesn’t require an enclosure to produce the kinds of throbbing, punchy bass you crave. We also really loved the style of these. We chose the gunmetal grill for our installation and they are absolutely stunning.
If you're not worried about the price tag, this is our choice for a free air subwoofer right now.
- Big and powerful marine-grade subwoofer
- Excellent choice for free air and infinite baffle designs
- Eye-catching lighting effect that is unique to JL Audio speakers
- Requires a large(r) cutout
- Power demands exceed other speakers- upgrade your amp!
2. Best Marine & Boat Free Air Subwoofer: Wet Sounds REVO 10 FA
Wet Sounds REVO 10 FA S4-B Quick Review
You may be wondering why a marine-grade subwoofer tops this list of free air speakers. It’s quite simple, really -Wet Sounds engineers their free air sub to perform in the most demanding, challenging environments you can possibly subject a speaker to. When you want deep, responsive, feel-it-in-your-pants bass from a free air sub, why not get the very best out there? Wet Sounds has made a number of our top lists, including the best boat subwoofers and best tower speakers too. They're a highly regarded brand known for their quality products.
Wet Sounds gives you some truly eye-popping specs with this 4-ohm, dual voice coil sub. It is rated at an RMS of 300 watts, so it can handle a big amp, which you are going to want with any free air setup. The 10” Marine sub has a frequency response of 20 to 500 hertz, meaning it goes all the way down to the point you can’t hear the bass, you can only feel it. And since this speaker is not designed to reach into the upper frequencies, you get bass, bass, and bass.
- Durable, purpose-built free air subwoofer
- Optional RGB Light Kit
- Excellent bass response
- Price tag – they're expensive since they're marine grade
3. Runner Up, Best Marine & Boat Free Air Subwoofer: Kicker KMF124
Kicker KMF12 Quick Review
We're a big fan of these subwoofers. The KM-Series of subwoofers from Kicker are designed exclusively for use in free air applications, specifically boats. When you are looking for tight, responsive bass, Kicker is a name you can rely on. The KM-Series are available in 2 or 4 ohm impedance and in 10” and 12” sizes.
Kicker uses a Santoprene surround for durability and a polymer basket for durability. The frequency response is 30 to 500 hertz, so it’s all about the bass here. Kicker rates the power handling at 350 watts RMS on the 10” 4-ohm KMF sub, so you have plenty of handling for a good amplifier to really drive the tunes home, whether you are rolling around town or on the bay.
- Durable construction with tons of great marine-specific features
- Excellent low-end response
- Available in different sizes and impedances for the perfect installation
- Great choice for your boat
- Grilles may not match well with the interior of your car
- 10” Free Air Subwoofer
- Marine-grade design
- 250 W RMS
- Sensitivity: 86.1 dB
- designed for infinite baffle applications but also works with sealed/ported
JL Audio M6-10IB Quick Review
Another marine-use subwoofer, but don’t be afraid to mount this 10” sub in the trunk of your ride. JL Audio uses a polymer-synthetic Syntex basket and a stainless steel backplate for extra strength. The subwoofer is designed for free air setups, and uses an extended motor structure to provide more cone movement. This helps to compensate for the lack of a box by giving the subwoofer the ability to really thump without distortion.
The M6-10IB works best with a robust amplifier producing between 75 watts and 250 watts. Like all free air subs, you will need substantial amplifier power to get the kind of deep bass you want. Free air subwoofers are less efficient than boxed woofers, and you must be careful with the gain to prevent damage. This speaker will give you years and years of boom because of its rugged design. It’s purpose-built to survive saltwater environments, so you know it’s tough enough for your land yacht.
- Marine-grade subwoofer built for tough environments
- Deep bass response
- Pricey for the size and specifications
- Gunmetal or white color choice may not work with all vehicles
5. Best Power Handling: Infinity Kappa 123WDSSI
Infinity Kappa 123WDSSI Quick Review
When it comes to getting excellent bass quality while pushing big power, you won’t find a better free-air subwoofer than the Infinity Kappa 123WDSSI. Superior build quality allows this subwoofer to handle 500 watts RMS and a peak of 1500 watts. When mounting this sub in a free-air location, you’ll cut the power rating roughly in half. The 123WDSSI features a selectable input to match with either 2-ohm or 4-ohm amplifiers.
The steel basket is the secret to this speaker’s power-handling characteristics. The design eliminates flex and absorbs harmonics to prevent distortion. Infinity uses a proprietary technology called aero-cooling that gives the voice coil added ventilation to prevent overheating. Most subs fail when the voice coil is overloaded and begins to distort due to heat. This design allows the sub to take power above its rating without distortion or flex.
Creating the perfect range of bass frequencies requires a strong, rigid woofer cone and a surround with plenty of movement range. Infinity uses a special glass-fiber material that provides rigidity and then coats the cone with a frequency-damping material that prevents unwanted harmonics. The combination of strength and quality materials gives the Kappa Infinity 123WDSSI excellent power-handling characteristics when mounted as a free-air sub.
- Excellent power handling characteristics due to quality materials and construction
- Well-suited for free air mounting in cars and trucks
- Impressive bass quality that focuses on the very lowest frequencies
- Requires more depth than many similar-sized subs
- A high-quality and powerful amplifier is required to get the best performance
6. Best Free Air Subwoofer on a Budget: JBL Stadium 122SSI
JBL Stadium 122SSI Quick Review
This is one of our all-time favorite free-air subwoofers and it happens to be a great deal when you want the best-sounding system without spending a fortune. It combines excellent design elements with tried-and-proven technology to produce the ideal bass frequency response for a free-air subwoofer. It has great power-handling capabilities, too. The JBL Stadium 122SSI is rated for 500 watts RMS in an enclosure or 250 watts when mounted as a free air.
JBL begins this build with a heavy-duty stamped steel basket that is engineered to withstand tremendous amounts of force. The design looks as good as it works, a nice bonus for free-air mounting where the basket will be visible. The selectable input switch is recessed into the body to prevent accidental switching between the 2 ohm and 4 ohm options.
Free-air subs need a particularly durable and rigid woofer cone to withstand the intense movement. JBL uses one of their most-popular woofer cones that is constructed from pressed paper pulp composite cones that are reinforced by glass fiber. A nitrile rubber surround keeps the stuff cone stable and allows for an excellent extrusion factor.
- Excellent combination of high-performance capabilities and a reasonable price
- Hard-hitting power handling capabilities makes this a great choice for free-air applications
- Somewhat pricey for a “budget” subwoofer
- Not suitable for tight-fitting spaces due to the depth of the basket
- 15” Free Air Subwoofer
- 200W RMS, 400W Peak
- Frequency Response 50 to 2,000 hertz
- Black pressed Paper Cone
- Rigid Foam Surround
Lanzar DCTOA15D Quick Review
If you are not familiar with Lanzar, that’s okay. You are probably familiar with the parent company, Pyle, though. Pyle produces well, pile-driving bass, and the Lanzar is simply a budget-friendly version. But don’t think you are getting short changed with a budget sub. The 15” Lanzar has lots to offer in an affordable package. It's a good entry level sub that'll get the job done.
Lanzar uses a massive 2” voice coil in these speakers to help prevent overpowering in a free air setup. The rated power is 200 watts, giving you plenty of room to run a big amplifier without damaging the speaker. As in any free air setup, you will need to keep an eye on the gain from your amp. Too much and the non-pressed paper cone and foam surround won’t take it.
- Very affordable Subwoofer
- Easily installs in factory locations
- Designed for free air installation
- Materials like the pressed paper cone and foam surround (and other parts) are not as durable as more expensive products
Looking for a different type of subwoofer? Check out these lists!
How We Chose the Best Free Air Subwoofer
The internet is absolutely stuffed with subwoofers that can be installed in a free air setup. You can spend hours sifting through speakers, only to be more confused than ever. Marketing hype can lead you to think one speaker is better than another, only for you to find that the sub can’t perform the way you want.
We did the hard part and went straight to the manufacturers with burning questions about their free air subs. Then we balanced what the maker had to say against the advice professional audio installers provided to identify the best free air systems. Finally, we went through countless reviews by real-life users to find out how a product actually performs in the wild. We narrowed the search down to just a few options that we believe are the best on the market in 2020.
Stock Replacement, Infinite Baffle, and Free Air
The benefits of a free air subwoofer system are easy to see, your trunk isn’t filled with a massive sub box. But there are certain downsides to a free air setup that you should consider before going ahead with building a system. Understanding the limitations of a free air sub system will help you make the decision on how you want your system to work.
A pure free air subwoofer mounts in a stock-type location, like on the rear deck. Many cars come factory-equipped with a subwoofer, almost always in a free air setup. You are probably shopping for a free air subwoofer because the stock setup just isn’t very good. A better speaker, a bigger amp, and a rethought installation can help improve a stock system using a free air subwoofer.
When there simply isn’t room on the package shelf for a subwoofer, you can also mount your subs to the back of your rear seats. This installation does take up more room, but makes installation of 10”, 12”, or larger subs much easier.
Many free air subwoofers will perform better if you engineer your space as an infinite baffle. In an infinite baffle setup, your free air subwoofers use a sealed space, like your trunk. In order to make an infinite baffle perform right, you will have to seal off your trunk. This can involve serious modifications, alterations to vents, and quite a bit of expense.
For all but the most discerning of audiophiles, a free air setup will function well, but any amount of bleed through of sound waves from the rear of the sub will offset forward moving waves, causing distortion and a lack of punch in your bass.
Read more about Free Air vs Infinite Baffle vs Traditional subwoofers here.