Last updated on November 23rd, 2020 at 10:17 pm
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 for 2020.
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.
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.
Best Free Air Subwoofers List
- Power: 300 W (RMS), 600 W (Peak)
- Frequency Response: 20-500 Hz
- Sensitivity 88 dB
- Weight: 8 lbs
- Santoprene Rubber Spider and Surround
- Nylas Composite Frame
- 10” and 12” Available
- 4-ohm impedance
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
- 175W (RMS) and 350W (Peak) Power Handling
- 12” Weatherproof subwoofer
- Frequency Response: 30 – 500 Hz
- Dual voice coil
- Injection-molded polypropylene cone
- Molded Santoprene Surround
- Works best with 175 watts of power
- LED grille (purchased separately)
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 the interior of your car
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
Infinity Kappa 1200W Quick Review
Infinity is one of the most trusted names in reliable car audio tech. This 1200W subwoofer works great in a free air setup because of the excellent steel basket. The subwoofer features a selectable 2 or 4 ohm impedance too for customizability. Plus, this is truly a great looking subwoofer. If you're looking to showcase the speakers, the 1200W is probably the best looking on our list.
Kappa engineered this subwoofer to handle frequencies between 23 and 400 hertz, so it really gets down deep into the bass spectrum. With power handling of 500 watts RMS, it can take a beating, but installation in a free air setup will reduce the amount of power you can push through it before the voice coil can’t take it anymore.
- Excellent looking and performing subwoofer
- Selectable impedance is great for custom setups
- High power handling
- Requires more than 7” of clearance
- Challenging to install in tight spaces
JBL Stage 810 Quick Review
JBL is regarded as one of the best car audio companies out there, but they are particularly known for home audio technology. That is where this subwoofer from JBL comes into play- by incorporating the great features of a professional home audio sub into a compact automotive audio package, you get great bass response and durability in a compact speaker.
The 810 is designed as a factory upgrade or replacement for cars that use an 8” deck-mount subwoofer in a free air setup. Power handling is rated at 200 watts rms, an ideal range for most stock amplifiers. This is also a great budget option when you are trying to get some good bass without breaking the bank.
- Great power handling capability and excellent sound clarity
- Solid construction
- Aesthetically appealing
- Reasonable price tag
- Very strong magnet so you have to be careful with things around it
- Tweeters can sound too bright
- No screws to mount speakers, tweeters or crossover
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
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.