Front-Firing vs. Down-Firing Subwoofers

Front-Firing vs. Down-Firing Subwoofers
Image Credit: By jgrande

Subwoofers were once an optional accessory, however, today they are considered an integral part of a home audio system. Subwoofers are either front-firing or down-firing. It is difficult to tell the difference between Both subwoofers just by listening.

A subwoofer is a speaker designed to deliver the lowest bass frequencies duplicated by the stereo system. Speakers reproduce wide frequency ranges but lack the deepest bass frequency.

A subwoofer has a larger woofer and a built-in amplifier that deliver cleaner and deeper bass. Most subwoofers have their own power supply to run a built-in amplifier. Passive subwoofers, however, do not need their own power supply and instead uses power from the amplifier of the receiver.

Although many home theaters today have up to 11 speakers, they still need a subwoofer to deliver the bottom end of the sound and the bone-rattling rumble just experienced in movie theaters. If you are watching a movie with for example an earthquake, feeling the low-end sound of the shake will make your movie-watching experience complete.

Types of Subwoofers

Passive Subwoofer

This subwoofer is driven by an external amplifier similar to the speakers in your audio system.

  • The extreme bass will need more power for low-frequency sounds.
  • The receiver or amplifier needs to produce the required powered to support bass effects through the subwoofer without exhausting the amplifier.
  • The amount of power required depends on the speaker, the size of the room, and how much bass you can withstand.

Powered Subwoofer

This subwoofer combines the amplifier and subwoofer speaker in the same cabinet.

  • Requires an AC power and a line output (LFE out, pre-out, or sub-out) from a receiver to run.
  • Takes off the power load from the receiver/amplifier.
  • Easily allows the receiver/amplifier to power tweeters and mid-range.

Most subwoofers in home theaters use powered subwoofers.

The unique properties of subwoofers vis-à-vis many types of loudspeakers means you will need to know about front-firing vs. down-firing subwoofers before making the final choice. The quality of the drivers, cabinets, and where you position the subwoofer strongly affects audio performance.

The main difference between Both subwoofers is the direction of the driver. Front-firing subwoofers deliver sound via the front of the cabinet. Down-firing subwoofers have drivers facing downward towards the floor.

Read on and find out which type of subwoofer is the best for your home theater. 

  Front-Firing Down-Firing
Driver Direction Points sideward Points down
Effect on Floor Surface Minimal High
Sag Minimal High
Driver Protection Minimal High
Sound Dispersal Similar to conventional speakers Pushes sound down


Many audiophiles continue to argue between front-firing vs. down-firing subwoofers. Although most of them say front-firing subwoofers are better, many also go for down-firing subwoofers.

Subwoofer Design

The sound from front-firing subwoofers comes from one side of the opening of the cabinet with the driver facing outward.

The driver of down-firing subwoofers points down across the whole of the subwoofer cabinet.

In general, the design of down-firing subwoofers has more advantages than the design of front-firing subwoofers.

Different sets of ears have varying speaker preferences. Listen intently to the sound produced by Both subwoofers before choosing the one that sounds better to you.

Driver Direction

A speaker driver is inside the subwoofer cabinet including a frame, cone, magnet, and coil assembly. The cone vibrates to produce sound waves in the air.

Front-firing subwoofers utilize a mounted speaker to reproduce sound from the front or side of the subwoofer cabinet.

Down-firing subwoofers utilize a mounted speaker to reproduce sound downward in the direction of the floor.

Effect on Floor Surface

The floor tends to absorb low sound frequencies when produced by down-firing subwoofers. It also is less directional. Front-firing subwoofers deliver sound from the front or side without hitting the floor.


Gravity affects the sag of down-firing subwoofers because of their pointing downward design. Front-firing subwoofers only have minimal sag because the driver points sideward thus not affected too much by gravity.

Driver Protection

Driver protection of down-firing subwoofers is higher because of the driver not facing outward. Thus, drivers are more protected in down-firing subwoofers. High driver protection is needed to reduce the impact of bumps on the driver that may be caused by kids or pets in your home theater room.

Sound Dispersal

Front-firing subwoofers deliver sound just as conventional speakers do. Since they reproduce sound from the side or front, they can be wall-mounted. These subwoofers produce more accurate sound. Sound is directly emitted towards the listener.

Down-firing subwoofers push sound downward and are therefore not directed to the listener. This can be advantageous since low-frequency sounds can be difficult for the ears. To lessen the impact, you can place the subwoofer anywhere in the room and still get the same sound effect.

Many argue that since there is no need for the large woofer of the subwoofer to face the listener directly (front-firing subwoofers), it does not need to be positioned in the front of the cabinet.

The subwoofer can be placed on the bottom (sown-firing subwoofers) allowing the floor to resonate the surface for a more intensified bass sound.

When watching a thriller and you feel a rumble in your chest when something explodes, that is very well achieved by a down-firing subwoofer. This is the reason many home theaters opt for down-firing subwoofers. Down-firing subwoofers also are less likely to form standing waves.


As a general rule, many suggest you use front-firing subwoofers to direct the bass directly to you. Many also suggest that if you are position subwoofers in a corner or wall, you need to go for down-firing subwoofers as it will distribute the bass more evenly throughout your home theater room.

Many experts say though that front-firing vs. down-firing subwoofers designs are very similar. The differences are too minimal and barely audible. It is thus recommended that you listen very well to the sound produced by these subwoofers and choose which works best for your home theater. You also need to take into consideration the quality of the cabinet and the drivers.


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