We’ve taken an in-depth look at all sorts of different subwoofer configurations to help our readers make informed decisions. From massive competition subwoofers, to modest underseat units, we’ve seen it all… but some of the most unique car stereo setups involve free air subwoofers. With a free air sub, you don’t have to buy or build an enclosure.
Going this route saves you some trunk space. Instead of needing an enclosure, you’re using the whole of your trunk instead, which means you can still fit nearly just as much in your trunk, because you won’t have a giant, heavy, wooden box taking up room.
A free air subwoofer gives you the cheapest, easiest way to fill out your stereo’s sound profile. They cost less (since you don’t need an enclosure), take up less space, and give you your easiest foot in the door… but the downside is that they don’t hit as hard as subs that have enclosures.
If you’re happy just to get some extra bass, even if it’s not the heaviest and hardest-hitting bass possible (you would need a great enclosure for that), then this is a great option, and here are the best examples:
Editor’s Choice Free Air Sub
1. Kicker 10C104 :
It has been referred to as the world’s best subwoofer value, and that’s pretty spot-on because it’s not the most devastating subwoofer in the world, but for more modest installations, you can pair this up with an amplifier very easily and add a ton of bass to your sound with minimal cost, especially when you’re using it as a free air subwoofer.
There are a thousand good reasons why Kicker is one of the leading brands in car audio, and value is one of the main ones. They have some stunning high-end gear for audiophiles, but they also make great stuff for people who are just getting into the hobby. This particular subwoofer offers an amazing value for anyone who is looking for a big upgrade over their stock audio, but without committing to a massive, expensive setup.
This subwoofer works great in an enclosure, but if you’re looking to free up more trunk space and to take advantage of the other benefits of going the free air route, it is up to the task. If you decide to upgrade down the road, you could grab another one of these, and even toss them both in a double-enclosure if you decide to give up some trunk space.
It’s always nice when we can find some gear that’s suitable for people who are getting started, but that can also grow up with them and be expanded as they dig deeper. It makes it a lot easier to recommend something like that.
2. JBL CS1214
JBL is bringing some incredible value to the table here, these subs are more than capable at 250w RMS each and 12 inches in diameter.
Two 12 inch subwoofers are never anything to scoff at, and having the second one will help make up for some of the loss of impact that you’ll experience from a free air installation.
This is one of the best deals in car audio when it comes to entry-level gear that’s going to make a huge difference. This package comes with two of the CS1214 subwoofers from JBL, so you can set them both up as free air subs, and get a lot more movement than you normally would with just one. On top of that, they’re both twelve inches, which is plenty big to make a serious impact.
Once again, it’s a totally viable strategy to start with a simpler free air configuration to test the waters and see how you like it (especially with a pair as inexpensive as these), and if you decide that they just aren’t giving you that oomph you’re craving, adding an enclosure will likely take care of that. It’s a good path to take in terms of upgrades, but also having something that hits in the meantime.
This subwoofer boasts 2000w as a selling point, but it’s important to recognize that’s max – not RMS. You don’t want to make purchases based on the max, it’s the RMS that matters the most. In this case, it’s 250w RMS per speaker which is a lot different than seeing 2000w advertised, or the 1000w that each sub has printed on the front.
3. Pyle PLPW8D :
This subwoofer isn’t going to be winning you any awards, but if you’re on a shoestring budget and you want the most bang for minimal bucks, this is the go-to choice.
It’s “good enough” in every sense of the word, but it gets the job done and has a very shallow mounting depth which makes it great for free air use in tighter-fit areas.
Let’s be totally upfront here. If you aren’t looking for an absolute bargain, and willing to sacrifice quality in the name of getting the lowest price possible, this one is worth skipping. For all intents and purposes, this is not a great subwoofer until you factor in the fact that it costs about as much as ordering a pizza.
We recommend it for someone who wants to experiment, maybe you’re wiring up your first subwoofer and you want to do a trial run in case something goes wrong or just for practice, or if you’re looking to play around.
It’s not super well made compared to most of the other options, it’s not going to push as much air around, it’s not going to handle power as well, but it is rated for 400w RMS which definitely gives it more push than you’d expect for the price.
Here’s the deal, don’t buy this subwoofer and expect peak performance for years to come. It’s a budget model, but if you get it set up nicely, it’s still going to be infinitely better than not having any subwoofer at all. With a cheap amplifier and wiring kit, you can get this installed and add bass to your car for well under $100, which is obviously very tempting – but just make sure your expectations are in line.
4. Infinity Kappa :
Infinity has blown us away with this subwoofer. It’s got a unique style, it handles plenty of power, and for 8” it’s got some serious kick. This sub will play nicely with a variety of amplifier types, due to a special feature called SSI (selectable smart impedance.)
This is a great choice for someone who is getting their first subwoofer and wants to skip some of the very entry-level stuff, or even someone looking for a small upgrade.
This gorgeous looking subwoofer is just incredible. It’s rated for 400w RMS with a peak of 1600w. Unlike some of the shallow mount subwoofers, this one has some more depth to it.
This is a fantastic choice for free air subwoofer systems because of that extra depth and the way it’s built. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not the same as having an enclosure, but if you’re going the free air route you may as well go with something that’s this well-suited to it.
This subwoofer handles the power very well, and it’s well above some of the more entry-level options we’ve featured previously on this list. It’s a great compromise if you want solid bass and you also want to go free air, it fits in that exact segment of the market perfectly and it’s easy to recommend if you’ve got the space for it.
The frequency response gets low enough that you’ll definitely feel it, but it’s not super over the top, either. There’s definitely an emphasis here on SQ (sound quality) rather than simply trying to get as loud as possible, which makes for a much more pleasant listening experience.
5. Infinity Reference REF1200S
This very capable subwoofer from Infinity is a part of their Reference line, you should expect great sound and that’s exactly what you’ll get. While the emphasis here is on form-factor, and it does suffer a bit because of that, it’s still a perfectly suitable subwoofer that’ll be more than enough for the average system.
If you grab a pair of them, you’ll unlock even more bass, and you’ll also have some solid building blocks to plan the rest of your car audio installation around.
Here’s another fantastic subwoofer from Infinity, this one is meant for a shallow mount, so it’s not as deep as the previous. It’s pretty light, at around 8 pounds, but it can still cause a bit of commotion.
This isn’t the craziest sub out there, you usually have to give up a bit of juice in exchange for the more shallow mounting capability. The nice thing here is that it’s a 12” sub, so you’re still getting a fair amount of surface area, even if it doesn’t have as much depth.
If you’re putting it in a setup where you’ve got the extra space, consider getting the Kappa model above, but if your space is more limited, this subwoofer is more than capable of getting the job done.
It really comes down to how much space you’ve got in your trunk for your subwoofer. Free air saves you room, and having this thin design saves you room, but it comes at a cost. It’s not physically possible for free air to hit as hard as something with a ton of power in a great enclosure.
On the plus side, free air is easier to power. This particular model is perfect if you want something thin, the top mount depth is only 3.25” so that gives you tons of options for mounting.