Sealed vs Ported: The Nº1 Basshead’s Dilemma Solved

Here I am trying to settle the never ending debate: Sealed Vs Ported.

Are you a tight bass kick or a boomy bass thunder basshead? There are a few factors that affect this, and your preference will largely be determined by the type of music you prefer to listen to in your car.

However, the answer to that question will help you decide if you should go with a sealed subwoofer box, or a ported subwoofer box.

Sealed Vs Ported

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Which is Actually Better?

To say there is no scarcity of differing opinion on this subject would be a gross understatement.

ported or sealed which is better

Bassheads, audioholics, and audiophiles have all weighed in on this debate via magazines and and internet forums, all of which have created a tremendous number of misconceptions.

Some claim that ported subs are only for sound effects and are terrible for music. Others claim that sealed boxes are better suited to music but lack the same depth that is provided by a ported box.

Both are partially correct, and yet both opinions miss the mark to some degree. Both types of boxes have their strengths and their drawbacks, and you should look at the facts in order to make an informed decision as opposed to “expert” opinions.

Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of ported vs. sealed sub boxes, and what to consider when you are shopping for a subwoofer for your car based on what you like and don’t like about bass performance and your music.

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Sealed Enclosures: Facts and Figures

Sometimes called “closed” boxes, what sets these boxes apart is their smaller footprint compared to ported subwoofer boxes.

Sealed boxes are more compact as a rule, and they are the first choice for vehicles where space is at a premium.

Sealed subwoofer box

Image courtesy of Kicker.com

Despite this fact, size is not the only differentiating factor between sealed and ported boxes.

The air inside a sealed box is actually trapped there, creating air pressure resistance that acts as a shock absorber or a spring for the cone of the woofer itself.

This restriction in movement actually prevents the sub from over-extending itself, clarifying individual notes and providing a tighter, more accurate bass response for your music.

Overview

  • Smaller footprint
  • Higher quality bass clarity and accuracy in reproduction
  • Exceptional transient response
  • Loss in efficiency*

*This requires a little explanation: the one drawback to the sealed sub enclosure is due to the restriction of the subwoofer itself by the internal pocket of trapped, pressurized air.

This causes the rear wave to dissipate within the enclosure, causing a loss in the overall thundering quality of your bass response, and requiring more electrical power to recreate that thunderous bass sound.

In other words, you may need a higher power amplifier to drive the sub and compensate for the drop in efficiency that is built into the sealed subwoofer enclosure.

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Ported Enclosure: Facts and Figures

Without a doubt, ported subwoofer enclosures are your go-to option for that block-shaking, bombastic bass tone that packs a lot more reverberance and punch than a sealed enclosure.

Unlike sealed subwoofers, ported boxes don’t need any extra sound gear like equalizers or digital signal processors thanks to the unrestricted subwoofer cone motion of ported bass boxes.

When a sub enclosure is ported, there is no trapped air pocket to restrict the cone’s movement, so it produces significantly stronger wave output with less energy.

However, even with this simple difference in design, configuring a ported subwoofer enclosure can be difficult in terms of establishing balanced, clear sound output similar to that of a sealed enclosure.

The secret to building a good ported box is to size the box and the vent in the correct proportion to each other.

The vent needs to be placed in such a way that it re-directs sound from the back of the enclosure to augment the bass being thrown from the front of the cone, boosting the overall output significantly.

This means you can run a couple 12-inch subs (like the JL on the picture, one of my favorites) of a moderately powerful external amp and still get the bone-shaking, skull-rattling sound you are looking for.

More bass, plus less drain on the electrical system equals fewer dead car batteries and more bang for your buck.

JL 12 inch

A further advantage to the ported design is that it is easier on the subwoofer cones over time.

Open enclosures can maintain a lower operating temperature thanks to the increased airflow, putting less strain on the surface of the cone while it is cranking out that atomic low-end sound.

Overview

  • Reduced cone excursion and distortion
  • Provides the extra thump that is desirable for certain types of bass-centric music. The airflow in and out of the vent is what creates the thump, resulting in a low-pitch version of someone blowing across the top of an empty jug.
  • The venting sound from the port can actually create additional tone distortion in certain types of less bass-centric music.
  • More vulnerable/sensitive to changes in climate such shifts in air temperature and humidity, sometimes resulting in warping or cracking.
  • Ported subwoofer boxes are more vulnerable to driver fatigue since they are more exposed to outside air and the elements.
  • The highly pressurized internal air pockets that are supported by ported enclosures require significantly sturdier construction and regular maintenance to ensure their integrity

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The Bottom Line: What You Should Choose

Okay, so now you know the specific differences between sealed enclosures and ported enclosures for subwoofers, and the vastly different methods they reproduce low frequency sound.. Take a second to let that all settle in.

Don’t worry I’ll wait.

Ready?

Good. Now let’s talk about what it all means to you.

Both enclosure types offer benefits and drawbacks, that much should be clear, and they definitely will improve the efficiency and overall sound of your car stereo regardless.

The real debate is what benefits you most versus what drawbacks you are willing to live with.

There are two very distinctive methods for deciding which type of enclosure is best for you and your car stereos needs: ported enclosures bring the boom and the volume; sealed boxes bring the clarity and the quality.

If you are interesting in shaking the ground as you pass by, you need to invest in some ported sub enclosures.

They are going to give you what you want. If you are more interested in crisp, punchy, distinctive bass that adds depth to the overall sound, you want to put a sealed subwoofer enclosure in your vehicle.

Ported boxes are way, way louder and are significantly more sensitive to low end than sealed boxes, and they will let you crank out the big bass beats you crave.

However, ported enclosures do tend to push a lower quality, less clarified sound.

If we pause for a second and cut the technical talk and engineering explanations ad nauseam, let’s get down to brass tacks as the saying goes: sealed subs are for sound quality, and ported boxes are for volume.

"As a rule of thumb, Sealed is for SQ, Ported for SPL"

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This is not to say that a well designed ported subwoofer box cannot produce high quality sound, or that there are no loud sealed subwoofer enclosures either. It all comes down to customization, construction, and tweaking.

Adding higher quality equalizers, subwoofer specific band pass filters, or using amplifiers known for their superior audio fidelity can drastically improve the quality of ported enclosures.

By the same token, using cones and drivers specifically engineered for sealed enclosures combined with more powerful, heatsink or fan-cooled amplifiers may increase the output of a sealed subwoofer box by a significant amount.

Your music taste is all

Personally, I believe the best way to make this decision is to look at your play history for your digital music player or look at what CDs you keep in your car, and decide what you play the most.

Are you more of a classic rock, folk, country, or jazz fan? You are probably going to be a shoe-in for a sealed subwoofer enclosure that fits nearly under the driver’s seat or bench seat of your car, pickup, or SUV.

If this your play history is full of songs like this one:

Then you want a pair of big subs in a ported enclosure placed in your trunk to reeeeally enjoy a whole new level of bass.

The only wrong choice here is buying based on price or design without considering how you will use this sub the most.

In the end, it is your call, but make sure you consider the facts and not just opinions when you decide to add some more bottom to your ride’s stereo. 

I hope this article has served to clarify the never ending Sealed vs Ported dilemma!

Got questions? Leave a comment below!​

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