How to Connect a Subwoofer to a Receiver or Amplifier

Subwoofers are typically easy to connect, given that there are usually only two cords to deal with: one for power and one for the audio input. You're far more likely to spend the bulk of time positioning and adjusting a subwoofer for the best performance than actually plugging in a pair of cables. However, not all subwoofers are so simple and straightforward, depending on the specific model (and maybe some personal experience).

There are a few ways that one can expect to connect a subwoofer to an amplifier, receiver, or processor (also known as a home theater receiver). The most common method is done by connecting the subwoofer to the SUB OUT or LFE output of a receiver/amplifier. But you might also come across a subwoofer that uses stereo RCA or speaker wire connections. If your receiver or amplifier has enough variety, you should be able to handle most any subwoofer out there.

Confused? We have a great rundown of the different kinds of loudspeakers that should clear up any confusion.

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Connect Using the LFE Subwoofer Output

Input connections for a subwoofer
Low Level Inputs (left) and Speaker Level Subwoofer Input Jacks (right). Gary Altunian

The preferred method of connecting a subwoofer is through the Subwoofer Output (labeled as 'SUB OUT' or 'SUBWOOFER') of a receiver using an LFE ( an acronym for Low-Frequency Effects) cable. Almost all home theater receivers (or processors) and some stereo receivers have this type of subwoofer output. The LFE port is a special output only for subwoofers; you'll still see it labeled as 'SUBWOOFER' and not as LFE.

5.1 channel audio (e.g. media found on DVD discs or from cable television) has a dedicated channel output (the '.1' part) with bass-only content that is best reproduced by a subwoofer. Setting this up merely requires connecting the LFE (or subwoofer output) jack on the receiver/amplifier to the 'Line In' or 'LFE In' jack on the subwoofer. It's usually just one cable with single RCA connectors on both ends.

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Connect Using Stereo RCA or Speaker Level Outputs

Sometimes you'll find that a receiver or amplifier does not have the LFE subwoofer output. Or it might be that the subwoofer doesn't have the LFE input. Instead, the subwoofer might have right and left (R and L) stereo RCA connectors. Or they could be spring clips like you'd see on the back of standard speakers.

If the subwoofer's 'Line In' uses RCA cables (and if the subwoofer out on the receiver/amplifier also uses RCA), simply plug using an RCA cable and choose either the R or L port on the subwoofer. If the cable is split on one end (a y-cable for both right and left channels), then plug in both. If the receiver/amplifier also has left and right RCA plugs for subwoofer output, then be sure to also plug in both.

If the subwoofer features spring clips in order to use speaker wire, then you can use the speaker output of the receiver to hook it all up. This process is the same as connecting a basic stereo speaker. Be sure to mind the channels. If the subwoofer has two sets of spring clips (for speaker in and speaker out), then it means that other speakers connect to the subwoofer, which then connects to the receiver to pass along the audio signal. If the subwoofer has only one set of spring clips, then the subwoofer will have to share the same receiver connections as the speakers. The best way to accomplish this is by using banana clips (versus overlapping bare wire) that can plug into the backs of each other.

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