What to Do When the Subwoofer Isn't Working Properly

Try four troubleshooting steps to fix a faulty subwoofer

Before you decide to remove and replace a supposedly bad subwoofer, run through these quick steps (similar to when a stereo system won't make any sound) to diagnose and fix the problem. Worst-case scenario? You might get to go shopping for a new speaker system.

Frustrated person dealing with subwoofer speakers
Miguel Co / Lifewire

Before you get started, make sure all equipment is turned off, including the subwoofer. You never want to connect or disconnect any cables while anything is on, lest something incurs accidental damage.

  1. Check connections and speaker wires. Starting from the subwoofer, check all the wires and connection points running to amplifiers, receivers, or speakers. Check to make sure that cables are firmly connected and plugged into the correct spots.

    The inputs on the back of the subwoofer generally plug into the subwoofer output on the back of receivers or amplifiers. If the subwoofer connects to speaker outputs on the receiver or amplifier, inspect the entire length of wire connections for defects. If any bit of wire appears to be worn, torn, or damaged, replace those wires before attempting to use the equipment again. Perform a quick test on the wires to check that they work.

  2. Check outlets, power cable, and fuse. Most subwoofers have a "standby" LED that glows to indicate active power. If it's not lit, check that the subwoofer is securely plugged into a wall socket, surge protector, or power strip. If a plug's prongs slip out halfway—it's often enough to prevent the flow of power—gently bend them so the cable will stay connected after you let go. Make sure that all associated switches (i.e. ones on walls, power strips, etc.) are flipped to the on position. If the subwoofer still doesn't power on, try plugging it into a different outlet that you know works properly.

    As with the speaker wires, inspect the subwoofer's power cable for any damage or defects. Some subwoofers are equipped with a fuse, which may or may not require removal of a back plate. If the fuse is a feature, and if you're comfortable tinkering with electronics, check to see if it needs replacing. Otherwise, consult the manufacturer or local repair shop first.

  3. Check system and menu settings. If all the wires and cables look good, revisit the menu settings on your receiver or amplifier—you never know if someone might have accidentally changed it all. Check that the subwoofer is associated with the proper audio input selections. Make sure that the subwoofer's output hasn't also been adjusted down.

    If the input device offers speaker size settings, choose the smallest option first; sometimes setting the speaker size to something larger makes it so that the subwoofer doesn't receive a signal. Some receivers will, in fact, allow subwoofers to operate with a large speaker setting, so consult your product manual for additional details.

  4. Verify connections, turn on the subwoofer, and set the volume. After all connections and settings have been verified, turn on the subwoofer. Check the volume level on the subwoofer and receiver or amplifier before sending any audio input. Start the volume low and gradually increase it to determine if the subwoofer is working correctly. Use music test tracks that feature low-end bass content so there is no question one way or another.

If Nothing Works, Consider Replacing Your Subwoofer

If the subwoofer doesn't power on at all, or it powers on but won't play a thing, then there's a good chance that it is defective and needs to be replaced.

If possible, connect a separate subwoofer to the sending device to test that the hardware malfunction isn't related to the sender. If the second subwoofer works, then it's very likely the original is indeed bad. But before you start shopping, determine if you need a powered or passive subwoofer.

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