Ambient mechanical vibrations have emerged as a viable energy source for low-power wireless sensor nodes aiming the upcoming era of the ‘Internet of Things’. Recently, purposefully induced dynamical nonlinearities have been exploited to widen the frequency spectrum of vibration energy harvesters. Here we investigate some critical inconsistencies between the theoretical formulation and applications of the bistable Duffing nonlinearity in vibration energy harvesting. A novel nonlinear vibration energy harvesting device with the capability to switch amidst individually tunable bistable-quadratic, monostable-quartic and bistable-quartic potentials has been designed and characterized. Our study highlights the fundamentally different large deflection behaviors of the theoretical bistable-quartic Duffing oscillator and the experimentally adapted bistable-quadratic systems, and underlines their implications in the respective spectral responses. The results suggest enhanced performance in the bistable-quartic potential in comparison to others, primarily due to lower potential barrier and higher restoring forces facilitating large amplitude inter-well motion at relatively lower accelerations.