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A Message from a "Bass Head"

LightninBoy

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NOTE: the following is *NOT* to be taken too seriously. I’m not really mad about the term “bass head”, but the term encapsulates some audiophile misconceptions that I just need to push back on …

I keep reading this phrase in the forum: "I'm not a bass head". Its typically said while explaining why the poster can get by with small standmount speakers and doesn’t need a sub. For example: “I don’t need a sub, I’m not a bass head”.

I find it odd that this somewhat pejorative phrase would be used in this context and in a forum dedicated to accurately reproducing recorded sound. The typical small monitor starts petering out at 80-100hz. Here are a few acoustic instruments that can go lower than that: Piano, Cello, Stand up bass, Trombone, French horn, Tuba, Baritone Sax, Bassoon, Harp, Harpsichord, Timpani, Marimba, Guitar, Voice, kick drum, tom drum, etc, etc.

Then of course there are all the bass instruments used in modern music like synths and extended range bass guitars.

So I ask you, in the search for hi fidelity sound, why is it ok to not accurately reproduce the full range of these instruments? Why obsess over a couple SINAD points, but shrug it off when a system can’t even come close to reproducing the full body of a kick drum? And why are those who desire to accurately reproduce these instruments dismissively called “bass heads”?

There’s also an ongoing misperception that only extreme music (EDM, Organ, Metal, etc.) has much content in the low end. In fact in most popular music, the low end carries the energy of the song. Many pop/rock producers start a mix by setting the level of the kick drum and the bass guitar and then mixing everything else around that. There may be a few music genres that don’t have a lot of low frequency content, but most commercial music does. Certainly, since the CD age anyways. To demonstrate, here’s a typical spectrum example from a Sarah Mclaughlin’s “Building a Mystery”. I chose this because its about as mainstream as mainstream got in the 2000’s and is an adult rock staple – not EDM, or metal or any other extreme example:

spectrum.png


Do you see all that information under 100hz? It’s roughly equivalent to everything over 3k (perceptually speaking). That’s information you are losing if you forgo a subwoofer because you don’t want to be a bass head. Ironically, there’s relatively little information over 5k, but you never hear anyone say “I don’t need tweeters, because I’m not a treble head”

There are many valid reasons for building a music system that does not go to the lowest lows: it can be expensive to do right, it takes up more space, its complicated and requires a lot of personal time, it will annoy the neighbors, etc. However, understand that these are compromises to the ultimate goal of accurate playback. Don’t fall into the audiophile nonsense that deep bass response is not important or even actually counterproductive to high fidelity. Good low frequency response is critical to high fidelity. And stop calling me a “bass head” for believing so … treble head.
 
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McFly

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Love it. I think most bookshelf speaker worshipers actually get down to around 40hz in room, and as such are happy because they're getting the low notes on bass guitar (42hz?) and kick drums (50ish). I was one of those people, until I got proper subwoofers and realised there is kick drum information right down to 20hz in some recordings, and boy do you get a better sense of sound-stage with all that extra info, not to mention the added clarity in taking the heavy lifting away from your monitors.

You could call people that listen to hi-res recordings air-heads. Who's really listening to music at 19-20khz and up?
 

solderdude

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It depends on the definition of 'basshead'.
Usually the 'real' bassheads are headphone users that prefer at least +10dB bass opposite the mids.

Some bassheads even think the headphone below does not even have enough bass.
fr-m100.png


and prefer something like the one below:
sony-xb500.png


The problem with speakers is that the amount of bass is actually very position/room size/listening position dependent.
 

Wayne A. Pflughaupt

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The typical small monitor starts petering out at 80-100hz. Here are a few acoustic instruments that can go lower than that: Piano, Cello, Stand up bass, Trumpet, Trombone, French horn, Tuba, Baritone Sax, Bassoon, Harp, Harpsichord, Timpani, Marimba, Guitar, Voice, kick drum, tom drum, etc, etc.

Then of course there are all the bass instruments used in modern music like synths and extended range bass guitars.

You are talking about fundamentals. However, fundamentals are only one part of the low frequency picture. Bass notes from instruments are extremely complex tones comprised of not just the fundamental, but also harmonics, sub-harmonics, overtones, etc.

For instance, a low “E” note on a piano is 20 Hz. However, play that note along with a 20 Hz sine wave tone and it’s obvious that the piano can’t even produce the actual fundamental.

I recently did an evaluation of an EV ZX1-90 PA speaker that has an 8” woofer. REW showed it only extended to 80 Hz. Yet my listening observations, done before taking the measurement, was that the bass sounded great.

Don’t misunderstand, I wholly agree with your premise about having a sub with your system. I’m just trying to show how people are able to live without it. :)

I mean, people enjoyed hi-fi systems long before there were subwoofers!

That said, I love subs and I’m keeping mine. :)

Regards,
Wayne A. Pflughaupt
 

ttimer

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I keep reading this phrase in the forum: "I'm not a bass head". Its typically said while explaining why the poster can get by with small standmount speakers and doesn’t need a sub. For example: “I don’t need a sub, I’m not a bass head”.

There are many valid reasons for building a music system that does not go to the lowest lows: it can be expensive to do right, it takes up more space, its complicated and requires a lot of personal time, it will annoy the neighbors, etc. However, understand that these are compromises to the ultimate goal of accurate playback.

I'm not quite sure who this is directed at. The only people i know who say "I don't need a sub for good sound" are those who use big, deep-reaching floorstanders. Basically everyone listening to bookshelves without subs does it for exactly the reasons that you mention in the second quoted paragraph.

@solderdude is totally right, btw. A "Bass head" is someone whos equalizer settings look like the Cliffs of Dover, whos subwoofer has 5000W RMS, while complaining that he "can't feel the bass". Basically the opposite of accurate sound reproduction.
 

Alexanderc

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You are talking about fundamentals. However, fundamentals are only one part of the low frequency picture. Bass notes from instruments are extremely complex tones comprised of not just the fundamental, but also harmonics, sub-harmonics, overtones, etc.

For instance, a low “E” note on a piano is 20 Hz. However, play that note along with a 20 Hz sine wave tone and it’s obvious that the piano can’t even produce the actual fundamental.

The room interaction is complex, but the sound production is not as complicated as you suggest. The fundamental is the lowest of the tones produced when any given note is played, and the overtones (a.k.a. harmonics) are naturally produced at mathematical intervals above that. So-called "subharmonics" are a theoretical contrivance and don't exist in the physical world (incidentally, the wikipedia article on "undertones" [a.k.a. subharmonics] is poor, and I'm tempted to gather the needed bibliographic evidence and write in with a rebuttal).

As for the piano, it is possible that one or more of the overtones sounds more strongly than the fundamental at the lowest pitches, but the fundamental must be there or there wouldn't be overtones.
 

Mountain Goat

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It depends on the definition of 'basshead'.
Usually the 'real' bassheads are headphone users that prefer at least +10dB bass opposite the mids.

Learn something every day, never heard of "basshead" applied to headphones. Always thought of them as the maniacs over on the "Subwoofers, Bass, and Transducers" subforum on AVS Forum who have multiple refrigerator-sized Rythmik G25HP or JTR Captivator subs and still add add "BOSS" (Baffle Open Sub Speaker) tactile response platforms under their seating.

(Because they won't be satisfied until they actually rip the space/time continuum in half with the opening scene of "Edge of Tomorrow".)
 

raistlin65

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Love it. I think most bookshelf speaker worshipers actually get down to around 40hz in room, and as such are happy because they're getting the low notes on bass guitar (42hz?) and kick drums (50ish). I was one of those people, until I got proper subwoofers and realised there is kick drum information right down to 20hz in some recordings, and boy do you get a better sense of sound-stage with all that extra info, not to mention the added clarity in taking the heavy lifting away from your monitors.

Let's not give them too much credit, given the roll off in bass response and generally high rates of distortion below the tuning point. :)
 
OP
LightninBoy

LightninBoy

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I'm not quite sure who this is directed at. The only people i know who say "I don't need a sub for good sound" are those who use big, deep-reaching floorstanders. Basically everyone listening to bookshelves without subs does it for exactly the reasons that you mention in the second quoted paragraph.

@solderdude is totally right, btw. A "Bass head" is someone whos equalizer settings look like the Cliffs of Dover, whos subwoofer has 5000W RMS, while complaining that he "can't feel the bass". Basically the opposite of accurate sound reproduction.

Yeah, I'm kind of asking you to imagine windmills and also imagine that they are dragons. I'd link specific posts that inspired this, but I really don't want to make this directed at a post or person as I'm truly not offended by the term bass head. It just makes for a good rhetorical springboard for a commentary on the importance of good low frequency response in hi-fi.
 
OP
LightninBoy

LightninBoy

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Love it. I think most bookshelf speaker worshipers actually get down to around 40hz in room, and as such are happy because they're getting the low notes on bass guitar (42hz?) and kick drums (50ish). I was one of those people, until I got proper subwoofers and realised there is kick drum information right down to 20hz in some recordings, and boy do you get a better sense of sound-stage with all that extra info, not to mention the added clarity in taking the heavy lifting away from your monitors.

To your point, if a system is getting *flat* response down to 40hz in the room, then that would cover the fundamental bass instruments in rock and pop. However, I'd wager that that kind of low frequency response is very rare with bookshelf speakers without a sub. Its even problematic for full size speakers without a sub.
 
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Jag768

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Love it. I think most bookshelf speaker worshipers actually get down to around 40hz in room, and as such are happy because they're getting the low notes on bass guitar (42hz?) and kick drums (50ish). I was one of those people, until I got proper subwoofers and realised there is kick drum information right down to 20hz in some recordings, and boy do you get a better sense of sound-stage with all that extra info, not to mention the added clarity in taking the heavy lifting away from your monitors.

You could call people that listen to hi-res recordings air-heads. Who's really listening to music at 19-20khz and up?
One of the problems is the misconception of roomgain: unlike cars, normal living rooms are just too big and too leaky for sereous LF extension (even in europe :p). What is thought of as room gain, is probably just standing waves. But those are typically high Q / narrow peaks, with dips in the response adjecent to them. Thats not hifi, thats just the audiophile way of dealing with standing waves: just produce almost nill LF energy :)

So i totally agree with the topic starter: LF extension, flatness and decent output without distortion is not easy but it is important!
 

MattHooper

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Bass never hurts the ears. At least not mine.

Bothers mine when too much. I have tinnitus - there's a claim that low bass frequencies don't harm ears but it's not quite true. Loud bass frequencies often leave my ears ringing.
 

tomtoo

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Bothers mine when too much. I have tinnitus - there's a claim that low bass frequencies don't harm ears but it's not quite true. Loud bass frequencies often leave my ears ringing.

A friend of mine has similar problems. But i had never ringing from bass only from to loud highs. Yeap we are the all same but a little different. ;)
 

tmtomh

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First off, the term, "bass head" as I understand it refers to folks who, like @solderdude notes above, don't simply enjoy solid or low bass, but beyond that prefer elevated bass, by definition not high fidelity to the original source.

That said, I do take the OP's point. But I would also agree with the gist of many responses here that the very lowest octave - 20-40Hz - is not necessarily quite as important as some might think, while the second-lowest octave - 40-80Hz - is really the key to much (even if not all) of what we experience as low bass.

Lots of bookshelf speakers can get down near 40Hz, but by the same token virtually none of them can do it as well or cleanly as a dedicated sub.
 
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