July 25, 2017

When it comes to audio, everyone uses the term ‘BASS’. Seldom do people know about what it actually means. What actually is bass? How does this affect the music you are listening to? Is base, ace?

The human hearing is capable of listening to sounds between 20 Hz to 20000 Hz i.e. sounds that have a frequency between that range. There are exceptions. For eg -  if mom is calling out your name for chores, no amount of volume will be enough to be audible. We didn’t make this up. It happens. Coming back to the matter at hand, this range of  human hearing is further classified into five categories according to frequency.

Headphone Audiophile Guide Audio Spectrum

 

The Sub and Lower frequencies are are what we know as Bass or low-end. Bass lies at the base of our listening capability or the ‘low end’ of our audio frequency range. Responsible for folks grooving to Nucleya to headbanging to Metallica’s battery of sonic assault - bass, can indeed be ace.

Headphone Audiophile Guide Bass Spectrum

 

But how is bass produced?

Headphone-Zone-Audeze-iSine20Bass is mostly generated by vibration of objects with lower density. Confused? Hear us out: Take drums for example. Those large round ones that used to be struck by the most pompous, untalented  and yet lucky bloke in school parades. That drum. Drums having a larger membrane would vibrate relatively slowly when hit. Thus, you’d get a loud BOOM or bass note every time it was struck. String instruments like cello, bass guitar; woodwind or brass instruments like tuba, bassoon and bass saxophone are all examples of instruments that can create low notes. All of this is due to the slow back and forth movement of an object when struck by another object. This is all with respect to the frequency range mentioned above. For perspective, the hum made by the fast-flapping of a humming bird would be a high frequency one whereas a big bird like an eagle would make a low frequency, flap-flap like noise due to its huge wingspan. Clear so far?

Is BASS important?

Now, a lot of music genres are more or less defined by the kind of bass they have. It’s definitely one of the defining  factors. Jazz, Rock, Blues, Metal, Classical, Hip Hop - all genres have their variations of low-end. Bass is a very important aspect of audio as it’s the foundation on which the rest of the music is based or composed on, traditionally. Bass, through percussion or through melody is important for a piece of music to sound complete. But bass is first and foremost, a precise element. Too much of it, even in bass-heavy genres like EDM can end up dominating the output of a song, especially when heard from a pair of headphones. Because bass gives one a feeling of movement or ‘thump’,  too much bass is popularly mistaken as the mark of a good pair of headphones. A quick look at the amount of “heavy bass” headphones available today is a dead giveaway of this misconception. Too much of bass can distort the overall output, thus sacrificing the detail, and spoil the overall output. Like everything, the trick lies in moderation and headphones like Sennheiser Momentum 2.0, Sony MDR1000x and Meze 99 Classics are amazing examples of headphones that are bass heavy but do justice to the remaining frequencies too. Like a well-rounded meal, your audio needs to be well-rounded too.

 

AUDIO BEYOND THE BASS 

‘I want heavy BASS’ is what most headphone users ask for. Let’s see why this is not necessarily a good thing. We’re going down the geek tunnel. Take a leap of faith with us:

When a headphone driver is made to focus more on the lower frequency, it loses the attention to detail. In a headphone the membrane (diaphragm) of the speaker vibrates according to the generated signal (your audio input aka song/ music). This diaphragm is designed to deliver all the frequencies. Now if the diaphragm is focused to deliver the bass more, it will obviously compromise on delivering other frequencies equally. In simple terms, if a multi-tasker is forced to focus more on one task rather than dividing one’s attention equally to all tasks, the overall output will suffer.

Headphone Audiophile Guide Bass Speaker diagram

This makes the audio sound more dynamically full of bass instead of sounding natural and rounded. This fails to accommodate the midrange and higher frequencies, due to which it loses its natural essence, even though it may sound loud and active. Trust us when we say this - blatantly listening to just the bass is no way to start one’s journey on being an audiophile.

Then how should one expect a headphone to be?

Talk about a good question! This is a highly subjective topic but we’ll try being as objective as possible here. Ideally, a pair of good headphones should be able to do what it's meant to do - reproduce audio as was originally created. That is the holy grail for any device used for audio reproduction - speakers, headphones, amplifiers. But, and a big ‘but’ (we won’t lie) at that, listening to audio boils down to what appeals to you. Yes, you! It really is as simple as that. Everyone has their own choices and what is chicken tandoori to one is palak paneer to another, whichever way you put it. However, there are ways to refine and work on one’s listening tastes to develop into a worthy audiophile. For starters, look beyond the bass. Bass is easy to spot first and foremost and hence the wrong notion of it being the most significant parameter for a good headphone. Learn to appreciate the other frequencies, just like the salad on a paneer/ chicken tikka plate. They’re sonically good for you. A good pair of headphones must appeal to your particular taste in music while making sure that all the frequencies are given their due. That’s it. Liking bass is not a crime. A lot of professional music production guys and audiophiles enjoy heavy bass but they know how to look for a pair of good earphones that do justice to a song as a whole.

So go on and choose a pair that appeals, even a bass-heavy one! Just keep the above in mind. Staying away from baseless notions about bass would help too. Still need help? Our Headphone Guru is just a phone call away.

 

Headphone Audiophile Guide Bass last image

 

 

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