How much bass is too much bass?

Bass, like most things in audio, is a matter of personal taste. But there's still too much of it out there.

A lot of folks crave room-shaking bass, but some prefer it more tightly controlled.

Little speakers or subwoofers may promise deep and powerful bass, but truly deep bass only comes from big woofers. Speaker cabinet size also plays a huge role in determining bass quality and quantity, so go for big speakers if bass is a major priority. To a lesser degree the same logic applies to headphones: full-size headphones generate more bass impact than tiny earbuds.

Steve Guttenberg

Speaker and headphone designers know most people prefer a little too much rather than too little bass, so they usually add a little extra bass, rather than design for a truly "flat," or accurate bass response.

Recording engineers and producers seem to be working along the same track, and pump up the bass levels of their recordings, perhaps anticipating that a lot of people will be listening to their music over bass challenged speakers or headphones. Again, they err on the side of too much rather than too little bass.

Back in the day, most receivers had bass and treble controls, letting listeners dial in as much or as little bass as they wanted. Few of today's receivers have tone control knobs on their front panels. Instead, you have to explore setup menus to alter the bass levels, so a lot of folks never even try to adjust the bass balance.

In my experience, most auto speaker calibration systems, like the ones in Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Sony, and Yamaha receivers add too much bass. You might assume that a "calibrated" receiver would be accurate, but that isn't always the case. Perhaps because the inexpensive calibration microphones provided with receivers aren't precise enough to produce the best result.

So we're back where we started: bass balance is a matter of personal taste. What do you like, and do you adjust the bass on your system from time to time? Share your thoughts about bass in the Comments section.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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