Why Are Many Audiophiles Anti-Bass?

SVS Subwoofer Speaker Cone SB-2000

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There has been a long-standing debate among audiophiles about the role of bass in audio reproduction.

Many audiophiles believe that bass is an important part of the musical experience, while others believe that it is unnecessary and even detrimental to the quality of sound reproduction.

This is precisely why many audiophiles don’t use subwoofers and, in my opinion, end up losing out on a lot of the musical experience.

Now, I’m not saying that all audiophiles should go out and buy subwoofers, but I do think that bass is an important part of what makes music so enjoyable. Movies and series, not so much, but for music, there needs to be some degree of bass to ensure better quality.

There are some recordings that just wouldn’t be the same without the deep, rich, low frequencies that only a subwoofer can provide.

Earthquake by Tinie Tempah, DOTA by Basshunter, Lil’ Bit by Nelly and Florida Georgia Line, and Stars in the Sky by Kid Cudi, for instance, simply don’t feel the same without bass. However, some old-school and classical music feels incredible without an over-tuned bass or a subwoofer.

Examples of these include the Scatman (ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop) by Scatman John, I’m Blue by Eiffel 65 (a song can actually be ruined by too much bass), and Never Gonna Wake You Up by Avicii & Rick Astley, among countless others.

HiFi Speakers with the grill off and the drivers showing the speaker cone up close
Is the sweet tone from a floor-standing or bookshelf speaker drivers enough bass for audiophiles? | Make Life Click

This is to say that, for me, it really varies from song to song, and ultimately, it’s up to the listener to decide what they want out of their music listening experience.

In this article, I will go over both sides of the bass and anti-bass debate to try and provide some clarity on the matter. I will also share my own personal opinion on the role of bass in audio reproduction.

Why Are Many Audiophiles Anti-Bass?

Let’s take a closer look at both sides of the coin.

Pro-Bass Arguments

There are a few key arguments that audiophiles use in favor of bass reproduction. The first is that bass adds weight and body to the sound. This is especially true of music that is recorded in a studio with artificial reverb.

Without bass, the sound can often feel thin and lacking in depth. The second argument is that bass adds impact and dynamics to the sound. This is especially true of music with a lot of percussive elements, such as rock and metal.

SVS Subwoofer front on in a lounge under a bookshelf with ornaments on it.
Why Are Many Audiophiles Anti-Bass? 7

The third argument is that bass adds a sense of rhythm and groove to the music. This is especially true of genres like hip hop, dance, and electronic music. The fourth and final argument is that bass creates a more immersive listening experience.

This is because bass frequencies are felt as well as heard. When you feel the bass, it creates a physical connection to the music that can often be just as important as the emotional connection.

Anti-Bass Arguments

There are also a few key arguments that audiophiles use against bass reproduction. The first is that bass muddies up the sound. This is because low frequencies tend to mask the higher frequencies, making it more difficult to hear the detail in the music.

The second argument is that bass can make the sound feel congested and cluttered. This is because low frequencies take up a lot of space, and when there’s too much of it, it can start to sound like a mess.

According to anti-bassers, bass can cause listeners to lose focus on the music. I believe this is a bit of a stretch, though. They suggest that because low frequencies can be quite distracting, and if there’s too much of it, it can be difficult to pay attention to anything else.

Yes, too much bass is NEVER a good idea, but a subwoofer being a distraction under normal circumstances is not something I can get behind.

There are tracks where I find my SVS Subwoofer muddies the sound and others it brings to life.

My Q Acoustic Concept 40 actually have great bottom end on their own, I don’t always need the extra oomph from a sub.

B&W make speakers, like the 600 series, that many would say is not particularly bass heavy but the overall tone is superb.

Another argument is that bass is just not necessary for most music. This is because a lot of music sounds just fine without any low frequencies at all. In fact, some music sounds better without bass. This is especially true of older recordings that were not meant to be played back with subwoofers.

There is also the matter of acoustic interference.

This is when low frequencies from one speaker interfere with the low frequencies from another speaker or the subwoofer itself. This can oftentimes result in a muddied and unclear sound. Some audiophiles suggest that a poorly monitored or tuned subwoofer can cause more acoustic interference than a well-tuned one.

The only solution to this issue is to tune your subwoofer from scratch each time you want to play a different song or one from another genre.

This is a deal breaker for most audiophiles as it requires too much effort and can be a headache, to say the least.

My Take – Does Bass Really Ruin The Music Experience?

So, what’s my take on all of this? Well, I think that both sides have valid points. Bass does have the potential to muddy up the sound, and it can be quite distracting if there’s too much of it.

However, I also think that bass is an important part of the musical experience.

There are some recordings that just wouldn’t be the same without the deep, rich, low frequencies that only a subwoofer can provide.

There is a bit of nostalgia involved with the anti-bass sentiment, in my opinion.

Back in the day, music didn’t rely as much on bass and was more treble- and voice-oriented. Now, the industry has expanded considerably, and so have the genres. Unfortunately, not all many composers do use high bass sound effects to promote mediocre or poor music, but that isn’t always the case.

If you decide your a bass-audiophile (just made that term up) then check out SVS as they make incredible subwoofers at affordable prices.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS ONE?
SVS SB-2000 Pro 550 Watt DSP Controlled 12' Sealed Subwoofer (Piano Black)
SVS SB-2000 Pro Subwoofer

I have found that modern music runs better on bass-enabled hi-fi speaker systems than old or classical music. So, I believe that subwoofers are an essential part of any hi-fi speaker system. This is because they are the only way to reproduce the lowest frequencies in the recording. You don’t have to keep the bass level high every time you play high-fidelity music, but when the time comes to actually use it, the investment is well worth it.

The trick is to ensure that your subwoofer is:

  1. Placed correctly
  2. Getting the crossover frequency just right
  3. Complements your hi-fi speaker system by working in tandem with it instead of working against the sound.

You can also separate your subwoofer from the ground it sits on, using feet or isolators. You can get subwoofer pads as well, I’ve owed the Auralex Subdude when I lived in an apartment and I hope it gave the neighbor’s some respite :).

This can be good on wooden floors especially.

It can clear up some of the muddy elements and spill in to the floor – it can ‘tighten’ the overall bass response from the subwoofer.

Most hi-fi speaker systems come with a detailed manual that includes information on what to look for in a subwoofer. These instructions can help you make a sound decision regarding which subwoofer is right for you and your hi-fi speaker system.

Understanding the Crossover Frequency To Tackle the Anti-Bass Arguments

One of the main arguments that audiophiles use against bass reproduction is that it can muddy up the sound. This is because low frequencies tend to mask the higher frequencies, making it more difficult to hear the detail in the music.

The key to overcoming this argument is to ensure that your subwoofer is set to the correct crossover frequency. The crossover frequency is the point at which the subwoofer starts to reproduce the low frequencies in the recording.

If this frequency is set too low, then you will indeed start to lose detail in the music. This is because the low frequencies will start to mask the higher frequencies.

However, if the crossover frequency is set too high, then the subwoofer will not be able to reproduce the low frequencies in the recording. This can make the music sound thin and tinny.

The small level or dial behind subwoofers can typically help deal with managing the crossover frequency. I have found that there is no such thing as an ideal crossover frequency. Instead, it varies depending on the recording, and it’s something that you’ll have to experiment with. However, a good starting point is around 80 Hz.

Of course, your mileage may vary, and it’s ultimately up to you to experiment with different settings to see what sounds best to you.

Subwoofer grill up close, sitting on carpet with the logo in the front
Why Are Many Audiophiles Anti-Bass? 8

Questions? Thoughts? Commentary? Fire away in the comments below.

This post was last updated on 2022-09-26 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.


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