When you think of your favorite song or your favorite movie moment, you probably imagine powerful, impactful audio. Bass is audio that you can feel. It’s what makes those sci-fi movie scenes really stand out, and what makes you dance along to your favorite song.
But what exactly is bass, and why do some speakers have it while others are lacking? In this article we dive into those details. We’ll answer the question of what defines bass, and talk about the various factors that determine if a speaker will have a good bass response or not.
What Is Bass, Exactly?
Bass is simply audible sound that is low on the frequency and pitch range. Humans can generally hear frequencies from 20 Hz, all the way up to 20,000 Hz. The tones that live on the low end of that range are known as bass.
Lot’s of things produce bass. String instruments can produce bass notes. A subwoofer can produce bass. Even natural events, such as thunder, can produce audible noise that we call bass.
Most audio experts define bass frequencies as those within the 20-250 Hz range. Within that range, we have sub-bass, which is the super low end from 20-60 Hz. Many people would have trouble actually hearing 20 Hz. Sub-bass is often felt more than heard. Those really low end notes can give music and movies a lot of powerful impact moments if you have the right speaker to experience that kind of bass.
How Is Bass Created?
Speakers create bass by producing vibrations at a given frequency within the bass range that we talked about above. For example, if a music track contained a 40 Hz tone, the woofer in a speaker would move in and out at a rate of 40 times per second. The movement of the woofer diaphragm creates audible vibrations as air is disturbed and moved.
That air movement is critical for bass. Have you ever wondered why a small 2 inch speaker driver can’t produce a lot of bass, but a 12 inch subwoofer can? That 12 inch speaker diaphragm can move a lot more air than the smaller 2 inch speaker. As a result, the magnitude of those bass notes is a lot greater when played through the 12 inch subwoofer.
But size isn’t everything. As we will discuss in the next section, there are a lot of speaker technologies that can make up for the air displacement capabilities of a speaker, allowing it to achieve lower bass without simply increasing woofer size.
What Gives A Speaker Good Bass?
We’ve covered the idea that air movement creates bass, and that the more air a speaker can move, the more bass it can produce. But what exactly gives a speaker good bass? After all, two speaker models can have similar size woofers, but one will have better sounding low end bass than the other. Let’s go over some key factors that contribute to how well a speaker produces bass.
The speaker enclosure size has to match up well to the driver size. A 12 inch woofer inside a tiny speaker enclosure isn’t going to produce as much bass as a 6 ½ inch woofer inside a properly sized enclosure. Remember, the movement of the speaker in and out creates air movement both in front of the speaker diaphragm, as well as behind in the speaker enclosure. If you have too small of a speaker box, that bass sound directed into the cabinet can be quickly dissipated, removing a key factor to how well a speaker sounds.
As we mentioned briefly in the last section, speaker driver size is critical to bass response. The larger the face of the woofer, the more air it can move, and the higher the volume of bass it can produce.
Technologies like ported enclosures, long excursion woofers, and passive radiators can all help improve the bass response of a speaker. The goal of all these technologies is to maximize the efficiency of the woofer and the enclosure. Ported enclosures guide air (and thus bass notes) more efficiently than sealed enclosures, with some trade-offs that we won’t dive into in this article. Long excursion woofers more air by moving in and out of the enclosure at more distance. This creates more displacement without increasing woofer size. Passive radiators are similar to ports, guiding the air being moved inside the enclosure back to the listener more efficiently.
Finally, speaker placement is a key factor that often gets left out of the conversation. Essentially, your listening environment is an extension of the speaker. Some sound is emitted from the speaker, and then reflected off the surfaces in the room before it reaches your ear. Those sound reflections can enhance or degrade the experience. That’s why sound engineers are hired by concert halls to tune the audio setup before each show.
The room music is being played in is a large factor to how the speaker will sound overall, bass included. For speaker placement, you’ll want to make sure any vents are not blocked. Speakers can sound different right up next to a wall and further away, so play around with placement. Speakers placed in a corner will sound different than in the middle of a room. Since each room is different, there isn’t a strict guide to follow. You’ll just need to understand that sound reflections have a big role in how a speaker sounds, so play around with placement to find the optimal position for your speakers.
Which Type of Speaker Produces The Best Bass?
It should come as no surprise, but speakers designed to produce only bass are going to be the best at it. Subwoofers are common these days, both in home audio and car audio. Subwoofers use a specially designed woofer that is maximized to operate in the base frequency range. But you’re probably not reading this for that answer, you’ll want to know what kind of regular speakers produce the best base.
In general, the larger the speaker, the better base it will produce. For home audio, tower speakers are going to pack the most punch. Tower speakers are floor standing and usually contain multiple drivers. The large enclosure allows for larger woofers, which produce more bass. Tower speakers are usually 2 or 3 way, meaning they have specific drivers that are wired up to produce only certain frequencies. For example, a 3 way speaker would have a crossover circuit that sends high frequencies to the tweeter, mids to the mid range driver, and low end bass to the woofer.
For smaller speakers, like bookshelf, desk, PC, or even portable bluetooth speakers, larger is still better. But the technologies we discussed earlier, such as ports and high excursion drivers, make a big impact when comparing similar size speakers with and without this technology.
So bottom line, larger is generally better. But if you are space limited, pick the speaker that has the highest quality woofer, and the most bass enhancing features, such as ported enclosure designs.
Can Small Speakers Produce Bass?
You may be wondering, how do headphones produce bass if driver size is so important? The explanation is amplitude. Headphone drivers can move air and create bass sound, but only in very close proximity to your ear. You have to have headphones right on your ear to notice any bass. Move further away, and only the higher frequencies can be heard.
Small bookshelf and PC speakers, as well as portable bluetooth speakers, can still achieve good bass even with their small size. We’ve talked about technologies like ported enclosures, but what else helps out the smaller speakers? One thing we haven’t mentioned is power handling. The more wattage a speaker can handle, the louder it can play. To maximize bass response, it’s important to have enough wattage going into that speaker to allow it to play at its full potential.
Another important factor, especially for self contained speakers (portable bluetooth speakers) is digital signal processing. The computer chip that controls the speaker can enhance certain frequencies to improve low end response for any audio playing on the speaker. You’ve seen those “Bass Boost” buttons on old boom boxes, right? It’s a similar concept. The digital signal processor increases the amplitude of low end frequencies, giving the listener the impression that the speaker is producing more bass, because that part of the audio track has been turned up.
So to summarize this section, small speakers can certainly produce good bass. There are several technologies and methods to enhance the bass response of small drivers, PC speakers, and portable bluetooth speakers.
How Can I Give My Speakers More Bass?
Now that you understand what bass is, and what gives a speaker good bass, how can you make sure your current speakers are sounding optimal? Here are a few key areas to consider:
- Make sure your speakers ports (if they have them) are free from obstructions
- Play around with speaker positioning in the room to find a sweet spot
- Make sure your speakers have enough power coming from the amplifier
- Make sure your speakers are broken in (it can take hours of playing music)
- Makes sure your audio source is of high quality (CD, MP3 over FM radio for example)
Final Thoughts About Bass
We all love bass because it gives such a powerful impact to our favorite songs and movies. Bass is the difference between really jamming out to a song, and just casually hearing it in the background. All sorts of speakers can produce really good bass, but generally the bigger, the better. There are many technologies used to enhance the bass response of smaller speakers and portable bluetooth speakers, so look out for those on your next purchase. And finally, follow the tips above to maximize the bass output of your current speakers so you don’t miss out on those powerful audio moments!