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The Beauty of Bass

Heads up!

Welcome to this article from the Crutchfield archives. Have fun reading it, but be aware that the information may be outdated and links may be broken.
Hi-fi 2.0

Subs tend to get a bad rap. Say "car subwoofer" to a group of people, and most will probably think of intrusive, window-rattling pounding. But while it's true that a sub can overwhelm, when tuned correctly, it can help you get the most out of your music.

The truth is, a subwoofer will make any kind of music sound ... well, the way it's supposed to sound, actually. Look at it this way: if you're building a house, you need a solid foundation. The same holds true for music — it'll only sound its best when it's built on a solid foundation of bass: the kind that only a sub can provide.

Now, it's easy to understand how styles like rap and rock benefit from a subwoofer. Their heavy beats and driving rhythms really stand out when the bass booms and thumps. But genres like classical and jazz sound infinitely better when you add a sub — you'll feel the hum of the cello, the rumble of the tympani, the thrum of the standup bass. The bass delivered by a sub makes music fuller, deeper, and more three-dimensional.

Focal Utopia Be subwoofer Subs, like this 13" Utopia Be® from Focal, can transform your listening experience

Good bass makes every note of your music sound better

A sub doesn't affect your music's character by adding notes that aren't there. Instead, it brings out tones that are already in the recording, making it sound the way the musician intended. Properly reproduced bass gives you the chance to engage with your music on a deeper emotional level.

A sub will help your speakers play better, too. Having only your sub handle the very lowest notes frees up your woofers to attend to the mids, like the snare drum, guitars, and vocals. Because they don't have to strain to produce lows they'd rather not handle, they'll play more clearly, less prone to distortion. With a sub doing the heavy lifting, you'll find that your entire system can maximize its sonic potential.

To get the lowdown on bass, we turned to a couple of Crutchfield's experts

Mike, Crutchfield's Car A/V Managing Editor, installed a JL Audio ProWedge sub in his SUV. A professional musician, Mike tends to get philosophical about sound. Meanwhile, Tim, a Crutchfield Merchandiser, is first and foremost a home A/V expert. But he's fundamentally a music lover, and really appreciates the sound of his Apine Type-X sub.

Soko Mike

I once had a conversation with legendary jazz bassist, composer, and scholar who challenged me with, "why is the bass the greatest instrument?" I had my answer ready: "Because a fundamental tone contains the frequencies of all pitches above it as harmonics. So when you play the very lowest notes, you carry with them the entire range of sound."

Said another way: bass contains flute, but the reverse is not true. It's a matter of physics. Music's richness, immediacy, and complexity — the core of its resonance — comes from the deep tones. And many forms of music use bass as rhythmic foundation as well. Bass articulates the pulse of Jazz, Rock, Hip-Hop, Country, and much more.

It's not something I focus on; I'm not a 'crank up the bass' type, and I enjoy forms of music that don't include low bass content. But if it's missing, I'll know immediately and my enjoyment is lessened considerably.

In a car, the only way to properly hear and feel deep notes is via a subwoofer. I haven't been without a sub in any of my cars (or our family cars) since 1998. In the Yukon, I have a top-shelf JL setup: 500 watts RMS driving their best 10" subwoofer. These components combine to create powerful, rich, and dynamic bass response — which translates to a joyful listening experience.

Tim Tim

I didn't plan on having a sub initially, I'm not much of a basshead. But my objective with bass in general and a subwoofer in particular is that I don't notice it when it's there but I do notice when it's not. Above all else it remains musical.

So what does that mean? My sub provides bass extension and definition, which in and of itself adds body and character. It helps balance the sound, providing fullness and depth. One of the most enjoyable things about my system is that it lets me pick out specific drum beats, thwacks, etc. The drums sound like a drum kit. Not a dull thud.