The sci­ence of bass

For some it’s all in the heart, but if you want to get your head around atom-shak­ing bass, here’s the low­down on the down-low

Computer Music - - Make Music Now -

This is­sue, we're all about that bass, and while we'll take you through tips, tech­niques and walk­throughs to help you get the bad­dest, most heavy­weight bass around, we're go­ing to kick it off with some sci­ence. If that doesn't sound like you, feel free to flip a cou­ple of pages ahead, but if you're able to digest a bit of Acous­tics 101, we can help your bass grow big and strong with some help from mother na­ture.

When most peo­ple talk about bass, they’re talk­ing about low fre­quen­cies in gen­eral. As pro­duc­ers, though, we get a bit more spe­cific, breaking it down into bass (about 60Hz to 250Hz) and sub bass (ev­ery­thing be­low 60Hz). But man can­not live on bass alone – as you’ll find out, other parts of the fre­quency spectrum play a part in help­ing us craft big­ger bass, too.

Bass is big

Sound is caused by pres­sure vari­a­tions in the air, and ev­ery fre­quency has a cor­re­spond­ing wave­length – an ac­tual distance in me­tres, cen­time­tres or mil­lime­tres that one cy­cle of the wave oc­cu­pies in the air around us. A tone of 700Hz oc­cu­pies about 50 cen­time­tres in the air, for ex­am­ple, while 3kHz takes up roughly 11cm.

Bass, on the other hand, is all about the big waves. A heavy 40Hz wave oc­cu­pies about 8.6 me­tres in the air – it’s mas­sive. So the low­est parts of our beloved bass are, quite lit­er­ally, heav­ier, which is why a large speaker cone is nec­es­sary to truly and ac­cu­rately play back these fre­quen­cies.

The low­est tones sur­round us to­tally, in­ter­act­ing more with the space around us than sim­ply with our ears. In home stu­dios, the low­est bass trav­els more eas­ily through solids like walls, floors and fur­ni­ture than it does through the air – but we didn’t need to tell you that sub bass is pri­mar­ily felt rather than heard, did we?

The low­est of the low

Work­ing with bass means you’re work­ing at the lim­its of hu­man hear­ing, and the lim­its of what speaker sys­tems are ac­tu­ally able to pump out.

MIDI note A1 will throw its low­est sound out at 55Hz. That’s low, but we can go even deeper – A0 will hit at half that fre­quency: 27.5Hz, get­ting right at your chest. We’re get­ting close to the lim­its of hu­man hear­ing, but we can go fur­ther still – the gen­er­ally ac­cepted low­est fre­quency we can hear is 20Hz – that’s be­tween MIDI notes D#0 and E0.

How do these huge, slow waves look at the sur­face of a speaker? The low­est tones need larger speak­ers. As large speak­ers shift more air, there’s a lot of move­ment go­ing on; of­ten so much that it be­comes vis­i­ble.

With so much move­ment hap­pen­ing at the speaker cone, it’s pos­si­ble to de­mand too much from it by feed­ing it too many low-fre­quency sig­nals in quick suc­ces­sion – imag­ine the dou­ble kick drums of metal, for ex­am­ple, which can eas­ily lose im­pact for in­di­vid­ual hits, turn­ing into a wash of ill-de­fined bass if a soundsys­tem’s speak­ers and lim­iters are too slow to re­act.

You can’t guess at ev­ery play­back sys­tem’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties, but you can al­low for quirks. Leave a short gap of si­lence be­tween bass notes rather than run­ning one straight into the other, and care­fully mix your kick and bass sig­nals, to help ‘re­set’ the play­back sys­tem and get the im­pact you want. Given that large clubs have a cer­tain amount of re­verb present any­way, you might not no­tice a thing.

Ev­ery fre­quency has a cor­re­spond­ing wave­length it oc­cu­pies in the air around us – the lower the fre­quency, the larger the size of the sound wave

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