PS Audio: The bass myth

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A point of view

Paul McGowan writes:  One of the biggest myths I routinely encounter in high end audio is what I call the Bass Myth; “my speakers go to 30Hz and below and I don’t need a subwoofer”.  I have travelled the world over and rarely ever do I hear proper bass.

The number of speakers that can truly reproduce live bass properly, tightly and with realism that drops jaws on the right program material are rare – extremely rare.  I know I am going to get a rash of letters telling me how wrong I am and how you’ve been convinced of the adequacy of your speaker system by either your dealer or your speaker manufacturer – and that’s ok – but it doesn’t match my experience.

One problem that any loudspeaker has is placement.  The best place in your room for imaging of the main speaker is more than likely not the best place to support good bass.  It is rare that a room supports good bass when the bass generator is one third the way into the room – and it is equally rare that a system images well unless it is one third the way into the room.  That’s somewhat of a Gordian knot – solvable only be separating the main image generators from the bass generators – and placing each where they work best in the room.

This is going to be difficult to write about because until you hear proper bass you won’t know if you’ve got it or not.  It’s the same problem a fine chef must face – “you haven’t lived until you taste my exquisite dish” – well, that’s probably true but who knows?

One of my readers whose internet handle is “bassman” has been playing bass for 40 years and probably knows a thing or two about the sound of it.  He writes:

“I was in attendance last week for the BSO’s performance of Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston (second balcony, center – a music lover’s dream). While my home system delivers nicely, there is no substitute for the sheer physical caress of the bass emanating from an excellent organ in a great hall. The orchestra was pretty good too : )

As I’m sure your posts will deal with, there are three necessary components to delivering great bass in a home system: piston area, speed and control. Happily, all three are available to today’s audiophile. The one thing not available to all is a great listening room vis a vis the sheer length of a bass waveform.”

His comment really struck home because the Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3 is one of my favorites and I have a 1959 RCA Red Label recording that just sounds incredible on a system with proper bass.

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