Bass--How much is too much?

I have been into this hobby for over 25 years and have many many systems, amps, speakers, etc, and the one common thing they all had was that low end bass was either non-existant or was very subtle. It seems with most high end systems, the goal is mid-range purity over the amount of low-end energy. In the past, I have had systems tweaked to the point which vocals were rich that brought on emotional connections with the music, but without low-end bass energy, which can bring on a physical connection as well.

My system uses the Celestion SL700 SE speakers with the Celestion SL6000 Subwoofer system. Listening to this set-up, I have so much low-end energy which I have never had in the past 25 years. The low-end is clean, it does not distort the Mid-range purity.

I am a member of the Bay Area Audiophile society and through there have been able to listen to a considerable number of other peoples systems. None of them had systems with bass which could be phyiscally felt, none had a subwoofer. Bass notes could be heard and localized, but not felt.

I guess my point is, that I have grown accustomed to high-end systems which bass was merely used to subtly fill in the gap. I keep asking myself if my set-up now with loads of bass which i can feel is wrong. I have had a few other audiophiles come over and listen and they too are not accustomed to the amount of low-end energy which my Celestion 6000 subs put out.

I have heard many audiophiles mention that because of the huge problems integrating a sub into a 2 channel setup, they tend to not use a sub, is this the reason why many forgo the search to integrate low end bass into their systems?
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I can easily "feel" bass with my gear...a physical pressure on the takes a good speaker design to achieve.At a live music show...especially rock, the bass hits you in the chest..I'm not talking one note boom either.
I keep asking myself if my set-up now with loads of bass which i can feel is wrong

It depends....organ music, Black eyed peas, hip hop, rap and dance all have bass you can often feel.

If you are physically feeling the bass on all forms of music then there is something out of balance.

I have heard many audiophiles mention that because of the huge problems integrating a sub into a 2 channel setup, they tend to not use a sub, is this the reason why many forgo the search to integrate low end bass into their systems?

The issue is that bass energy is enormously difficult and expensive to reproduce accurately. A good sub that just helps with the bottom octave can cost as much if not more than both of the main speakers - all this for just the bottom octave!

The treble frequency range is the cheapest range of music to reproduce accurately (tweeters do this with relative ease and with little power). The mid range is much harder primarily because your ears are the most discerning in this range and this is where you have most music and vocals. However, physically, the bass is by far the toughest to reproduce without heaps of distortion. Since your ears are extremely sensitive to 100 Hz compared to 20 Hz, sub woofer harmonic distortion can easily bleed out of the 20 to 40 Hz range and ruin the bass from you main speakers. Linkowitz has a web page describing this issue. So trust him not me.

Linkowitz states

if the 40 Hz 2nd harmonic of a 20 Hz tone is at a 24 dB lower level, then it will sound equally as loud as the fundamental. This corresponds to 6% 2nd harmonic distortion. The 3rd harmonic distortion would have to be below 1%, or over 38 dB down, in order that it is less loud than the 20 Hz fundamental. It all leads to very low distortion requirements. The fundamental frequency sound pressure level needs to be above 70 dB to even become audible and it should not be masked by higher frequency distortion products.
For a detailed investigation of requirements see: Louis D. Fielder & Eric M. Benjamin, "Subwoofer performance for accurate reproduction of music", JAES, Vol. 36, Number 6, pp. 443 (1988).

Enough said.
I'll make this simple....pop over to your local concert hall and buy a ticket to say....a large scale orchestra playing something with deep bass. Say, Rachmaninoff "Symphonic Dances". The tell me if you "feel" the bass.

I'd like to hear from all who attend concerts on what they hear. This should be an interesting thread.

Rick (RWD)
The key is not to cancel any bass notes from the mains. Room acoustics has a lot to do with this balancing act. I like feeling a kick drum hit me in the chest without cancelling any musical notes. I believe this can be measured and corrected but I have not tried it. (
Kettle drums in concert I can sometimes "feel". Large string bass sections playing deep bass in the concert hall, no. The average symphony, I hear it, I don't "feel" the low notes.
my system gives my bass when the music calls for it and the right kind. i get bass that hits you in the chest, the kind you can feel when it is suppose to be there. if i am listening to orchestral music it gives me the right kind of bass all the way to the bottom of the orchestra. anyone who gets a chance should audition these speakers or any made my this company. they will give you what you want
A lot of the too-much or too-little bass issue will depend on your reference point. If you listen to live acoustic music, it is very easy for a home system with a sub to have too much.

For example, I attend a large cathedral church and often sit about 15' from the organist's position in the sanctuary. This organ has 118 ranks with five 32' stops and 7,621 pipes in the church. While it can put out deep and powerful bass, it is nothing like the bass I hear from subwoofers. Same thing with symphony orchestras and jazz with acoustic bass if you are listening from a normal audience position.

On the other hand, if one listens to a lot of electronically amplified music, one has a totally different thing going and a sub may be quite helpful in giving you that concert experience.

However, only you can decide what stereo components do the best job of delivering the sonic info YOU need to create the mental image necessary to put you at whatever venue you wish.
I guess I'll jump in here with a different POV. So far, everyone seems to like chest thumping bass. Now, I admit in my younger years, that heart pounding bass was a top priority. However, now midrange clarity is my top priority. My speakers go down to about 25 hz, and I've never been a fan of seperate subwoofers while playing music. IMHO, the subs are great with HT, and speakers with integrated powered woofers can sound good with music. However, almost all systems I've heard with seperate subwoofers have the subwoofer turned up too loud. Yes, kick drums have a punch, but the seperate subwoofer allows you to emphasize that kick. If that's your 'thing' that's fine. Most seperate sub owners over-emphasize bass though. This can 'over-power' some midrange music, which can ruin the sound for me. There are a lot of recordings where they already have the EQ up on the bass, so I don't feel the need to raise it even more.
IMHO, if you have a seperate sub, you should not hear it.
Yes, it will add to the bass, but quietly, not calling attention to itself.

All that being said, if you enjoy the extra bass, turn the subwoofer up and don't worry what your other 'audiophile' friends think. :)

If you listen to a live band in a club and you will notice there are lots of highs as in crashing cymbals and lots of lows as in bass guitar + bass drum. As long as there is a balance its perfectly OK even though it is very loud. There is too much bass only if it overpowers (drowns) the mids and the highs of your system. Sub-bass is sugar and cream of music. Lots of people are quite happy to have their coffee black with a lot less sugar.
I'm a jazz-lover so I listen to Coltrane, Miles, Monk, Rollins, etc. This is of course all acoustic bass and often not very strong, so I definitely use 2 subs in my setup, but I don't turn them up much.

Chesky Records CHE151 Stereo& Surround Set-up disc in tracks 14,15 and 16 has guidelines and tests for setting up the sub level. Maybe you can consider this as an additional tool to determine if your sub level is too high.

I concur with previous posters that many times sub level tends to be set too high.

Took a peek at your system but pictures show former speakers you had. Is the room the same?
Mlsstl, you are giving clues to where you live... I can give hints as to where i grew up - the 5000-odd pipe organ I 'tickled the ivories' (actually, the ebonies) on when I was in high school (I pretended to take lessons, but it was really more of me trying to learn how to play Max Reger's Introduction and Passacaglia, which 20-odd years after I first heard it, is still my favorite organ piece) was replaced in 2005, much to my chagrin (great, great mechanical Rieger organ with about 100 ranks, and 70 stops on four manuals and a pedal (including a 32ft wooden flue pipe if I remember correctly)). It was replaced with another Rieger, with more advanced technology (makes it much easier to maintain), and apparently was designed very specifically for the space. The organist, however, is still the same as when I was in high school and is, from everything I hear, is one of the best out there.

Listening to the big wooden pipes from close up gives you an idea of what real bass power means, and a big pipe organ with lots of variety in stops is a joy to discover. I miss that now as I live in a place without many pipe organs.
Do go along with those who feel that live acoustic music is the basis to evaluate the way bass should be reproduced by one's system, I am reminded of the joke about the 'audiophile' attending a live symphonic orchestra concert and complaining that there was a lack of bass!
I am satisfied with the bass replicating what I hear in live concerts, organ included. If your system can do organ well, then any perceived lack of bass (or too much bass)in other recordings is in the recording or the music.

Bob P.
First, I agree with Jmcgrogan2 re the (mis)use of a sub. I suspect many folks think they should 'hear' the sub all the time. That, however, will not stop me from trying to use a sub to correct for a moderate room related problem. My speakers are spec'd as down 3db at 28hz. They are in fact relatively flat to 32hz except for 6 and 8db dips at 40 and 50 hz and down 3db at 60 hz caused by room dimension problems not fixed by moving the speakers about.

RWD, I recently attended two Mahler performances (5 & 7) and in neither was there any 'chest thummping' bass. The latter was in a large hall with a top tier orchestra. I was in the low center balcony. Not impressed by the sonics at all, except the height allowed the upper-mid high frequencies to heard exceptionally clearly. (Not impressed by the performance either so better seats wouldn't have made me more happy).

The former was by a smaller local orchestra in a medium sized auditorium. I was in the orchestra section, center, row C. The sonic's were outstanding and the playing was pretty good for a less than full time orchestra. This would have been an audiophile favorite, there was even fine depth of image, instrument seperation, and the power of the orchestra was impressive. Loud, impactful, dynamic, BUT no earthshaking vibrations. In fact, as I think about it my pants have never flapped in any live performance.

My goal in using a sub is to get flat power response down into the 20's. I plan to run my speakers full range and add a sub crossed over at 50 hz with a 12db low pass filter and use a one band parametric equalizer to flatten out a signicicant rise at 32 hz which will happen when I raise the volume of the sub to match the mains and sub at 60hz. I love the planning phase much more than the implemention stage. In the former I'm always right, in the latter it seems rarely ever! :-)

I don't know this for a fact, but I suspect the 'feel' that folks are seeking has a lot more with speed/impact in the mid/upper bass than ultimate low bass. This is somewhat supported by an experience I have playing a disc of some solo piano with good bass. With most amps I tried (all tubes BTW - haven't tried SS in years) the bass was good but with one set of amps the deepest notes were 'crunching' for lack of a better term. I would guess these sounds were in the 45 to 60 hz range. IMHO what differentiated them was not db level but speed of the leading edge of the notes.

Now I'll go back to contemplating my navel. :-)
IMHO what differentiated them was not db level but speed of the leading edge of the notes.

What Newbee describes is EXACTLY what you tend to get from an accurate subwoofer. It allows you to clearly discern different bass instruments as the timbre comes across clearly rather than just big booming bass. The kick drum does not bury or mask the bass guitar for example.

The slightest harmonic resonance in the bass (1 % distortion or more) simply clutters everything means that many instruments are all producing stronger harmonics in the 60 to 300 Hz range where your ears are so much more sensitive that this effect dwarfs the proper balance of a musical bass.

The really big bass you hear from small cheap subwoofers is almost ENTIRELY coming from harmonic distortion - impressive but you can't distinguish anything anymore due to the "masking" effect of those higher distorted harmonics. It is akin to the sound engineer simply jacking up the 60 to 100 Hz range with an EQ to give a Britney Spears "hit me one more time" sound - nice but you don't need that on every track yoy listen to.

This can 'over-power' some midrange music, which can ruin the sound for me.

Well said John - this is EXACTLY the problem with small cheap subwoofers and the best remedy is to AVOID THEM altogether, which many audiophiles do (it also explains the "huge sub woofer integration problems" that most audiophiles face)

Of course it is understandable that nobody likes to fork out the similar $$ for a subwoofer to cover the last octave as they do for their main speakers => therein lies the problem and explanation for frustration with integration. Good bass is expensive - there is no free lunch and those who expect a free lunch from a sub rarely get musical bass.
I like bass, I agree with John though...many people play their subwoofers way to loud for the reason he gave.

My systems are always fullrange (or at least very close to it). I could never be fully happy with any stereo system that can not do at least 30hz...I know because I've owned them.

I have come to the opinion after many years that dipole bass sounds better than monopole bass down to around 30-50hz (depending on the room)...from those freq's down (again...depending on the room)...big monopole cones rule.

Are your walls still standing? Then it isn't too much.
My bass sounds better In my neighbors house.
What does your neighbor's wife think of your bass in her house? Or more importantly what does your wife think?