Why the obsession with the lowest octave


From what is written in these forums and elsewhere see the following for instance.

Scroll down to the chart showing the even lowest instruments in this example recording rolling off very steeply at 40 Hz.

http://www.homerecordingconnection.com/news.php?action=view_story&id=154

It would appear that there is really very little to be heard between 20 and 40 Hz. Yet having true "full range" speakers is often the test of a great speaker. Does anyone beside me think that there is little to be gained by stretching the speakers bass performance below 30-40 cycles?
My own speakers make no apologies for going down to only 28 Hz and they are big floor standers JM Lab Electra 936s.
mechans
The same could be said for the highest octave. As for me, I disagree. Yes, I know most music (about 80%), is in the midrange, but I want it all, and miss it when it's gone. I suggest getting as much of the music that's on the recording as your budget and room permit.
My tweeter goes out to 60,000 Hz [I'll take their word for it] and there is no music out there either. Good subs make a difference even when there is no music supposedly below the range of the main speakers; once you hear it you will miss it when it is gone. I sometimes forget to switch on my subs; I don't notice it right away but gradually realize something is missing. An actual 28 Hz speaker is a rare bird indeed, I don't think the JM 1036 really goes that low if I remember the HIFI + test.
Mechans - Quality of the bass is more important than extension IMHO. My current speakers have larger drivers and more volume than my old speakers but extension is slightly worse. Dynamics, attack and decay of the bass, on the other hand, are much better. It has to do with tuning for the lowest distortion and not for the extension. Of course it is the best to have both but it also costs both - an arm and a leg.
Stan
All due respect but I had used a test tone CD which did show that they produces a low note at 28 Hz. Below that the tones made the woofers wobble in a frightening long excursion but made little sound. I will check again but these are the 936 Electra not the 1036.
Mine goes to eleven!

I'd agree that quality of bass, and control as well as balance, is all very important. Just because a speaker can reproduce down to XXhz does not mean that it does a convincing job in portraying those lower frequencies and the instruments that produced them. I think this is one of those things that reveal the limitations of graphs/numbers/measurements in telling the whole story. Here's where having two ears comes in mighty handy, and gives you a better idea of what the speaker in question is capable of. As far as why such a stress is put on it, one need only take a listen to a system that really gets that right can bring to the table, in order to understand why it is so coveted in spite of the fact that the majority of what we listen to exists on the middle rather than the extremes. It brings in one of our others senses big time (touch/feeling) and connects with us in an almost primordial way. I think it is also VERY difficult for a speaker/system/room to do well, so when that is done well, it's pretty amazing to experience.
The 1036 is a bigger and more expensive speaker. The 3 db down point on the Electra 1037 BE is 33Hz in its test in HIFI+ issue 52. As it has 3 8" woofers rather than the 2 of the 936 [ according to Audiogon Blue Book] and costs roughly twice as much it is hard to see how the 936 could have better bass. When we say that a speaker has response to a given frequency we mean that it has a flat response to it; my REL subs produce audible output at 15.5 Hz but I don't regard them as going that low. To get a speaker that is only 3 db down at 28 Hz takes either size of money or both. The Wilson Sofia 3 just manages 3.5 db down at 28 Hz and it is an exceptional performer in the bass.
It feels SOOOO GOOD!
The male fantasy/obsession with bass reproduction is directly related to male hormone, muscle mass, guy stuff in general. If you notice most remasterings boost the bass. because it is the in thing. Sort of like car 'maximum decibles' contests. Guy thing.
By now you can see i do not share the interest in giant balls/ bass. In fact i despise it.
So for one vote back to normalcy. Where car crashes (in movies) do not ALWAYS cause massive explosions, and low frequencies are reserved for things like the space shuttle taking off.
..and perhaps a few (very few) organs.
Because part of the music occurs there normally with a good recording or live and this is the " high end" audio site where everything that you can or should be able to hear matters.

Having said that, it does not in practice really matter to many.

I could live without it if I had to but prefer to not.

Elizabeth is probably on to something with the "guy thing" assessment.
From a different perspective. Talking about treble say from 15k to 20+khz is difficult. No matter how high you turn up those frequencies you can't feel them as you can with 20 to 60 hertz bass. Also many people can't hear them, which is why there are reports every now and then of teen age girls using 16khz or higher tones for their phones. They can hear them ring but the teachers can't. So it makes more sense to talk about something you can hear and feel than about something you may not be able to do either or both.
Often one will chose to not worry about it initially then tackle it later once all the rest sounds right.

True that most can detect the lowest normally audible frequencies but not the highest as ears age.
Well, in defense of my sex I can say that women only like that "sissy" music
that has "no balls". If we are done now with stereotyping, perhaps we can return to discussing stereo equipment.
My speakers go below zero down to -10Hz thanks to the quad of 36" woooooooofers.

The bass is so low that you can't hear or feel it.

But I know it's there because the Stereophile measurements don't lie.
Even though my speakers are said to go to 30hz, I have often wondered whether cutting them off a little higher and blending in a pair of quality subs would result in not only deeper bass but better defined bass. OTOH, some say it is exceptionally difficult to accurately blend subs and maintain coherent phase. Yes, I like well defined, textured, deep, punchy bass, but can live with slightly rolled highs, as long as they are smooth, brassy when necessary, but never tizzy, grainy or shrill.
Sit mid hall or balcony and you won't experience the visceral impact of low bass.

Sit up front, and you'll have a different experience.

It depends on one's experiences and preference.

I like the visceral impact of low bass: that can't be heard but can be experienced nonetheless. Low bass makes music more than an aural event.

It's part of feeling alive.
My Focal 836v speakers are rated for 40Hz to 28kHz +/- 3dB with the low frequency cut off at 33Hz. I have a test tone CD and verified that they would produce an audible tone at 28Hz with my Integra receiver, but would only do 30Hz with my Onkyo. Having them up against the wall provides bass supported (some might call it bloated), but it works for me the majority of the time. The subwoofer stays off for most critical listening.
Tvad nailed it like he often does.
If its meant to be there and the folks who composed or wrote the music went to the trouble of putting it there why not strive to hear their efforts?
Doesnt seem weird or silly to want an honest and full scale reproduction of it to me.
Hearing that air, extension or feeling that impact is a big part of the wow factor, clipping off the bottom end just IMO goes against what we stand for, honest reproduction.......if it aint there then how honest is it?
Whats next, dating women with no nipples? :)
You do catch a lot of low bass in a large building/auditorium. It does help make a life like performance at home. There is information down there that are caught of the right recordings.
Most people here who are listening to deep bass are actually listening to mostly distortion - although manufacturers won't admit it - sad to say but distortion sells really well
Feel me and he nailed it , sounds like more of his distortions! I went to a Blue Man concert and I sure could feel it in mid hall or balcony. Let's just bloviate with more of the idle chatter, which smells to the high heavens.

Feel me ?
My main speakers don't go low enough, but sometimes I do turn a sub on just to catch that natural distortion you refer to, that happens in a large auditorium. And its all part of the natural non-amplified music experience.
Lithojoe - Seeing the word "bloviate" reminded me of the excellent comic series:

Non Sequitur Political Zoology Field Guide

http://lawwreview.blogspot.com/2010/12/political-zoology-field-guide-tone-deaf.html

I think this link will get you to the bloviate one, but there is an entire series if you do a little looking, it's worth your time.
This word was one of the few contributions to our culture by Warren G. Harding if I remember correctly. At least he was the one that popularized it.
'
Yeah, I'm going with what Tvad said.

I have a set of Infinity IRS Betas. According to the spec sheet they go down to 15 hz. Every year around the first of the year for the past three years I've put them up for sale, this year is no different. Every year around July or August I get sick and tired of them taking up so much room in my living room (they are 4-chassis speakers with a total of eight 12 inch woofers in two bass towers five and a half feet tall). So I put them in storage and trot out my Infinity Kappa 9. The Kappa 9 have great bass with two 12 inch woofers per speaker and they go down to 29 hz. I am thoroughly satisfied with the bass of the Kappa 9. When potential buyers call me for an audition of the Betas, I have to bring them out and set them up for an audition. Once I get them set up and start playing music, I think to myself, DAMN, that is some serious bass and wind up keeping the speakers and not selling them. There is something down there below in the lower 15 hz that the Kappa 9 cannot reach and you can feel it immediately with the first song and know that you have been missing it immediately. It is an incredible experience. So, I wind up not giving a damn if they sell or not, or taking them off the market altogether and setting them up again to take up too much space in my living room until I want my living room back. So yes, there is a LOT to be gained by stretching the bass performance below 34-40 hz. When you get the opportunity, go down where the Lords Of The Low Frequencies reside at 15-30 hz and experience it....there's nothing like it.
.
Great post, Mitch4t.

I've heard it said that a lot of the information that communicates the size a recording venue comes from the very deepest bass.
Its human nature's hard wiring of the brain. Think about it, the fight or flight instincts of the human brain are more influenced by hearing low octave sounds. When you hear the rumble, T-Rex may be near, and that is exciting, know?
Reaching down to the lowest octave creates a realism in music not otherwise experienced. Even though the fundamental note may only go down to 40Hz there are overtones reaching far below giving music the proper foundation.

It's not a guy thing and it has nothing to do with balls. Men have larger eardrums than women giving them the ability to hear low frequencies better than women.
If one can get deeper bass without any tradeoff of other qualities, why not? But, such "free" deep bass is hardly ever achieved. Bigger drivers able to push more air usually means more mass (inertia makes such drivers less nimble), bigger cabinets (hard to control resonance), and most significantly, deep bass response usually means much lower speaker efficiency and the need for higher powered amps. To me, there are very few higher power amps that deliver the kind of performance of low powered tube or solid state amps.

I care less about high volume, extremely deep bass than I do about good behavior where most of the music resides in the lower range. I want realistic tonality to bass. There are a lot of speakers on the market with extremely tight, punchy bass, that lack the ability to deliver the proper tone and harmonic structure of lower range instruments (double bass, kettle drums, contrabassoon).
To ignore the range from 20 to 40 Hz is to deny the FACT that there are harmonics down in that range that do affect realistic music reproduction. Not to mention that there are also ques down there that give us the impression of a large hall for example.

Don't believe? Listen to a cello on speakers that cutoff at 40, and then listen on a full range pair. Many people do live with the lowest octave, and many live without much above 12kHz, but this does not prove there is no valuable information there.

Elizbeth,

I usually find your posts to be very informative, but I have to say that your passing this off as some testosterone-laced fantasy is beneath your knowledge. Maybe you just meant to poke fun at us guys. ;-)
Electronica artists have the freedom to create music without the limitations of traditional instruments. They can be creative in any octave they want and I don't want to miss out. That's why I have a pair of JL subs. I saw Crystal Method live in Santa Cruz at an older venue and I really thought the ceiling might start to crack and fall on our heads due to the extreme bass. The room seemed to be shaking vertically even when the volume was low at times. It may have been "unnatural" but it was their art and creation and we were having a blast. Don' wanna miss out on that in my living room!
interesting thread, some like low bass and others do not....I like full range including top end....my speakers go to 20hz and I have the room size to support that low tone...in live venues I've noticed big bass waves "hit you in the chest" with a physical impact...but I like balanced sound unless the artist likes to push the low end...I never thought low bass was a "male" thing...new concept to hear someone say that.
The logic involved in intentionally limiting frequency extension is similar to the logic which would say it's advantageous to limit one's visual field. Perhaps glasses should have a black strip at at the bottom to block vision looking through the lowest portion of the glasses? Big advantage, right? That's what is being done with speakers which limit the frequency response. Big advantage, eh?

Someone intentionally wants a truncated representation of something? Fine, good for you. Not me; I'll take the full experience. As long as finances and space permit there's going to be a true full range reference speaker in my home.

Listening levels are not dictated by frequency extension. If you have ever heard a solo vocal piece played with and without a subwoofer you know immediately what LF adds to a system's performance, including clues to the spatial nature of the recording venue. It's misinformation to suggest that persons pursuing LF are just doing so to get the gut punch.

I believe I am not alone in that I care not terribly much the degree of shake/rattle/boom my system has. Instead, I want supreme quality of two channel in all music genres without unnecessary limitations. In terms of pursuing the best sound attainable, when a rig has little bass extension beyond 40Hz it's been seriously compromised.
I never thought low bass was a "male" thing...new concept to hear someone say that.

One need only attend a single show, look around at a dealer, or pay attention to who is posting here in these and other audiophile forums, to know that this is by far and away a "male" hobby. The percentage of women who care about this stuff is extremely small in my estimation and in my direct experience for over 35 years. Present company (at least one of us) being part of the minority.

My own experience of well-reproduced bass is that it brings with it a fuller appreciation of what is on the recording, the space it was recorded in, the instruments themselves (assuming they do reach those lower octaves). In that sense music becomes more engaging. It is like adding a fuller palette of hues to a visual reproduction of a painting: with more limited hues, say a coarse screen magazine reproduction in People magazine, the image of a painting with tremendous range and contrast would do adequately in conveying what the painting generally looks like. Reproduce the same painting with state of the art stochastic printing and at 600dpi resolution and you will have a far greater understanding of the what is actually there, and arguably a greater potential to enjoy what the artist put on the canvas.

As far as the high end of the spectrum, which is certainly important as well; I wonder how many people hear anything at all above 17khz. I doubt many of those posting here do.
Why the obsession?

I'd guess that a big part of it is people not really appreciating just how little musical info there is in the bottom octave, because they think that what they're hearing is lower in pitch than it actually is. From posts I've seen over the years, I'd bet that many folks here would guess way low if asked to ID the frequency of a bass sound played for them. But that misimpression may - in one sense - be useful.

The upper half of the next octave (60hz-80hz)is critical to lots of music and speaker specs are misleading. As Bob astutely points out, those anechoic FR graphs manufacturers provide do not usually include distortion numbers - presumably because they'd suck. Also, room effects are wreaking havoc with the signal throughout the bass region.

Bottom line, it's very tough to predict in-room bass performance from manufacturer's specs. It might not be a bad rule of thumb to focus on 20hz to 40hz with the hope that a speaker designed for critical performance in this sub bass region will be better than average in the octave above. No guarantees, but probably not a bad rule of thumb. Personally, I use room corrected subwoofers, but that's a different thread.

As to the gut impact and spacial cues provided by the actual deep bass, I agree that there is something to this, too. Some recordings have significant energy in the 35-40hz range and you will "feel" this in the gut.

The spacial thing is interesting in that info in this range is impossible to localize, so you'd think it wouldn't help with staging, imaging, etc. However, it's easy to see why even very low level info in the 20+hz range MIGHT provide spacial clues. Think of a predator's footfalls - very low level, very low frequency. Very useful to prey if they can use that info to better understand the environment they're in. Obviously speculative on my part, but - at least - not as counterintuitive as it might seem at first.

Just my guess, my experience, and MHO.
"Sit mid hall or balcony and you won't experience the visceral impact of low bass."

Often but not always true.

Sitting at Dress Circle balcony level in Carnegie Hall, I felt the visceral impact of the tympanis when struck to the greatest degree I recall at recent live concert events.

If I go back there or elsewhere and do not hear and feel it, I will now know for sure I am missing something.

BTW, this is a good thread!
"When you hear the rumble, T-Rex may be near, and that is exciting, know?"

Or if not, maybe just Tweety bird.....
"Electronica artists have the freedom to create music without the limitations of traditional instruments. They can be creative in any octave they want and I don't want to miss out."

Very good point!

Those that shun anything electronically produced will likely be less affected by missing the lowest octave.

Those that care about sound quality and listen to electronically produced music will care more if it is not there.
"some like low bass and others do not"

I'll go out on a limb and propose that many that like good sound and do not like low bass need to hear it done well and not like it is done most of the time.
remind me never to post a picture of my gallo reference avs with dual spherical subs...
A couple of responses mention lower overtones. This is not correct. An overtone is a frequency above and some multiple of a fundamental frequency. Thus the first couple of overtones for the 42 Hz of an open E string on an acoustic bass are 84 and 168 Hz. There is no 21 Hz overtone.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overtone

From demonstrations I've heard, the most important benefit of a subwoofer (or bi-amped full range speaker if the bass crossover is low enough) is improved clarity and definition in the upper-bass, lower-midrange. I think this results from removal of the lowest source frequencies (requiring the greatest energy) from an upper bass driver and the main amplifier. I've found this case no matter what type (frequency range) of music is played.
Sitting at Dress Circle balcony level in Carnegie Hall, I felt the visceral impact of the tympanis when struck to the greatest degree I recall at recent live concert events.

Mapman (System | Reviews | Threads | Answers | This Thread)
Understood. Carnegie is a fine hall for good reasons. Imagine the impact of the tympani had you been sitting closer.

The visceral experience in the Front Terrace (first balcony) at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles is much different than the visceral experience in the Orchestra seats, and yet Disney is considered to be an excellent hall for acoustics.

There are always exceptions. One must write with the precision of a lawyer in these threads to cover all the possibilities.
"removal of the lowest source frequencies (requiring the greatest energy) from an upper bass driver and the main amplifier"

That is usually a good thing and common with a good sub setup.

Also true with good full range one box designs that are not undersized and do not ask small or lesser bass drivers to do too much alone.

I am of the opionion that a well executed Walsh bass driver like those found in modern OHM Walsh line speakers, is an inherently optimal approach for delivering balanced coherent, and extended bass from a single driver.
When I had my Nelson-Reed 1204s [4 12" drivers a side] subs set up my favorite demo record was "Ancient Dances of Hungary" on Harmonia Mundi. The weight of the low strings was felt much more even though the 12" woofer in my main speakers went down well below their range.
Its fundamental
From Wikipedia:

"A distortion is the alteration of the original shape (or other characteristic) of an object, image, sound, waveform or other form of information or representation."

So if it is in the source but not heard, it is an alteration and can be considered a form (by omission) of distortion.

How acceptable is it in those terms now, audiophiles?

This is truly how I look at it personally and why I find I cannot be satisfied fully (despite being satisfied greatly still though in practice ) by even excellent smaller speakers otherwise that punt by design and chose to omit the lowest octaves in order to achieve greatness.
"Imagine the impact of the tympani had you been sitting closer."

I can only imagine, but I would propose that it is possible the impact could be less sitting closer if sitting on a more rigid floor or foundation. Its possible that being higher up and further away yet in an elevated balcony transmitted some of that bass energy through the structure, ie "the place was literally rocking" maybe.

Also, the balcony was elevated with the tympani in direct line of sight so I suspect it took a direct hit from the soundwaves, whereas the floor is closer but below the stage, so the sound waves transmitted might be lesser as well.

YEs, Tvad, we audio kooks are an anal bunch indeed....

I will never forget the visceral sound of that particualr tympani in that particular setting though. It was almost an "out of body" experience that seemed to defy physics. I was left disoriented for a moment and trying to figure out how what I just heard actually happened?

ISn't that the kind of thrills we misguided audio head cases seek,afterall?
I confess i was being naughty. (8^Q...
But I do love the upper registers way more than the lowest.
My wants in a system must have clarity, upper end being vital. The times i have had a sub it was great with chamber music, but awful with any rock.
I would turn it off and on depending on what was playing. Being lazy, that got tiring fast.
My idea of really bad low frequency is driving, then hearing some morons' thumping crap subs from five cars away at a stoplight, and being stuck till' the light turns green. Best Buy used to be horrible, running loud thumping crap constantly.. My friends (female) refused to even GO to a Best Buy because of the thumping going on. Thank goodness they have stopped that.
So I am a bit biased against the trash bass, where if I could get that perfect real low frequency sound from an orchestra, or quartet, i would be happy. But then i would have to put up with the crap from rock albums in the lowest octave, and back to sub on? sub off? and forget that.
Plus I despise hearing low frequencies through the walls of where-ever I live (apt. dweller), and assume others do not want to have to put up with that either. So another black mark against subs.
And yeah I can hear stuff my (favorite) dealer obviously cannot in the upper registers... And no, I do not want to feel it in my bowels.
And i apologize to men everywhere for saying ANYTHING is a guy thing. Football, fast cars, big tits, curvy ass babes, big stereos, "hard' rocking bass.. not guys things i guess?
They are probably not a 'guy thing' for that interior decorator fellow.
LOL!! (And I apologize to fem gays everywhere.. being politically correct and all )
"My idea of really bad low frequency is driving, then hearing some morons' thumping crap subs from five cars away at a stoplight, and being stuck till' the light turns green. "

Yes, I agree. That IS the worst!!!!

Some of the things I have heard in Best Buy and other stores that target the masses are close behind.

I used to sell car stereos at Radio Shack years ago. I am proud to say I managed to always resist the urge to sell car stereos and make commissions by cranking up distorted bass. I did OK though despite by just trying to keep focused on quality, not quantity.
BTW, despite all appearances otherwise, let me make it clear that I am NOT obsessed with the lower octave.

I prefer to call it "enamored"........

01-21-11: Mapman
I would propose that it is possible the impact could be less sitting closer if sitting on a more rigid floor or foundation. Its possible that being higher up and further away yet in an elevated balcony transmitted some of that bass energy through the structure, ie "the place was literally rocking" maybe.

Also, the balcony was elevated with the tympani in direct line of sight so I suspect it took a direct hit from the soundwaves, whereas the floor is closer but below the stage, so the sound waves transmitted might be lesser as well.
Uncle.