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Bass Frequency Myth!

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by MichaelSmalley, Sep 22, 2010.

  1. Hello TB-

    I was in a class recently and the teacher said something: Bass frequencies are hard to hear unless you're far away because the wavelength is so long. :rollno:

    I'm paraphrasing, but that was the idea. I've heard that before, and I believe it has been thoroughly debunked (on this very forum, many times). But I had a hard time explaining to him what exactly I was talking about... so to the point. Does anyone know of any good articles on the interwebs that I could show him to explain why this isn't true? If you know, please post a link. Thanks
  2. ehque


    Jan 8, 2006
    Yup, my earphones are huge.
  3. What class is the teacher teaching? If it's about science or audio, he/she needs to go back to school. If it's a history class, well, maybe we can let it slide. The headphone example is a good one to present.
  4. You don't hear the bass better when you're far away. But, in the right
    context, there is some truth to this statement.

    Bass frequencies, in general, are harder to hear than higher frequencies.
    However, if you've ever heard a band from far away, the bass frequencies
    appear stronger. The wavelength is a factor in this phenomenon. The
    shorter, high frequency waves are more easily scattered (e.g. reflected,
    refracted) by objects; the low frequencies tend to travel better around

    Consequently, you hear the bass better (than high frequencies) when
    you are far away. But up close, you would hear the bass better than
    you would hear the bass from far away.
  5. giacomini


    Dec 14, 2008
    Florianopolis - Brazil
    Endorsing: Copetti Guitars
    Did he mean "Bass Guitar" frequencies or just any low sound?

    The statement might have some truth in it when it comes to sub frequencies; that's why you can place a subwoofer anywhere in a room, but anyway if you stand close to it you'll actually hear it louder...

    I vote for myth.
  6. Attenuation is the combined result of scattering and absorption. Much of the differential attenuation of high versus low frequencies over distance is attributable to the absorption of high frequencies by carpet, furniture, drapes, clothing, bodies, vegetation, etc.

    Bass absorption requires larger dimensioned and higher mass objects than treble absorption.
  7. BassBrass


    Jul 6, 2009
    Boston MA
    I'd say he is right. But "hard to hear" doesn't mean impossible. It takes more energy to produce bass freq than those little light treble ones. That's why my amp is 700w and my guitarist barley has to turn over 1/4 @ 40 (class A) watts.
    Bass freq are also harder to discern from each other (another aspect of "hard to hear") or "harder to hear"
    Headphones (and stereos etc) have to dedicate more area and energy into producing low frequencies to balance the high closeup. For far away, bass wins.
  8. +1 - show your teacher this!!.
  9. Eater_of_Birds

    Eater_of_Birds UK Extreme User

    May 4, 2010
    its more about the trable getting attenuated more than the bass over distance, rather than the bass coming out more over distance. that wouldnt make much sense. its analogous to stuff like compton scattering with light frequencies (the whole why is the sky blue explantation) i think. im no sound propagation expert but id call BS on your guy ^ ^
  10. carbonfold

    carbonfold Supporting Member

    Oct 13, 2006
    Dallas, Texas
    There is "some" truth behind it. It is all about the bass freq waves taking longer to form. Does that me the bass freq wave doesn't exist? No, just means that it may take longer to form.
  11. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    No no no... that's the myth. As referenced above, if "bass frequencies take longer to form" then you couldn't hear them through headphones.
  12. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    well since people are quoting myths to answer the question, here's the deal...

    bass frequencies do not need "room to develop" in order to hear them under any circumstances. i have put my bass amp in a very small room that wasn't nearly enough for the low notes to develop their wavelengths fully and i heard them just fine. and again, headphones wouldn't work if they needed room to develop. anyone who would tell you otherwise is wrong.

    now there are times where the low notes will sound bigger when far away. if you're outside and you have nothing reflecting the sound around, there is no possible way the low notes will sound stronger from farther away. the farther you get away from the sound source, the less you will hear it. but sometimes when you're in a large room, you will, indeed, hear the low notes stronger. but it has zip to do with wavelengths. it's because the lower note waves are omnidirectional and bigger and bounce around the room a lot more than higher note waves, which are directional, smaller, and more easily broken up. so if the bass sounds stronger in the back of the room, it's because you're not only hearing the source but you're also hearing all the combined reflections.
  13. carbonfold

    carbonfold Supporting Member

    Oct 13, 2006
    Dallas, Texas
    Bass frequencies are longer. Not a huge science there but it is science. But they are longer thus take longer to "form" :) you feeling me? Just depends on how you look at it I guess.

    But in application issues, usually bass suffers from bass wave cancellation from reflection issues due to its wave form. Hence the "some" truth about traveling and wave formation.

    Dunno, I'm not a huge "the science in sound" guy, but I'm sure there should be some solid sound engineers that will chime in on this. I'm sure that how I am saying this could be picked apart against me but I should be close enough (I think haha)
  14. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Yes it is a myth. Otherwise when you mike a bass cabinet and put the mike on the speaker all you would get would be mids and treble and no bass. But when you mike a bass cabinet you get all of the frequencies fully developed in just a few inches.
  15. I'm afraid this is completely wrong. Or rather, it's right, but misunderstood. Bass frequencies do have a longer wavelength, which means fewer peaks per second, which means each peak lasts longer. But this does NOT mean you have to be standing farther away to hear the wave properly, and it does not mean the wave is propagating perceptibly more slowly.

    You're forgetting that waves MOVE, which means that however long the wavelength is, the entire wave moves through your listening point, no matter how close it is. (Leaving aside the other environmental factors mentioned above.)

    This is a crude example, but what you're arguing is a little like saying you can't feel a 3-foot arrow going through your body if you're only standing 1 foot from the tip when the archer releases it.
  16. carbonfold

    carbonfold Supporting Member

    Oct 13, 2006
    Dallas, Texas
    I said "form" not "hear".... tis tis

  17. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Rather than thinking about the length of sine waves. Think of it as vibrations. The higher the number of vibrations per second the higher the pitch. The lower the number of vibrations per second the lower the pitch. When you think of it that way you can understand better how you can hear the bass up close and farther away.

    The length of the sine wave will have more to do with how the sound resonates in a given room and which frequencies get reinforced or deadened. Also that will explain dead spots on instruments. Or speaker cabs that are more effecient at certain frequencies.
  18. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    if it took longer to form, then it would take longer for you to hear it. that's not the case. the lower wavelengths come out of the amp formed.
  19. Raymeous


    Jul 2, 2010
    San Diego
    Part of my job includes working with radios and satellite communication systems so here's my dos centavos.

    Just in case you didn't know here's some simple science. Frequency is measured in Hertz this much we all know. What some people may not know is that 1Hz is one complete wave (or cycle) in one second, while 1,000hz (1khz) is 1,000 complete waves per second; etc... This is also why a 192khz sampling rate is better than a 48khz. It's taking 192,000 samples per second verses 48,000 samples per second which means you get a more acurate representation of whatever it is you recorded.

    While it is true that low freqs have a longer wave form they do still happen continuously. You will still hear it. The thing is that high frequencies are easier for us to hear as they tend to cut through the lower freqs better. There is truth to the discussion of low frequencies travel better over distance. For example there are several animal species that use subsonic communication that we cant hear (but can monitor with equipment) to communicate over extreme distances of several miles, elephants being the first that comes to mind. Hey I live in San Diego with the worlds largest zoo ok. Cut me some slack.

    As earlier posters have stated a lot of it has to do with how easily higher frequencies get disrupted by either reflection or absorbtion. If you have ever stood outside of a club with loud music you have already experienced the results of this and know it to also be true.

    Just because they travel farther than higher frequencies doesn't mean you wont hear them up close. The low frequency doesn't just magically appear 20 feet ahead of the speaker. Sound is air pressue after all. Something has to start it and in our case its a speaker, so yes the sound starts right at the speaker and continues traveling from there. The issue with some headphones not producing bass freqs has more to do with the 1/4" speaker not being able to push those freqs efficiently than the low frequency soundwave having to travel a certain distance to be heard.

    Take this debate to your science teacher and have him/her show you some documentation to prove it one way or the other. Make them earn our tax dollars. That'll learn 'em! Ha! :hyper:
  20. are we hearing the fundamental or a harmonic tho'.....i've heard that one too,and always wondered...
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