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Earphones vs. Bass Speakers

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by ladros2, Aug 21, 2005.

  1. ladros2


    Jun 2, 2005
    How is it that i can hear the notes of a low B on albums through my earphones, yet bass amp speakers often have a tough time doing it, and most couldn't even come close to an F#?
  2. because those sound engineers are magic
  3. ladros2


    Jun 2, 2005
    And bassists aren't? :p
  4. nope, bassits are just there to fill the gab between guitar and bass clearly :rolleyes:

  5. K Dubbs

    K Dubbs Just graduated from OSU, Go Bucks!

    Mar 16, 2002
    Toledo, Ohio
    what you're experiencing are the results of physics. There is no easy way to correctly explain it in a few sentences, but I'll give it a shot:

    1. No cone material is perfectly rigid, so naturally the larger the cone gets, the more prone it is toward floppiness. If you can imagine the following: imagine holding a fishing pole and moving it back and forth through the air slowly. The rod doesn't flex much if you're moving it slowly. Now whip it back and forth quickly, and you'll notice the amount of flex the rod exhibits due to the amount of movement-energy it stores when you reverse directions. This is what happens to speaker cones. Low notes=slow cone movement. Fast notes=fast cone movement.

    When cones of a given diameter are forced to move quickly at high frequencies, you end up with cone flexing (i believe it's called "beaming," officially). What happens at the beaming frequency and above is that the outer parts of the cone are actually moving backward when the center is moving forward, and visa versa. This contradictory movement produces something called phase/wave cancellation. The end result is that you have loud/low/slow notes and quiet/fast/phase-cancelled notes.

    2. The only ways to reduce the beaming effect that makes high notes quiet is to either use a cone material which is far more rigid, use a cone that is of a lesser diameter, or both. (this is why a lot of tweeter diaphrams are small diameters and made of titanium) Either of these methods raises the frequency at which any speaker will begin beaming. Said more plainly, better rigidity and smaller diameter makes speakers with better, clearer high end.

    3. The only catch to using a smaller diameter, more rigid speaker is that it moves less total air, which is another way of saying "is quieter" for any speaker with the same frequency response. So if you want a tiny speaker that is going to have bass response equally loud to mids and highs, physics will only permit that speaker to be of low sensitivity.

    4. This one is probably the most obvious component to the overall picture. Without dragging room acoustics into the equation, the closer your ear is to a speaker, the louder it is. Imagine a perfectly still pool that you drop a marble into. At first, all the energy of the wave is in a tight circle. A few seconds later the energy gets spread out in a huge ring. Sound works the same way. The closer you are to the source, the less "spread out" the sound is and the more energy (loud) the sound wave/s is/are.

    Okay, so to put it all together... Headphones have really tiny speakers inside them. They aren't loud when they're on your desk, they're loud when they're an inch away from your ear. So they have that advantage. Ontop of that, they're tiny and sometimes rigid speakers, so the high end is great on them. Finally, because they're so close to your ears, the speakers in them don't have to be loud. Quiet speakers, as I said above, allow for bass response that is just as loud as mids and highs.

    So there you have it in a nutshell. Headphones have great bass cause they don't have to deal with trying to be loud enough to fill the ears of 1000 people, and physics lets you get away with things like having both bass response AND high end from a single speaker, so long as you're really really quiet. Oppositely, loudspeakers (bass amps) have a hell of a time with low bass notes because they have to be manufactured with big floppy cones and tweeters (to make up for the loss of highs) that have to be louder than the loudness-limit that physics puts on the low notes (due to the amount of air being moved by the speaker). Therefore the middle notes and low-ish notes are going to be louder than the low-est notes which is why you can't really hear an f# from the average bass amp with high sensitivity.

    Hopefully at least a little of that makes sense :eyebrow:
  6. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    well kdubbs is on the right track.

    the other thing is that by the time an album is produced, a lot has happened to that bass signal. It's been compressed, eq'd compressed again, mixed in with everything else by a knowledgable professional who makes sure you can hear everything, and then mastered.

    often what you're really hearing on an album isn't the fundamental note of the low B, but the upperpartial harmonics. However, your brain fills in the missing fundamental note. Whatever fundamental actually makes it through is very compressed dynamically so it won't rip your home speakers/headphones apart.
  7. K Dubbs

    K Dubbs Just graduated from OSU, Go Bucks!

    Mar 16, 2002
    Toledo, Ohio
    oh, good point ivanmike. I guess in all my ranting I forgot about the "on albums" part of his question. Yeah, studio production does a lot of stuff to make the final product car/home stereo friendly
  8. billfitzmaurice

    billfitzmaurice Commercial User

    Sep 15, 2004
    New Hampshire
    Owner, Bill Fitzmaurice Loudspeaker Design
    Your earphones have flat response, your amp's speakers don't.
  9. ladros2


    Jun 2, 2005
    thanks, that helped alot and taught me a little something too. :p
  10. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD

    Feb 20, 2005
    Seweracuse, NY
    I'm with Mike...compression, compression, compression...as applied in recording and mastering.

    I practice with a decent pair of headphones, and they fart out pretty easily, but the same pair can deal with the lows in recorded music very easily.