"Bassthe final frontier," declared Captain James T. Kirk. I have no doubt: The biggest problem in nearly every listening room is getting the bass to sound right. Today, we voyage to the frontier of bass response.
A Brief History of Time
Because my listening room is also a mastering room, it has to be as accurate as possible (see photo 1). The floor is a concrete slab, with solid-block wall construction and a cathedral ceiling 23' high at the rearthere are no floor-to-ceiling resonances. A bay window hidden behind the curtains disperses the lengthwise room mode by varying it between 18' and 20.6'. The curtains tighten the stereo image and damp the subtle resonant chamber that would otherwise color the sound.
In the 2014 November issue, my good friend Steve Guttenberg ("Communication Breakdown") got his facts mostly right: It's true that most listeners (including myself) accept far more distortion today than we did years ago. Many people have never heard a great stereo systemall they've heard are overdriven boom boxes, cheap stereos, and portable systems, and that's what they expect systems and music to sound like. And distortion is part of the sonic language of such musical genres as hip-hop, rap, and alternative rock.
For a while, I've been hearing rumors that the record-club editions of popular compact discs differ from the original versions produced by the record companies. I've met listeners who claim their club versions are compressed in dynamics, and some have reduced bass. Perhaps the clubs, in their infinite wisdom, think the typical member has a lower-class stereo system (in fact, the opposite may be true). Maybe these lower classes could benefit from some judicious dynamic compression, equalization, and digital remastering.
"My system has great imaging!" "I can hear sound coming from beyond my speakers." "The depth image in my system goes back at least 20 feet." Yes, we audiophiles are proud of our imaging (footnote 1), and we've worked hard to get it. My back is still aching from the last time I tweaked my speakers until the image was just right.
Many years ago I bought the first model of the Audio/Pulse ambience synthesizer. Like many audiophiles, I was convinced (and still am) that the standard two-speaker stereo experience provides an unsatisfying concert-hall impression. But the Audio/Pulse didn't remain long in my stereo system. You see, at best the unit provided a fair reproduction of the sound of my upstairs bathroom, topped off with a nasty flutter echo. I already get that sound every morning in the shower.