The Question of Bass / Bass Instruments & Frequencies Page 3

Bass Instruments & Frequencies: John Atkinson
To tie the subjective frequency ranges to real music, these are the range of fundamental frequencies produced by typical bass instruments (footnote 1) (including the contrabassoon played by Stereophile contributor Lewis Lipnick). Note that, with the exception of the organ and the bass drum, musical instruments do not produce significant energy in the low-bass region. Why, then, is it important for loudspeakers to have response below 40Hz?

The answer is twofold. As discussed above, the recorded hall ambience will have energy extending down to very low frequencies; in addition, work by KEF's Laurie Fincham has shown that the group delay due to the speaker's high-pass filter action can have audible effects up as far as the midrange. This degradation can be minimized by designing a loudspeaker to have as extended a low-bass response as possible, as with the KEF R107 reviewed by Dick Olsher in this issue [Vol.9 No.7].

Male voice: A good bass can produce a strong D2 at 73.4Hz, but most energy lies two-four octaves above this, due to the resonant structure of the throat, mouth and nasal cavity.

Cello: C on the bottom string (C2) is 65.4Hz.

Double-bass: Most orchestral basses these days can reach low C3, 32.7Hz, but the jazz-bass limit is the low E3 at 41.2Hz.

Fender Bass: Limit is also 41.2Hz, but most of the energy is at the 2nd harmonic, 82.4Hz.

Bassoon: Like all reeds, very little energy at the fundamental, which reaches around 58Hz. Olsen measured the fundamental of a 98Hz bassoon tone as being 20dB lower in level than the 7th at 686Hz, which was the highest.

Contrabassoon: The depths plunged by this leviathan reach around 29Hz---a beautiful sound.

B-Flat Bass Clarinet: Low E (actually D2) is a beautifully plummy 73.4Hz. (The very rare contrabass clarinet plummets an octave lower to 36.7Hz.)

Organ: Commonly 25-32Hz; very occasionally 16.35Hz (but a reed stop with very little energy at this frequency).

Bass Trombone: With the slide all the way out, can produce a fart of a G-Flat4 around 23Hz.

Tuba: The fat man of the orchestra and windband reaches F4, two tones below a standard concert grand.

Grand Piano: Standard concert grand goes down to A4 at 27.5Hz; the big Bosendorfers subtract ten or so Hz from this.

Kick Drum: Produces a broad span of frequencies with very high energy between 30 and 80Hz. (Live levels can reach 127dB, equivalent to 25 acoustic watts, or a typical box loudspeaker being driven by a 3kW amplifier!) Rock and jazz bass-drum output tends to have a higher frequency range than the orchestral bass drum.

Timpani: Energy tends to be centered in the upper-bass and lower-midrange, between 75Hz and 200Hz.

Piccolo: Hardly a bass instrument, but ties with the piano at producing the highest fundamental tone of any instrument, at 4698.6Hz. A good soprano is struggling above 1kHz; violin fundamentals reach up to about 2.8kHz; some organ pipes go as high as 8kHz, but these are never used on their own, only as harmonic coloring.

Footnote 1: Taken from Hi-Fi in the Home, (1972), by former Hi-Fi News Editor John Crabbe, and Music, Physics and Engineering by Harry Olsen (1967).---JA