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Positive Feedback ISSUE 55
Deep Listening to
Deep Bass, the Basic Foundation of All Music
Bass is approximately 0-800Hz depending on the crossover point between the bass driver (woofer) and the midrange, some speakers use mid-bass drivers between the woofer and midrange which usually covers frequencies between 80Hz-800Hz leaving the woofer free to concentrate on frequencies below 80Hz.
Subterranean bass is inaudible to human ears however it can be felt in our bones and that is one of things that makes pipe organ music so thrilling. Subterranean bass is between 0-20Hz. Deep bass is the deepest notes humans can actually hear and feel and are approximately 20-80Hz. For some individuals deep bass is not audible until 30Hz or so, but fear not, what you cannot hear you can feel. Mid-bass is above 80Hz to the crossover point of your woofer to your midrange driver, the first octave of mid-bass 80-160Hz is quite deep and is often considered as part of the deep bass range. The upper mid-bass range is not deep at all and is only considered bass as the tones are handled by bass drivers.
The cannon shots from the famous Telarc 1812 Overture are at 8Hz. The 64-foot pipe on the world's largest organs have a frequency of 8Hz, the lowest note on a double bass is 41Hz, and the fundamental frequency of the tuba is 16Hz.
This article is about the supreme importance of realistic deep and mid-bass reproduction often overlooked by recording engineers in the choice and setting up of their microphones. The best engineers ensure as little signal loss as possible all the way to the recorders by using premium heavy gauge microphone cables and state-of-the-art audiophile-grade components.
This does not negate the importance of maintaining all the high frequencies or the purity of the critical midrange. As I have always maintained everything is important, to compromise on any element of reproduction is to diminish the whole.
I strive for musical truth. Pure recordings that capture an authentic moment in real space and time. Without adequate low frequency response it is not possible to convince me I am in the presence of real live musicians, so if the bass is rolled-off or diminished by either poor engineering or less than state-of-the-art equipment I just cannot get into the music.
Deep bass the basic foundation of the symphony orchestra
My preferred recordings offer a solid orchestral foundation of deep bass with the frequency, impact and warmth I hear in the concert hall. Deep powerful bass not just in the percussion instruments but the strings and winds as well. When the timbre, weight and balance are correct for the low wind and string instruments they will by default be correct for all the other instruments. As a bonus high frequencies usually sound smoother when the full deep bass is preserved, and the correct tonal balance maintained.
There is another adverse effect of not capturing all the low frequencies at the recording site, the bass ambiance (room noise) is either greatly subdued or totally missing. This bass ambiance is what gives a warm lifelike feeling to the music even when deep bass notes are not being played. To my ears ambiance that only covers the mid to upper frequencies sounds wrong.
Deep bass the basic foundation for lifelike Jazz
Realistic deep bass is also important in Jazz music, acoustic double bass or electric bass guitar is what keeps the rhythm and the trap drum set is very important with lots of deep low frequency energy.
Deep bass the absolutely essential component of Rock music
Electric bass guitar and drums demand deep bass but nothing compared to the synthesizer.
Deep bass equals more musical enjoyment
If I go to an orchestral concert and they throw blankets over the double basses and percussion players I would demand my money back. I do not tolerate this in recordings either, that is why many commercial and boutique recordings are totally and completely unacceptable as the low frequency energy that was there in the concert hall was either lost or destroyed.
There are things listeners do to increase the apparent low frequency energy from bass-lite recordings such as using equalization and/or moving the speakers closer to room boundaries. However these are not real solutions, they only make the bass appear deeper but not more realistic and they cause many other problems such as muddy and overpowering low frequencies. Instead what should be done is moving the speakers out into the room, one or two feet from the side and rear walls. And if you are a bass lover like me, just avoid bass-lite recordings and concentrate on those with deep, accurate real authentic bass. By giving your speakers room to breath you will be amazed how realistic bass can sound from recordings in which all the bass energy is realistically captured.
Many audiophile recording companies who do not use equalization and preserve deep bass all the way through the recording process provide plenty of recordings for me to enjoy. However I worry about the future as it seems some vocal listeners complain about recordings with true accurate deep bass and this has already caused some recording companies to mic in such a way as to decrease apparent bass and even to roll-off the low frequencies. This has already caused a drastic reduction in the fidelity of a lot of recorded music.
Audiophile recordings are made for audiophiles and not designed to play on equipment that has problems reproducing deep bass. The problems of these listeners can range from speaker placement, the listening room, the listening position, and even the preference of the individual listener for bass-lite recordings. This is why a great pair of headphones with deep bass response is a necessity as it takes the listening room out of the equation and can reveal listening room problems one my have by comparison.
The Telarc bass drum and musical truth
In 1978 Telarc accurately captured the most realistic bass drum since the Mercury Living Presence recordings of the 1950's and because of the new Soundstream digital recording system with no distortion at all! All of us bass-loving audiophiles quickly made Telarc America's largest independent recording company. However bass-haters have been spreading untrue rumors and false innuendo about Telarc ever since.
On a correctly setup system Telarc recordings will never have bloated or overbearing bass. Telarc's should have realistic deep bass with plenty of energy and most of the impact that you hear live in a concert hall. Next time you go to see an orchestra in a concert hall close your eyes and mentally compare it to a Telarc SACD. I have discovered that when I use both my eyes and my ears the sound is not as full and deep as when I listen with eyes closed. In a concert hall with my eyes closed bass is deeper and fuller and percussion instruments (including piano) are much larger than they appear with my eyes opened. Indeed this will also clear up the accusation that Telarc's bass drum is larger than life as the visual cues reduce the sonic image of the drum to a size that corresponds to what the eyes see; however with eyes closed the sonic image of the drum is larger than the entire orchestra and covers nearly every inch of the concert hall with each whack. If you perform this simple exercise you will discover that Telarc's bass is as close to live bass as you will ever hear.
I have heard Telarc SACDs on speakers systems ranging in cost from $1,000 to $140,000 per pair and the bass was never excessive. See my CES show report http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue53/ces_hirez.htm
"For the record, we have never worked to emphasize the basses, low frequencies, or bass drums on Telarc recordings. We simply record with excellent FLAT omni mics, keep the recording path wide open and FLAT, and do nothing to take away low-end. The low-end on the recordings is representative of what was there AT THE SESSION and ON-STAGE. Many, many orchestral recordings have had the low-frequencies attenuated, especially the older classics originally released on LP. If one's system has been tuned for playback of the oldies, then playback of a current flat response recording will sound as if the low-end is overblown. Which one is correct? Since I'm there at the inception - and can compare to what is hitting the mics live on-stage - the FLAT RESPONSE recording is by far the closest." - Michael Bishop, Telarc Recording Engineer
"I know what it's like to stand in front of a performing group. I know what it feels like. I know what it sounds like, the mix of direct and reverberant sound...The master tape should sound like real musicians in real acoustic space...Well, it all really comes down to the signal path and, I think, to the combination of components. For years, when I first started making orchestral recordings with three and four microphones, I had a lot of imitators. But people just didn't quite get it right. Because it's not just putting up three or four mikes. It's which mikes you choose, it's the cable, it's the electronics—it's the whole signal path." - Jack Renner, Telarc Recording Engineer
Harry Pearson of Absolute Sound fame says that Telarc's get better as one moves up in the price range into the ultra high-end, where they become extremely realistic. Telarc is also his favorite recording company, he loves Mercury Living Presence as do I and so do the engineers of Telarc. Telarc's are extensions of the Mercury legend.
"The Telarc team produced the best sounding recordings from a major label since the Golden Age of Mercury and RCA some 40 years ago." - Harry Pearson, The Absolute Sound
Making realistic and enjoyable recordings is an extremely rare commodity in the modern world. Only a handful of recording companies fully understand how to capture a symphony orchestra in a concert hall from the deepest bass to the highest treble while at the same time maintaining the complex imaging properties of this large number of instruments with a large, deep and wide soundstage. And in addition without losing any of the impact, warmth, beauty or soul projected by the players themselves. Telarc is one such company and they are at the very top of this wonderful accomplishment, it is true recording engineering is both a SCIENCE and an ART. Most of the world's engineers learn the science but they never quite get the art!
Telarc recordings are made naturally with no equalization or other electronic processing, what one gets is what was in the concert hall, no more, no less! Equalization should not be used on the playback end either.
Deep bass from Audiophile LPs
For deep realistic bass on LPs I would always refer listeners to the Telarc Soundstream LPs and the Reference Recordings PURE ANALOGUE LPs, especially "Pomp and Pipes". However at CES I heard the new Analogue Productions 45 RPM 180 Gram LP pressing of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances with Donald Johanos conducting the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, a famous Vox analog recording. It was like Telarc on steroids, the deep bass was "finally" like what I hear in a good concert hall. It proves that LP still does the deepest and most powerful bass, well at least at 45 RPM!
Deep bass listening from the early days
During the early 1970's I bought my first Reel to Reel recorder, a Teac. I discovered prerecorded 4 Track 7½ IPS reel to reel tapes which as a group had rich, full, warm, deep bass and by contrast LPs of the day sounded very anemic. It was not until I heard my first Telarc LP that I discovered that LPs could also do deep bass.
What are Audiophile recordings?
Since audiophile recording companies are best at capturing realistic deep bass, I thought it would be a good idea to define what audiophile recordings are.
The goal of audiophile engineers is to recreate the "concert hall" experience in one's listening room with all the detail, natural ambiance and full frequency response from the deepest bass to the highest treble with the weight, impact and excitement of music heard live.
ORIGINAL AUDIOPHILE RECORDINGS
These are recordings engineered with state-of-the-art highly modified equipment using only the best parts, the finest microphones often with tubed modules, heavy audiophile cabling from the microphones to the control room. The concert hall or room is studied and mapped for correct microphone placement. They insure the balances and everything else are correct before the start of recording with an aim to make a "natural" audio recording using as little mixing and editing as possible since fixing it in-the-mix is what decreases the spontaneity and realism of most commercially-made recordings.
All frequency ranges are preserved with no diminishment of the deep bass, critical midrange and the all important high frequencies, thus NO equalization is used or required.
Examples of "original" audiophile companies include Telarc, Reference Recordings, Analogue Productions Originals (see below for their remasters), AudioQuest Music, DMP, Chesky, Delos, Sheffield Lab and Crystal Clear.
REMASTERED AUDIOPHILE RECORDINGS
These are commercial recordings that are remastered to sound as realistic and natural as possible. They use what is termed "reverse equalization" to restore flat frequency response and undo the damage the original engineers did to the music to make a mass-market product. Even in the age of digital, commercial recordings are required to have the vocals prominent and to sound loud on radio play. This is accomplished by rolling off the frequency extremes and boosting the hell out of the midrange coupled with the use of dynamic range compressors. Not all of this can be fixed in remastering, the bass and treble can usually be restored unless they were removed by filters and the midrange boost can be removed. However it is not so easy to restore dynamic range but it can be done. All of this is a lot of work for the remastering engineer and the results are not always totally successful however it is amazing how great some of the restorations sound. The resulting products are not aimed at the masses, nor do they get radio play. They are designed solely for accurately setup audiophile systems.
Examples of "remastereing" audiophile companies include: Analogue Productions, Audio Fidelity, MFSL and DCC.
50 SACDs with "reference quality" deep realistic bass
These SACDs will demonstrate how accurate full, warm deep bass can sound in your system. Even though organ is featured a couple of them, subterranean bass is not the subject of these recommendations.
Energy, impact, power and projection are all part of the deep bass experience live and on the right recordings and playback equipment this experience can be recreated in your home. Make sure your amplifier has a high damping factor for excellent woofer control. Large diameter woofers are the best, if you want faster mid-bass think of auditioning a system that utilizes a large woofer and a smaller mid-bass driver. If you use a subwoofer insure it is not of the "one-note" boom-boom variety.
1. Dr. Chesky's Magnificent, Fabulous, Absurd & Insane Musical 5.1 Surround Show - Chesky SACD273 (Note - Check out the Heartbeats which decrease in frequency from 50Hz to 40Hz to 30Hz to 20Hz)
2. Elgar: Enigma Variations / Britten: Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, Four Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes" - Paavo Järvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60660
3. Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon - EMI 7243-582136-2
4. Terry Evans: Puttin' It Down - Audioquest Music AQ 1038 SACD
5. Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Night on Bald Mountain, Prelude to "Khovanshchina" - Paavo Järvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60705
6. Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture - Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60541
7. Britten's Orchestra - Michael Stern, Kansas City Symphony - Reference Recordings RR-120SACD
8. Christy Baron: Steppin' - Chesky SACD227
9. Exotic Dances from the Opera - Eiji Oue, Minnesota Orchestra - Reference Recordings RR-71SACD
10. Holst: Suite Nos. 1 & 2 / Handel: Music for Royal Fireworks / Stars and Stripes - Marches, Fanfares and Wind Band Spectaculars - Frederick Fennell, Cleveland Symphonic Winds - Telarc SACD-60639
11. Gottschalk: A Night in the Tropics, Grand Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra, Gould: Latin American Symphonette - Maurice Abravanel, Utah Symphony Orchestra - Vanguard Classics VSD-500
12. Kodo: Mondo Head - Red Ink SACD 56111
13. Robert Hohner Percussion Ensemble: Far More Drums - DMP SACD-10
14. Virgil Thomson: The River, The Plow That Broke the Plains - Leopold Stokowski, The Symphony of the Air - Vanguard Classics VSD 501
15. Tutti! - Orchestral Sampler - Reference Recordings RR-906SACD
16. Britannia - Donald Runnicles, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60677
17. Holst: The Planets, Beni Mora, Japanese Suite - Andrew Davis, BBC Philharmonic, - Chandos CHSA-5086
18. Monty Meets Sly and Robbie - Monty Alexander, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare - Telarc SACD-63494
19. Monty Alexander: Rocksteady - Telarc SACD-63581
20. Ray Brown, John Clayton, Christian McBride: SuperBass 2 - Telarc SACD-63483
21. Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique - Paavo Järvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60578
22. Jennifer Higdon: City Scape, Concerto for Orchestra - Robert Spano, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60620
23. Orff: Carmina Burana - Donald Runnicles, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus - Telarc SACD-60575
24. Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet Suites Nos. 1-3 - Paavo Järvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60597
25. Rainbow Body - Robert Spano, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60596
26. Music of Ravel - Paavo Järvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60601
27. Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring / Nielsen: Symphony No. 5 - Paavo Järvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60615
28. Turina: Danzas Fantasticas, Sinfonia Sevillana, La Procesion del Rocio / Debussy: Iberia - Jesus Lopez-Cobos, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60574
29. Monty Alexander: My America - Telarc SACD-63552
30. Debussy: Nocturnes, La Mer, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun - Paavo Järvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Telarc SACD-60617
31. Dukas: Sorcerer's Apprentice, La Péri, Symphony in C - Jesus Lopez-Cobos, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60515
32. Epics - Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60600
33. The Film Music of Jerry Goldsmith - Jerry Goldsmith, London Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60433
34. Great Film Fantasies - Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60664
35. Alan Hovhaness: Mysterious Mountains - Gerard Schwarz, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60604
36. Liszt: Dante Symphony, Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo - Leon Botstein, London Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60613
37. Masters & Commanders - Eric Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60682
38. Mega Movies - Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60535
39. Michael Gandolfi: The Garden of Cosmic Speculation - Robert Spano, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60696
40. Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5, Lieutenant Kije - Paavo Järvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60683
41. Russian Nights - Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60657
42. Scary Music - Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60580
43. Stravinsky: Petrouchka, Firebird Suite, Scherzo a la Russe - Paavo Järvi, Cincinnatti Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60587
44. Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker (favorite selections) Eric Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60674
45. Vintage Cinema - Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60708
46. Classics at the Pops - Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60595
47. Dupre, Franck & Widor: Organ Works - Michael Murray, The Organ at St. Sulpice - Telarc SACD-60516
48. Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 "New World" / Martinu: Symphony No. 2 - Paavo Järvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60616
49. The Symphonic Sound Stage, A Listener's Guide to the Art and Science of Recording the Orchestra - Delos / Top Music International TM-SACD9004.2
50. Bizet: Carmen Suites / Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite - Leonard Slatkin, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra - Telarc SACD-60655
Many other SACDs have deep bass, all the Telarc, Reference Recordings, Delos, Chesky, AudioQuest Music, DMP, and Groove Note SACDs. As well as many of the PentaTone, Channel Classics and Chandos SACDs. In addition many reissued SACDs by audiophile labels such as MFSL and Analogue Productions where deep bass existed in the original master tape and can thusly be recovered.
Happy "deep bass" listening!