All About The Bass

In this article I’ll pass along some tips that I’ve garnered over the years with respect to mixing in home studios. One of the most common challenges in mixing is getting the bass right. We’ve all experienced the frustration of finishing a song, then going to have a listen in the car and discovering that things don’t sound right. The problem could be overly boomy bass, the kick drum and bass line fighting each other, or a myriad of other problems in the low end. To understand why the bass can be so problematic, let’s first consider problems within your mixing environment, i.e. your room. All rooms have areas where the bass is either absent or exaggerated– these are called peaks and nulls.

Here’s a helpful way of illustrating this phenomena: in your DAW open up a signal generator and play a 50 hz tone. Now move about the room. You will most likely find that there are places in the your listening environment where the bass practically disappears, and other places where the bass build up is so intense you feel like your head is going to explode. This happens because of the acoustics relating to the size of the room, height of the ceiling, positioning of speakers, etc. In a perfect world the bass should be even throughout the room.

So what can we do to minimize these peaks and nulls? Well, there are a number of best practices. Ideally your room should be rectangular and the speakers should be positioned facing the long way with tweeters at eye level. It’s also wise to keep some distance between the speakers and the walls, as placing the speakers too close to walls will tend to amplify bass. More rules of thumb: Your listening area should be approximately 1/3 of the way between the front and back wall. Also, your speakers should form an equidistant triangle with your head.

In addition to proper placement of speakers, another helpful tool is the use of bass traps. Strategically placed bass traps will help to even out the peaks and nulls. You can find articles online on how to build your own bass traps with materials readily available at hardware stores. If you don’t want to build your own, I’ve had excellent results using products made by Real Traps http://realtraps.com and GIK Acoustics http://www.gikacoustics.com. Both of these companies also provide excellent support. In general I recommend using the thicker model bass traps, as they do a better job with lower frequencies.

Following these best practices for speaker placement and bass trapping can make a world of difference in how your room sounds!

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