A common issue for people who produce audio content in home studios, industrial parks or other rooms that weren’t specifically built for recording is making sure that what they hear in the studio will sound good in the outside world. Reflective materials, such as glass and concrete, passages to other rooms, and odd shaped spaces contribute to the unpredictability of sound. In particular, the amount of bass heard room-to-room can vary dramatically, causing producers and engineers to second-guess their work and making it difficult to anticipate how their projects will sound in other environments.
A reliable playback system starts with a pair of high-quality studio monitor speakers, which deliver equal amplitude over a very broad range of frequencies. A good loudspeaker may sound neutral in the mid-range and high frequencies, but the neutral reproduction of low frequencies can be more problematic.
The volume and construction of the room and the position of the speakers can have a profound effect on the low frequency response. The same speakers can be placed in various parts of a room and the perception of the low frequencies will be entirely different. In one area, the bass may sound loud and boomy while, in another, almost silent.
If bass frequencies are difficult to hear in your studio, here are six steps you can take to help diagnose and remedy the situation:
1) Start by playing a song you are very familiar with and have heard in a variety of environments. Not hearing the song’s bass line or kick drum through your speakers indicates that the speakers or your listening position need to be adjusted.
2) Moving the speakers incrementally along the front wall of your studio—closer together, further apart, away from the wall, further and closer to the floor—and playing the reference song at each location may help locate your room’s sweet spot, where the broadest range of tones sound correct.
3) If the recording still seems to lack bass, try positioning your studio monitors close to the wall behind them and as close as possible to the quarter points of the room. For example, if the room is 10 feet long, placing the speakers 2½ feet from each sidewall is typically where they generate the most low frequencies. Forming a triangle with your listening position, the speakers should be angled toward your ears or just behind your head.
4) In some rooms, it may be impractical to move the speakers, but adjusting your chair side-to-side, higher and lower, closer and further from the speakers may help you hear the bass frequencies.
5) In certain studio environments, incremental speaker and chair adjustments may not reveal a point where you can hear the lower frequency range, but a simple experiment might. Download low frequency tones (very low sine waves, approximately 30-120Hz) to your computer and play them through music production software or iTunes, or download an app, such as Audio Tools from Studio Six, to your smartphone or tablet and play the tones through your speakers as you listen in different spots of the room. You’ll notice places where the low frequencies are loud and others, possibly right in front of a speaker, where you can’t hear them at all. Finding the location where you can clearly hear the widest range of low frequency tones will establish your optimum listening position.
6) What if the best place for listening isn’t practical? The next solution would be to take the low frequency portion of the content out of your speakers and reproduce it, using a high-quality studio subwoofer (for example, the JBL LSR310S Studio Subwoofer), which can be positioned anywhere in the room. By feeding your stereo mix to the subwoofer, it automatically grabs the low end and sends the rest of the mix to your speakers. Even with a single subwoofer, when properly placed, the listener will perceive the bass frequencies as coming from the speakers rather than the subwoofer.
Accurately hearing a full-spectrum of frequencies in your studio can make all the difference in your final recording. Hopefully these tips will help you find and reinforce your bass sound.
Are you a musician, engineer or producer using an unconventional space as a studio? Share your experience managing bass frequencies in the comments.