Is A Little Bad Better?
Sometimes people say that a little bass distortion is good, because it makes bass sound louder and adds punch to transients. I think the jury’s still out on the value of that approach.
There’s no doubt that distorted bass does sound louder, heavier, and more oppressive. There’s also no doubt that, if properly mixed, occasional clipping of bass amps can add some crunch to bass transients.
However, I think those effects are hard to handle and can easily get out of hand.
My vote: If you want more bass, get more (or better) woofers. If you want crunch on a bass line, insert an appropriate effect into the mix channel where you want it, or maybe just use a cheaper mic.
I don’t think it makes sense to subject the whole mix to a bunch of nonlinear, intermodulating woofers just to get a few channels tweaked. Bad might be better if you’re on a hot date, but not if you’re a woofer.
We’re talking about bass instincts here, not base instincts.
I have to mention that there’s one exception to all of the above: trance music. By this I mean dance music, rave music, some kinds of techno music, and generally any kind of music that’s designed to produce an altered state of consciousness by physical bombardment of the body and senses.
If you’re into that kind of thing, then you want your bass to have a stunning effect. Such an effect is produced when each bass transient is accompanied by a blast of harmonics that shakes the room, dims the lights, masks the music, and makes people’s eyes go blurry.
If that’s what you’re after, then you’ll probably want high-distortion bass. The easiest way to get that is to use nonlinear woofers. To get more control over the phenomenon, you can use bass-distorting devices, including subharmonic generators and other evil machines.
Lots of Bass
Even outside the trance community, lots of people like lots of bass. Me, for example—I like lots of bass. But if we’re not using distortion to create the illusion of powerful bass, what then do we do?
The answer is: have lots of bass headroom. If you have plenty of bass output capability, then when a real bass note comes along the system can put it out with integrity.
In other words, if you’ve really got it, you don’t have to fake it. But how do you get enough bass headroom and still stay within reasonable space and budget limits?
The answer: use efficient woofers. Most concert woofers are not really efficient enough to provide sufficient headroom for today’s music with today’s budgets.