Published On: November 11, 2021

The Truth Hz: Bass Worship, BoAT, Beats & Bose

Published On: November 11, 2021
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The Truth Hz: Bass Worship, BoAT, Beats & Bose

Beats, Bose, BoAT and the evolution of Bass worship: How do you like your headphones, neutral or bass-heavy?

The Truth Hz: Bass Worship, BoAT, Beats & Bose

  • I’m an AV enthusiast, equipment reviewer, photographer, videographer and drone pilot. I’m also a THX-trained video calibrator with extensive experience reviewing consumer displays including TVS, projectors, monitors and smartphones.

Did you know that in India there is a subculture of bass lovers so focused on the lower end of the audio frequency spectrum, it’s all they really care about? Perhaps this sounds familiar, after all, bass-heavy tuning is popular in the U.S., too… just look at Beats, which are in essence the anti-Bose. But in India, a domestic brand, named Boats (presumably evocative of Bose + Beats) has staked a claim as the brand to get for bass-focused listeners.

One of my favorite people to follow on Facebook is Dr. Sean Olive, Senior Fellow at Harman International whose work in the realm of speaker and headphone is world-renowned and resulted in the famous Harman Curve, representing the “ideal” sound profile that most people recognize and most ideal. It was Sean’s Facebook post about Boats that turned me on to the story.

Sean has one of those cool professional headphone measurement rigs, so when he discusses the sound of headphones, he’s working off empirical data. And the measurements of a pair of BoAT AIRDOPES Professional true wireless earbuds shows what this profile looks like:

May be an image of text that says 'STDEV OF ERROR 4.48 BoAT AIRDOPES 441 Professional - A popular selling Headphone in India SLOPE OF ERROR -1.78 AVERAGE Predicted ERROR Preference (%) 4.31 34.95 10 441p 2019 TARGET 0 Fror Curve 10 Error Curve) 20 60 10 100 1000 Frequency (Hz) 10000'

If you're not a chart reader, what you're looking at in red is the error curve, the deviation from ideal in decibels. And what you see is a very sizable boost starting at 20 Hz and going all the way up to 500 Hz, at which point the headphones start to exhibit a scooped-out midrange, which serves to accentuate the excessive base response. And then, for no good reason, at around 6000 Hz, the output once again is boosted, at 10,000 Hz it's almost 10 dB to high. That's what's generally referred to as a "V-shaped" EQ, and old-timers referred to the resulting sound as "boom and tizz".

Anyhow, bass and youth and music for rebels go together quite well. An ad for Boats would be enough to trigger a purist audiophile: "Hear Nothing But the Bass" but probably reads just right to the so-called Gen-Now crowd that Harman refers to in this corporate blog post.

May be an image of text that says 'HEAR NOTHING BUT THE BASS ₹9999 Launching on 16th October Only for Prime members'
An ad for BoAT headphones says "hear nothing but the bass"

I will admit to being a bass lover, although I am a little bit of a snob about it. I like lots of bass, but it has to be really tight, really well integrated into the system. And with headphones, surely I enjoy 3-4 dB of extra "oomph" but without the midrange scoop. Similarly, you can run a subwoofer a bit hot, but only if it's tight and well integrated!

Notably, Sean made fun of this whole situation by pointing to a study that found a link between borderline personalities and a love of "excessive bass" and the fact (huge surprise here, folks) that it's largely a "guy thing." You don't have to be a scientist to deduce this though, observing teens and their automobiles is enough to draw reasonable conclusions on this matter.

As for treble, even my 50-year-old ears are working well enough to not need hearing-aid level high frequency boosting, so no thanks to exaggerated highs, but I'll take all the resolution and clarity I can get, which is why I gravitate toward planar-magnetic headphones like the HiFiMan Ananda BT.

So, what does it all mean? Science says people should like a balanced, natural sound that's as close to reality as you can get. Accurate, faithful. But sales numbers show that the appeal of bass-heavy headphones is far from niche, far from restricted to a subculture of Indian youth. Of course, Bose still sells, but you see it on the heads of business travelers and NFL fans who spot the logo on headsets that the coaches use. Nobody accuses Bose of having too much bass. But ever since Beats by Dre were introduced, and swallowed up half the headphone market, and got bought by Apple, and turned Dr. Dre into a billionaire, headphone manufacturers have ignored the cult of bass at their peril.

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