Friday, May 9, 2014

Häagen-Dazs IS better than Edy’s, but that's not my point.

It was just announced that the “Beats” headphone company has been acquired by Apple for an obscene amount of money. Critics of the deal have called out the sound quality offered by these headphones as unworthy of the attention or the money, saying they’re all hype and that they don’t follow through on the promise of enhanced sonic definition. Indeed, the professional consensus seems to be that Beats Headphones look great and sound like mud

Well-founded though the criticism may be, consider me optimistic. If Apple starts offering these headphones as an alternative to their built-in laptop speakers or their infamous ear-buds, younger generations may start to experience what music sounds like when frequencies below 400 Hz are audible without distortion (though to be fair, you seem to be able to hear down to just above 300 Hz on laptop speakers... if you're in an otherwise silent environment).

As a bassist frustrated by a world of people who don't know how to hear bass, I'm a fan of this notion.

Here is a graphic representation of Beats headphones vs Apple earbuds. 

While the earbuds tank off  below 400 Hz, the Beats ramp it up in this same region. 

Is it high fidelity? NO. 

But will it allow you to hear the actual notes produced by a bass even if you are in a moving vehicle?

By gum, yes it will. 

My thinking here is that though Beats headphones do not sound great, they still offer more bass response than anything the general public is listening through. So now is not the time to argue that Häagen-Dazs is better than Edy’s, because we’re dealing with people who have NEVER TASTED ICE CREAM BEFORE. Let them enjoy the experience for awhile before we start teaching them to refine that experience. It’s simply more important that people start getting used to hearing the bass again when they listen to music. Once everyone gets familiar with the full sonic spectrum, THEN they will start to understand what quality hi-fi is.

Back in 2008 I was emailing song demos to my producer-fans, and I noticed that a disproportionate number of them were giving feedback that didn’t make sense. Their comments seemed to indicate that they couldn’t hear my bass parts - some people were even asking me why I wasn’t using the bass the way I used to. I sent out a message to all the listeners reminding them that to hear bass frequencies, they’d have to listen to the music through something other than their computer speakers. 

The response was a mass of immediate replies: “OH! NOW I hear it! Wow; sounds totally different! I had no idea!”

I knew then that we had a problem. In the years since, I’ve had student after student who needs to be taught from scratch what the bass does in music. These are reasonable, intelligent people who have come by the instrument because it has four strings instead of six and “seems easy”, or because it “looks cool”, or because “my friends’ band needed a bass player, and I like music, so…”

…but not because they love what it sounds like.  Because they’ve never really heard what it sounds like.

Bass, before its role as a THING, is a SOUND. You have to be able to hear a sound before you can actively listen to it.

Crappy, tiny-ass speakers will never reproduce that sound such that it will register in your brain so that you can comprehend what you’re experiencing.

Therefore you will never assimilate it, and therefore you will never be able to duplicate it.

Bassists, I say we embrace this development; that we tolerate Jimmy Iovine’s insufferable banality for awhile. And then, once the unwashed masses are all wearing headphones by Beats… that's when we let them try out our Sennheisers, our Grados, our Sonys, our Audio-Technicas... 

...and soon the world will become a better place for bass.