Almost everyone listens to headphones. They bring music to the listener's ears without flooding the surrounding area with sound that not everyone may appreciate. Listeners can choose from almost invisible earbuds that fit inside the ear to massive over-the-head headphones that enclose each ear in a padded cocoon. More than almost any other invention, headphones have made it possible to make personal listening personal. Without headphones and the musical isolation they bring the portable music industry would not have been able to flourish. Headphones let people listen to rap and punk in the same room as someone else who may be listening to classical or jazz. The only catch is that many headphones do not reproduce high-quality bass, and this leads to the tinny sound that some people associate with headphones. It is possible for listeners to find headphones with quality bass. It is just a matter of buyers educating themselves on the options available.
Overview of Bass
Before going into detail about why headphones can have difficulty reproducing high-quality bass, it is important to understand what bass is. Simply put, bass refers to the lower registers of music, low-pitched sound produced by low frequency and therefore long wavelength sound waves. On a more human level, bass is the sound that the listener can feel in his or her chest that makes car windows vibrate. The big issue with reproducing bass is that lower sounds generally require more speaker area than higher pitches. Sound cancellation can also play a factor, as most speakers produce sound from both sides, and thus without an enclosure, the sound produced from the back of the speaker can actually partially cancel out the sound produced by the front of the speaker. This is particularly important when dealing with bass as the effect increases with wavelength.
Size Vs. Bass
This is where headphone listeners run into the problem of mutually exclusive desires. The best way to improve overall bass response is to increase the size of the speaker, but the best way to make headphones more portable is to decrease their overall size. The objective for any headphone manufacturer is to find a happy medium where the bass is sufficient for the listener's needs but at the same time the product is not too large to drive potential consumers away.
Headphone Bass Levels
One quirk about headphone bass is that many consumer headphones are tuned to produce what is called elevated bass response, which is another word for saying the headphones boost the bass relative to the rest of the audio signal. The reason behind this is simple: headphone speakers not only have more trouble producing quality bass than larger sets, but they also produce a different kind of bass. Headphones only produce sound the listener can hear, not sound the wearer can feel. The speakers are just too small to produce the visceral sound that pulses from a system with a dedicated subwoofer. The only way to compensate is to boost the volume of the bass in an attempt to mask the lack. It is not a perfect solution, but it is the best that can be achieved with speakers that can be worn on the head.
Types of Headphones
As anyone who has seen a headphone display at any electronics store knows, there are many different types of headphones available, ranging all the way from earphones through large circumaural models that look like the kind of hearing protectors commonly worn at a firing range. The following table describes the basic types of headphones available and their suitability for bass.
These earphones fit directly into the ear canal, providing a seal against outside noise. The seal provides two benefits, not only does it help cut down on interference from external noise, but it also helps with bass response through bone conduction. Some models are even available with dedicated, although small, subwoofers built in.
Earbuds look much like earphones but do not enter the ear canal. Instead, they sit just inside the ear, outside the ear canal. They have the benefit of portability but generally provide the least bass response as they lack both bone conduction and a seal. Earbuds also suffer from being easily moved in the ear, making it hard to guarantee a consistent listening experience.
Supra-aural headphones, sometimes known as earpads, sit on top of the ear. They can provide excellent sound, including bass, but do not provide much in the way of isolation.
Circumaural headphones cup the ear snugly, completely surrounding it. They provide both isolation and an enclosure for excellent sound reproduction at the cost of bulk. Circumaural headphones are the largest option, but they often provide the greatest flexibility as they have room for additional functionality.
As can be seen by the above table, earbuds are the least likely of any type of headphone to provide a high-quality bass response. They lack size, stability, and isolation. They are, however often inexpensive and widely available.
There are a number of other factors that can go into the purchase of a set of headphones. Some customers may go for a wireless option, while others may prefer noise-cancelling headphones. While both features have value, neither their presence nor absence is likely to have any real impact on the bass response of a set of headphones.
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Identifying Headphones With High-Quality Bass
One of the most important factors to consider when looking for high-quality bass is that high-quality sound comes from high-quality speakers. The physics of sound makes producing high-quality bass from small speakers a difficult, although not impossible, prospect. Given this innate difficulty, it is highly unlikely for any prospective purchaser to find very low-budget headphones with very high-quality bass. Anyone looking for high-quality sound of any nature should be willing to pay for it. This does not mean that consumers in the market for high-quality sound should only consider exorbitantly priced products, but it does mean that they should avoid the very bottom end of the market.
One feature that is often found on headphones is bass boost, which adds more bass to try and create a fuller sound than the headphones would otherwise produce. While it does distort the sound to a degree, in many cases, it actually provides what appears to be a better sound because it is closer to the sound many listeners expect to hear, even if it is a less accurate representation of the source.
A related factor to consider is that human perception of bass is often affected by the environment, and what might seem too much bass in a quiet room may not be enough in a noisy public environment. This is where user-controlled bass boost can be a major benefit, as it enables the listener to tune the sound to the situation. However, it is important to note that bass quality is still more important than quantity in many cases, and applying boost to lower-quality bass does nothing to improve its quality; it only magnifies the imperfections.
Finding Headphones With High-Quality Bass on eBay
eBay is an excellent place to look for any kind of headphones, and those with high-quality bass are no exception. A simple search for "headphones" from the home page will turn up thousands of choices, many of which will provide superb quality bass response. Just type your requirements into the search bar at the top of the main page and watch the results appear. Once you have a results page, it is easy to use the filters on the left to pick the size, style, and features you want; and then the drop-down box at the top right of the results page allows you to sort the order in which the results appear.
Once you have found the right headphones with sufficient bass quality, the next step is to decide which of eBay's many reputable sellers you wish to do business with. Every seller has a profile you can view to find more information about their history on eBay. You can check their feedback from other customers, their location, and such policies as whether they ship to your location. It only takes a handful of clicks to get the right set of headphones on the way to you.
High-quality bass is one of the hardest things for a set of headphones to produce, as the very laws of physics work against it. The best way to reproduce bass is with a big speaker, and there is simply no room to put large speakers in a set of headphones. Another problem that headphones face when producing bass is that the listener hears bass from the headphones rather than feeling it. As a result, many headphones enhance the bass response in order to create something more like the sound the listener expects. Earbuds are generally the least effective choice for high-quality audio, but both earphones and headphones can provide excellent bass response, provided the user is willing to pay for decent quality. Bass boost can help in certain circumstances, but it will not help if the headphones cannot produce quality sound in the first place. High-quality bass is like anything else, the best way to obtain it is to use a high-quality source.