FULL RANGE SYSTEMS (LEARNING TO LOVE THE WHO)
Up until recently, very few people had ever heard a full-range audio system. Most speakers and most rooms are simply incapable of making deep bass so only the very well-heeled could afford to build listening rooms that were able to reproduce live dynamics and range at home. It was the advent of home theatre and subwoofers that exposed people en masse to sub-bass for the first time. Unfortunately that brought as many pitfalls as converts due to pretty terrible bass accuracy. The truth is that real deep bass doesn't stand out as something noticeable. You shouldn't be able to pinpoint when it's there, but you should sure know when it's suddenly removed.
Recently we brought in the REL S/3 SHO subwoofer to demo with our reference audio system because of requests for "more bass". This REL sub is something very special and we've talked about it in our subwoofer article. After a few days of dialling it in with the right position and the right levels, we got down to serious listening across some of our reference tracks.
The obvious addition from track to track was the filling in of missing range, even missing notes. But, something began to quickly happen as we listened. We started getting excited to find tracks that would be transformed by the addition of the missing bass range. In particular, classic rock songs, which we'd all heard millions of times on car stereos started to take on a whole different life.
To give it some perspective, here's the example that crystallized the invaluable quality of adding deep bass: we've always had a respect for the Who, but rarely would we reach for a Who album to play over Led Zep or the Stones etc. The recordings always seemed flat and compressed, grainy and mid-rangey and frankly somewhat boring. Where was this "greatest rock band ever" legend coming from?
Just by accident one of our staff happened to play Live at Leeds - "Magic Bus. I'll admit, I hated this song growing up but when I heard it with the sub dialed in on our reference system I was spellbound. The "you're there" presence that the bass provides is entirely addictive. The guitars, even though they're primarily mid-range instruments, gained huge bite, growl, and attack. The bass which sounded tuneful but "english twangy" became round and powerful with incredible pace and start/stop precision. And when the song gets loud and the recording engineer's compressor kicks in, it doesn't become harsh. It still has body and ease.
The conclusion is, adding this magic sub made me love Magic Bus. Think of what that means. The addition of a component caused me to entirely change my mind about a song, an album and a band because it provided the missing musical energy that a non-full range system entirely misses. Now, you may already like the Who so the jump isn't as personal, but this allegory is true for many many albums and genres.
Never liked Classical before? It's probably because you never felt enveloped in the scale of the orchestra. A small system or earbuds simply cannot begin to provide the dimension of real-life power to this kind of music. Unless you understand the melodic structure of this complex music and can get by concentrating just on that, you can miss the whole enjoyment without the emotional feeling the bass provides.
The same can equally be said about hip hop. Think all rap sucks? Listen to Outkast or Kendrick Lamar on a full range system and you will change your mind from "it's just guys talking about nothing" to "wow, this is some powerful stuff". There are entire notes missing from rap songs if you don't have a subwoofer which robs vast swaths of enjoyment. Imagine removing 20% of the notes from the "happy birthday" song. You get the idea... it ceases to be the same song.
This full-range sound is so addictive that every single staff member has proclaimed "I need one of those subs" because when you turn it off you're just missing so much. It's impossible to go back. Come hear the difference today.