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Bass and Treble Tone Controls

Bass and Treble Tone Controls

tone controlsHave you got a bad opinion of bass and treble tone controls? Sometimes these are on the front of a receiver or amplifier as knobs. Today these are absent on aftermarket car receivers (aka head units, decks) but why? As a person who is deeply interested in good sound you should know that tone controls are your friend.

Our hearing is very sensitive to small broad spectrum tilts, up or down. What is a broad spectrum tilt?

I want you thinking in terms of a tilt, like how a see-saw kid’s toy will pivot on a fulcrum. One side goes up as you push up with your legs and then the other side goes down.


Four Divisions of Sound We Hear, Color Shaded

What you see in the see-saw image could represent a broad spectrum tilt to take the bass down and bring the treble up. This isn’t a deep concept and I’ll get to the point shortly.

A bass tone control setting for your sound system could be one of your most frequently used tools. Music sometimes gets produced with too much or too little bass. You can read the blog  post Myth Busting: Music is Pristine for an example of this. If you have a bass tone control setting at hand what would you do? You’d give that knob a turn while playing the offensive music and stop when it sounds right! 

We Want Both a Powerful Equalizer AND Tone Controls

When we work to make the system perform with smooth frequency response, for better sound quality, the equalizer is one of our powerful tools. The upper midrange peak illustrated below could be addressed with an equalizer.

Example of a frequency response graph

If we were correcting the response of a bass-limited speaker, and careful use of the equalizer brought the frequency response down to the black curve what would we get? In the car it’s possible you would think the treble is too bright. People with normal hearing are likely to want a downward tilt to the treble, starting at roughly the middle of the spectrum(visually speaking). The bass is also a problem, but a subwoofer is needed to fix that issue.

What To Do

If you will follow me through to the conclusion of this series of articles, and get into the forthcoming training, you will understand the following:

  1. How a skilled listener of music thinks and responds to changing music quality.
  2. What is an equalizer and how to best use it.
  3. Music currently CANNOT be produced consistently and
  4. We should have simple and broadly acting bass and treble controls ready at hand.

If you have a radio with tone controls it’s OK if you feel like you need to change these as you change music. You’re compensating to what you’ve got so you enjoy it more. 

Barry Schanz