What is frequency response and how does it affect your audio?

Many of the other audio producers, including the speakers and headphones you use, often have a frequency response range. What does frequency response mean? What do you need to consider when buying audio equipment? Whether you are familiar with the topic or if the term is brand new to you. Here is everything you need to know about frequency response.

As per the name, we are dealing with frequency and how well a particular component is able to reproduce all the tones we can hear. Humans can only hear a small fraction of the entire Hertz spectrum. The average human being can hear frequencies between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. Most often, audio equipment with a 20 Hz to 20 kHz response range will be marketed as a full-range response. This is in the context of our hearing because 20 Hz to 20 kHz is the full range of frequencies that we can hear.

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Let’s look at this in more detail.

frequency response

Frequency Response in Audio Equipment

DescriptionFrequency Range
Sub-bass20Hz to 60Hz
Bass60Hz to 250Hz
Low Mids (Low Mid-Range)250Hz to 500Hz
Mids (Mid-range)500Hz to 2kHz
High/Upper Mids (High/Upper Mid-Range)2kHz to 4kHz
Presence4kHz to 6kHz
Brilliance6kHz to 20kHz

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Sub-Bass Frequencies 

Starting from the low-end, 20 Hz to 60 Hz is a sub-bass frequency that is felt more than is commonly heard. If you’ve ever been to a club or concert and felt a strong vibration from your body. This is a sub-bass produced by the subwoofer of the sound system. However, it is difficult to reproduce for these very low frequency speakers. That’s why you need a dedicated subwoofer to create sub-bass frequencies at high volume. 10-inch and 12-inch speaker drivers are capable of producing these sub-bass frequencies in your home. Such as wireless TV speakers, PC speakers, or Bluetooth speakers. Moreover, for larger outdoor spaces, you’ll need multiple 15-inch or 18-inch or even 21-inch subwoofers to make a real impact.

Bass Frequencies

For most consumer audio equipment, the bass sound you hear is mostly in the 60 Hz to 250 Hz frequency range. This is where your bass guitar, bass synths, and the kick drum sit. This is also where speakers get their “woolly” characteristic from poor speaker design. In cheaper speakers and headphones, manufacturers will boost somewhere between 60 Hz to 250 Hz to give the product more bass. The problem is, simply boosting creates a woolly effect and the speaker or headphones lose any low-end punch or definition. Additionally, boosting bass frequencies can also have a negative impact on the rest of the frequency spectrum. Especially the mid-range which becomes difficult to hear or “muddy”.  

Low Mids

The lower mids fill the range from 250 Hz to 500 Hz and in the same place you hear the warm characteristics of instruments and vocals. This is usually the frequency range that is most affected by any boost in bass frequencies. That are common in bass-heavy speakers and headphones.

Mids or Mid-Range

Mids cover from 500 Hz to 2 kHz and are very important for audio equipment as this is where most of the noise resides. When vocal sounds are muffled or heard from a distance, there is a possibility that something is missing in the mid-range of the product. Furthermore, if you are viewing or reading a review and it states that the mid-range is “up front” or “present”. This means that the product is well balanced in this part of the frequency spectrum. Also, you can hear the sound and equipment clearly.

When the mid-range is lacking, the product will feel like a “boxy” talking through toilet paper roll. You can hear low and loud sounds but the middle is far away. Which makes it difficult to make any sense of the instrument or the singer. This is typical of cheap drivers and also cheap speakers using processing.

Upper Mids

Upper middle, 2 kHz to 4 kHz, where you hear sibilance which is important for phonetics. The upper middle gives speech detail and comprehension, the most important being ch, sh, z and tiss sounds. If this part of the frequency spectrum is lacking, the product will look dull and lifeless. Upper Mids is also where you hear most of the reverb and adds excitement to the special effects in the movie. If over-boosted, it can cause a great deal of strain on the upper middle ear which can be felt as a sharp or “ear-piercing” sound.

Presence and Brilliance

Attendance, 4 kHz to 6 kHz, is a further expansion in the upper middle, adding civility and intelligibility to the audio product. This is where you hear the reverbe and so many sounds of other instrument and vocal effects that add excitement and character to the audio. Attendance at Brilliance (6 kHz to 20 kHz), you hear a lot of drums from drums as well as high-frequency sounds from wind, brass and percussion instruments. It is a stimulating sound to the ear and without this frequency, the audio sounds dull and lifeless.

As we get older, this high-frequency goes first, which is why older people have a hard time understanding what people are saying. Speech loses comprehension and makes it difficult to get everything out easily and clearly. 

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Why frequency response is important

frequency response

Looking traditional HiFi standards, an accurate audio system is one that takes input signals and outputs them without changing them. This includes components ranging from source audio files to digital processing and components such as DAC, directly to amplifiers and speakers. Frequency response is only one part of this equation. But one that has a significant effect on how the output sounds and is fairly easy to measure by chance.

Frequency response is not just about whether too much bass, mid or trouble is coming out of the system. It can more subtly affect the tone and balance of the instruments inside the track, potentially coloring and even spoiling the listening experience. A perfectly flat, ideal response is not possible with every component. But today’s high-end technology can certainly come so close that man can never say.

If our goal is to listen to music in as pure a form as possible, we need to focus on the frequency response. It can also be a handy tool if you want to do EQ in less time than full hardware.

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How to Read a Frequency Response Graph

With the above in mind we now know the basics of frequency response and what role each part of a full-range response plays. Now is the time to look at this in graph format. The question you might be asking is “If so many brands categorize their products as full-range or with 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response. Then why do they seem so different?”

To measure the frequency response you have to listen to the product or study the frequency response graph. The problem is that most manufacturers do not provide this information. It is common to find frequency response graphs in commercial audio products. Because the average consumer, firstly, does not know how to read them and secondly, does not really care. But it is important to understand the frequency response graph as it reflects the smoke and mirrors of the frequency response rating.

Conclusion

After working on this, I am sure you will understand a little bit about the Frequency Response Range and what it means for the audio equipment you are purchasing. The Frequency Response Range should never affect your purchase. You need to either listen to the product or get a visual of how the product is performing through the Frequency Response Graph. Most consumer audio products do not provide this information. So it is important to read the review and pay attention to what the reviewer has to say about how the product looks.

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