Frequency Response: What is it and Why Does it Matter?

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frequency response
For those of you who are interested in music; whether that means making it, listening to it, or both, you have probably heard the frequency response many times. Today, we explain what it means, and how it affects your musical, or simply, audio, experiences.

So What Exactly is Frequency Response?

As the name suggests, you need to first understand the context in which frequency is used here. Frequency, for an audio device, simply explains how well it is able to reproduce all the different tones that the human ear can hear.

An average human’s hearing range lies from 20 to 20 000 Hz; your ears can detect very high and very low frequencies rather easily, although this does vary from person to person. Now, when it comes to music, this range is divided into further sections; called bass, middle, and treble. As a general rule of thumb, frequencies between 20 and 300 Hz fall under bass, those between 300 Hz to 4000 Hz fall under the middle, and finally, anything above 4000 Hz falls under treble.

Getting more specific now, frequency response measures, very roughly speaking, how well the audio device in question not only reproduces all of the aforementioned audible frequencies but also if it makes any changes to the signal in the process.

Why should the frequency response matter to you?

Well, the only thing we are concerned with today is your experience with whatever sound system you are using. Remember, the frequency response is not simply there to tell you whether there is too much bass, mid, or treble coming out of the system you are using. It also looks out for the more subtle aspects of your audio experience; such as, for instance, how the tone and balance of certain instruments in a track affect the track itself.

Correct and incorrect balances have the potential to escalate and ruin your listening experience, respectively. Thus, if your goal is to be able to listen to audio in as pure and as high quality a form as possible, then you will need to pay attention to frequency response.

Frequency Responses in Different Devices

Now that you know why frequency response matters, let’s go through the frequency response specs that you ought to look for in different audio devices, as well as how these can optimize your overall experience.

Speaker Frequency Response

For a speaker, frequency response simply means how loud it can play sounds that are at the tones audible to humans. The range is usually given under the device’s specs as a variation of volume –either higher or lower than the nominal level.

Remember that if a speaker has a good frequency response, it will be able to play all the tones we have talked about, correctly and in proper proportion to each other. This is what differentiates rich, vibrant sound from that of average quality. However, the frequency response is only one part of this equation, although a rather impactful one.

Headphone Frequency Response

Headphones do not require too detailed an explanation; for most standard ones, a range of 20 to 20 000 Hz is generally acceptable, being the audible frequency range. That being said, some high-end headphones do offer wider ranges, such as 5 to 33 000 Hz, but again, a higher range may not directly translate to better sound quality.

Microphone and Amplifier Frequency Response

Both microphone and amplifier frequency responses work similarly, but before we get into that, there is one more thing you need to understand. Or two more things, rather: flat and shaped response curves.

For a microphone that is equally sensitive to all frequency ranges, the response curve it has is almost a flat line. Hence, this is called a flat response microphone, and it is able to reproduce sound with little or no variation from the original sound source. This is great if you are recording sound effects or musical instruments.

When it comes to recording voice though, a flat response microphone is not much use. This is where you would use a shaped response microphone, which is one that is more sensitive to certain frequency ranges; meaning its response curve has peaks and valleys instead of being flat. Shaped response curve microphones are much less sensitive to low frequencies, but this is a good thing when recording voice because it reduces the pickup of handling noise, backstage rumble, etc.

Amplifiers use the same principle. The last thing you need to bear in mind is that some other factors may affect your overall sound experience as well, but if you have nailed the frequency response, then you are already one step ahead!

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