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 Sub-bass - Tutorial on Low Frequencies

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PostSubject: Sub-bass - Tutorial on Low Frequencies   Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:36 pm

I came across this. A must read if your troubled in Sub-Bass.


Big basslines are made up of layers. Layering is a prevalent concept in electronic music, as you will come to understand in these tutorials, because individual synth patches or samples tend to sound thin. The last thing you need is a thin, wimpy sounding little bassline right?

Big, meaty basslines are achieved by layering multiple synthesized or sampled sounds on top of each other. Each layer comes from a separate source and occupies a discrete frequency range, but together they are perceived as one cohesive element. Of course, they all must be playing the same pattern and notes.

I usually split my bass into three layers:

1) Sub-bass: 20 - 100 Hz
2) Mid-bass: 101-250 Hz
3) Hi-bass: 251 Hz and up

Depending on the song and the genre, sometimes I only use 2 layers: sub-bass and mid-bass. This is usually the case when there is a lead synth or vocal and the bassline is not the hook or melody of the song. Experiment and find out what works for you, but if your arrangements have a prominent mid-range element, like a vocal or lead synth, you may find that your hi-bass layer conflicts.

Sub-Bass Layer

20 - 100 Hz
Sub-bass occupies the frequency range from 20 - 100 Hz. It is not so much heard, but felt. Sub-bass is responsible for creating a low-end presence that gives a bassline its power. Special attention should be paid to this layer as low frequencies take up a lot of headroom in a song. Getting the sub-bass just right is an art. Too much and it will sound muddy and eat up valuable headroom, too little and it will sound thin and tinny.


To accurately gauge sub-bass, your studio monitor set-up should have a sub-woofer. Without one, low frequency response will not be accurate and your mixes will not translate well to other systems.

Step 1: Create your sub-bass sound

The source of your bass can be a synth patch or a sample. I almost always choose to synthesize my own, but for your benefit I'll explore both.


Many synthesizers (software and outboard) come with dedicated sub-bass patches, however, it's easy to create your own. Start with a sine waveform. They are simple and powerful. Set the amplifier envelope with a high sustain volume and low release value - this is because you want sustained bass notes to be loud, but to diminish quickly when released. Play with the attack timing to your preference. I opt to back off the attack on the sub-bass to achieve a more consistent level with less dynamic range and get the attack from my mid-bass. This saves me a bit of headroom and I find I don't need to limit the sub-bass as much.


Alternatively you can use a sub-bass audio sample, loaded into a sampler. Make sure you use a long sample (a bar or more) and set your loop points to create a smooth loop for sustained notes.

Step 2: EQ / lowpass

To ensure that the sub-bass does not interfere with any other elements, use a shelving EQ or a low-pass filter (being careful NOT to use any resonance) to remove any frequencies higher than 100 Hz.

Step 3: Limit

Bass should be as loud as possible and have very little dynamic range. Use a limiter on the sub-bass.


As an alternative to a dedicated limiter, you can use a compressor with the ratio set to infinity and attack and release times set to 0.

Mid-Bass Layer

101 - 250 Hz
Mid-bass is where you will get a lot of your bass tone and articulation from. Many sound systems, especially car and home audio units without sub-woofers, will not reproduce sub-bass at all so this is the layer that translates to those systems. Here you will want to use a patch or a sound that has some character to it.

Step 1: Create your mid-bass sound

Here are some suggestions: a real bass sample (of an electric or acoustic bass guitar), a synth patch with that uses slightly detuned oscillators (for a wide sound), or a synth patch that uses oscillators that play one octave apart from each other (for a full sound). Real basses are good for percussive attack, or the "pluck" sound of fingers on the strings. This can also be simulated by using the amp envelope (ADSR) on a synth to shape the sound.

Step 2: EQ / lowpass & hipass

As with the sub-bass, it is important to have the mid-bass sit in its own, discrete frequency range. Use an EQ or a combination of lowpass and hipass filters (with no resonance applied to otherwise alter the sound) to shear away the unneeded low and high frequencies. The EQ or hipass filter should be set to remove frequencies where the sub-bass lies. For example, if your sub-bass sits in the 30 - 100 Hz range, set the EQ or hipass for 100 Hz. Same for the upper EQ or lowpass. If your mid-bass occupies 101 - 250 Hz, set the upper EQ or lowpass filter at 250 Hz. Keep in mind that if no hi-bass layer is being used, you can play with the upper frequency limit as it would not be appropriate to cut it off at 250 Hz.

Step 3: Limit

All aspects of the bass should be locked in place. Use a limiter or hard compressor on the mid-bass as well.

Hi-Bass Layer

251 Hz and up
The hi-bass layer is optional. I only use one when the bassline is the main hook or melody in the track, otherwise it tends to fight for space with lead mid-range elements like vocals, or lead synths / guitars. A hi-bass layer also helps the bassline to be heard on very small sound systems that have trouble reproducing the mid-bass layer, let alone sub-bass.

Step 1: Create your hi-bass sound

I tend to use fairly wide, distorted hi-bass sounds. If you choose a real guitar sample, try putting an amp simulator on it for some grit. For synth patches, try adding applying a fair amount of detune on the oscillators as well as drive, bit crushing, or distortion. Another good trick is to select a hipass filter and apply a filter envelope (ADSR). This will give the sound some growl to it each time the patch is triggered.

Step 2: EQ / hipass

Use an EQ or a hipass filter (with no resonance applied) to shear away the unneeded low frequencies. The EQ or hipass filter should be set to remove frequencies where the mid-bass lies. For example, if your mid-bass sits in the 101 - 250 Hz range, set the EQ or hipass for 250 Hz.

Step 3: Limit

All aspects of the bass should be locked in place. Use a limiter or hard compressor on the hi-bass as well.

Tips & Tricks

Bass techniques to experiment with

•Getting a Cohesive Sound:

In order for the bass layers to be percieved as one, cohesive sound it is important to blend them together. Try bussing the individual layers to a master bass channel and applying a compressor as an insert on that buss. This provides some glue to the bass sounds and allows you to control their volume as a group.

•Choosing Effects:

There are certain rules I follow when it comes to bass and effects. As a general rule I stay away from reverb and long delays. Short delays with minimal feedback can be used to create a bigger sound or add bounce, though. The common effects to add to bass are compression/limiting and distortion/drive/bitcrushing. Both compressiong and distortion bring an element forward in the mix and make sound more "in your face".

•To Pan or Not to Pan?:

I would be hard pressed to think of a reason to pan the bass anywhere but dead center. You want your bassline to be rock solid, in your face, and locked center, just like your kick and your snare.


To give your bassline extra percussive attack, layer in a percussion sound. Try loading a kick drum into your sampler, pitching it down, and backing off a bit of the attack on the amp envelope. This will add punch to the bass patch that will help it cut through the mix.


If programming with a synth or sampler, use two oscillators (or create a multi-layered sampler patch). Set one the oscillators/layers to be an octave below the other. Lower the volume on the higher octave layer so that it is just heard. This will ensure that your thumping bass patch can be heard in both the lower and mid frequency range.•


Another tip is to use a bass enhancement plug-in (such as Waves MaxxBass), which essentially adds psychoacoustically calculated harmonics to the sound in order to trick the human ear into believing that the missing lower bass frequencies are actually there. This occurs because the human's auditory system has the ability to recreate missing fundamental frequencies from remaining harmonics present in the bass tone. Bass enhancement systems will allow you to bring this out in your bass sound.

•LFOs and Modulation:

Low frequency oscillators (LFOs) can be used to modulate bass tones and give them some movement. They are especially useful for long, sustained notes so they don't sound static and lifeless. Try applying an LFO and assigning it to filter frequency, resonance, or oscillator detune. LFOs are responsible for creating those warbly, pulsating bass tones we've all heard.

•A Note on Bass and Kick Drum Conflicts:

Because the bassline and kick drum often occupy the same frequency range, there if often a conflict between them. Does your kick drum not punch through the bassline? Is the low end muddy and undefined? There are a few tricks you can try:

1) Alternate your bass notes with your kick drum pattern so they don't sound at the same time. That's how Robert Miles got his signature alternating bass and kick sound.

2) Buss your bass and kick drum to the same channel and compress them together.

3) Use volume automation on the bassline to reduce it's volume when the kick hits. This is essentially manual compression, and sometimes works better.

4) Use EQ to cut the bass and boost the kick at the same frequency, creating a hole in the frequency spectrum for the kick to punch through.

5) Use a side-chaining compressor on the bass, with the kick as the feed into the side-chain. This achieves the same effect as 3 - volume automation but without all the manual work.

Recommended Software

This is what I use for bass

•Spectrasonics Trilogy:

Trilogy is a VSTi "total bass module" that uses a 3 GB library of impeccably sampled acoustic, electric and synth basses. It's an excellent collection of some of the phattest bass sounds to ever come out of computer, hands down.

•Native Instruments Kontakt 2:

The renowned VSTi sampler from Native Instruments. I also use it for my main percussion. It's a very capable and feature rich sampler, with all the capabilities you will ever need. Now at version 2, the interface is very streamlined and intuitive.

•Waves MaxxBass:

An excellent bass enhancement VST from the braniacs over at Waves.

•Universal Audio 1176 and LA2A:

These two compressors run on Universal Audio's UAD-1 PCI DSP card. You have to buy the hardware card to be able to run them, but you won't regret it. These two units are exceptional emulation of the legendary hardware compressors.

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PostSubject: Re: Sub-bass - Tutorial on Low Frequencies   Wed Jan 12, 2011 12:19 am

this was a intresting read !
thanks for posting bruv
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PostSubject: Re: Sub-bass - Tutorial on Low Frequencies   Wed Jan 12, 2011 8:47 am

Little tip I do.
If on Ableton or equivalent, boot up Operator ( or anything with multiple Oscillator choices).
For a Sub I turn on two oscillators and stick on Sine wave then fiddle around.
But then I make another Sub and have once reach down from 20hz to 40hz and the other from 40hz to around 80hz.
Gives you tons of feeling and pressure and sounds brilliant when modulated!

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PostSubject: Re: Sub-bass - Tutorial on Low Frequencies   Fri Jan 14, 2011 8:42 am

we always double sub bass on tunes the depth comes out is warmer than a vodka curry !
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