How to choose the Best Bass Headphones: The Definitive Guide
If you love bass heavy music then using high quality “bass headphones” will drastically enhance the listening experience of music for you.
Not all headphones are designed for the same types of music!
Or to put it more accurately, different headphones are designed to have different sound signature profiles, meaning that different parts of the frequency range are given greater priority.
This makes a huge difference to your listening experience!
Frequency Response From Different Types of Headphones…
There are essentially two different types of bass heavy headphones. If you want to choose the best bass headphones for you, you’ll want to understand the difference (trust me, it’s worth it because if you love bass, this will revolutionise the way you experience your favourite music!).
Here’s a visualisation of how the frequency response of different types of headphones / brands of headphones can differ — the black and green lines are the “bass heavy” responses:
Heavy Bass Headphones
As the name implies, this is where the bass is given complete priority over the rest of the frequency range:
Our experience is that gimmicky headphones that shout “Extra Bass!” on their packaging tend to fall in to this category.
The price of these bass headphones is usually on the lower side, although often they are not exactly cheap!
There are a couple of major brands — Sony with their lower end headphones, and Skullcandy — who seem to specialise in this type of “heavy bass” headphone.
Skullcandy make some “haptic feedback” models. Haptic feedback creates a kind of fake sub-bass effect for want of a better way of describing it. Some people love it and some people hate it.
An example of this type of headphone is the “Skullcandy Crusher”.
We are not fans and we find it hard to believe that anyone who truly loves music would like haptic feedback! We say leave it to gaming headphones where it’s more about awareness of the virtual environment than the quality of the sound, and how the bass makes you feel — emotionally, not physically that is!
In our opinion, while some of them are reasonable for genres such as DnB, they lack any dynamic range and tend to get on your nerves if listened to for any length of time.
Flat Response Headphones
This is where most of the headphone market is at, and if you’re looking for extra bass headphones, it’s exactly what you DON’T want!:
This type of headphone gives the mids and highs exactly the same priority as the bass.
There are many reasons to stick with a flat frequency response. It sounds okay with most genres of music, and with others it is actually preferable.
For example, classical music lovers would almost certainly agree that their favourite music pieces sound better on a set of Sennheiser or BOSE headphones rather than some Sony “Extra Bass” headphones!
It’s certainly the “safe” choice for a brand, but in our opinion it’s BORING, particularly for Dance Music and hip-hop genres, as well as others.
Some rock music fans like a flat response, but for the life of us we can’t understand why that is. Perhaps because their hearing range has been destroyed by going to one too many ACDC concerts ;-)
Bright Response Headphones
We are not experts in “bright” frequency response. Our experience is that cheap speakers tend to produce a “bright” (read “tinny”!) sound. There are no doubt good reasons to have a bright frequency response for some genres of music, or if your hearing range deviates from “normal” by quite a bit:
No doubt some Audiophiles will be horrified by this assessment, but that’s our opinion, and presumably yours as well, because you are reading about how to choose the best bass headphones!
Which brings me on to our favourite type of frequency response…
Headphones with a “V”-shaped Sound Signature
…which produce what we like to call:
The Smile Curve!
The “smile curve” sound signature is designed to make the music feel amazing!:
The key is in the name; the intention is to make you smile :-)
It does this by prioritising the bass frequencies, slightly suppressing the mids to avoid a flat response, and then tuning the higher frequencies to make the “brightness” match the bass perfectly.
As you may have guessed, this is our obsession in sound, and we think it’s where the real “art” is in designing the best bass headphones in the World.
Anyone can (and does…) make flat response headphones. Sure, a very high end set might sound a little bit better than a cheaper set but essentially flat response is flat response…
With the V-shape sound signature, we can tune the sound in any way we want!
Sub-Bass in Headphones
Sub Bass in headphones is rare.
Unlike haptic feedback (which aims to give the feeling of sub-bass) we like headphones which actually have sub-bass!
Sub-bass is considered as any frequency under 20hz.
Many people can’t hear frequencies under 20hz. But you can feel them!
As we get older, our hearing range tends to reduce meaning the lowest frequency (bass) we can hear goes up and the highest frequency we can hear (treble) goes down.
You can’t feel high frequencies but you can low ones.
We have a pseudo-scientific theory at PUMP Audio that this is why we as humans love bass so much, but that’s another blog post…
How do you get Sub-Bass out of a set of headphones?
Many Audiophiles believe that getting sub bass from a set of headphones (particularly from in-ear headphones) is not possible.
However, it is possible.
With over ear headphones, it’s relatively easy due to the size of the drivers (speakers). The bigger the driver, the easier it is to get bass and sub-bass response.
A high quality driver (speaker) will typically have the ability to produce sub-bass in any high quality set of headphones.
The trick is to tune the bass first, then the highs, then the mids.
At least that’s how we do it :-)
Bass from In-Ear Headphones
It’s technically more difficult to get bass and sub-bass from in ear headphones than from over ear headphones, but it is possible.
With in ear headphones, the drivers are very small for obvious reasons. However, what works to the headphone designers advantage is the distance from the driver to your ear.
If you think of it like TV a screen, a monitor half the size looks the same size at half the distance as a monitor twice the size at twice the distance (although the resolution will be lower of course).
You can think of headphones drivers in the same way (although the “resolution” factor doesn’t come in to play thankfully).
So how do you get bass from in-ear headphones?
Assuming that you are starting with very high quality drivers, the key is in the tuning of the internal architecture of the earphones.
Concert halls need to be “tuned” so that they sound perfect for the audience using all sorts of materials and weird and wonderful shapes, so that the sound “behaves” as the acoustic engineers want it to.
The same is true of in ear headphones; they must be tuned by getting the internal architecture perfect for bass and sub-bass response.
Bass from Wireless Headphones
Achieving the perfect replication of sound from wireless headphones is a real challenge, particularly on the bass end, but it is possible.
For previous wireless headphones we’ve developed, we had to develop a new variant of a Bluetooth chip in collaboration with the chip manufacturer that could handle the bass response we need.
We couldn’t achieve the exact replication of the sound signature with any standard Bluetooth chip we could find. Specifically, with the sub-bass frequencies just weren’t there, so we had to make our own.
Many wireless headphones (particularly, but not exclusively on the cheaper end) can not produce a good bass response in our experience.
We know from experience how difficult it is to do, so perhaps that’s the reason.
Which BOSE headphones have the best bass?
A lot of people ask which BOSE headphones have the best bass?
Well, we’ve tested a lot of BOSE headphones and while they do have some fine qualities such as:
– good design
– a high quality finish
– excellent active noise cancelling headphones
What I can tell you is that every set of BOSE headphones we’ve tested had essentially the same bass response, which isn’t very bass heavy at all…
It seems that — like us — BOSE are committed to their sound signiture which in their case is a flat frequency response, meaning that bass is not given priority in the frequency range.
Are BOSE headphones good for bass?
In our opinion, no, they’re not.
It’s not really what the BOSE brand is about.
BOSE’s brand positioning seems to revolve around aviation, both in the professional sector (many pilots use BOSE headphones) and in the consumer market (people like using BOSE headphones when they fly on aeroplanes!).
Are Beats the best bass headphones?
While Beats by Dre headphones are often maligned by Audiophiles, it’s fair to say that they do a decent job on the bass end.
We have a friend who is a successful music producer and audio engineer and he has an old set of Beats from when the brand had just been launched by Jimmy Iovine and Dr Dre.
He swears by them… He says they are way better than the “rubbish” — his words, not ours! — headphones that Beats make now.
That’s not to say that they are the best bass headphones at all — see the comparison between Beats and PUMP Audio headphones below, for example — but the fact is that Beats were the first headphone brand to really recognise the mass market appeal of bass heavy headphones.
If we had to call it, we’d say that older Beats headphones are somewhere between Bass Heavy and Flat Response, a bit like this:
However, in our own testing, we’ve noticed that the bass response has been toned down since Apple acquired Beats.
Newer Beats headphones (post Apple acquisition) are more like flat response with a slight emphasis on bass, like this:
Here’s a video where we compared Beats X with MIX DUO. It’s not exactly scientific but I was personally there when it was filmed and I can promise you that the results were not in any way manipulated:
What is a good song to test the bass on my headphones?
There are a lot of technical test tracks we use to ‘baseline’ headphones we’re testing, although there is no substitute for listening to music that you actually love listening to.
However here are a couple of suggestions from our library of test tracks:
Quality or Quantity of Bass – which is better?
This comes back to what we spoke about earlier – i.e. the different types of bass headphones, and which one you’d prefer;
Do you want “heavy bass” frequency response or a “V-shaped” frequency response?
“Heavy bass” headphones tend to be cheaper and not as nice in our opinion.
“V-shaped” headphones tend to have had a lot more care in crafting and way better sound in our opinion.
Here’s a graphical representation of the two sound signatures:
Bass Headphones Test
We’ve done lots of bass headphone tests over the years. The scientific tests we’ve done (using blindfolds and switching which headphones were listened to first) were PUMP against:
You can check out the results and methodology of the bass headphones tests here
What are the best bass in ear headphones?
A lot of headphone “comparison” websites are incentivised to promote specific headphone brands/models with articles like “The top 15 bass headphones you can buy”, for example…
We advise taking these “recommendations” for the (supposedly) best bass headphones with a large pinch of salt.
Although the “Top 10 Bass Headphones” article or YouTube video may seem like a credible resource where the reviewer has actually tested each set carefully, this is rarely the case in our experience and it’s extremely likely that they have been incentivised (paid!) to make the recommendation.
Of course the same goes for us; we are incentivised to tell you that our headphones are the best bass headphones as well!
The ONLY way you really know for sure is to test them yourself.
That’s why PUMP Audio offer a 90 day trial on all our headphones.
Try them and if you don’t think they are freakin’ incredible, just send them back to us!
Without wanting to “toot our own horn”, PUMP Audio was built on making incredible bass in-ear headphones. You can check out customer reviews (which in our opinion hold way more weight that “professional” (i.e. paid!) reviews.
Of course we could definitely be considered biased, so we advise doing further research but what we can tell you is that we are VERY confident that PUMP are the best bass headphones on the market today.
The most important factors in choosing the best bass headphones:
- Understand which type of bass headphone you want!
Do you want “extra bass” headphones with a sound signature that “falls off a cliff” or headphones that have a well designed “smile curve” sound signature with incredible bass and sub-bass response, without sacrificing the rest of the range (we recommend the latter, obviously!);
- What’s your budget?
Price range is usually not a good indicator of quality with headphones. More expensive is not always better, although (very) cheap is always terrible in our experience.
- Check reviews carefully!
Always check out reviews and try to work out whether they are genuine customer reviews or paid reviews. Many reviewers appear impartial but are in fact just doing it because a) they’ve been paid or b) they are promoting an affiliate link where they get paid a commission if you buy the headphones.
- See what the return policy is for the brand/retailer!
The last thing you want to do is buy some over-hyped headphones, be underwhelmed with the bass, but be told that you can’t return them because you’ve used them! Check out the PUMP Audio 30 day trial to see how we do it.
If you’d like to try a set of PUMP Audio headphones on a 90 day trial, here’s the link to the shop!
All the best,
Founder, PUMP Audio