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The Ultimate Bass-ics: All You Need to Know About Bass Headphones and Earbuds

Last updated: 1 year ago
10 min read

Bass headphones and earbuds have a bass-heavy sound, but how else are they different from regular headphones? Here’s everything you need to know.

Plus, how to check the bass of your headphones at home.

Headphones and bass speaker
CONTENTS (click to show more)

    Bass frequencies in music are important, as they make the sound fuller, warmer, and more pleasant. A band without a bass guitarist simply sounds boring.

    And, when dancing, humans are naturally programmed to follow the rhythm of the bass punch. When hearing loud bass, we simply can’t help but start shaking our hips.

    What are Bass Headphones and Bass Earbuds?

    Bass headphones and earbuds have a strong bass-forward sound. They are designed and tuned to boost low frequencies more than your typical headphones. You can clearly hear and feel the power of the lows more than other audio ranges.

    Tuning is referred to as a sound signature. Bass headphones are commonly associated with Extra Bass, “bassy” or V-shaped sound signatures.

    Bass heads can check our best bass headphones and bass earbuds guide to find the top models right now.

    What is the Difference Between Bass Headphones and Regular Headphones?

    The main difference between bass and regular headphones is their tuning. Normal headphones try to sound more balanced, boosting some frequencies here or there but never going too far.

    However, bass headphones primarily focus on boosting lower frequencies.

    Hear the difference between bass-heavy headphones and balanced headphones:

    Bassy vs. Balanced Sound Comparison

    In the case of the Extra Bass sound signature, the bass is boosted the most, whereas V-shaped sound increases both bass and treble regions.

    That said, bass headphones aren’t all the same, some boost and control bass better than others. Here are different types of bass headphones:

    Extra bass headphones

    Some refer to this type as “bass cannon” headphones since their main characteristic is to output subwoofer-like amounts of bass.

    The most famous examples of extra bass headphones are Skullcandy Crusher Evo or almost any Sony XB series model (except Sony WI-XB400, which we found to have a balanced bass).

    Skullcandy Crusher Wireless (Visual Bass Test)

    Extra bass headphones are designed for a bass lover or bass head who can’t get enough bass. However, their extremely warm sound signature tends to muddy the sound and cover the details.

    That said, you don’t go into a club to listen to subtle nuances in the music but to party. And that’s what extra bass headphones deliver.

    “Normal” bass headphones

    This is the most common type of bass headphones, usually having a V-shaped tuning. The bass boost isn’t as pronounced as in extra bass headphones, and they also sound less dark (boosted treble).

    Boosting the bass and treble creates a nice balance, preventing one region from masking the other.

    Moreover, the bass is slightly more controlled and punchier due to a lesser boost, but not quite up to audiophile standards.

    Famous examples of regular bass headphones are Audio-Technica ATH-M50x or Sony WH-1000XM4/XM5.

    Sony WH-1000XM4 connected with a phone
    Sony WH-1000XM4 have boosted lows and highs for a fun listening experience.

    Audiophile bass headphones

    Not all audiophiles listen to perfectly flat headphones; some like adding funk to them.

    Hi-Fi bass headphones are still considered bassy and warm compared to more balanced siblings, but they achieve high-quality bass response through design and tuning choices.

    These headphones use higher quality drivers and careful tuning to avoid distortion due to bass boost. That’s why you can expect a more controlled and detailed audio performance.

    Furthermore, their sound signature more closely resembles a U-shape, meaning their main boost is in the sub-bass region. Consequently, they don’t muddy the midrange.

    A great example of such headphones are Audeze LCD-2 Classics, Denon AH-D5200, and even Apple AirPods Max.

    Apple AirPods Max transparency mode
    Apple AirPods Max have a U-shaped sound with rumbly sub-bass.

    How are bass headphones and earbuds designed to boost bass?

    A few design characteristics are essential when audio engineers want to provide a deep bass experience.

    Most importantly, driver type selection:

    • Dynamic drivers have a cone that moves up and down to produce sound (much like standard speakers in your living room). They’re the best at providing the most natural bass performance but not the most detailed and controlled. Due to the moving cone, they’re more susceptible to distortion.
    • Electrostatic drivers use a very thin membrane diaphragm (with an even thinner metal film) that vibrates between 2 metal sheets with opposite magnetic fields. While this type of driver produces remarkably clean, detailed bass, it doesn’t get very loud. Also, much more power is needed to move a diaphragm, so these headphones require special amplifiers to run correctly.
    • Planar magnetic drivers use a thin diaphragm with a coil attached instead of a film. Also, instead of 2 metal sheets, you have 2 oppositely aligned magnets that switch their magnetic charge, thus moving the coil on a diaphragm. This type of driver is easier to run than electrostatic while retaining similar technical performance. It can produce much deeper bass and a good punch but doesn’t feel as speaker-like as a dynamic driver.

    Another essential feature is the ear cup design.

    • Closed-back ear cups prevent the sound produced by drivers from escaping from the back, pushing it straight into your ears. However, the encapsulated sound can also start bouncing around, boosting some frequencies, including lower ones. That way, closed-back headphones are the best if you want loud, boomy bass.
    Apple AirPods Max on the streets
    Apple AirPods Max have fully closed ear cups made from a single piece of aluminum.
    • Open-back ear cups let the sound escape from the back, preventing it from bouncing and boosting inside the cups. Consequently, you get a much weaker bass performance. Especially extension since no open-back headphone is particularly good in sub-bass response. However, the sound feels more open and natural, which is more suitable for audio purists.
    HD6xx for gaming Windows Sonic
    The fully open-back design of the Sennheiser HD 6xx.

    Lastly, picking different earpad/ear tip materials will also give different results:

    • Leather or leather-like earpads perfectly seal your ears from the outside world. No sound comes in or goes out. That, paired with closed-back ear cups, is a perfect combination to ensure a stronger, better bass response.
    Treblab Z7 Pro squishy earpads
    Faux leather ear pads on Treblab Z7 Pro.
    • Velour or fabric earpads ensure better breathability but don’t create an airtight seal. Meaning that the bass doesn’t become as strong as with leather earpads.
    Sennheiser HD 6xx changing earpads
    Velour earpads on Sennheiser HD 6xx.
    • Foam ear tips for your earbuds better adapt to your ear canal, creating a tighter seal. That results in a deeper bass response than silicone ear tips. Internet users call the foam ear tip effect “funneling” as it makes the sound more fun.
    Foam ear tips
    Different-looking foam ear tips.

    Other tricks headphone or earbud designers can implement to boost bass are:

    • Use of different cup/earbud shapes to boost desired frequencies more specifically
    • Different diaphragm materials and coatings can also change how it behaves
    • Wooden ear cups can add warmth to the sound
    • Different foam inserts in front of the driver/inside a nozzle will also change the sound signature

    Here’s a guide on increasing bass on AirPods.

    What are Bass Headphones and Bass Earbuds Best For?

    Bass headphones and earbuds are best for enjoying fun, energetic music.

    Since they colorize the sound too much, you won’t find them among the best headphones for mixing and mastering.

    However, bass headphones shine where neutral headphones don’t: enjoying entertainment.

    Apart from listening to music, an additional bass boost makes for a very immersive gaming experience. In-game effects like explosions feel much more frightful when they literally rattle your skull.

    Furthermore, bass also boosts movie watching experience. Similar to gaming, effects simply have a better impact when you have more bass. Adding some virtual surround in the mix, and you’re off on a ride.

    Which Type of Headphones is the Best for Bass?

    Closed-back headphones with leather earpads, or earbuds with foam ear tips, are the best for bass.

    However, there is much more diversity in the headphone world than this. Our separate article dissects 14 different types of headphones and earbuds.

    So, let’s first see which types are the best for bass:

    • Over-ear headphones are the best choice if you want full, natural sound. Since they usually have the biggest drivers of all other types, their sound feels the closest to a room speaker.
    How Sony WH-1000XM4 look on the head
    The ear cups on the Sony WH-1000XM4 are just big enough to fit a normal human ear.
    • In-ear monitors (or earbuds, as we call them in this article) are the second-best choice if you’re craving bass. Thanks to their excellent passive noise isolation, outside noise doesn’t interfere with the sound quality as much. However, since their drivers are smaller, they can’t reproduce the same bass thump as over-ear headphones. The closest earbuds to reproduce a room speaker-like thump were Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro.
    Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro on a concrete
    Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro use ear tips to create an airtight seal.
    • On-ear headphones aren’t ideal but are still quite okay at providing a good bass response. Their main issue is that they don’t seal your ears as efficiently as over-ear headphones, meaning the bass can’t naturally boost inside ear cups to the same extent.
    Sony WH-CH510 on ears
    Sony WH-CH510 sit on top of your ears and don’t offer the best noise isolation.

    Now here are all the types that are bad for bass:

    • Bone conduction headphones are the worst at providing a deep bass response. The main problem is they don’t seal your ear canals, so the sound gets easily masked by the outside noise. They especially struggle with bass since they have to transfer sound through your skin and bones. Using them with earplugs helps but also muddies the sound and eliminates all the benefits of using this type of headphones.
    TrueFree F1 on a person's head
    While TrueFree F1 aren’t bone conduction (more like open-air headphones), they share a similar design.
    • Classic earphones that don’t go in the ear like standard Apple AirPods produce moderate bass. Since they don’t create an in-ear seal, they work like open-back headphones, preventing the bass from boosting itself. Here’s a discussion on how good is AirPods bass.

    Even so, earbuds like Apple AirPods 3 and SoundPEATS Air3 Deluxe produce a punchy bass, but they are far from bass-head levels.

    Apple AirPods 3 nozzle comparison
    Classic earphones hang outside your ear and send the sound directly into your canal without fully sealing it.

    Things that don’t affect bass response in headphones:

    Are earbuds better for bass than headphones?

    Both earbuds and headphones can produce large quantities of bass. However, a bigger driver will always produce a more natural and realistic bass thump; thus, headphones are slightly better for bass than earbuds.

    For example, Sony WF-1000XM4 have a really good, full bass response with a tight, nicely controlled punch. However, their 6mm driver can’t recreate the same thump as you can hear from a room speaker.

    Earbuds vs. headphones

    Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro true wireless earbuds came close to providing this realistic bass punch. They have a separate 10.6mm dynamic driver, and that size bump truly makes a difference.

    On the flip side, over-ear headphones usually have 50mm drivers, five times bigger than the ones found in in-ear headphones.

    Also, drivers sit in front of your ears and not inside, meaning the sound also interacts with your pinna. As a result, you hear a more realistic sound with a bigger soundstage.

    You can learn more pros and cons in our earbuds vs. headphones article.

    Can Bass Headphones and Earbuds Damage Ears?

    Bass headphones and earbuds can’t damage your ears on their own. Even though lower frequencies have to be louder than mid-frequencies for humans to hear them.

    It’s the loudness that causes problems in the long run. Boosting bass means increasing loudness, so keep that in mind when you try to boost bass in headphones.

    Uncomfortable fit on earbuds
    Never listen to music if it physically hurts your ear drums.

    It’s important to practice safe headphone use. Never listen to loud music for extended periods. If you hear a ringing in your ears after listening to headphones, you should decrease the volume.

    You can read more about safe headphone volume here.

    How To Check the Bass of Your Earbuds & Headphones?

    Of course, you can always compare your headphones with the video above. If you hear distorting bass sounds when listening to the “bass-heavy” sample in the video, your headphones added too much bass, meaning they’re bassy.

    Otherwise, other best ways to check the bass on your headphones/earbuds without special equipment is:

    Find the frequency response measurement of your headphones

    Chances are someone measured the frequency response of your headphones, especially if they’re popular.

    Typically, these graphs have a neutral target line that shows how much headphones deviate from it (in our case, you have to make a straight horizontal line through 300Hz).

    Bass region Sony WF-XB700
    The graph shows that the bass started rising up from 260Hz down to 20Hz (left side in red border).

    If you see a massive hump between 20Hz and 250Hz, you have a bassy headphone (like from the image above).

    That said, you must take these measurements with a grain of salt. We sometimes get big humps when measuring, but we don’t hear them when listening. Everybody’s hearing is different and bassy headphones on paper might not sound like it to you personally.

    Measurement gear is trying to mimic a human ear, but every person has a different pinna, ear canal shape, and length, which changes the sound slightly.

    Therefore, frequency response graphs are helpful but aren’t 100% reliable.

    Try the Neutralizer app on Android

    The main purpose of the Neutralizer app is to make your headphones sound more neutral. However, you can use its final equalization results to see how much bass the app had to reduce to make your headphones “neutral.”

    1. The app plays different frequencies, from low to high, and you tweak the loudness of those frequencies until you barely hear them.
    1. Once you finish, you will get a custom EQ telling you which frequencies had to be boosted and reduced.

    We’ve made a few measurements for better visualization:

    • EarFun Free Pro 2 (with a firmware with neutral EQ settings) – the app actually boosted the bass by +2dB
    EarFun Free Pro 2 neutralizer app
    • Edifier W240TN (fully boosted bass with in-app EQ) – the app reduced the bass by at least -3dB
    Edifier W240TN neutralizer app
    • EarFun Air S (fully boosted bass with in-app EQ) – the app reduces the bass by around -2dB
    EarFun Air S neutralizer app

    As you can see, the Neutralizer app can roughly show you how bassy your headphones are.

    For example, JLab Go Air Pop with Bass Boost mode are very bassy, but the Neutralizer only wants to reduce the bass by -2dB.

    JLab Go Air Pop neutralizer app

    Therefore, again, take the results with a grain of salt.

    How not to check the bass on your headphones/earbuds:

    Some websites suggest going through specifications to determine if headphones have bass, which doesn’t make sense.

    • Frequency response only tells the extension of the bass response, not how boosted it is
    • Driver type might tell you if the bass punch feels more natural (dynamic drivers), but not how boosted it is
    • Driver size is also arbitrary info since planar magnetic drivers can be 100mm yet aren’t bassy
    • Impedance only tells you how hard it is to drive a headphone, meaning that weaker amplification can result in worse bass quality but not bass quantity

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    Why do cheap headphones have so much bass?

    Cheap headphones have so much bass because most people like loud bass and don’t want to spend more than $100 or even $50 on headphones. Companies know that, so they tune their budget products to sound more fun.

    What is bass quality?

    Bass quality is the headphone’s ability to faithfully reproduce low frequencies (between 20Hz-250Hz). The higher the quality, the more details you hear, and the less muddy the sound feels.

    Read more:


    This is all you need to know about bass headphones and bass earbuds. 

    To summarize:

    1. The best options for bass are over-ear headphones and in-ear monitors (earbuds) with V-shaped or extra bass sound signatures
    1. Look for closed-back ear cups and leather earpads on headphones, and foam ear tips on earbuds to get the best bass response
    1. Compare the bass of your headphones and earbuds with known bassy models or check frequency response graphs to see how much low-end your headphones produce.

    If you’re buying, don’t forget to check the best bass headphones or top bass earbuds guide.

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