Master and Commander

Weekend Roundtable: All About That Bass

For home theater fans who’ve invested a decent amount of money into a quality audio system, few things are as satisfying as listening to a movie soundtrack with deep, room-shaking bass. Our Roundtable this week calls out some of our favorite demo scenes on home video that will really get your subwoofer rocking.

Jason Gorber

Like Josh, I’m currently evaluating an SVS beast for review and have been fixated on finding titles that provide bombast as well as delicacy in terms of lower frequency info. My go-to discs for blasting neighbors are the Atmos track on Blade Runner 2049 and the preposterous first notes in Edge of Tomorrow, both of which make easy testing for home-shaking lunacy.

I’ve been using the Blu-ray Audio of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon for a subtler, more musical integration of the subwoofer into my system, as well as the intros to Baby Driver and Max Max: Fury Road.

Yet I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my love for the LFE in Jurassic Park. The first time I truly understood the artistic use of low frequencies in film happened when I caught that movie theatrically in my city’s only DTS-equipped theater. There are louder, boomier films (even War of the Worlds trumps it in Spielberg’s canon), but for me, the T-Rex sequence will always be the perfect integration of subsonics and image, captured via the ripples of water from the cups sitting on a Jeep’s dashboard.

Brian Hoss

For a good while there, the opening scenes in The Martian and Sicario were my prime picks for feeling the power of a home theater. Right now, Dunkirk is the clear favorite. Yes, it’s a war film, but the variety of excellent audio intensity, from dive bombers hitting the beach to flooding transports and engaging Spitfires, provides a lot to ingest. Each vehicle, from the desolate little tug to the civilian train, has something to offer the lower frequencies.

M. Enois Duarte

When asked about bass, I always find the question a little tricky because it depends on exactly what the person is looking for. For intense room-energizing music, there’s Tron: Legacy. The plane crash in Flight of the Phoenix delivers a terrifying spinning sensation. But if you want crisp, accurate response, the fleet battle and cannon fire at the beginning of Master and Commander will deliver the goods. And then there are the sweeps that dig into the low Hz at high decibels, which is another long list.

Personally, I like long, extended bass rumbles that shake the walls, floor and couch all at once with serious potency, and only one movie continues to satisfy in that regard: Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Reportedly, meaning based on graphs and measurements, the bass digs as low as 1 Hz at over 80 dB, which is incredibly powerful, but for a majority of the movie, action sequences average at around 20 Hz or lower. Since most subwoofers stop producing bass at around 30-35 Hz at a decent decibel level, most people don’t really notice what they’re missing. Basically, the sound design for this movie is and continues to be a sub killer and has been known to ruin subwoofers. With so many scenes to choose from, I’ve always enjoyed demoing Chapter 5 when the alien tripods first emerge. I’ve measured my room down to about 5 Hz at decent decibels, so the scene, which measures down to 10 Hz, is fantastic because the ground grumbles, the seats tremble and it feels like an earthquake. Many people don’t care for the movie, but the Earth-shattering bass on the soundtrack is absolutely one of the best available for testing the capabilities of a subwoofer.

Deirdre Crimmins

My favorite bass dropping moment is during the dubstep sketch by Key & Peele. In it, Jordan Peele is helping Keegan-Michael Key pack up his apartment for a move. Peele brought over some music to get their blood moving, and Key is happy to check out some new tunes, as long as they keep packing. At first, it starts out innocently enough, as most dubstep does. But when that bass drops, their minds are blown. The camera starts zooming around, and the speed of filming goes into slo-mo and fast-forward. The fact that they’re able to stylistically match an action film’s bass drop with just two dudes packing an apartment is a perfect summary of the brilliance of Key & Peele.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

My Axiom EP350 subwoofer has been with me for well over a decade and literally thousands of movies. As much as I’ve put my sub through its paces over the years, I’ve never heard it snarl the way it did throughout Kong: Skull Island. The standout sequence for me arrives just after the half-hour mark, as the air unit encounters Kong for the first time. Visually, the film does an exceptional job establishing just how colossal Kong is, contrasting the beast with the tiny helicopters buzzing around him. The LFE then truly cements Kong’s staggering scale and power: the pounding of his chest, the claps of thunder as his feet collide with the ground, and an all-but-deafening roar. And, sure, swatting an entire squadron of military choppers like so many houseflies – and the explosions and violent collisions that follow – don’t hurt either.

At the time, I had a stack of unwatched movies sitting on top of my subwoofer, as I have a bad habit of doing. I’m used to occasionally straightening that stack after watching a movie, and sometimes I’ll have to pick up a stray title or two off the floor. The battle royale between Kong and the helicopters sent my backlog flying, and that was a first for me. I could certainly hear and feel how powerful the bass was throughout Kong: Skull Island, but that physical representation made it all the more memorable.

Josh Zyber

When I upgraded my previous subwoofer to an SVS SB-2000 a couple years ago, that decision was prompted after watching the climax of John Wick. When the bad guys Wick is chasing slam their car into a pole, the bass hit was so powerful that my sub emitted an unpleasant farting noise, and I quickly realized that I’d just overdriven it past its limits. I hoped that maybe this was an isolated incident, but as soon as the same problem recurred during the opening chase in Mad Max: Fury Road, I knew that sub was done for and I’d need a better one ASAP.

Most of my favorite bass demos have already been mentioned by others above, but I’ll also highlight the throbbing techno score that plays over the first zombie attack in Resident Evil: Afterlife and the bone-rattling bass drops during the Dia de los Muertos set-piece that opens Spectre.

Your Turn

Recommend some more bassy goodness in the Comments below!

29 comments

  1. Bolo

    I’ve got to with ‘Das Boot’. The immersive feeling of being in a submarine when it’s getting pummelled by depth charges is so intense.

  2. David

    Here me out, Live free or die hard… yes, I know, but I have grown to like it over time with the releases of the R rated cut. So apologies out of the way; in the tunnel scene where John McLane and Mathew Ferrell are trapped and all traffic lanes have been diverted and are coming straight at them; a car flips over the top of them and has the lowest bass I have ever heard in any demo material.

  3. Csm101

    Of recent memory, the big explosion toward the end of Ready Player One was quite a bit of fun. The Atmos track featured on the uhd for Pacific Rim provides lots of fun rumbly moments throughout the entire movie. Fury and Underworld: Awakenings also provide me with lots of fun subwoofer moments.

  4. EM

    I don’t need a lot of bass. That said, a week of exploring Kraftwerk’s 3-D The Catalogue 4–Blu-ray box set once got me a somewhat incoherent hate letter posted on my front door.

  5. John M Burton Jr.

    I’ll go in a little different direction, the jazzy bass in the soundtrack of “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”. It is the film’s heartbeat.

  6. C.C.

    Josh- I’m assuming you blew a passive sub? You can’t really blow a powered sub unless the driver fails.
    Because with powered subwoofers and active speakers, the driver knows exactly what it is going to be fed.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      No, it was a powered subwoofer. I haven’t used a passive sub in decades. A post-mortem on the sub revealed that the limiters had failed and allowed it to be overdriven.

  7. Pete Wilson

    Hacksaw Ridge, when the destroyer guns fire and the following attack is amazing and quite a few moments in Oblivion especially when Tom Cruise lands his ship in the old football field.

    • Jon

      Hacksaw Ridge is about on the same level as War of the Worlds. Massively powerful and very loud under 20Hz.

      I have a soft spot for Jupiter Ascending and that one has a moment that almost made me wet myself. In the middle of an action scene a HUGE sine wave spike at about 22Hz comes out of nowhere and pressurizes the room.

  8. Josh Zyber
    Author

    How was this not our most popular Roundtable ever? Considering this site’s audience, the fact that there are less than 100 comments is very disappointing to me.

  9. Another favorite is in World War Z during the Jerusalem scene when Brad Pitt and soldiers are trying to escape. The gunfire hits hard and loud, but the best part is the moment they feel trapped inside a stairwell and one soldier throws a grenade. The explosion is so intensely loud that it generates a powerful, room-pressurizing bass sweep that’s near deafening and frightening.

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