Low frequencies: An experience all their own
by Dale Short
Aug 15, 2013 | 591 views | 0 0 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dale Short
Dale Short
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Our woofer died last week.

No, not our Chihuahua. He’s fine, thanks. And besides, he’s more yap than woof. I’m talking about the sub-woofer attachment for the speaker system that’s connected to my work computer. If you’re not familiar with the device, Wiki says the woofer reproduces sounds between about 20 and 200 hertz, which are too low to be heard with traditional speaker systems. I say the woofer is a miracle of nature that enhances music to a transformative level of mystical purity, especially if you listen while sitting in a recliner in a darkened room, with your eyes closed, and drinking a homemade iced Chai latte that’s heavy on the green cardamom. So, I guess the Wikians and I will have to agree to disagree on that one.

If you want to try the experiment yourself, listen to a song such as “One of These Nights” by The Eagles — first without a sub-woofer, then with one. They’ll feel like two different songs.

And if you really want to increase the ante, cue up Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight.” Without woofing, the classic drum part that kicks in at the 3:41 part will sound interesting and ... classic. Play the same song with the woofer kicked up and the appearance of God’s own 50-foot kettle drums at the 3:41 mark will send tingles throughout your skeletal system and cleanse your nervous system of concerns about such trivia as auto insurance payments and whether that late night hum from the kitchen means your fridge’s days are numbered.

A historical note: I had never heard a good stereo system until I was in college, only the car radio of my 1960 Volkswagen (a model which spared all expense on electronics) and my personal red plastic transistor radio that was the cheapest available and a set of earphones that was cheaper still. By comparison hearing a stereo with a sub-woofer was so highly educational within itself that I thought about canceling my classes and going home then, except that the campus bookkeeper was stubborn about offering no refunds. To make a long story a touch shorter, once you ever get accustomed to hearing your favorite music (or, even your LEAST favorite music) on a stereo system with a sub-woofer, anything else will sound by comparison like songs being performed by cicadas in a fruit jar. So needless to say, when our woofer died I got right on line and found a replacement with two-day shipping and in just 48 hours my office life had returned to normal. Crisis averted.

That said, this office model is only our Baby Sub-Woofer: a black box about 6x6x8 inches, and if you lay your hands on it during one of Phil Collins’ sublime drumbeats you can feel a mild vibration. Which is nice.

Upstairs in the bedroom, however, is our Papa Sub-Woofer. It’s a black box (why no white sub-woofers?) about the size of a file cabinet and it’s connected via fat and gold-colored wire to an old-fashioned audio receiver.

If a typical sub-woofer pumps out sound frequencies between 20 and 200 Hz, I’m guessing this papa specializes in frequencies between about two and four, because if I watch a World War II movie with the sub-woofer own, I can feel the artillery shells vibrating inside my rear molars.

Is there some inborn, neurological condition that makes somebody fall in love with the low, low notes above all others? All I know is that, despite this late stage in life, I’m wanting to crank out some low notes of my own. I’m halfway looking, at pawn shops and yard sales, for a bass guitar and amp priced somewhere in the low two figures. Or high one figures, for that matter.

I’m already practicing the bass part to The Eagles “One of These Nights”—in an air-guitar sort of way, of course, which is fun until I forget and do it in public and spark some concerned looks on the part of the citizenry.

I guess I could always tell them, “Look, citizenry: just be glad I’m not air-practicing on Phil Collins’ 50-foot drums.”

Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM, streams live online at www.oldies1015fm.com, and is archived afterward on his website.