Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Science and Marketing of Sound Quality

To my surprise, this morning an audio friend tweeted a link to an article I recently wrote for our company's  internal newsletter  entitled, "The Science and Marketing of Sound Quality."  My article can be found on a new Harman Innovation website  launched today that features articles on current and future disruptive technology that will impact consumers' infotainment experiences. Check it out.

My article focuses on a longstanding pet peeve of mine (first mentioned in this blog posting): The lack of  perceptually meaningful loudspeaker and headphone specifications in our industry.  While consumer surveys repeatedly report sound quality to be a driving factor in their audio equipment purchases, consumers lack the necessary tools and information to identify the good sounding products from the duds.

This is particularly true for loudspeakers and headphones where the typical throw-away "10 Hz to 40 kHz" specification provided by the manufacturer is utterly useless. This specification only guarantees that the product makes sound, with no guarantee that the sound is good.  While the science exists today to accurately quantify and predict the perceived the sound quality of  loudspeakers (and hopefully, soon headphones), the audio industry continues to drag its heels into the 21st century,  and not routinely provide this information to consumers.

A rare exception is JBL Professional who provides comprehensive detailed measurements on studio/broadcast monitors like the new JBL M2 Master Reference shown below. Inspecting the measured frequency response curves shown  below, you can easily recognize the loudspeaker sounds exceptionally neutral and accurate based on the shape (flat, smooth, and extended)  Based on this set of measurements, we can predict how a listener would rate the sound quality of the loudspeaker in a controlled listening test, with 86% accuracy. The only pertinent information not shown in this graph is how loud the loudspeaker will play before producing audible distortion (trust me, this loudspeaker will play very loud! )

Perceptually meaningful loudspeaker specifications like these have been available for almost 30 years! Yet,  these specifications are currently not part of any professional and consumer loudspeaker standard. Such a standard would go a long way towards improving the quality and consistency of recorded and reproduced sound. Audio consumers want to hear the truth. We need to provide better information and audio specifications so they can find it.

JBL M2 Master Reference Monitor provides true reference sound quality that is clearly indicated by its technical measurements shown below. 
The spatially-averaged frequency response curves of the JBL M2  (from top to bottom) for the listening window (green), the first reflections (red), and the total radiated sound power.  At the bottom are shown directivity indices of the sound power (dotted blue) and first reflections (dotted red). These measurements tell us that the quality of the direct and reflected sounds produced by the loudspeaker will be very accurate and neutral over a relatively wide listening area.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Harman Researchers Make Important Headway in Understanding Headphone Response

Todd Welti, Sean Olive and Elisabeth McMullin are shown above with their custom binaural mannequin, "Sidney" wearing a pair of AKG K1000's. No fit or leakage issues with these headphones.
Tyll Hertsens, Chief Editor at Innerfidelity recently visited our research labs in Northridge, and wrote a nice story in his blog about our headphone research and visit to Harman. You can read the entire story here.

In his story, Tyll summarizes three of our recent AES papers on headphones, the first one of which I already wrote about in this blog. I hope to write summaries of the other two papers in the upcoming weeks when I can find some free time.