• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required. There are daily reviews of audio hardware and expert members to help answer your questions. Click here to have your audio equipment measured for free!

Causes of "harsh" sound in speakers (and tweeter material)

gnarly

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Jun 15, 2021
Messages
963
Likes
1,343
That's not only harsh,that's painful,or to be precise can cause pain (round headache) specially when combined with thin sounded midbass.
Has nothing to do with taste,it's physical.
Yep, tonality being off can greatly amplify unpleasant response at higher frequencies.

An old live-sound / PA experiment with audiences really proves it.
When playing music comfortably loud, just turn off the subs and watch peoples faces scrunch up some.
If the mids are cut too, fingers go into ears, you might get shouts, and folks head for the exits.
With highs never changing volume.......
 

Sokel

Master Contributor
Joined
Sep 8, 2021
Messages
5,599
Likes
5,521
Yep, tonality being off can greatly amplify unpleasant response at higher frequencies.

An old live-sound / PA experiment with audiences really proves it.
When playing music comfortably loud, just turn off the subs and watch peoples faces scrunch up some.
If the mids are cut too, fingers go into ears, you might get shouts, and folks head for the exits.
With highs never changing volume.......
Far younger I was doing the very same experiment to the most unlike of places: the gas station.
Back in the day they had a panel with 4 drivers on each side,amps in-between and an on-off button on the side of each of them so one could listen to the result.

Nothing serious,just a stand like the ones that hold magazines,probably some silly advertisement stuff,but it was fun to detect how different it sounded.
 

kemmler3D

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
2,824
Likes
5,268
Location
San Francisco
Speakers that "reveal bad recordings" have a problem (often several).
I half agree with this.

I have a playlist with a handful of bad recordings that I use to reveal problems with speakers.

However, it's not as if these defects in the recordings go away on good speakers. The recording just goes from "broken" to "flawed" on a good speaker.

Example: on Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes by Paul Simon (actually, I think it's a really nice recording) there's still some sibilance from Simon's voice. The sibilance sounds a little hot, but fine on a good speaker. You still wish that perhaps they pulled back the vocal track a couple dB at 4khz or something. On a bad speaker with treble speaks it sounds really piercing, once you notice it.
 

Waxx

Major Contributor
Joined
Dec 12, 2021
Messages
1,872
Likes
7,444
Location
Wodecq, Hainaut, Belgium
On diyaudio.com this was discussed about a decade ago, and the conclusion there was that harshness in the treble mostly is due to 2 factors, driving the tweeter to low in frequency and to high in volume, so it start to distort (which is often done in commercial speakers) and breakup resonances that are to low.

Break up resonances of hard dome drivers can be just above the passband of our hearing, but still got effects within the passband due to rised distortions on those frequencies if the breakup resonance is big. Soft dome tweeters have less that issue as the breakup resonance in general is way smaller. That's where the myth comes that hard domes always sound hard. But some of my favorite tweeters (like the SB26ADC) are hard (in this case aluminium) domes, and don't sound harsh at all. I don't think the material is the origin of that harshness, but the wrong use of the material is.

But what is mostly the case is that the tweeter is crossed to low, to close to Fs of the tweeter and so the distortion is high in that region, which makes the sound hard as the tweeter does not have the xmax to do that clean on reasonable volume. There were tests done with measurments (but i don't find it back) where this was illustrated, and it's also sometimes visible in the distortion plots of measurments that Amir ao makes of speakers during reviews.

Rooms and their acoustics and source material can also cause harshness off course. Just like defects or overdriven (pre)amps can.
 

sigbergaudio

Major Contributor
Audio Company
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 21, 2020
Messages
2,560
Likes
5,170
Location
Norway
I half agree with this.

I have a playlist with a handful of bad recordings that I use to reveal problems with speakers.

However, it's not as if these defects in the recordings go away on good speakers. The recording just goes from "broken" to "flawed" on a good speaker.

Example: on Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes by Paul Simon (actually, I think it's a really nice recording) there's still some sibilance from Simon's voice. The sibilance sounds a little hot, but fine on a good speaker. You still wish that perhaps they pulled back the vocal track a couple dB at 4khz or something. On a bad speaker with treble speaks it sounds really piercing, once you notice it.

I think this track sounds perfectly fine. Yes you can hear some emphasis on the s sounds, but not uncomfortable or piercing in any way.

Generally, my point wasn't that there are no bad recordings in existence, but rather that they are few and far between. If you have a general problem with harsh sound, the reason isn't that your speakers are "too good" and you need to listen to only audiophile music. The speakers are likely uneven somewhere in the 1-5khz range, and/or have a generally elevated treble.
 

kemmler3D

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
2,824
Likes
5,268
Location
San Francisco
I think this track sounds perfectly fine. Yes you can hear some emphasis on the s sounds, but not uncomfortable or piercing in any way.

Generally, my point wasn't that there are no bad recordings in existence, but rather that they are few and far between. If you have a general problem with harsh sound, the reason isn't that your speakers are "too good" and you need to listen to only audiophile music. The speakers are likely uneven somewhere in the 1-5khz range, and/or have a generally elevated treble.
Tend to agree. I would say 5-10% of recordings are really good, 89% are good-to-mediocre, 1% are really flawed.

With really bad speakers everything sounds equally bad.

When you get good speakers, suddenly something is very wrong with 1% of recordings, and about half of the recordings you thought were average are suddenly below average.

If everything is sounding harsh though, it's the speaker's fault.
 

sigbergaudio

Major Contributor
Audio Company
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 21, 2020
Messages
2,560
Likes
5,170
Location
Norway
Tend to agree. I would say 5-10% of recordings are really good, 89% are good-to-mediocre, 1% are really flawed.

With really bad speakers everything sounds equally bad.

When you get good speakers, suddenly something is very wrong with 1% of recordings, and about half of the recordings you thought were average are suddenly below average.

If everything is sounding harsh though, it's the speaker's fault.

I'd say with good speakers most music sound good, even modern pop that everyone think sucks and are compressed to hell, and so does a lot of rock and 80-90s music.

I'd say way more than 5-10% are good, but it depends somewhat of your genre(s) of choice of course. Black metal are often problematic, and so are very old recordings (50s-60s).

In general I'd say things shouldn't sound worse (Ref your comment about going from average to below average) when you get better speakers. If it does, why change, and how are they better exactly?

A surprising amount of speakers are either tonally flawed and/or have too little bass / midbass.
 

kemmler3D

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
2,824
Likes
5,268
Location
San Francisco
I'd say with good speakers most music sound good, even modern pop that everyone think sucks and are compressed to hell, and so does a lot of rock and 80-90s music.

I'd say way more than 5-10% are good, but it depends somewhat of your genre(s) of choice of course. Black metal are often problematic, and so are very old recordings (50s-60s).

In general I'd say things shouldn't sound worse (Ref your comment about going from average to below average) when you get better speakers. If it does, why change, and how are they better exactly?

A surprising amount of speakers are either tonally flawed and/or have too little bass / midbass.
I think it's all relative. "Good" is certainly an opinion here.

In some ways bad speakers are like blurring the image. Everything looks vaguely okay, but when you remove the blur suddenly you see flaws, and they might bother you. Back when they went from standard def TV to HDTV, standards for makeup on TV had to go up because suddenly you could see a lot more flaws.

Even though everything sounds better on better speakers (agree) sometimes you start to notice shortcomings in recordings, or that some are relatively better / worse, where you couldn't perceive that before.

I think that songs that actually sound worse on better speakers do exist, but they are truly rare. I only personally know of one:
- I really liked the sound of it on a mono bluetooth speaker... on an okay system it's awful and on a good system it's just okay. (IMO. I think the tonal balance during the chorus is just way off somehow.).

I guess it's a total matter of opinion / semantics as to whether 90% or 5% of recordings are "really good". I used to mix my own music and pay a lot of attention to that, so I tend to be picky as to whether I would call a mix "fine", "good" or "great". e.g. I would call Graceland overall a great mix with a few minor flaws. ;)
 
Last edited:

ernestcarl

Major Contributor
Joined
Sep 4, 2019
Messages
3,081
Likes
2,295
Location
Canada
I have the Yamaha NS-1000, and I can hear some harshness from them but I just dont see why. A way I would describe that is as if some peaks get +10db for a split second, if that makes any sense.
https://www.hifinews.com/content/yamaha-ns-1000m-loudspeakers-lab-report

Do you have detailed measurements of your own Yamahas? Have you tested with EQ what frequency band/range sounds harsh? I've heard some people say the HF can be dull on the NS-1000... then, again, as that hifinews review stated, one never surely knows how pristine the condition is of vintage speakers.
 

RobL

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
Mar 4, 2021
Messages
903
Likes
1,458
I think it's all relative. "Good" is certainly an opinion here.

In some ways bad speakers are like blurring the image. Everything looks vaguely okay, but when you remove the blur suddenly you see flaws, and they might bother you. Back when they went from standard def TV to HDTV, standards for makeup on TV had to go up because suddenly you could see a lot more flaws.

Even though everything sounds better on better speakers (agree) sometimes you start to notice shortcomings in recordings, or that some are relatively better / worse, where you couldn't perceive that before.

I think that songs that actually sound worse on better speakers do exist, but they are truly rare. I only personally know of one:
- I really liked the sound of it on a mono bluetooth speaker... on an okay system it's awful and on a good system it's just okay. (IMO. I think the tonal balance during the chorus is just way off somehow.).

I guess it's a total matter of opinion / semantics as to whether 90% or 5% of recordings are "really good". I used to mix my own music and pay a lot of attention to that, so I tend to be picky as to whether I would call a mix "fine", "good" or "great". e.g. I would call Graceland overall a great mix with a few minor flaws. ;)
That Clió song sounds like a lot of typical 80’s pop…seemingly exaggerated mids and diminished bottom end. I loved it all back then but almost can’t stand to listen to it now.
 

Looneybomber

Member
Joined
Sep 23, 2022
Messages
44
Likes
36
One of my biggest issues when listening to different speakers is that a lot sound unbearably harsh(sibilant?) to me, even if they measure flat-ish on the treble.
I have found the harshness to lie in the 2-4khz range and it has nothing to do with speakers. If I whistle in that range, it’s uncomfortable. If I plug my ears and whistle, when I get in that range it feels/sounds like my eardrums themselves resonate or my ear canals do. Plugging my ears is much less impactful in that area, it still sounds loud!

If I EQ down that area, it helps reduce the harshness. Try it.
 

sigbergaudio

Major Contributor
Audio Company
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 21, 2020
Messages
2,560
Likes
5,170
Location
Norway
I think it's all relative. "Good" is certainly an opinion here.

In some ways bad speakers are like blurring the image. Everything looks vaguely okay, but when you remove the blur suddenly you see flaws, and they might bother you. Back when they went from standard def TV to HDTV, standards for makeup on TV had to go up because suddenly you could see a lot more flaws.

Even though everything sounds better on better speakers (agree) sometimes you start to notice shortcomings in recordings, or that some are relatively better / worse, where you couldn't perceive that before.

I generally agree with this. But I have heard so many times people say that most "normal" music sound worse when they get better speakers. It's a very interesting discussion.

If most of the music you listen to sound worse after getting better speakers, what exactly is the definition of "better"? Surely the speakers aren't fit for purpose if most of your music sound worse.

If I were presented with two pairs of speakers, and with one pair most music sounded worse, why would I define that pair as the better pair? It doesn't really make sense. At least personally I'd like to listen to my favorite music, not have to have my speakers dictate what I listen to.
 

kemmler3D

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
2,824
Likes
5,268
Location
San Francisco
I generally agree with this. But I have heard so many times people say that most "normal" music sound worse when they get better speakers. It's a very interesting discussion.

If most of the music you listen to sound worse after getting better speakers, what exactly is the definition of "better"? Surely the speakers aren't fit for purpose if most of your music sound worse.

If I were presented with two pairs of speakers, and with one pair most music sounded worse, why would I define that pair as the better pair? It doesn't really make sense. At least personally I'd like to listen to my favorite music, not have to have my speakers dictate what I listen to.
I think if you are used to exaggerated bass and/or treble, a neutral, "good" speaker can easily sound "worse" at first. Since a lot of "bad" speakers have exaggerated bass and treble, it makes sense. Especially if you are listening to music with relatively light bass, on a flat/good speaker it will suddenly sound like the bass disappeared.
 

sigbergaudio

Major Contributor
Audio Company
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 21, 2020
Messages
2,560
Likes
5,170
Location
Norway
I think that songs that actually sound worse on better speakers do exist, but they are truly rare. I only personally know of one:
- I really liked the sound of it on a mono bluetooth speaker... on an okay system it's awful and on a good system it's just okay. (IMO. I think the tonal balance during the chorus is just way off somehow.).

Listened to this track now, is it this specific version (2020 remaster) you have a problem with? I agree the chorus part may seem a bit weirdly mixed, a bit messy somehow and the vocals are drowning out - but beyond that this track sounds okay to me. It doesn't strike me as a track that will sound worse on better speakers. I've heard far worse. And again nothing harsh or uncomfortable.
 

sigbergaudio

Major Contributor
Audio Company
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 21, 2020
Messages
2,560
Likes
5,170
Location
Norway
I think if you are used to exaggerated bass and/or treble, a neutral, "good" speaker can easily sound "worse" at first. Since a lot of "bad" speakers have exaggerated bass and treble, it makes sense. Especially if you are listening to music with relatively light bass, on a flat/good speaker it will suddenly sound like the bass disappeared.

Well, then I suspect we are touching on another misconception, that good speakers shouldn't have bass or should sound "neutral", erring on the side of thin or lean. Real musical instruments (generally) don't have piercing highs and no bass. On the contrary there's not a lot of "resolution" and "detail" (which really means excess treble), and the sound is generally full and with body and low-end.

Good speakers (imo) sounds natural and rich, not at all lacking in bass and midbass.
 

Ported

Member
Joined
Jan 8, 2022
Messages
60
Likes
71
For me I just flipped to ribbon tweeters.. I am an ex sound engineer and have several tracks i tried to de "S" on some particularly siblant vocals.. On almost all systems this seems only partially sucessfull .. through my current ribbons (Fountek Neo CD3.0 ) it seems completely successful and maybe was not necessary to try to hard...

I now have a strong feeling I have not yet heard a dome tweeter that does it's job well.. mind I haven't been exposed to very expensive examples either.
 

kemmler3D

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
2,824
Likes
5,268
Location
San Francisco
Well, then I suspect we are touching on another misconception, that good speakers shouldn't have bass or should sound "neutral", erring on the side of thin or lean. Real musical instruments (generally) don't have piercing highs and no bass. On the contrary there's not a lot of "resolution" and "detail" (which really means excess treble), and the sound is generally full and with body and low-end.

Good speakers (imo) sounds natural and rich, not at all lacking in bass and midbass.
We agree on what good speakers should have. :)

I am thinking of people who previously had speakers with (say) +8dB at 60-110hz and F10 is 58hz, something sad like that.

If you then move to a speaker that's tuned "properly" according to ASR norms, bass is flat or maybe +3dB in-room, and has extension down to 20hz but no bump in the mid-bass like that, you might say "where's the bass"?

Actually, if you are used to a lot of distortion in your bass (I would say most non-audiophile people are) and you go to a system that puts out <5% THD down to 20hz, you will suddenly notice a lack of warmth, lack of bass, lack of something.

I think this can explain why people sometimes say things sound worse on better speakers, at least at first. You can lose bass quantity in the 60-200hz range (lots of bad speakers have resonances and boosts there) and at first, you might miss it, regardless of quality or extension.

I mean, really, isn't this also what's behind the V-shaped / scooped / peaky FR that brands like Wilson or B&W put out?
 

Tangband

Major Contributor
Joined
Sep 3, 2019
Messages
2,941
Likes
2,754
Location
Sweden
I think harsh should be defined since it could mean any error between 1-10 kHz. IMO harshness can be related both to peaking in the 3-4 kHz region and sibiliant distorsion higher up in frequency. It can be both in the recording and in the speakers. Perhaps the room also if you have some odd shapes or very lively. That said I almost never percieve harshness from my speakers, something that others also say about them. ”Polite and kind sounding speakers, never aggressive” ( or ”snälla” in Swedish).
Its also about the source and the amplifier used. You have a Linn Axis turntable known for sounding non sibilant and never harsh .

I use a Rega dac R for the same reason , because I wanted a sound very similar to the sound from a Linn Lp 12. With my former Yamaha streamer, the sound was more sibilant and harsh using the same speakers .

Another source of harshness often overlooked is the crossover if its not perfectly executed ( it never is )
 
Last edited:
OP
T

thanossapiens

Member
Joined
Feb 8, 2021
Messages
41
Likes
10
Do you have detailed measurements of your own Yamahas? Have you tested with EQ what frequency band/range sounds harsh? I've heard some people say the HF can be dull on the NS-1000... then, again, as that hifinews review stated, one never surely knows how pristine the condition is of vintage speakers.
A pro had checked the speaker and it was "up to spec". I also measured it with an iphone, if thats worth anything, and it was pretty much exactly like the hifinews measurement to my surprise. Well, i dont think its an issue of elevated treble or frequency anyways, it doesnt necessarily sound louder, it can just sound sibilant if that makes any sense. The
NS-1000 is actually better than most I have heard actually, its pretty well behaved I think.
 
OP
T

thanossapiens

Member
Joined
Feb 8, 2021
Messages
41
Likes
10
Honestly I should had phrased my OP post better, since its also not only a tweeter thing.
From what I have seen I notice uncomfortable sounds or sibilance if you will, when what plays looks like the image below; something thats much louder than the rest, in mid and tweeter frequencies. Maybe most common around crossovers but I dont think its that because it happens with headphones too. Could also be that these kind of dynamics are too much for the mics in the recording and thats what we are hearing, but I have seen huge variance of how speakers handle this kind of thing so I wonder what the best in this regard are. I'm not sure how to even call this kind of distortion sadly, but it seems to me that soft dome speakers cope better with it.
You have probably noticed it at its worst if you play something like piano from phone or laptop speakers loudly... that kind of thing.


1699815118432.png
 
Top Bottom