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Do we crave distortion?

kemmler3D

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When we're discussing HiFi systems, the discussion of various distortion creation methods, fuzzboxes, Leslie speakers, whammy bars, everything used in the creation of music can only serve to confuse the discussion. They are all distortions of pure sine wave tones in a artistic manner.. Not our concern in the big picture of High Fidelity reproduction.
From the HiFi listeners perspective, there is no distortion on the source, all we need concern ourself with is, can our rig reproduce that virgin source in a accurate way.
That's what Amir spends his time and energy measuring HiFi gear to determine and reveal to us.
Now on the back side, if any listener prefers to crank his bass tone control to +20db, that's his prerogative.
Yes, I agree, but it's relevant to the topic of the thread and IMO answers it pretty well, too.

Do we crave distortion? Definitely! Artists add it to their tones constantly in a myriad of ways because it sounds good, plain as. So it's not surprising that some home listeners want to add some, too.

Now, is it APPROPRIATE to add distortion to the artist's creation? That is where the real debate is. IMO no, I think we agree on that. :)
 
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Keith_W

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As the creator of this thread many months ago, I now have a more firm belief that we all crave distortion. I have repeated the experiment mentioned in my first post dozens of times now, all with the same method - "do you prefer A or B?" and they don't know what I am doing. They don't know if it's a different target curve, or different room correction strategy, or BACCH on/off, or any of the other dozen DSP tricks I could use.

I now have a sufficiently large number of samples for me to say with confidence that the system sounds better with some added harmonic distortion. Listeners who were blinded to the intervention all agreed that added harmonic distortion sounds better, whether objectivist or subjectivist. I have had speaker designers listen to the system, and even they voted for some added distortion. I did not formally collect numbers, but I would say close to 95% voted for the added harmonic distortion as sounding better.

It might be a a peculiarity of my system, or my method, or something else. Which is why I would - again - ask for anybody who has the ability to use @pkane's PKHarmonic VST to install it and repeat the experiment. Use the settings I described on Page 1 of this thread. Don't tell your listeners what you are doing, just switch it on and off and ask them what they prefer. Please report back.

This is NOT a debate about whether adding distortion is against your audio philosophy or not. It is about whether some added distortion sounds better or worse.
 

MattHooper

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As the creator of this thread many months ago, I now have a more firm belief that we all crave distortion. I have repeated the experiment mentioned in my first post dozens of times now, all with the same method - "do you prefer A or B?" and they don't know what I am doing. They don't know if it's a different target curve, or different room correction strategy, or BACCH on/off, or any of the other dozen DSP tricks I could use.

I now have a sufficiently large number of samples for me to say with confidence that the system sounds better with some added harmonic distortion. Listeners who were blinded to the intervention all agreed that added harmonic distortion sounds better, whether objectivist or subjectivist. I have had speaker designers listen to the system, and even they voted for some added distortion. I did not formally collect numbers, but I would say close to 95% voted for the added harmonic distortion as sounding better.

I'm often asked why I'd want to ever add any level of distortion to my playback, re tube amps. Answer: 'cause it sounds goooood. :cool:
 

Chr1

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I'm often asked why I'd want to ever add any level of distortion to my playback, re tube amps. Answer: 'cause it sounds goooood. :cool:
I guess that the crux of this discussion is whether we need to follow this kind of statement with: "to me."...or actually "to most people. Most of the time."

... The fly in the ointment being : It ain't hifi!

Interesting thread for sure.
 
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solderdude

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I guess that the crux of this discussion is whether we need to follow this kind of statement with: "to me."
^^ THIS ^^

It is all about preference and personal enjoyment. Personally I think this is what audio reproduction, in the end, is what it should always be about.
The way of achieving that simply differs.
Some want to season others want the waves reaching the ears not seasoned and as closely as possible to the recorded signal.

Seasoning can be done in many ways and basically requires changing the recorded signal in a certain way/amount. This 'improves' the sound to that owner (and often also to those that visit that person or use similar seasoning.

Basically even 'signal purists' (which perhaps is a better word than 'objectivist') season their systems when not using EQ in their playback system or compromise speaker placement for the sake of WAF or practical reasons. They just don't know it or don't really think about it.

Then there are those that don't want any seasoning at all and resort to using microphones and EQ and maybe room conditioning (and thus 'seasons' the signal that is applied at the speaker terminals) to ensure the final signal wave form (at the listening spot only) is closely the same to the recorded signal.


Who is right when it comes to enjoyment and who is right when it comes to 'hearing the producers intend (on their monitoring equipment, ears and producers wishes)

I say: just enjoy music and don't care about other peoples preferences.
BUT .. when you make statements on a more 'science based' forum you'd better get formulation of written word up to snuff, meaning if something is your experience you should write that in there even if one thinks it is obvious and does not need to be mentioned. It should.
 

Chr1

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... However, back to the actual subject of the thread, and as Keith_W, the OP appears to have found:

In playback, most people actually seem to prefer some added distortion to none at all, most of the time. Tested blind.

This is the bit that I find interesting. The semantics, and the fact that it may not be specifically hifi, less so for me.
 

solderdude

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The question is whether or not this is the case and how much that added distortion is, what profile is needed and whether or not this can be solely contributed to the added distortion or that other aspects (output resistance, change of tone/frequency response) is not a bigger part of this effect.
 

Chr1

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To generalise hugely, and as said several times previously, I think that it simply boils down to the fact that most people's preference is for a sound that errs on the full/warm side rather than thin/bright....And essentially this is what valves, compressors and additional EQ/DSP etc bring to the table.
How much and exactly what type is purely subjective obviously.
 

solderdude

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That could also mean that on the production side something is wrong and mixing should be done to a different target. This way coloration at the playback side would not be needed.
It also doesn't justify adding harmonics and tonal balance would be the main reason to season.

Maybe the title then should not be Do we crave distortion? but rather Do we prefer a warmer sound ? as there is no indication that added distortion changes tonal balance/character.
 

Chr1

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But again, surely you could argue the same about changing the EQ? Room correction aside.

It is altering the sound of the original recording as the engineer intended it.

I guess that the OPs test was to find out people's unconscious subjective preference re playback sound profile. Though perhaps I am wrong here...
 
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Sokel

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I'm on the side of listening to something through a non colored/seasoned/distorted/whatever one wants to call it rig.

But sometimes I think that this product that I want to listen to,is made by people and judged by them through listening to it,right?
What if their gear "season" it more that mine?
Let's assume that I have built a truly uncolored rig (electronics,room,everything) with the newest and the greatest while the gear used to produce them where old,colored (like the tubes and the monkey coffins that produced my favorite classical stuff of '50s) and intended to be listened by similar stuff.

What do I do then?
Clearly my hypothetical "transparent" rig is not the way that these engineers targeted for.
Chaotic,isn't it?
 

Chr1

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Another interesting test would be to try the inverse... To see at what point most people, most of the time, find that they prefer zero added distortion to the added test level (ie high/too much). There must, presumably also be a point where people would prefer less...Again different for most peeps probably, and once again purely subjective.

Again, these tests would be inherently more about learning about unconsciously preferred sound profiles, not playback sound quality/definition.
...Statistics/graphs helpful too here obviously.
 
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Salt

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Most of us, I think, are musically socialised centuries ago with hifi equipment that distorted. This sound signature was percepted and memorized as standard.
Listening to the same music now with transparent gears gives the subjective feeling of 'not right'. I have lots of music from 70'th and 80'th that sounds kind of flat and anaemic with a transparent digital source, while from the turntable it sounds 'correct' as I'm used to.
As said before: I love my harmonics...sometimes they give the necessary flesh to the bone.
 

tmtomh

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^^ THIS ^^

It is all about preference and personal enjoyment. Personally I think this is what audio reproduction, in the end, is what it should always be about.
The way of achieving that simply differs.
Some want to season others want the waves reaching the ears not seasoned and as closely as possible to the recorded signal.

Seasoning can be done in many ways and basically requires changing the recorded signal in a certain way/amount. This 'improves' the sound to that owner (and often also to those that visit that person or use similar seasoning.

Basically even 'signal purists' (which perhaps is a better word than 'objectivist') season their systems when not using EQ in their playback system or compromise speaker placement for the sake of WAF or practical reasons. They just don't know it or don't really think about it.

Then there are those that don't want any seasoning at all and resort to using microphones and EQ and maybe room conditioning (and thus 'seasons' the signal that is applied at the speaker terminals) to ensure the final signal wave form (at the listening spot only) is closely the same to the recorded signal.


Who is right when it comes to enjoyment and who is right when it comes to 'hearing the producers intend (on their monitoring equipment, ears and producers wishes)

I say: just enjoy music and don't care about other peoples preferences.
BUT .. when you make statements on a more 'science based' forum you'd better get formulation of written word up to snuff, meaning if something is your experience you should write that in there even if one thinks it is obvious and does not need to be mentioned. It should.

Agree of course.

RE the "seasoning" metaphor, we're not really talking about whether folks like to season the sound or not - we're talking about whether folks like to add to or alter the seasoning the chef already put into the dish. And in the case of hard-wired scenarios like a tube amp or a particular phono cartridge or a significantly nonlinear speaker, whether folks like to bring their own salt shaker to every restaurant they go to regardless of who the chef is or what style of cuisine it is.

I don't say this to be critical - if someone likes more salt on everything, that's still their preference and they should eat food however they prefer it.
 
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MattHooper

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Few things:

1. I think most will see this as a personal taste thing, so it's interesting to ask the wider question "but do people generally crave distortion?" My impulse is to say "no." But I guess it kind of depends. If we have a general attachment to "warm, rich sound" - which also tends to invoke a "smoothness/lack of harshness" as well, and a type of distortion will enhance this...then perhaps. After all, a common criticism of "bad sound" is when it sounds "thin" (and perhaps harsh too). Not that everything has to have the same character, but IF reproduced sound is "warm/rich" sounding (as long as it's not muddy), then intuition suggests this will often be attractive. And IF it's the case (as I find) that much reproduced sound is reductive, from micing to mixing/processing to reproducing, tends to rob some harmonic richness and body, then perhaps adding some back in could be generally seen as "good." (Personally, that's what I find). What about listening to real instruments? Part of what we like is the richness of harmonics and overtones in many instruments. If we could add "more" in the form of a consonant distortion to a real trumpet, sax or whatever, would people like it even better? Dunno. So many variables though...

2. On individual preferences: I can see how "craving distortion" plays in to different approaches to system building. One might describe the difference between a "subtractive" approach and an "additive" approach. By that I mean, the "subtractive" approach would pertain to someone who is seeking high technical (and sonic) accuracy. This leads to concentrating more on how a product reduces distortion, avoiding any added character to the sound, be it a DAC, amp, speaker or whatever. The less the better. And then it can be a sort of set-and-forget situation for listening to music.

The "additive" approach is one you'll find more in the subjective/golden ear/TAS and Stereophile audiophiles, where one is "system building" to achieve a certain desired type of sound. Of course in this realm one often finds erroneous assumptions that "everything makes a sonic difference" which it doesn't. But, we can talk about real distortions in speakers, some amps, vinyl....

I'm in the "additive" approach camp insofar as I'm "building" a system towards a type of sonic presentation, each sonic character fitting together, to reach the presentation I crave. If some types of distortion help that, I will avail myself happily.

One example of how a bit of distortion can help: I like a sense of thickness and texture to the sound, anything that makes the images feel a bit more solid and "there" vs "see-through." One way I can get some of this is by adding some distortion in the form of more room reflections in certain frequencies. If I start to pull back the curtains on my sidewalls, for instance, it adds a little more "room reflection hash" to the sound, which to my ears can make the leading edges a bit thicker, more textured, more vivid, more solid. Good! But...it also has the consequences of making the instruments sound more "in the room" and the acoustic signature/reverbs in the track can start to meld away...so I lose a little of the richness of the recorded space/reverb.

So...I can put the curtains back to the side walls to cut reflections and get less room, more recorded ambience. And then switch in my tube preamp. The tube pre-amp seems to add back in that bit of texture and density and leading edge, but I also get the benefit of cutting the side wall reflections so I maintain more of the recorded ambience cues. It becomes a "best of both worlds" effect: to my ears, a sense of peering right in to the acoustic/reverb of the recording to dense, present, more "believable" sonic images.

3. In any big picture view, the amount of distortions I'm talking about are very low and subtle. This is why I find it works across the board on recordings. If I have the most pristine sounding audiophile recording one could say "well, that doesn't need any tube distortion to sound great, it could only hurt." Instead I find that the tubes enhance the best recordings too. Great recordings maintain their astonishing clarity and richness....but slightly enhanced in texture/body/presence (IMO). I doubt anyone hearing a well recorded highly detailed track would guess it was running through my tube preamp, if they didn't know it. It would sound super clear and clean, because it's pretty subtle.
 
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dshreter

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The simple answer to the prompt up front is that yes we do crave distortion. Looking at this in a rudimentary way, a tone without distortion would be a simple sine wave tone, and as a general rule we don't like how that sounds unless a test of the emergency broadcast system is your jam.

So you could consider harmonics or overtones to be a form of distortion relative to pure frequencies, and state verily we crave distortion.

Now to what the prompt intends to ask is if we crave distortion to be added to a recording. This is the domain of the circle of confusion, because if we prefer a recording with distortion added, this could simply be added to the recording itself rather than added in the domain of the listening system. There's no systematic reason that recordings should be lacking in a preferred distortion. That's not to say it can't happen, much like you might want to use tone controls to boost bass or any other adjustments to the source material.

To me a debate about the circle of confusion is tedious, but I see this discussion is 13 pages in anyway!
 

antcollinet

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So you could consider harmonics or overtones to be a form of distortion
That would (IMO) be a silly definition of distortion.

Distortion is a change to the waveform. Think of *any* acoustic instrument, or the human voice.

The waveform comes from those instruments fully formed with the fundamental, and all relevant harmonics to create the tone and timbre of that instrument.

Distortion then is anything done to that original waveform that changes it. In terms of reproduction gear (which we mainly discuss here) that comes from uncontrolled non linearities in the process.

I would extend that to any electrical or electronic instrument. Whatever the musician has done to create the voicing of the instrument - even if that is overdriving an amp into distortion - becomes the original waveform for that performance. Distortion (to me) is an unwanted process that comes after.
 

NIN

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As the creator of this thread many months ago, I now have a more firm belief that we all crave distortion. I have repeated the experiment mentioned in my first post dozens of times now, all with the same method - "do you prefer A or B?" and they don't know what I am doing. They don't know if it's a different target curve, or different room correction strategy, or BACCH on/off, or any of the other dozen DSP tricks I could use.

I now have a sufficiently large number of samples for me to say with confidence that the system sounds better with some added harmonic distortion. Listeners who were blinded to the intervention all agreed that added harmonic distortion sounds better, whether objectivist or subjectivist. I have had speaker designers listen to the system, and even they voted for some added distortion. I did not formally collect numbers, but I would say close to 95% voted for the added harmonic distortion as sounding better.

It might be a a peculiarity of my system, or my method, or something else. Which is why I would - again - ask for anybody who has the ability to use @pkane's PKHarmonic VST to install it and repeat the experiment. Use the settings I described on Page 1 of this thread. Don't tell your listeners what you are doing, just switch it on and off and ask them what they prefer. Please report back.

This is NOT a debate about whether adding distortion is against your audio philosophy or not. It is about whether some added distortion sounds better or worse.

Would you say that the music you have used for the test was more "clear" and "modern" sounding (multi-mic, low distortion) or did you use any older music that are more warm sounding and not have the "modern" sound?
 
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Keith_W

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Would you say that the music you have used for the test was more "clear" and "modern" sounding (multi-mic, low distortion) or did you use any older music that are more warm sounding and not have the "modern" sound?

I started using all types of music. I let my guests choose their music from Tidal, and I apply the intervention in JRiver.
 

dasdoing

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Most of us, I think, are musically socialised centuries ago with hifi equipment that distorted. This sound signature was percepted and memorized as standard.
Listening to the same music now with transparent gears gives the subjective feeling of 'not right'.

that's it people.

I must add though that I would theorize that with loud (real world) playback most would prefer the clean version, at least for acoustic instruments
 
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