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Do we crave distortion?

Sean_S

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Harmonics of a single cleanly played note on an electric bass guitar, electrical signal into an ADC, no added distortions.

It took several tries to pluck so that the 2nd harmonic was not at a higher level than the fundamental.

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A Grolsch 330ml beer bottle picked up by UMIK-1 - very low distortion - close to a sine wave

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I love this!

Proves that audio systems already capture and store harmonic distortion that is present in the real world.

—Distinct from adding it to a stored signal during playback.
 

antcollinet

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Proves that audio systems already capture and store harmonic distortion
When it comes fully formed from the instrument it is not distortion. it is the harmonics that give an instrument (or voice) its distinctive sound, or timbre.

Harmonic distortion added by reproduction equipment is called distortion because it alters (distorts) that waveform, changing the sound.
 

Sean_S

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When it comes fully formed from the instrument it is not distortion. it is the harmonics that give an instrument (or voice) its distinctive sound, or timbre.

Harmonic distortion added by reproduction equipment is called distortion because it alters (distorts) that waveform, changing the sound.
True, natural harmonics, not distortion. Perhaps I ran away with what I thought was a clever notion. :)
 

Waxx

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it's harmonic distortion when there is an amplifiers like with an electric guitar or bass or organ. But for the rest it's harmonics, but not distortion. A lot of harmonic distortion is added in the recording, mixing and mastering of allmost all but classical music altough trough the use of hardware or even software processing. Some plugins (like tape saturation plugins) do nothing more than add a certain form and ammount of harmonic distortion, and not always the right way. I also know well known and reputed sound engineers who use (modded) tape machines for that (altough they record and mix largely digital).
 

lashto

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For some time now, I have been running @pkane's PKHarmonic VST which has the ability to add various amounts of harmonic distortion. I have also played with some Exciter VST plugins which (unlike PK) allow for targeted addition of harmonic distortion - for example, you can add high frequency harmonic spectra and produce the illusion of clarity, or low frequency spectra which makes playback sound fuller.

A number of people have visited me and listened to my system. They do not know that I am adding harmonic distortion to my system. I simply ask them if they prefer A or B (single blind test). Without exception, everybody has preferred the sound of some harmonic distortion added to the signal. About 10 people so far. The adjectives they have used are the same as what I described - it sounds more full, and has more clarity. Of course, I add the harmonic distortion to taste and I avoid adding so much that it sounds screechy or bloated because both outcomes are certainly possible. But it seems, everybody who has listened to my system (including some objectivists), prefers the sound of a little bit of harmonic distortion. The looks on their faces when I tell them what I am doing is quite priceless, ranging from disbelief to disgust. But hey - they voted for the distortion as sounding better!

This has lead me to wonder if there have been any studies that have been performed to show whether or not there is actually a preference for some distortion. This might explain why so many in our hobby love the sound of poorly measuring equipment. I know that it is religion among many in our hobby that the signal remain as unmolested as possible for high fidelity reproduction - it is not my aim to discuss this in this thread. What I want to know is whether other people have tried it and preferred the sound of a bit of distortion, and whether there have been any studies showing preference for some types of distortion.
if we reduce the question to the most basic/simple form, the answer is a giant and resounding
YES, WE DO CRAVE DISTORTION.

Very simple proof: just listen to the musical note C as pure sinewave compared to the piano note C.
"Surprise": ~everyone prefers the piano note and hates the sinewave.
One of the major extra-ingredients that make the piano note sound more enjoyable is, suprise again, Harmonic Distortion: the piano note contains 10+ HDs which contribute to its pleasant/musical timbre (and make it sound different from the same note/frequency played on guitar, trumpet etc...). A nice video explanation.

Another simple proof: every instrument/note contains 10+ HDs, i.e. >90% of music is actually distortion/HDs. And then you add a giant amount of IMD products and reach >99%.
I.e.: >99% percent of what we call music is actually made of 'distortion'.

So yes, we do crave distortion. We listen to it everyday. And if it's taken out, we just hate it. (if you don't believe that, good luck listening to music made out of pure sinewaves)

Extra distortion added during playback is a different question and quite a bit more complex. But the fundamental rule is the same: the human brain likes/craves/demands the 'distorted' sounds!
It's 'just' that we do not know very well which kind of extra-HD is liked/disliked .. and that lack of knowledge is the source of a million audio-forum posts about distortion (many/most of them less than useless).
 
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Sokel

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if we reduce the question to the most basic/simple form, the answer is a giant and resounding
YES, WE DO CRAVE DISTORTION.

Very simple proof: just listen to a pure sinewave compared to a piano note (of the same frequency). "Surprise": ~everyone prefers the piano note and hates the sinewave.
One of the major extras that make the piano note sound much more pleasant is Distortion: i.e. it contains 10+ HDs which contribute to its pleasant piano-timbre (and make it sound different from the same note played on guitar, trumpet etc...). A nice video explanation.

Another simple proof: every instrument/note contains 10+ HDs, i.e. >90% music is actually distortion/HDs. And then you add a giant amount of IMD products and reach >99%.
I.e.: >99% percent of what we call music is actually made of 'distortion'.

So yes, we do crave distortion. We listen to it everyday. And if it's taken out, we just hate it. (if you don't believe that, good luck listening to music made out of pure sinewaves)

Extra distortion added during playback is a different question and quite a bit more complex. But the fundamental rule is the same: the human brain likes and demands the 'distorted' sounds!

It's 'just' that we do not know very well which kind of extra-HD is liked/hated .. and that lack of knowledge is the source of a million audio-forum posts about distortion (many of them less than useless).
I have a silly question about it.
We know that some DACs use digital distortion compensation,right?

Makes them have nice measurements,can be tweaked,etc.
Does this applies only to the added THD (by a I/O comparator subtracting the income signal or something) or just sweeps the preferred tweaked amount of TDH regardless?
We know we can ADD if we want,but what happens when we subtract as is it's default?

(I think I know the answer but it's rarely mentioned,so... )
 

pkane

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I have a silly question about it.
We know that some DACs use digital distortion compensation,right?

Makes them have nice measurements,can be tweaked,etc.
Does this applies only to the added THD (by a I/O comparator subtracting the income signal or something) or just sweeps the preferred tweaked amount of TDH regardless?
We know we can ADD if we want,but what happens when we subtract as is it's default?

(I think I know the answer but it's rarely mentioned,so... )

Multitone can subtract distortion, as well as, add it :) It's not a simple subtraction through -- it's done using a non-linear correction of the transfer function. In a simplified form, that's what various THD compensation schemes do inside DAC chips.
 

fpitas

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/Wiseass ON

Just last night I woke up craving distortion. Couldn't go back to sleep until I heard some!

/Wiseass OFF
 

fpitas

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UliBru

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if we reduce the question to the most basic/simple form, the answer is a giant and resounding
YES, WE DO CRAVE DISTORTION.

Very simple proof: just listen to a pure sinewave compared to a piano note (of the same frequency). "Surprise": ~everyone prefers the piano note and hates the sinewave.
One of the major extras that make the piano note sound much more pleasant is Distortion: i.e. it contains 10+ HDs which contribute to its pleasant piano-timbre (and make it sound different from the same note played on guitar, trumpet etc...). A nice video explanation.

Another simple proof: every instrument/note contains 10+ HDs, i.e. >90% music is actually distortion/HDs. And then you add a giant amount of IMD products and reach >99%.
I.e.: >99% percent of what we call music is actually made of 'distortion'.

So yes, we do crave distortion. We listen to it everyday. And if it's taken out, we just hate it. (if you don't believe that, good luck listening to music made out of pure sinewaves)

Extra distortion added during playback is a different question and quite a bit more complex. But the fundamental rule is the same: the human brain likes and demands the 'distorted' sounds!

It's 'just' that we do not know very well which kind of extra-HD is liked/hated .. and that lack of knowledge is the source of a million audio-forum posts about distortion (many of them less than useless).
A very simple proof: an electric guitar can sound wonderful when played by a proper guitar amp which even adds heavy distortions.
Obviously there is a correlation between a played note and its harmonic overtones.

But I do not know anyone who listens e.g. to a classical concert by using the same overdriven amp. Why?
 

pkane

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But I do not know anyone who listens e.g. to a classical concert by using the same overdriven amp. Why?

Classical music lovers have overcome their distortion cravings while rock lovers are still struggling with their addiction? ;)
 

lashto

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I have a silly question about it.
We know that some DACs use digital distortion compensation,right?

Makes them have nice measurements,can be tweaked,etc.
Does this applies only to the added THD (by a I/O comparator subtracting the income signal or something) or just sweeps the preferred tweaked amount of TDH regardless?
We know we can ADD if we want,but what happens when we subtract as is it's default?

(I think I know the answer but it's rarely mentioned,so... )
AFAIK all those "distortion compesation" features simply add distortion. Mostly as extra HD2 and HD3 which are considered 'pleasant' (and are also ~easy/fast to calculate).

as @pkane mentioned, it is also possible to substract distortion: i.e. add distortion products that cancel the existing ones (pretty much the same principle as noise-cancelling). IIUC, it is mathematically quite complex, the complexity increases for higher harmonics and it's not 100% precise after the HD5 or so (but I am not an EE/expert).

In theory it can be done: just measure your DAC/amp/speaker's HD and use something like pkane's plugin to add "counter-HD" to cancel it.
I asked for something like that on a few occasions but I am not aware of any such product. Would be very interested to test such a thing.
 

lashto

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A very simple proof: an electric guitar can sound wonderful when played by a proper guitar amp which even adds heavy distortions.
Obviously there is a correlation between a played note and its harmonic overtones.

But I do not know anyone who listens e.g. to a classical concert by using the same overdriven amp. Why?
that question may be worth of a whole thread. Just 2 anectodes from me...

many classical fans I know/met are quite fond of tube amps: i.e. lots of extra 'distortion'

and overdriven cellos seem quite popular too :)
 

pkane

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as @pkane mentioned, it is also possible to substract distortion: i.e. add distortion products that cancel the existing ones (pretty much the same principle as noise-cancelling). IIUC, it is mathematically quite complex, the complexity increases for higher harmonics and it's not 100% precise after the HD5 or so (but I am not an EE/expert).

It's not that complex, and harmonic distortion itself is not cancelled by cancelling the individual harmonics, but rather by inverting the non-linearity that caused the harmonics in the first place.
 

lashto

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It's not that complex, and harmonic distortion itself is not cancelled by cancelling the individual harmonics, but rather by inverting the non-linearity that caused the harmonics in the first place.
Only heard/read about the cancelling of individual harmonics. Do you have some links/info about the other method?
But anyway, you are the harmonics expert and surely know more/better.
So, how about a round of just-do-it :)
 
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Sokel

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Multitone can subtract distortion, as well as, add it :) It's not a simple subtraction through -- it's done using a non-linear correction of the transfer function. In a simplified form, that's what various THD compensation schemes do inside DAC chips.
I know,we tested this 2 years ago when you added it to MTA.


What I'm asking though is if these DACs do it (the subtraction) globally (H2 and H3 only in ESS ones,I don't know about others) or after subtracting the original signal also so it's not affected.
Intuitively I feel that a lot of process power would be needed for this but who knows.
 

pkane

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I know,we tested this 2 years ago when you added it to MTA.


What I'm asking though is if these DACs do it (the subtraction) globally (H2 and H3 only in ESS ones,I don't know about others) or after subtracting the original signal also so it's not affected.
Intuitively I feel that a lot of process power would be needed for this but who knows.

Nothing is subtracted. Think of it as a different kind of filter that straightens out the non-linear behavior of the DAC. If done correctly, this should have no effect on the original signal, at all.
 

Sokel

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Nothing is subtracted. Think of it as a different kind of filter that straightens out the non-linear behavior of the DAC. If done correctly, this should have no effect on the original signal, at all.
Better say canceled then?
I think I caught one or two references in TI and AKM papers about it but ESS lets you mess with it (adding or whatever) .

I'll dig further and report!
 
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