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Do we crave distortion?

pkane

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The one from @Keith_W has even less difference in the files.
At least we know the frequency response did not change (and was unlikely to begin with)

The white waveform seems to have gotten a small offset, rather than different amplitude for some reason.

Part of the non-linearity effect. Unavoidable, since the transfer curve isn't symmetric around DC.
 

robwpdx

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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.
Every listener is different. So there is an answer for every listener and for every genre of music they listen to.

It is expectation against experience.

You have PKHarmoic. Mixers insert distortion into pop through a myriad of plugins or expensive analog output gear.

Good topic.
 

ocinn

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Distortion/Saturation is done song-by-song, meticulously, and throughout every step of the process in the studio.

Ex: guitar amp gain > microphone choice > microphone preamp choice > effects/mixing (compression/saturation/etc), and even then saturation can be added in the mastering process.

The engineers involved know the correct way (and most importantly, places) to add saturation and how to make it suit the song, and every different song. Let them do their job, instead of adding a fixed amount indiscriminately to every song you play (via sub-par components, or recreational use of plugins like above, etc).

Also anecdotally, harmonics are far less aggravating on the ear than IMD. I think it's misguided to do this test with solely harmonics, as sub-par gear, which I read as the connotation of the original post, like tube amps, add a fair amount of nasty IMD.
 

pseudoid

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I think I need some assistance in clarifying my confusion about your positive findings while "targeted addition of harmonic distortion".
Please.
When the findings that substantiated the adding of dither'd noise - at the LSB of RedBook CD format - improved the sound: I gulped!
I had a hard time swallowing that "bitter pill"... that adding noise improved sound quality. As I am with your findings.

It sounds like you are adding GLOBAL spectrum content (your targeted addition of thd), with no due regard to actual instruments or to their individual spectral content themselves.
Some
instruments (may) take kindly to added presence (or distortions) but I am not certain if All instruments do.
IMHO: You may be encroaching in a scientific endeavor that is even above the expertise of professionals recording engineers, et al.
 

ahofer

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I think I need some assistance in clarifying my confusion about your positive findings while "targeted addition of harmonic distortion".
Please.
When the findings that substantiated the adding of dither'd noise - at the LSB of RedBook CD format - improved the sound: I gulped!
I had a hard time swallowing that "bitter pill"... that adding noise improved sound quality. As I am with your findings.

It sounds like you are adding GLOBAL spectrum content (your targeted addition of thd), with no due regard to actual instruments or to their individual spectral content themselves.
Some
instruments (may) take kindly to added presence (or distortions) but I am not certain if All instruments do.
IMHO: You may be encroaching in a scientific endeavor that is even above the expertise of professionals recording engineers, et al.
Imagine what turntables are contributing!

But I wouldn't discourage this. It's perfectly easy to package up some files with different genres and get a large sample (maybe Archimago would agree to send it to his membership). And per @robwpdx , I suspect there are some broad commonalities in what is preferred, much as there where in Toole's speaker tests.
 

Chr1

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As a lot of the best recordings involve either valves or the modern EQ equivalent, added somewhere in the signal chain, surely it is not unreasonable to appreciate said warmth/distortion? How much is up to personal taste. But I would bet that most of the good quality recordings prior to quality modern DSP involve valves somewhere...
 
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Curvature

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harmonics are far less aggravating on the ear than IMD
The same transfer function is responsible for both. One tone (THD) vs. multiple tones (IMD).

Although certainly some speakers show different IMD for nominally similar harmonic profiles because of various nonlinearities in action.
 

robwpdx

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Distortion/Saturation is done song-by-song, meticulously, and throughout every step of the process in the studio.

Ex: guitar amp gain > microphone choice > microphone preamp choice > effects/mixing (compression/saturation/etc), and even then saturation can be added in the mastering process.

The engineers involved know the correct way (and most importantly, places) to add saturation and how to make it suit the song, and every different song. Let them do their job, instead of adding a fixed amount indiscriminately to every song you play (via sub-par components, or recreational use of plugins like above, etc).

Also anecdotally, harmonics are far less aggravating on the ear than IMD. I think it's misguided to do this test with solely harmonics, as sub-par gear, which I read as the connotation of the original post, like tube amps, add a fair amount of nasty IMD.
I have said the same on several threads. Adding distortion, compression, and echo to the whole tack at home is a choice I do not make. Others are free to make that.

In the mix, distortion, compression, and echo are added track/stem by track/stem routinely for pop. It is especially done for vocal and drums, and through the chain for electric guitar, bass and keys. Bus processing is in the mix and mastering.
 

Frank2

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I have the same experience, see OP in this thread: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...e-sx3040-v2-audio-exciter.44164/#post-1588224

If I listen to a recording of a single instrument like an acoustic guitar, like this one:
the version without added harmonics sounds dry, more natural. But the version with (just a little bit of) harmonic distortion sounds more exciting and engaging. I don't think it's just a loudness effect. It's more like a difference between a clean, dry sound and an engaging, exciting sound. Over time, I did dial the harmonics back a bit but now I prefer the version with distortion over the one without more than 90% of the time. I mainly listen to pop and jazz.
 

Travis

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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
What’s the music EDIT, never mind, answered above, classical.

As far as studies, there a multiple studies on distortion, including how it relates to frequency response.

But first we kind of need to know what kind of distortion you are talking about, and on that we need to know at what levels you are at for each one. That would tell us if the type of “harmonic distortion” you are talking about is the same type as in these studies.

As already mentioned, distortion is used in the recording/mixing process. Distortion in this context is anything that alters the wave form. There are plugins to mimic “tube” and “tape”distortion for example. They alter the wave form in such a way to predictably tell which harmonics are altered, and by what amount in relation to the fundamental tone. Those “effects” in the right amount, at the right time, and especially on the specific instrument, involved, will generally be pleasing to most people. But in that context, it’s no different than any other effect like reverb or phase. Which is not typically going to be studied in the sense I think you mean it. Those are simply colors and hues on an artists pallet that can be used to make drums, or bass guitar, more “pleasant” sounding to most people.

Although they may exist, I don’t think you will find studies on the preferred amount of reverb, amount of phase, or amount of change in wave forms for harmonics 2-8 that is “preferable.”

I’m not sure, and why I am very interested in your post, that the THD, IMD, and other distortion tested and measured in equipment, like amps and speakers are a the same thing you are talking about. There are of course 100s of studies on the impact of distortion, and with regard to distortion in speakers, there isn’t uniform agreement in the studies how much of a factor distortion plays in preference.

I believe that software you are using was created so those that preferred the distortion of a tube amp, for example, could add it back in at the level they liked. Of course since the creator is here they can best answer that and the theory behind it. They may also know right off hand what the low distortion devices we have caused him to spend so much time to develop it, and what he found to be the preference of people. It may just be recording to recording, track to track.
 
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Curvature

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I have the same experience, see OP in this thread: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...e-sx3040-v2-audio-exciter.44164/#post-1588224

If I listen to a recording of a single instrument like an acoustic guitar, like this one:
the version without added harmonics sounds dry, more natural. But the version with (just a little bit of) harmonic distortion sounds more exciting and engaging. I don't think it's just a loudness effect. It's more like a difference between a clean, dry sound and an engaging, exciting sound. Over time, I did dial the harmonics back a bit but now I prefer the version with distortion over the one without more than 90% of the time. I mainly listen to pop and jazz.
I'm sorry to pedantically repeat myself over and over with the same question every thread about subjective reports, but what did you do to verify?

Signal chain had no change in gain?
No change in frequency response?
What is the distortion profile?
Did you try adjusting the level of the distorted track?
What about simple ABX through foobar or a nulltest using Deltawave?
 

Sal1950

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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.
I don't see the need for any kind of focused study, the popularity of many components such as SET/Tube amps and vinyl sources point to the fact that yes, many types of distortion give listeners a pleasant experience..
You can always add distortion, but if you build a rig with distorted components, you can never remove it. :(
My position has always been to build a system that is capable of presenting a source with as minimal distortion as possible and then later add in whatever distortion flicks your switch.
Music genre is then irrelevant.
 

pseudoid

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Do we crave distortion?​

...whether or not there is actually a preference for some distortion...
Catchy title.
No, to both.
I crave for wild-caught Norwegian or King Salmon and Farmed version would not be my preference!
 

Sal1950

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I crave for wild-caught Norwegian or King Salmon
I'll pass on the fish.
Give me a huge cut of med-rare prime Angus Beef for my crave. ;)
 

Rja4000

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I am not interested in philosophical discussions about what "high fidelity" means, because it means "fidelity to the recording" and that is that. I said so in my first post. What I am interested in, is whether some added distortion actually subjectively enhances the sound, not a dogmatic assertion that as little distortion as possible sounds the best.
Let's take a simple example:
A Jazz record, including double bass.
Some notes are down to 40 Hz.

If you try to play the music back on small speakers, of course, you won't hear the fundamental

Add some serious level of H2 (80Hz) and H3 (120Hz), and you'll hear more bass. For real.

So:
Of course you'll prefer the sound with distortion (in that case - and if you limit it to low frequencies) !
KEF LS50 Bookshelf Speaker CEA-2034 spinorama Audio Measurements.png


Play the same music on a full range system, and the distortion will bother you.

That's why we want distortion settings to be optional.
To taste.
Just like bass, trebble or (lack of) loudness compensation.
 
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anome

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Absolutely, when in the mood I add alsa plugins(valve, tubewarmth) to the DAC feed, especially if I am looking to hear/feel from yesteryear on my old pair of Radfords S90s.

Don't want to get contentious here, but there is clearly only one King Salmon (Chinook in CA parlance), and it don't originate in the Atlantic; fresh today, smoked tomorrow.
 

Doodski

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I'll pass on the fish.
Give me a huge cut of med-rare prime Angus Beef for my crave. ;)
Hahaha. I picked up a couple of small steaks the other day at Walmart... I got to the checkout and it came up as $37. I passed on that... Too rich for my blood. Safeway in my opinion has better meat and the prices on steaks seems to be reasonable. I do remember a boss of mine many years ago tossed a couple hundred to his son and advised him to spend it all on steaks at the Italian butcher shop... So we went over and the butcher knew the customer by name and knew what he wanted. So we waited for awhile while he butchered a side of beef. The steaks where like 3" thick and very large. That was the best steak I ever had. :D Then we would go to a steak house with Alberta beef served. We would order the big steak. It was like a 1.5 hour meal stuffing it all inside and the car ride over curbs was a bit painful but we enjoyed it very much. :D
 

Sal1950

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Yes, obviously I know that. I am not interested in philosophical discussions about what "high fidelity" means, because it means "fidelity to the recording" and that is that.
Amen, this is a argument I've had many times.
There's only one correct definition of "High Fidelity" !
That's accuracy to the source.
Anything else is a distortion irrelevant of preferences.
 

pseudoid

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Give me a huge cut of med-rare prime Angus Beef for my crave. ;)
Do tell! Not your preferences to "farmed beef" but if you prefer to add some condiments to it during or after (pre/post production) cooking?
You notice I am talking about audio and not food!:eek:
 

Chr1

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I say why choose when you can have both? Transparent and "flavoured" options via DSP, speakers and/or optional valves. Part of the nerdy appeal of hifi, surely? Needn't be binary. Would hate to choose between the R1, BMW or Triumph motorcycle wise, so why so with hifi? Got old school Tannoys sitting on top of two BK XXLS400FFS subs, with Neumann KH310s on top. Can easily switch between speakers and DSP presets for each via MathAudio.

PS Would hate to choose between steak and salmon but I could probably eat more steak than salmon personally. Aberdeen Angus all the way. ✌️
 
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