When does speaker distortion become audible?

I recently got some seas excel speakers and when I fired them up for the first time I thought to myself "wow, there's no distortion".

I find this interesting because I never really thought I was hearing any distortion from my previous speakers but maybe I was, and just didn't pick up on it until now.

Interesting side note, I think my personal speaker taste is moving towards less analytical, super detailed sound to a more musical, tone based preference (I think I'm becoming less tone deaf, lol).
When does speaker distortion become audible?
When you can hear it...
I think my personal speaker taste is moving towards less analytical, super detailed sound to a more musical, tone based preference
Excellent. Now we just need you to get some tubes in there; then you'll have some real music ;-)
Above 10%??? How much above... Years ago some of the test repots would give distortion figures in speaker tests. Usually just for woofers. I'd have to do a lot of looking & then try to translate it into the real world.
When does speaker distortion become audible?
When you can hear it...
I think my personal speaker taste is moving towards less analytical, super detailed sound to a more musical, tone based preference
Excellent. Now we just need you to get some tubes in there; then you'll have some real music ;-)
Funny B limo I just did the opposite. I went from Dyn C1 Signatures to the Raidho D1's. Now I never thought there was a lack of clarity with the Dyn's until I heard the Raidho's. But I wouldn't really call it a clarity issue but more of a blacker background with the Raidho. All along I've been using tubes and I can't believe how good the music sounds now. The pinpoint imaging and detail is almost like electrostatics. The only downside I hear is a very small but focused sweet spot.

I'll say it too - consider tubes!!
Sounds like you've got more coherence which can and will afford you both better clarity and tone. You don't have to lose one to get the other.

All the best,
There exists an astonishing amount of differences in capability of speakers to render the signal accurately/beautifully. It is common when comparing speakers to have the sense that one is far more clean/clear/distortion-free than another.
The other half of what Douglas said is that our memory is very poor & gets there very quickly. We remember in a "somewhat" fashion. Lots of speakers may sound great until we do side by side auditions.
Overall, it was good or not quite good. And lots of us have that problem. It's never as accurate as gettig a "bad ice cube."
It becomes audible when you can hear it.
Next question......
Wc: Way over simplified. There are still lots of people who haven't experienced "better sound" from what their tv or table radio offered. They would't kow what distortion sounded like if they fell over on it.
Gvsale, not only is there the issue of our memory over time, but if we are not comparing speakers in the same setup/system then the entire "apples to apples" assumption is lost. Then one can only make a generalized statement regarding the comparison. But still, I assert that the differences are so fundamental, so great that one can obtain shall we say a tentative conclusion in regard to performance of differing speakers until such time one might be able to compare directly, if ever.

Imo audiophiles who have not heard a great number of speakers, i.e. dozens to hundreds, have less understanding of this gulf in performance which exists in speakers. As Gvasale says, when moving from one to another rig in a different location it is not as apparent as when hearing several speakers in one setting. Shows are great for revealing such differences in performance, even though on different systems.

I am still amazed after 30 years in audio at how much variance is possible between different brands and technologies of speakers. It seems there is a speaker (house sound/technology) for nearly every ear out there! (It's just a matter of finding it!) :)
Usually when a speaker is overdriven.

Speakers may also be more victims than cause of most other forms of noticeable distortion that may also be way more common and also harder to diagnose and correct when present.
Mapman, you put my question in better perspective and I should have mentioned sonething about it in the original post, but thats what I was trying to understand, if distortion is audible when listening at low volumes and when a speaker WASN''T being over driven or anywhere near being overdriven.

My paradigms always seemed to have good highs, a little bright and somewhat (too?) revealing, but when I hooked up some speakers with seas excel drivers the treble seemed to tighten up (for a lack of better description). It seems like there was alot more hiss or overhang or distortion?, I don't know, thats why I am asking you guys...

Oh, and what about metal domes vs. silk? All my other speakers had metal, these are silk, maybe less tizz or something?
When you got garbage speakers!!
I'd be wary if you don't have good a/b capability. You may be listening to truncated information. The highs are critical to spatial presentation and what you were hearing before may have been a truthful exposure of the source limitations. I have a number of tubes, cables, and capacitors trialed in my system that eventually exited because they were doing information subtraction.
Most of the speakers have overhunged motors (narrow gap, long coil) producing a lot of distortions especially at longer excursions (bass). Underhung motors (big magnet, wide gap, short coil) produce less distortions (are more linear) but are more expensive and not very common. Acoustic Zen Adagios have "underhung" woofers. Underhung is sometimes even used in tweeters to reduce distortions at high power (long excursions) - Morel Supreme 110.

Hi Kijanki, please put a face on the point you made about speaker distortion. IOW, ... is speaker distortion measured in percentages?? What are considered respectable distortion stats as a function of frequency? To what extent is it fair to assume that beyond a certain SPL, speaker distortion rises quickly, kinda' like when an amp clips.

Is it also fair to assume that the higher the magnetic flux density as measure in Gauss, the more control the magnets will have over the cone, thereby lowering distortion. For example, the magnetic flux density of my tweeter and midrange drivers is 20,000 and 15,000 Gauss, respectively. I have no clue if these are good, bad, neutral or irrelevant stats.

Happy Holidays,

According to Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen speakers operating at power higher than 10W can get 10-12% of distortion. Most of it comes from the woofer and is less audible.
Here is fragment of interview with Robert Lee:

"That is a good point and I would like to say this. There are thousands of speaker manufacturers worldwide but so far I have identified less than ten who employ underhung drivers. I think that underhung drivers are the best solution to reduce harmonic distortion in the bass. No one ever talks about the huge amounts of THD in the low frequencies, especially when you are playing things loud. Most drivers create from 10-12% THD when you listen at over 10 watts. If you are listening to 10 watts through your speaker system, you get 5% harmonic distortion. So what are you listening to? When people design amplifiers, they rate them at 0.05% harmonic distortion. Meanwhile even at modest volume levels, your low-frequency drivers put out 5% or greater harmonic distortion so nobody can listen at even low levels and achieve true purity with low distortion, never mind concert levels.
That's why I selected to use both the underhung driver and a ribbon tweeter of my own design."

As for the flux density your assumption seems logical to me but perhaps speaker builders can chime in?
It's a strange thing, that when a high end system is turned up a little louder than average distortion is very audible. Yet, the speakers and the amp are operating within their range. Anyone else notice this? Funny how we get used to the distortion.
Thanks for the response Kijanki. Smiling a little after reading the quote from Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen. You may find the bench test results -- particularly those relating to distortion at 100 db SPL -- for an earlier version (v2) of my speakers (v3) to be interesting:



The sensitivity of the speakers is a big factor. That's way
very sensitive horns can sound so natural, dynamic and utterly at ease when playing at levels that have many box, planar and electrostatics demanding huge power reserves (and a fast amp) to handle peaks. Read some reviews of the JBL DD6600 and 6700 and they discuss the feeling of unlimited/unstrained dynamics as a huge factor in enjoyment of all music, form solo flute to all out symphonic. It's the sound of live.
Bruce, I had previously Paradigm Studio 60v2. It had 2 1/2 way xover. One of two 6.5" woofers operated only at the low bass frequencies extending that way frequency response. My current Hyperion 938 have two 8" woofers in much larger cabinet (pretty much like Wilson Puppy) but bass extension is actually worse. What is different, though, is the sound of the bass. I'm not sure if this would come up in any distortion test but bass is more pleasant, more musical. Bass tones are even with realistic attack and decay. I've read that bass reflex speakers might be tuned for extension or for the lowest distortion. People talk of bass as low or as powerful or tuneful but there is something else making it sound real.
Kijanki, thanks for your response. Of course, the Paradigm Studios 60s and Signatures 8s are very different speakers at very different price points. Nevertheless, I think technical specs can only take one so far. There's the "X-Factor" that counts for a lot as to whether a speaker sounds fair, good or great.

Then of course there's the equipment, especially the amp. I noticed a major improvement in sound, particularly bass, when I sprung this year for the ARC Ref 150. I suspect the sonic presentation improved in large part because the Ref 150's DF is almost twice that of my previous amp, the ARC VS-115 (14 versus 7, respectively). In addition, the power supply in the Ref 150 is triple that of the VS-115 -- 1040 joules versus 335 joules, respectively. ARC's sales literature puffery that the Ref 150 "will dominate" one's speakers may not be total hyperbole.

Regards, Bruce
About 10-20% becomes noticeable to most listeners. But for some rock music it is 20%+. Listeners of small combo or solo jazz and classical can be upset by 5% "noise". I fall into latter group. Pristine quality is very appreciated. AC power conditioning is essential for fussy ears.
Bruce, the worst part of Studio/60 was aluminum dome tweeter. I did try to replace it with Morel Supreme 110 but at the end I failed - it is not as easy as it sounds. Tweeter in Hyperions HPS-938 is so well integrated that you cannot practically tell when sound goes thru it. Fantastic highs with zero sibilants.

Ptss, 10-20% might be noticeable to most but it is also related to frequency. Bass distortions are not as audible as midrange distortions. People often select an amp with 0.01% distortion not realizing that it is most likely due to deep negative feedback at the expense of the sound, while speaker distortions go in many percents.
Kijanki, I recall reading that folks who owned the Signature 8s (v1) also complained about the so-called "Go-Pal" tweeter being harsh, hot and fatiguing. The Go-Pal used some type of gold/aluminum dome. The later version of the S8s (v2 and v3) use a beryllium dome tweeter, which is a very different beast. Much of the HF ringing was eliminated because the beryllium dome's HF resonant point is much higher than its Go-Pal predesessor.

Btw, the Home Theater HiFi link I provided to you above is to the bench test report of the S8 (v2). The test results are notable because the S8's measured distortion is less than 1 percent over most of the measured frequency response spectrum -- while the speaker is pushed to 100db of SPL. I don't know how that converts into input wattage, but does it mnatter?? Sustained listening at 100 db will rupture the organs in small animals and damage one's hearing.

At 20 Hz it was over 5% but according to this article:
it is harder to hear distortions below 400Hz. Single tone shows only THD but there are other distortions that might be more audible. Intermodulation, caused by nonlinear motion and membrane bending, produces new frequencies when speaker is driven by two frequencies.

According to this article: http://publications.lib.chalmers.se/records/fulltext/126969.pdf
THD testing does not reveal all nonlinearities of the speaker. Harmonic distortion will alter instruments' overtones adding coloration while intermodulation distortion will be much more audible.
Kijanki,... I started reading the article. It's fascinating. It looks like it really speaks to a fallacy in cold reading bench test reports in general and those relating to speakers in particular. Namely, the bench tests may be testing stats that are not terribly important, and not testing stats that may be important. Ergo, why live auditioning is so important.
When does speaker distortion become audible?
My answer is simple. It's always audible.

Since it seems safe to assume that no speaker is audibly perfect, all speakers can be presumed to distort the signal that is provided to them to an audible degree. And most likely in multiple ways.

And, hypothetically speaking, even if there were a speaker that is audibly perfect in some rooms, it would undoubtedly not be perfect in many or most others.

-- Al
Makes sense Al. Moreover, listening to a sonically perfect speaker might be figuratively like drinking triple distilled pure water. Pure H2O -- yes. Taste good, not really.
Hi BIF, what does it take in your mind to come up with nonsensical lines like this,
"Sustained listening at 100 db will rupture the organs in small animals and damage one's hearing."

And not put a smiley face after it:)

"If the first 100db suck, why continue?"
YEs, since no system/speaker delivers a perfect reproduction, there is always distortion of various types.

It's the end result as a whole how that is delivered to and registers with the listener that really matters. If listening to music live sounds good but a recording at home does not, that is due to the distortions inherent in the reproduction.

Which ones matter most though and can be practically addressed, and how? That's the key. WHen it sounds "good enough", the distortions have been tamed sufficiently.

The trap is thinking that this can be achieved to satisfaction in all cases all the time via putting the right system in place. It can't. All recordings have distortions as well. Those producing the recordings play the same game as the listeners in terms of how to make things sound their best. Its all an art based on science, but not pure science. More like how to produce a Monet or Rockwell work of art through technology than a distortion free reproduction.

Amazing how well it all can work out in the end these days with modern technology! It'll never be perfect/distortion free though. The trend over time is positive though, in other words better technology = less distortion. So just learn to choose your distortions wisely! :^)
I'm kind of shocked no one seems to pay particular notice to the distortion at higher volumes (on almost all systems). Shirley, you realize that that distortion is not supposed to be there. Hel-loo!!
Frankly, don't call me Shirly (lol, that almost got posted wrong...the "r" is right next to the "t".

I've been trying to pick up on what you're saying, Geoff, but haven't heard it yet (which might be a blessing really).

I wonder sometimes if you got bat ears, Geoff, and I don't mean that as insult.
"According to Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen speakers operating at power higher than 10W can get 10-12% of distortion. Most of it comes from the woofer and is less audible."

I remember reading some posts a while back (a few years maybe) regarding the implementation of subs in a two channel system. Some claimed that inserting an external crossover or using the sub's internal crossover would dilute the signal path and therefore create unnecessary distortion. The counter argument claimed that a proper setup with a sub would do just the opposite and actually reduce distortion. Now I think I better understand the counter argument since the woofers generate as much as 10-12% distortion.