The correlation between listener preference and distortion audibility is investigated in this AES paper from Steve Temme, Dr. Sean Olive et al. Five popular headphones with varying degrees of distortion were selected and equalized to the same frequency response. Trained listeners compared them subjectively using music as the test signal, and the distortion of each headphone was measured objectively using SoundCheck. The correlation between subjective listener preference and objective distortion measurement is evaluated and discussed.
Authors: Steve Temme, Sean E. Olive*, Steve Tatarunis, Todd Welti*, and Elisabeth McMullin* *Harman International
Presented at the 137th AES Conference, Los Angeles 2014
Listener Preference & Distortion Paper Abstract & Introduction
It is well-known that the frequency response of loudspeakers and headphones has a dramatic impact on sound quality and listener preference, but what role does distortion have on perceived sound quality? To answer this question, five popular headphones with varying degrees of distortion were selected and equalized to the same frequency response. Trained listeners compared them subjectively using music as the test signal, and the distortion of each headphone was measured objectively using a well-known commercial audio test system. The correlation between subjective listener preference and objective distortion measurement is discussed.
There has been much research published on how a loudspeaker’s linear performance, e.g. frequency, time and directional responses, affects perceived sound quality. However, there is little research published on how non-linear distortion affects perceived sound quality. In recent years, the increasing availability and affordability of high quality headphones and personal digital music
players e.g. MP3 players, has brought high quality music playback to the masses. The transducer performance is critical to listener enjoyment and Dr. Olive and others have presented research on what they believe the target frequency response of the headphone should be for optimum sound quality . The attempt of this research is to determine what level and what kind of distortion is audible and how it affects the perceived sound quality.
Five different pairs of good quality over-the-ear headphones with varying levels of distortion were objectively measured and subjectively rated for their perceived sound quality. First, each headphone was equalized to the same target frequency response. Several different kinds of distortion metrics including harmonic, intermodulation, and non-coherent distortion, were measured for each headphone. A listening test was then conducted where the five headphones were rated by eight trained listeners based on preference and distortion using four short musical excerpts. The program material was selected for wide dynamic and frequency ranges to excite mechanisms in the headphone transducers that would cause distortion.
The different headphones were presented virtually to listeners via binaural recordings of the headphones reproduced through a calibrated low-distortion reference headphone, Stax SR-009. This virtual headphone test method minimized headphone leakage effects, and removed the influence of non-auditory biases (brand, price, visual appearance, comfort, etc.) from listeners’ judgment of sound quality. In this paper, correlations between subjective and objective ratings of distortion are examined (as was done previously ) in an attempt to develop an objective metric for measuring distortion audibility in headphones and other loudspeakers. This could possibly be extended to other types of audio devices such as amplifiers.
More about Headphone Testing using SoundCheck