100 Things #63: Measure Frequency and Distortion in Real Time

SoundCheck features a full suite of versatile powerful virtual instruments, including a dedicated frequency counter and distortion analyzer. The frequency counter is perfect for finding the dominant frequency in a signal path. The distortion analyzer includes many different distortion measurement options, and even allows the user to select which specific harmonics to analyze. As with all virtual instruments in SoundCheck, both instruments can be used within a sequence with a virtual instrument acquisition step. Both instruments also include a strip chart recorder, perfect for measuring DUT performance over a long period of time.

Measure Frequency and Distortion in Real Time

Learn more about the frequency counter and distortion analyzer virtual instruments

Read all about SoundCheck’s full virtual instrument suite including the distortion analyzer and frequency counter, plus all of the powerful and useful functionality.

Video Script:

You may already know that SoundCheck includes virtual instruments for quick, on-the-fly measurements. But, did you know SoundCheck has both a Frequency Counter and a Distortion Analyzer virtual instrument?

The frequency counter determines the dominant frequency in a signal path, analyzing it in real time and displaying the primary frequency. This tool is useful for calibrating audiometers, or any device where a pure tone needs to be identified to a very high precision and accuracy.

The distortion analyzer continuously measures the distortion in a signal path. This virtual instrument offers many different distortion measurements, including individual harmonics, total harmonic distortion or THD, where you can select which harmonics to analyze just like in the Analysis step, THD+N, THD and THD+N residual level, and signal-to-noise distortion ratio, or SINAD. In fact, many of SoundCheck’s distortion measurement methods are available right here in the distortion analyzer. There are many different use cases for this analyzer, but one example might be to measure real time distortion characteristics. An example might be to increase the signal level to a DUT using the signal generator, and use the distortion analyzer to see at what level the distortion crosses a particular threshold, for example: 3% THD.

Both instruments allow for linear or continuous averaging and variable time weighting, and limits can be set with clear visual feedback. As with all our virtual instruments, values can be saved to the memory list to be recalled in following sequence steps. This enables you, for example, to trigger a measurement at a certain frequency determined by the frequency counter. And, just like all virtual instruments in SoundCheck, both the distortion analyzer and frequency counter can be used within a sequence using a virtual instruments step.

These tools’ capabilities can be further extended with the strip chart recorder. This addition enables changes in frequency and distortion characteristics to be easily tracked over extended testing periods. For example, using the strip chart recorder with the distortion analyzer allows any changes in distortion percentage to be monitored over hours or even days. Similarly, the frequency counter can be used with the strip chart recorder to test the stability of a Bluetooth device over a time period to identify any problems with jitter or signal dropouts.

What virtual instrument would you like to see in SoundCheck? Let us know in the comments below. For more information on all things SoundCheck, be sure to head to Listen Inc . com.

ISEAT 2022,October 29-30 2022, Shenzhen, China.

Listen President, Steve Temme, will be presenting a paper entitled ‘Enhanced perceptual rub & buzz measurement for loudspeaker production test’.  Due to Covid-19 regulations, this paper will be presented by video.

ISEAT Web Site


Automotive Max SPL Measurements

Measuring Automotive Max SPL ArticleIn this short article, Steve Temme discusses measurement of automotive Max SPL, and introduces the efforts of the Audio Engineering Society (AES) technical committee working on automotive audio to standardize the way essential attributes of complex automotive audio systems are measured across the industry. He explains why Max SPL measurements are important, defines this measurement, and describes the standardized measurement procedure suggested by the committee. Test configuration and physical setup is discussed, and example results presented.

Full Article




Full article text:

Measuring Automotive Max SPL
By Steve Temme Listen, Inc.
I am currently a participant in an Audio Engineering Society (AES) technical committee working group on automotive audio. This diverse group of about a dozen worldwide experts has focused on trying to standardize the way essential attributes of complex automotive audio systems are measured across the industry. Three specific measurements have been our initial focus: Frequency Response, Max SPL, and Impulsive Distortion. The committee’s proposals for measurements were presented for feedback at the AES Fall Online 2021 conference in a session titled “In-Car Acoustic Measurements.”

I presented our work on Max SPL Measurements, Hans Lahti (Harman) presented Frequency Response, and Stefan Irrgan (Klippel) presented Impulsive Distortion; the session was chaired by Jayant Datta. Here, I will describe our proposed method for Max SPL measurements.

Let’s start with why this is important. People need to be able to compare how loud an infotainment system can play in a car— manufacturers like to quote this in specifications, and consumers enjoy bragging rights about the sound level of their car stereo. Max SPL is defined as the maximum sound pressure level (SPL) that a car’s infotainment system can reproduce inside the cabin with the windows, sunroof, and convertible top closed. There are many ways this can be measured, but to keep it simple, two different measurements are recommended—overall Max SPL and Max SPL Spectrum regardless of distortion level. The reason we don’t take into account distortion when we measure the Max SPL is because it is difficult to characterize distortion in a modern-day infotainment system—these devices frequently contain much signal processing, and this makes them unsuitable for playing back the sine wave stimuli that are typically used for harmonic distortion measurements.

First, let’s examine the physical test setup. Our proposed test configuration replicates the position of an average person’s head in the driver’s seat using a precisely and specifically positioned six- microphone array in the driver’s seat. The height and the angle of the seat, the positioning of the microphones with respect to the seat, and the height and the angle of the microphones are clearly defined to ensure standardized measurements across all vehicles.

The sound system settings on the head unit—the tone control and fader—are set to the factory default setting; in most cases this is neutral or flat with no equalization. The head unit’s volume control is set to its maximum level using the volume control knob or digital user interface equivalent (e.g., volume level slider). Overall Max SPL can be measured using a microphone array with the six microphone signals power averaged by analog or digital means and connected to either a conventional or software-based sound level meter that can measure true RMS and be C-weighted, as described in the IEC-61672 standard. However, if a software-based system is used for measuring the Max SPL Spectrum, it is simpler to also measure the overall Max SPL through the software. Figure 1 shows a test configuration that makes both measurements simultaneously using SoundCheck software, and an AmpConnect 621 audio interface.

For both the overall Max SPL and Max SPL Spectrum measurements, a broadband (20Hz to 20kHz) monophonic pink noise stimulus is used. It has a crest factor of 15dB and is played for 30 seconds to make sure the system can sustain that level continuously. This is played at maximum volume to ensure the system is tested at the loudest signal the car will play. The sound source may come from any source—a memory stick, a CD, or Bluetooth from a smartphone or auxiliary line in. The average SPL in dB(C) is measured for 30 seconds. This is called a Leq measurement, and it takes the spatial average of the six-microphone array, power averaged, to get the overall Max SPL level (Figure 2).

The Max SPL Spectrum is measured using a real-time analyzer set to 1/12 octave resolution, 30 second linear averaging time and no waiting. This enables us to measure the level versus frequency irrespective of the human ear’s perception. The Max SPL is recorded at each microphone simultaneously from 20Hz to 20kHz and the power average calculated (Figure 2).

Listen offers a pre-written SoundCheck test sequence that measures both the Max SPL Spectrum and a single, power averaged value for Max SPL in line with the working group’s proposed guidelines. This enables consumers and manufacturers to measure the maximum overall SPL and maximum SPL versus frequency that a car’s infotainment system can reproduce inside its cabin. The sequence uses the method and test configuration with a six-microphone array in either the driver or passenger seats. It takes advantage of Listen’s 6-in, 2-out AmpConnect 621 audio interface, which seamlessly integrates with the software-based multichannel analyzer to measure, display, and average the results from the six microphones in real time, and power average them to calculate Max SPL. This sequence may be downloaded free of charge from Listen’s website. More details about these measurements, and the other measurement proposals developed by the technical committee, will be presented at the 2022 AES International Conference on Automotive Audio, June 8-10, in Dearborn, MI.


Further information on the AES Technical Committee on Automotive Audio, including a link to the working group’s draft white paper on can be found here:

More about measuring automotive Max SPL.

The Evolution of Production Line Rub & Buzz Measurements

Steve Temme discusses the evolution of production line Rub & Buzz measurements in this April 2022 issue of AudioXpress. Starting with  simultaneous analysis of higher order harmonics, he explains the progression of improvements including the greater accuracy offered by normalized distortion measurements, and progressing to the introduction of perceptual metrics. He covers the introduction of the first perceptual distortion algorithm introduced in 2011, and the newest enhancements to this which offer the repeatability necessary for successful end-of-line perceptual distortion measurement, where the reduction in false rejects and resulting higher yields add significant value to speaker and headphone manufacturers.

Full Article

Enhanced Perceptual Rub & Buzz Event – Asia Edition

March 24, 2022. 10:00am China time

Listen continues to lead the way in perceptual distortion measurements with our new Enhanced Perceptual Rub & Buzz algorithm. This new product, based on years of original research, offers unrivaled repeatability, reliability and correlation to human hearing, making it an unbeatable solution for end-of-line perceptual audio test.

Our launch event will include live demonstrations, results, technical explanations and more. Be the first to know. Sign up below.

Listen 凭着新的增强型感知摩擦音算法(Enhanced Perceptual Rub & Buzz algorithm)继续引领著感知失真測量。這種基於多年原始研究的新產品提供了無與倫比的可重複性、可靠性和与人类听觉的相关性,使它成為生產線末端感知音頻測試的無與倫比的解決方案。

This event has passed. Watch the Recording.


In-Vehicle Distortion Measurement

In-vehicle loudspeaker measurements and distortion audibility articleAuthors: Zarina Bhimani, Steve F. Temme (Listen, Inc.), Patrick Dennis (Nissan Motor Co.).  Reprinted from the 2017 Loudspeaker Industry Sourcebook.

Steve Temme and Patrick Dennis discuss their research exploring test methods that help determine audible distortion and enable manufacturers to test sound equipment after it is installed. Configurations for measuring in-car audio are shown. Objective measurements are made and correlated with subjective analysis, and conclusions drawn as to the level at which music sounds distorted.

Full Article



Although most automotive speaker manufacturers carry out thorough end-of-line (EOL) driver testing (in many cases, 100% of product), many automotive manufacturers do not test the speakers once they are installed. It is possible for a speaker to develop a fault through damage in transit, handling, or installation. Furthermore, the simple act of installing a loudspeaker into a car can result in vibration issues caused by mounting and other components in the car. Such issues can prove costly for automotive manufacturers. It is not uncommon for a car dealer to install a new set of speakers in a car if a customer complains about sound quality issues. It is, therefore, advisable for automotive manufacturers to invest in both incoming speaker QC and complete EOL testing of installed systems.

Automotive Audio Test Equipment

The test equipment for incoming QC and in-vehicle testing is similar to EOL production tests. In fact the test setup for incoming QC is practically identical to that used in driver manufacturing facilities worldwide. This simple setup consists of an amplifier to drive the speaker, a measurement microphone, and software to measure frequency response, distortion (particularly Rub & Buzz), and polarity. In-vehicle testing is implemented with similar equipment, but the setup differs in that the audio signal is transmitted from the measurement software via an audio interface to the auxiliary, Bluetooth, or USB input to the head unit.

The test signal is played through the speakers, and the signal is picked up by a centrally positioned microphone. Care must be taken in positioning the microphone to ensure that the path from speaker to microphone is not blocked by seats or other parts of the car’s interior. Usually the best position is on, or suspended above, the front seat arm rest.

A single measurement of frequency response and Rub & Buzz is usually sufficient to ensure that the audio profile measured in the car meets specifications. If there are discrepancies, each speaker can then be measured independently (including additional measurements such as polarity) to help identify the cause. Any microphones in the car (e.g., part of a voice control/ telematics system) can also be tested using the same equipment and the car’s own speaker to play the test signal).

A similar test setup can be used for R&D testing (e.g., for voicing the audio system to the car). This might include speaker positioning and equalization of the system for correct tonal and spatial balance including left/right (L/R) and front/back balancing. It may also be used for microphone positioning and directivity measurements and noise cancellation performance.

More about SoundCheck for Automotive Audio Measurement

More about automotive distortion (Buzz, Squeak and Rattle, Impulsive Distortion) measurement.

AES Technical Committee on Automotive Audio

Evaluation of Audio Test Methods and Measurements for End-of-Line Automotive Loudspeaker Quality Control

In order to minimize costly warranty repairs, automotive manufacturers impose tight specifications and a “total quality” requirement on their part suppliers. At the same time, they also require low prices. This makes it important for automotive manufacturers to work with automotive loudspeaker suppliers to define reasonable specifications and tolerances, and to understand both how the loudspeaker manufacturers are testing and also how to implement their own measurements for incoming QC purposes.

Specifying and testing automotive loudspeakers can be tricky since loudspeakers are inherently nonlinear, time variant and affected by their working conditions & environment which can be change dramatically and rapidly in a vehicle. This paper examines the loudspeaker characteristics that can be measured, and discusses common pitfalls and how to avoid them on a loudspeaker production line. Several different audio test methods and measurements for end-of-the-line automotive speaker quality control are evaluated, and the most relevant ones identified. Speed, statistics, and full traceability are also discussed.

Authors: Steve Temme, Listen, Inc. and Viktor Dobos, Harman/Becker Automotive Systems Kft.
Presented at the 142nd AES Convention, Berlin, Germany

Full Paper

In-Vehicle Audio System Distortion Audibility versus Level and Its Impact on Perceived Sound Quality

As in-vehicle audio system output level increases, so too does audio distortion. At what level is distortion audible and how is sound quality perceived as level increases? Binaural recordings of musical excerpts played through the in-vehicle audio system at various volume levels were made in the driver’s position. These were adjusted to equal loudness and played through a low distortion reference headphone. Listeners ranked both distortion audibility and perceived sound quality. The distortion at each volume level was also measured objectively using a commercial audio test system. The correlation between perceived sound quality and objective distortion measurements is discussed.

Authors: Steve Temme, Listen, Inc. and Patrick Dennis, Nissan Technical Center North America, Inc.,
Presented at the 141st AES Convention, Los Angeles, CA 2015

Full Paper

The Correlation Between Distortion Audibility and Listener Preference in Headphones

Picture of paper on listener preference & distortion audibility in headphones

Listener Preference & Distortion Audibility in Headphones

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

Full Paper



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 [1]. 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 [2]) 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

Measurement of Harmonic Distortion Audibility Using A Simplified Psychoacoustic Model – Updated

A perceptual method is proposed for measuring harmonic distortion audibility. This method is similar to the CLEAR (Cepstral Loudness Enhanced Algorithm for Rub & buzz) algorithm previously proposed by the authors as a means of detecting audible Rub & Buzz which is an extreme type of distortion[1,2]. Both methods are based on the Perceptual Evaluation of Audio Quality (PEAQ) standard[3]. In the present work, in order to estimate the audibility of regular harmonic distortion, additional psychoacoustic variables are added to the CLEAR algorithm. These variables are then combined using an artificial neural network approach to derive a metric that is indicative of the overall audible harmonic distortion. Experimental results on headphones are presented to justify the accuracy of the model.

Authors: Steve Temme, Pascal Brunet and Parastoo Qarabaqi
Presented at the 51st AES Conference, Helsinki, Finland, 2013

Full Paper