What contributed/take away harmonics of a system?

Oct 2, 2016
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#1
Apparently in my country school of thought, harmonics are a big deal and important aspect of sound reproduction.
So often systems even more expensive one have been criticised of not having enough harmonics. The absence of harmonic is more prevalent in digital system due to so much more noise from electrical source, computer chip..
Another interesting that Nordost cable have been known to keep/maintain the harmonics while other brands cable seems to destroy harmonic.
Vibration management tool such as stillpoints feet are said to also highlight the body of a note and losing that precious harmonics tail.
So to stir thing up a little bit, i would like to ask a few question:
- what create proper harmonics in a system?
Expensive DAC, TT, music server or electronics?
- what maintain harmonics??
Cables, proper grounding, vibration management??
- what destroy harmonics??
Room acoustics, bad cables, bad eletricity, bad vibration management?
- is there a trade off between harmonics and other aspect of a system(nuances, tone)??

Regards,
 

DaveC

Industry Expert
Nov 16, 2014
2,481
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#3
Systems should not create harmonics at all and any that are created by the system are improper.
I think it's possible that the best systems, the ones that have that magic and sound very real, are not only preserving fine detail and harmonic content of the recording, but are also adding information that is phychoacoustically correct and more what we expect to hear vs the recording it's self.

There are some reasons why I think this is the case:

- Vibration management using soft footers can make the music sound very dead and devoid of harmonic content. I don't think footers are capable of removing information that's in the recording, but they may reduce extraneous additions to the music. Maybe soft footers do this to too large of a degree and make the music sound dead and unnatural?

- I've experienced reverberation devices added to speakers that increase clarity and intelligibility of vocals to an amazing degree, and make timbre of acoustic instruments seem more real and natural.


I also think there are a multitude of things that can destroy or smooth out fine detail, reverb and harmonics. Too many to list, but I do think the possibility that positive additions can actually exist is a fascinating topic and is often the answer to subjective preferences, but it often goes unnoticed or misunderstood.
 
Likes: Hieukm

RogerD

Well-Known Member
May 23, 2010
3,385
72
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BiggestLittleCity
#5
Harmonics. Not that I understand...but just to mention it is complex and the human ear can pick up harmonics. As to what enables broad harmonic reproduction of sound (reproduced)....I say adequate grounding...but you all knew I would say that, at least in my case, it's the only thing I can point to.
Btw Hieukum...your system exhibits qualities that well grounded systems seam to possess. As you call it "stress free".
 
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PeterA

Well-Known Member
Dec 7, 2011
5,519
406
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North Shore of Boston
#7
Systems should not create harmonics at all and any that are created by the system are improper.
I tend to agree. Instruments create harmonics. A good recording may capture a fairly realist facsimile of those harmonics, and the rest of the note, and then it is up to the system and room to allow that information to get through to the listener. I think it is very complex and difficult to achieve, but proper set up, and a system capable of high resolution and clarity can certainly make it possible to hear a convincing rendition of the original note in all of its beautiful complexity.

To DaveC's post, I have heard this too. Whether it is a resonating speaker cabinet or some tweaks or bowls or devices designed for this effect, I usually find that those things detract from or compete with what is on the recording. For me, long term, they can often become tiring artifacts or distractions. I do see the appeal though, in some cases, but I think this is something different from what is asked in the OP.
 

DaveC

Industry Expert
Nov 16, 2014
2,481
319
83
#9
I tend to agree. Instruments create harmonics. A good recording may capture a fairly realist facsimile of those harmonics, and the rest of the note, and then it is up to the system and room to allow that information to get through to the listener. I think it is very complex and difficult to achieve, but proper set up, and a system capable of high resolution and clarity can certainly make it possible to hear a convincing rendition of the original note in all of its beautiful complexity.

To DaveC's post, I have heard this too. Whether it is a resonating speaker cabinet or some tweaks or bowls or devices designed for this effect, I usually find that those things detract from or compete with what is on the recording. For me, long term, they can often become tiring artifacts or distractions. I do see the appeal though, in some cases, but I think this is something different from what is asked in the OP.
The most important point of my post was "psychoacoustically correct". ;)

Many and probably most additions to the music by the system are as you describe, but maybe not all. If what I'm saying is true, how would you differentiate the two? If what I'm saying is true, psychoacoustically correct additions would sound more realistic and clear, and you may think that's reproducing more of what's on the recording.

How about tubes and vinyl? They add harmonics as well as a feedback mechanism to the system. These additions don't have the negative and fatiguing effects you describe and are considered by many to be the best possible source and amplification designs. Some even like horns that have massive energy storage "problems" compared to a modern inert box speaker cabinet! Amazing that such devices that clearly add A LOT to the music are so popular... ;)

And how about how sticking soft footers under components seems to take the life out of the music? Is information being subtracted from the electrical signal by the footers or is less being added?

IMO the total behavior of the system is past intuitive reasoning and we simply don't have enough facts to form the basis of beliefs when it comes to some of the subtler aspects of how a system sounds. Even correlating gross measurements like frequency response to subjective preference is problematic and what's out there is inherently flawed imo. So, I'm certainly not putting what I'm saying out there as fact, only a possibility and I think we should keep an open mind. A belief that the pinnacle of audio reproduction will be achieved by adhering to unproven principles like what's stated in the OP could be limiting.
 
Jul 18, 2014
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#10
The most important point of my post was "psychoacoustically correct". ;)

Many and probably most additions to the music by the system are as you describe, but maybe not all. If what I'm saying is true, how would you differentiate the two? If what I'm saying is true, psychoacoustically correct additions would sound more realistic and clear, and you may think that's reproducing more of what's on the recording.

How about tubes and vinyl? They add harmonics as well as a feedback mechanism to the system. These additions don't have the negative and fatiguing effects you describe and are considered by many to be the best possible source and amplification designs. Some even like horns that have massive energy storage "problems" compared to a modern inert box speaker cabinet! Amazing that such devices that clearly add A LOT to the music are so popular... ;)

And how about how sticking soft footers under components seems to take the life out of the music? Is information being subtracted from the electrical signal by the footers or is less being added?

IMO the total behavior of the system is past intuitive reasoning and we simply don't have enough facts to form the basis of beliefs when it comes to some of the subtler aspects of how a system sounds. Even correlating gross measurements like frequency response to subjective preference is problematic and what's out there is inherently flawed imo. So, I'm certainly not putting what I'm saying out there as fact, only a possibility and I think we should keep an open mind. A belief that the pinnacle of audio reproduction will be achieved by adhering to unproven principles like what's stated in the OP could be limiting.
It’s fascinating that what we are all actually engaging in is fundamentally and purely synthesis but what we may well then find is what we really don’t want is it to then all end sounding synthetic. We are avoiding the literal truth to better get to an abstracted one.

There is something seated in perception that is a trickster element that makes rules rarely absolute and that trusting in your ultimate subjective review of what then works best or sounds right within your system and within your room and (more importantly) within you is then possibly the only true destination... and perhaps also a way to know thyself just a little bit better.
 
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RogerD

Well-Known Member
May 23, 2010
3,385
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BiggestLittleCity
#11
The problem with audio reproduction is no one knows the limits of reproduction. You can only scientifically measure a part of what effects the audio signal. Incremental-ism seems to be part and parcel of this hobby. To top it all off is that what our ears hear is deemed subjective...but there seems to be a consensus building that when you hear the best reproduction you will know it and even that is questionable.
After years in this hobby the only criteria I use is the emotional response at a high level that the system can impart on my being. Does that include harmonic content of the music?
I won't say that it does or doesn't....some things you just can't measure or even quantify.
 
Likes: Hieukm
Feb 1, 2019
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#12
Harmonics are instrument specific. The strings of a guitar create specific frequencies in specific ratios, the wooden body of a guitar adds its own ratios of harmonic frequencies. The sum of the fundamentals and their harmonics are what makes a guitar sound like a guitar, what makes a Stradivarius sound like a Stradivarius. A Fender guitar can’t sound like a Stradivarius, obviously, the same way a hi-fi’s vibrating structure can’t add violin or guitar harmonics.
What a hi-fi can do is add its own harmonics, which will sound like blurring or muddying of the reproduced instruments’ fundamental and harmonic structures. When a hi-fi adds genuine instrument harmonics, it’s simply recovering more/loosing less of the musical structure contained in the original signal.
Cables are entirely subtractive, vibration may mask certain frequencies, noise will add unwanted frequencies so in most cases, hi-fi will mask harmonic content.
A hi-fi can never add anything that sounds natural and musical because what it adds is never related to the instruments’ vibrating physical structure, only to the hi-fi’s.
 
Apr 15, 2017
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Cascais
#13
A hi-fi can never add anything that sounds natural and musical because what it adds is never related to the instruments’ vibrating physical structure, only to the hi-fi’s.
As i stated above "harmonics" is an unfortunate term to use when trying to describe what we hear. Why? Because the actual level of harmonics contributed by the reproduction chain is swamped by the amount of harmonics naturally contained in the musical signal. By orders of magnitude. Obviously not counting Wavac and similar harmonic champions :)

So can the various additions and subtractions of the reproducing chain improve the signal and make it closer to what the original musical even sounded like?

Most certainly. Because the true horrors usually happen within the first half of the process - the recording. Very little of the audiophile obsession with quality is evident in that process. Poor amplification chain, poor cabling, unavoidable compression...

Perhaps the ideal reproducing chain is not one which is perfectly linear and neutral but one which compensates some of the distortions during the recording. Not a novel idea. Anyone remember the Kinergetics Research preamps with the dead cartridge bodies inside? Apparently John Curl did something similar using tape heads.
 
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Feb 1, 2019
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#14
So can the various additions and subtractions of the reproducing chain improve the signal and make it closer to what the original musical even sounded like?.
What you’re implying with the question is that a random array of shelves, panels, circuit boards, loudspeaker cabinets, driver components, etc would need to vibrate or generate voltages in such a way as to be entirely complementary to the original signal’s ratios of frequencies and levels in order to make any type of musical instrument sound more realistic. The answer must surely be akin to the logic behind an infinite number of monkeys and typewriters writing the complete works of Shakespear
 
Likes: Eichenbaum
Apr 15, 2017
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Cascais
#15
Pretty much so, yes :)

But not entirely random. If our ears are a just arbiter, than the selections of passive/active components and good sounding topologies aim, at least in part, to compensate for program material deficiencies. These choices are based on what the full recording-reproducing chain delivers.

This also explains why changing a single component in a system can result previously good sounding recordings to sound worse and vice versa. And why upgrades to a system seldom if ever improve the reproduction of all recordings.

Many systems excel with those preciously few perfectly made recordings and show 90% of the available program material through particularly ugly glasses. These are likely the systems which do the least addition and subtraction.
 

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