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Brightness, harshness, hardness, piercing midrange... my experience

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  • Brightness, harshness, hardness, piercing midrange... my experience

    Hello all,

    Someone recently pointed out I've been complaining for 5 years about "bright" speakers. He's right. I have. And I've looked everywhere for an answer, without finding anything.

    At least I'm sort of stubborn. After years and years of measuring, designing, complaining, experimenting, etc., I think I've found a couple of guidelines regarding all those terms. I hope this is useful to someone. Suggestions & corrections are welcome - I'm still learning, and most of these concepts are assumptions on my part.

    1) What is "harshness", "brightness", etc.?

    I've been looking for an explanation myself. After looking back at the designs which I've built and thought of as "bright", I think that brightness has a lot to do with the sound power radiated on frequencies around 1 - 7 KHz and their relationship to the sound power above and below them.. It manifests itself first as extra detail, but it tires you very fast. In my case, it can make my ears ring.

    2) What do I mean?

    Whenever I build speakers, I usually get the following:

    Two way speaker -> usually good results, no brightness.
    3 - 3.5 way speaker -> brightness.

    So, after a while, I decided I needed to start following some sort of method, to try and find out what was wrong. First, I did lots of experiments.

    a. Lower the mids and highs(from 1 KHz up) -> no luck.
    b. Raise the bass (from 100 Hz down) -> no luck.
    c. Create a "house curve" -> no luck.
    d. "Tilt down" the speaker's response -> no luck.

    I hadn't noticed I never did anything to, say, 250 Hz to 1 KHz.

    3) How I discovered my issue.

    After redesigning dozens of times my crossovers, and blaming everything from the source material to the drivers' material, this is what I did.

    a. I took a 2-way speaker I built that I love and took MLS measurements and RTAs at my seating position.
    b. I took a commercial 2-way speaker that I really like (the Energy C-3) and which measures pretty good, and took the same measurements.
    c. I overlaid both measurements on the measurements of a big 3 way I built, which has the "piercing midrange" voicing.

    At first, I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary.... except for the fact that the lower midrange / upper bass region wasn't summing up as it should.

    Upon closer inspection, I noticed a 2 ~ 3 dB difference from 300 Hz to 1.5 KHz between my 3 way and any of the 2-ways. This difference made the 3 way a bit depressed in that area. It was so smooth, I didn't really notice it while doing the sims. And besides, since the midrange / woofer curves followed a 2nd order curve, I thought I was doing things right.

    Looking back on the 3 three ways I've so far "fixed", when I originally took their MLS measurements, I did so by raising them around 1.5 M above floor level, so I didn't even consider floor bounce. I re-took every measurement at floor level, and I got slightly different FR plots for both the woofers and the midranges. And yes, that was the reason I got my 300 Hz - 1.5 KHz "dip".

    So I corrected the midrange / bass response in the crossover. Compared to the original measurements, they have a lot more power radiated on the midrange, lower midrange and upper bass. High midrange, treble and lower bass stayed the same. Once again, I compared the RTA measurements, and now the three ways are very similar to the 2 ways - except for a narrow dip at around 250 Hz (unavoidable, I guess, from what I've seen on my own designs and at Stereophile's JA measurements of floorstanders), and a smoother transition between the midrange and the tweeter (which was to be expected).

    So far, so good. I've listened to my speakers for 4 days, and although I still sometimes think I hear a hint of glare, I'm pretty sure it's my mind playing tricks on me. The sonic balance seems to be restored.

    In conclusion, it wasn't any extra power radiated in the upper midrange / low treble, IMHO - it was that the frequencies around the problematic area were too low! I suppose my ears "locked in" the 300 - 1.5 KHz frequencies, and then I thought the 1.5 ~ 6 KHz region was simply too high in power... therefore creating the impression of false detail and hardness.

    I'll keep on listening and see if my theory is valid. So far, so good. If I end up fixing my 5 year issue, I'll have learned a huge lesson here - measure twice, build once. Better yet, measure the h*ll out of any design, and then start considering building anything.
    Last edited by fjhuerta; 06-27-2012, 04:30 PM. Reason: Clarified tons of stuff.
    Line Array: IDS-25 Clone, FE-83.
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    Zaph Audio's winning entry: ZA5+SB29. - Microliths: RS125+RS28. - Small Bangs: TB W4-1658SB+SEAS 27TBFC/G. - Monoliths: Peerless 830884+SEAS 27TBFC/G.
    3-3.5 Way:Miniliths: SEAS P21/CA21REX+Neo8 PDR+Neo3 PDR. - Megaliths: 2xDayton RS270+2xT-B W4-1337SB+SB29. - ZDT3.5 +: 2xDayton RS180+Dayton RS52+Vifa DQ25. Reflexos: OB 4xDayton RS150 + Neo3 PDR.

  • #2
    Re: Brightness, harshness, hardness, piercing midrange... my experience

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    • #3
      Re: Brightness, harshness, hardness, piercing midrange... my experience

      I find it interesting that the frequency range your ears seem to use as a "baseline" (300-1500) corresponds rather neatly to the fundamental frequencies of human voice.

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      • #4
        Re: Brightness, harshness, hardness, piercing midrange... my experience

        I've mainly designed 2-ways with 7" woofers but your observations match what I've found very closely. I've found that I need 1-2 dB higher on-axis measured level up to at least 1 kHz to provide a balanced sound. It's been my experience that the tweeter can be very tricky to get to sound exactly right. I've found very subtle changes, 0.5 to 0.25 dB, in the relative levels in the range of around 2 kHz to 10 kHz have a profound effect on the final listening enjoyment. In a nutshell, it takes a lot of trial and error to get it perfect, even for a simple two way with good measurements taken and an exact simulation to figure out the component changes necessary to provide the iterative 'guesses' on how to reach that perfect balance. Trying blind is virtually impossible.

        Another thing i've noticed is that once I get it just right in whatever room it's being developed in, it will sound good in any room around the house.

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        • #5
          Re: Brightness, harshness, hardness, piercing midrange... my experience

          Originally posted by jimangie1973 View Post
          I've mainly designed 2-ways with 7" woofers but your observations match what I've found very closely. I've found that I need 1-2 dB higher on-axis measured level up to at least 1 kHz to provide a balanced sound. It's been my experience that the tweeter can be very tricky to get to sound exactly right. I've found very subtle changes, 0.5 to 0.25 dB, in the relative levels in the range of around 2 kHz to 10 kHz have a profound effect on the final listening enjoyment. In a nutshell, it takes a lot of trial and error to get it perfect, even for a simple two way with good measurements taken and an exact simulation to figure out the component changes necessary to provide the iterative 'guesses' on how to reach that perfect balance. Trying blind is virtually impossible.
          Relying solely on measurements is a mistake. Not all "flat" measuring speakers are equal. Voicing, or spending hours and hours listening to music, is necessary to dial in that last +-.5dB for maximum enjoyment.
          R = h/(2*pi*m*c) and don't you forget it! || Periodic Table as redrawn by Marshall Freerks and Ignatius Schumacher || King Crimson Radio
          Byzantium Project & Build Thread || MiniByzy Build Thread || 3 x Peerless 850439 HDS 3-way || 8" 2-way - RS28A/B&C8BG51

          95% of Climate Models Agree: The Observations Must be Wrong
          "Gravitational systems are the ashes of prior electrical systems.". - Hannes Alfven, Nobel Laureate, Plasma physicist.

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          • #6
            Re: Brightness, harshness, hardness, piercing midrange... my experience

            Great post fjhuerta, and I agree completely with your conclusions.

            I mostly hear it as a lack of upper midrange, but you are correct in that our ears 'lock onto' a specific frequency (usually a peak somewhere in the midrange) and call that the 'nominal' level, basing the other frequencies from there.

            When I measure, I generally do it in room, but with a pile of eggcrate foam in between the speaker and the mic This doesn't eliminate the floor bounce, but it does smooth it and make it easier on the eye for anal types like myself. If I then can correct for some of that smoothed dip in the crossover, then it will sound better. Of course the dip frequency varies with listener distance, so keep that in mind when you make your measurements as well, as the correction may need to be higher than indicated on measurements made at 1 meter, for instance.

            I've always thought that conceptually it was odd we go to great lengths to take the room out of the equation when we measure, but then put them in the room to listen to them...

            If your listening room has hard floors, try throwing a couple of pillows or similar halfway between the speakers and you listening position. Maybe that hint of glare will be ameliorated....

            C
            Curt's Speaker Design Works

            "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
            - Aristotle

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            • #7
              Re: Brightness, harshness, hardness, piercing midrange... my experience

              Great timing on this thread, I am working on my first 3-way and you might have saved me 5 years of headaches!

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              • #8
                Re: Brightness, harshness, hardness, piercing midrange... my experience

                This makes complete sense to me.....and it has me wondering why, since I am such an idiot when it comes to measuring...LOL. But seriously, that was a very well thought out post. Gives me something new to look at in my goofy charts. Gracias!!
                Bryan K.

                Midwest Audio Club

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                • #9
                  Re: Brightness, harshness, hardness, piercing midrange... my experience

                  Senor Huerta, well written post, very informative. Makes a lot of sense.
                  I'm glad that you've found a solution to your issue.
                  I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.
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