I Can Hear Clearly Now...The Mud Is Gone
by Kyle Weldon
Do you recall the voice of the teacher from The Peanuts cartoon, by Jim Shultz? The students responded with "yes, sir" and "I understand, sir". How they understood "woh woh...wah woh woh wah...woh" has always vexed me deeply. Take that now into the portable bluetooth speaker market, and many speakers follow the same muddy, "woh wah" approach to reproducing the music, games, movies and speakerphone calls we strive to access everyday.
The human ear is capable of picking up a certain range of sound frequencies. Research shows this range to be 20hz to 20Khz. Sound is measured and perceived in frequency (pitch) and intensity (loudness). Frequency is measured in hertz or hz. What does all this techie talk mean and where am I going with all this?
High definition or high fidelity (hifi) audio comes down to one word...clarity.
Here are some real world examples of sounds we hear everyday and the general frequencies they produce (and we perceive):
- Rumble of thunder = 50hz to 250hz
- Average size dog bark = 500hz
- Leaves rustling = 800hz to 4Khz
- Bird chirp = 4Khz to 6Khz
- Human voice = 150hz to 8Khz
- Human voice through a telephone = 300hz to 4Khz
I like to break the sound spectrum into 4 easy bands, or frequency ranges:
- Low band= 20hz to 200hz
- Low-Mid band = 200hz to 800hz
- Mid-High band = 800hz to 4Khz
- High band = 4Khz to 20Khz
These bands may look familiar to you, more commonly known as EQ. Car stereos, home stereo systems, and most portable audio devices have some sort of EQ capability for you to adjust the sound bands to your liking. Many of these devices use terms like bass, mid, and treble.
My anti-"woh wah" campaign deals with the mid-high and high bands of portable speakers, or any speaker for that matter. I believe these two upper bands are the most sensitive hearing ranges for humans. This is where the clarity and presence of speech occurs. The tone or warmth of speech is in the low-mid band. Without good reproduction of these upper two bands, the clarity or high fidelity sound is lost...gone...outta here...trapped in the land of woh-wah. Many speakers do not consider the top of the high band either (8Khz and up). This is that range of brightness and sizzle, that I call "air", that gets forgotten many times and brings an added clarity to your audio sources. What good is a speaker (or speakerphone) that doesn't accurately reproduce the most sensitive range of hearing for humans? It is my strong belief that a speaker should accurately reproduce the human voice first (with high band emphasis and "air"), then more full-range, musical content second.
As you hunt for a great speaker solution, be aware of these ranges of sound, especially the mid-high and high bands. I have come to appreciate the detail and high band clarity of a well-engineered speaker over one that can create that huge "thump" of bass. Especially a speaker that you can fit in your hand or toss in your backpack.
So, travel with caution on your audio journey, declare clarity as king, and watch out for the mis-engineered speakers from the muddy land of "woh- wah".
Kyle Weldon is long-time musician and audio engineer that has a passion for high quality portable electronics and pure audio. A certified product specialist with Yamaha Commercial Audio, Roland Corp., Shure and several other companies; Kyle has always pursued exceptional audio and the purest reproduction of music possible. Kylestudied Electronic Music and Composition at UMKC Conservatory and has over 20 years of audio production, studio engineering, CD mastering, and AV system design and installation experience. Currently located in Kansas City and employed with a leading AV company in Sales and AV System design, Kyle continues to branch out and pursue his passion in high quality, portable wireless audio devices with over 2 years of research and product testing in this field.