March 1955 Popular Electronics
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history
of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through April 1985. All copyrights
are hereby acknowledged. See all articles from
There are lots of audiophiles
in the RF Cafe audience who might appreciate this article on the characteristics of human hearing and ways in which
stereo hi-fi equipment attempts to reproduce realistic sound, as if from a live performance. A handy-dandy chart
is provided that shows the characteristics of various audible frequency ranges, and the kinds of speakers best suited
for reproducing the sound. It was published in 1955, but still should be applicable today.
The audio frequency spectrum and its importance in hi-fi.
A good approach to high fidelity is to determine what it is that hi-fi enables us to hear. This analysis serves
not only to explain the nature of sound, but may well act as a yardstick for evaluating a hi-fi system.
All areas within the audio spectrum are important for satisfactory reproduction of sound, particularly music.
Even those very high regions above 10,000 cycles contribute to listening pleasure, as this discussion and the chart
Most of us begin responding to frequencies as low as 16 cps. This is more of a "feeling" point than an actual
hearing level. Music does not go down that far. The lowest note on the piano keyboard is 27.5 cycles. The lowest
fundamental tones of large organs may go down to 20 cycles, and the little known octa-contra bass clarinet is reputed
to hit that low. You can get an idea of the kind of deep, overwhelming power suggested by these "sub-basement" lows
if you recall the lowest rumble of thunder you've ever heard.
music, however, occurs above 32 cycles. The second and third octaves (32 to 128 cycles) are the regions of most
bass notes, the all-important rhythm section.
The fourth and fifth octaves (128 to 512 cycles) include the relatively higher bass tones such as those produced
by tympani and the higher strings of the bass viol. The fundamental tones of most horns, as well as of the male
voice, appear in this area.
The sixth and seventh octave region, while above "middle C" on the piano, and musically in the treble range,
is often termed "mid-range" from the point of view of its coverage by reproducing equipment. This is the frequency
area easiest to reproduce. It includes the minimum range needed for voice communication, but without the bass notes
below and the overtones above it, a "pinched" quality - like that of a voice on telephone - results. The trumpet's
tones extend into this range, as well as those of the female voice. At the upper reaches of this range are the notes
of the flute. The fundamental tones of most musical instruments are to be found between the fourth and seventh octaves.
The brilliance of clashing cymbals and the piping of the piccolo bring us into the region above 2000 cycles.
Violin notes can be heard in this area to well over 3000 cps. The highest piano note, or top of the 8th octave,
reaches 4186 cps. Certain speech and musical sounds, of a labial and fricative nature, reach into the 9th octave.
Many important overtones, or harmonics generated by fundamental tones originating in lower octaves, are sounded
in the 9th. Our ability to hear these overtones helps us, to a large degree, to distinguish between different instruments.
It also creates the illusion of "presence" or reality in music reproduction.
These harmonics, or overtones, continue up to 16,000 cycles and beyond. To hear them is to perceive the final
touch in tonal brilliance and the subtle shadings of instrumental timbre that characterize live performances of
music and the best hi-fi reproducing systems. To some extent, this region of frequencies is an audio "no man's land"
because of the controversy regarding its importance in reproducing systems. Some observers claim that we can fully
enjoy music without the need to catch anything above 12,000 cycles. Others point to the limitations of present-day
program sources, such as records and pickups which do not go up to 16,000 cycles.
By far, the biggest single problem in assembling a hi-fi system, as regards reproducing the full audio spectrum,
is the choice of a suitable loudspeaker and enclosure. Unfortunately, no single speaker has yet been designed that
covers the complete audio spectrum. As shown on our chart, the "fi" can become truly "hi" only witha speaker system
which uses separate speaker units and correct frequency dividing facilities. When you consider the number and variety
of sizes and shapes of instruments that produced the original sounds, you can begin to appreciate why a greater
variety of speakers will reproduce them better than a single speaker. And, in any case, no decent bass reproduction
is possible without a suitable enclosure for the low frequency speaker.
Posted February 3, 2014