Studies show that listening to music can elevate your mood, reduce stress, ease pain, fend off depression, and even improve post-surgery outcomes. So if you are looking for a simple way to uplift your mood on any given day – just sit back, listen and cue the music.

Dean O

As a company with an umbrella of pioneering audio brands, HARMAN takes pride in having a strong and talented R&D Acoustics team that leads studies related to the perception and measurement of sound quality. This group comprised of talented acoustic engineers is responsible for the sound quality benchmarking of HARMAN’s consumer, professional, and automotive audio systems.

Knowing that music has an integral influence over our lives, we recently caught up with HARMAN’s Acoustic Research Fellow, Dr. Sean Olive, to learn more about his work in sound quality benchmarking of HARMAN’s unparalleled audio products and solutions.

Q) As HARMAN’s leading Acoustic Research Fellow, you lead studies related to the perception and measurement of sound quality and you’re responsible for sound quality benchmarking of HARMAN’s consumer, professional, and automotive audio systems. What does that mean in non-technical language?

A. In my role, I direct HARMAN’s X Audio Team in Northridge, providing research and leadership in improving the sound quality and benchmarking of the company’s consumer, professional and automotive audio systems. HARMAN’s benchmarking process for all divisions combines the best of art and science by using subjective measurements together with feedback from actual listeners to create and refine the optimal sound experience for each solution.

For the consumer market, one project that we’re currently working on and that I’m particularly excited about is the benchmarking of the new Samsung Galaxy Home smart speaker. It is an AI speaker that intuitively moves a wave of sound directly towards you as directed. On the automotive front, we have an excellent team based in Novi and led by Jonathan Pierce, HARMAN’s Senior Manager for Global Benchmarking, who is responsible for the benchmarking of our superior automotive audio systems. Jonathan and his team leverage innovative techniques and procedures all in the name of delivering systems that meet or exceed the sound targets agreed upon with our OEM partners.

Q) From Car Audio demos to our Experience Stores, HARMAN places a big emphasis on educating consumers on what to look for in audio products – in essence – teaching consumers How to Listen. What are some best practices you’ve learned around HARMAN’s How to Listen in 2018?

A) When evaluating headphones, cars, or home sound systems, I prefer music recordings that are spectrally wide and dense so I’m able to accurately judge all of the sound qualities of a particular product. This factor in my opinion is a crucial first step for evaluating sound.

For instance, since laptops do not typically go below a frequency of 300 Hz, listeners are unable to hear bass come through which essentially means benchmarking isn’t done correctly. Simultaneously, if you’re leveraging your headphones as benchmarking equipment, I’d recommend that they fit properly so that bass sound doesn’t leak. When comparing different devices, whether a professional audio scientist or a consumer audiophile, individuals testing sound should always be conscious of the dynamics, timbre and spatial envelopment of a product and question - are the vocals defined? Is the timbre neutral or unnatural?

Q) To elaborate on the home for a minute - we’ve seen large, multi-component stereo systems largely fall out of favor. What would your suggestion be for a best-class at-home listening experience today?

A) There’s definitely some basic rules of thumb in setting up home speaker systems that are great to follow. For example, if you’re setting up a stereo system around a TV or project screen, you’ll want to try and get the right and left front speakers flanking the screen at ±30 degrees angles relative to your seat in front of the screen to ensure a best-class sound experience. For surround sound the left and right side and rear speakers should be at angles of ±60-100 degrees, and ±135-150 degrees, respectively. After setting up the surround sound, it’s critical that consumers leverage the test sequence in the receiver, which will help ensure that every speaker is set at the proper level and time arrival.

A common problem consumers come across when setting up their new speakers is that the TV image isn’t in harmony with the audio. If this occurs, this most likely means the speakers aren’t wired properly. I’ve solved this issue for many friends in the past, but my pearl of wisdom here is to always remember - black wires go with the black terminal and red wires go with the red terminal! It is important for consumers to listen and pay attention when testing multi-component stereo systems to ensure accuracy.

Q) What about you own home set-up?

A) I actually just had my house repainted and now I’m setting up a whole new surround sound system in my family room. At the moment, I just have a left-center-right system, but I’m really looking forward to getting my new surround system set up because watching movies hasn’t been the same. Such a big part of movies is the sound effect. When sound is coming from all different directions, it’s just incredible. In my opinion, you are missing so much with non-surround sound systems.

Q) To dig a little deeper on the home front, a recent study reported that 55 percent of Americans typically listen to music through their laptop or PC speakers, which generally produce nothing below 300 Hz. Consumers are missing out on one-third of music’s pleasure if they aren’t listening to full-range audio systems. What can be done in terms of educating consumers on How to Listen? How can they be shown what they’re missing?

A) Consumers miss about four whole octaves of music when listening to a song through a laptop or PC speaker that is limited to sound 300 Hz or higher. If you consider that there are about 10 total octaves, you’re literally cutting the listening experience by 40%!

When my team and I recently conducted a consumer study on loudspeakers, we uncovered that bass quality alone contributed 30% towards the overall listeners’ preference. Music listeners will lose the sound of the bass if they’re listening to music on a speaker, laptop or PC that limited below 300 Hz. HARMAN’s most basic Bluetooth speakers, such as the JBL Clip and JBL Flip have substantially better bass at 80 Hz or lower. Now if you take a product like an AKG headphone and compare it to a laptop speaker, you’ll hear how the difference in sound is absolutely mind blowing.

Q) Any final thought you’d like to leave the readers with?

A) Technological advances in audio have not only influenced the types of music created by artists, but has also affected how listeners consume music. Gone are the days of wax cylinders, cassettes and CD’s. We’re living in a digital era where sophisticated audio hardware generates an enriched, customized listening experience and allows consumers to take their favorite sounds with them in their home, on the go and for all daily activities.

At HARMAN, we’re focused on delivering audio creations that are tailored to consumers’ unique preferences. For instance, in a pair of AKG N5005 in-ear headphones, we include several interchangeable sound filters that allow audiophiles and musicians alike to change from reference sound, to tasteful changes in bass and treble balance.

My advice to consumers is that the next time they’re out shopping for their next pair of headphones or a new surround system for the home, they take their audio preferences into account and perform their own benchmarking. By taking the time to understand what qualities you prefer in music (e.g. louder bass, brighter  vocals) and learning how to listen, you’ll be able to spot the perfect audio solution or product that will create a much better listening experience for yourself.

Thanks in part to Sean’s expertise and direction, our research and development teams help ensure that HARMAN’s audio products and solutions always deliver our consumers with a superior listening experience. Learn more about our premium audio solutions here and follow Sean on LinkedIn.