Explaining Sound: What is total harmonic distortion (THD)

What is Total Harmonic Distortion?

Distortion is one of the biggest factors when it comes to producing the best sound possible. Distortion of a sound is exactly what it sounds like. It is extra being put into the final output signal and making it sound wrong, i.e., distorted from its pure form.  Audiophiles work hard at all stages of their setup, whether it be with headphones and earphones right up to full-blown audiophile-grade HiFi systems, to reduce distortion to the sound signal wherever possible, and today we are going to look at the effect of Total Harmonic Distortion or THD as it is commonly represented.

In your audio setup, you will find total harmonic distortion in the amplification components, whether in a pre-amplifier or amplifier section.  In the simplest form, THD is a value of measurement given to the difference between the input signal and the output signal from the amplifier.  In this regard, we can consider that the lower the THD figure, the better the sound quality, as this would mean the audio signal is in a purer form.  

When looking at manufacturer specifications or frequency graphs relating to the amplification section of a particular audio equipment piece, you will commonly see THD listed as a %.  The lower the percentage, the better. In an ideal situation for use with headphones, speakers, and earphones, you would be looking for a total harmonic distortion level as close to zero as possible.

Is Total Harmonic Distortion actually important?

To most people who enjoy listening to music, the level of total harmonic distortion is most likely one of the last things to matter.  Why is this?  Well, THD levels are so good on most amps nowadays that they are virtually nonexistent to the human ear.  You see, distortion comes in at almost every stage of the audiophile hobby.  There can be distortion due to poor mastering, file compression, headphone resonance, room reverberation, etc.  Many factors can work against creating a truly pure audio signal, and THD is just one of them.

So I don’t need to worry about THD?

For the most part, I would say no, you don’t need to worry about total harmonic distortion as most audiophile components already pay close attention to its minimization beyond the realms of human hearing, but that’s not the point.  You see, audiophiles play a game of inches.  It is about minimizing as many distortion points in the hope of the final result yielding noticeable improvements.  There are numerous benefits from refining other areas of your audio setup first, but it can’t hurt to keep an eye on THD and make sure it is as low as possible.

To find the lowest harmonic distortion amplifier read our list of the best DAC’s and Amps.

To find the DAP with the lowest harmonic distortion read our list of the best music players.

Audiophile Onhttp://www.audiophileon.com
Audiophile On is a website dedicated to high-end audio products. With over 15 years as a reviewer, all articles are hand-written by one person to allow the comparison of products. Headphones, earphones, speakers, amplifiers, or DAC's we cover here.

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