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Audio Quality Measurement Primer [Jnl Article] (1998) WW

Audio Quality Measurement Primer [Jnl Article] (1998) WW

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1-888-INTERSIL or 321-724-7143
Intersil (and design) is a trademark of Intersil Americas Inc.Copyright © Intersil Americas Inc. 2002. All Rights Reserved
Audio Quality Measurement Primer 
This audio quality measurement Application Note is gearedtowards describing the methods for measurement of keyaudio specifications. Each analysis technique describedhere in, can be applied to audio ADCs, DACs, Analog Mix-ers, or any signal within the audio band. Audio quality is typi-cally gauged by three main components. They are Signal toNoise Ratio, Total Harmonic Distortion, and FrequencyResponse. Audio quality, in all cases, is subjective and hasbeen debated for decades. The inclusion of a weightingfunction, to account for the ear’s non-ideal perception ofloudness at different frequencies, is one such example of thesubjective quality of audio. In the early 1950s, transistorshad just been invented. Audio amplifiers built with thesedevices offered better signal to noise, harmonic distortion,and frequency response than their vacuum tube predeces-sors. Circuits designed and built with vacuum tubes were stillpreferred by audio enthusiasts. The transistor amplifiers hadlower power output, and when over-driven produced oddorder harmonics. To the human ear, odd order harmonicshave long been identified as sounding more unpleasant thaneven order harmonics. The vacuum tube amplifiers could beover-driven to produce more pleasing even-order harmonicswhile producing more power than the transistor amplifiers.Though the transistor amplifiers had better specifications,the tube amplifiers were superior in listening tests, andproved to have better subjective audio quality. Today’s audiocircuits far outstrip their predecessors in most audio applica-tions. Their specifications are very often beyond the range ofhuman perception, yet the purists still debate.
Noise and Distortion Measurement Methods 
There are several competing measures of noise and distor-tion for audio systems. The most common are Signal toNoise Ratio, Signal to Noise plus Distortion Ratio, DynamicRange, Idle Channel Noise, and Harmonic Distortion. Mostof the measurement techniques presented here are basedon the AES17-1991 and EIAJ CP-307 CD measurementstandards. Traditionally, these measurements are preformedusing a 1kHz signal tone. A-weighting (compensation for thehuman ear) is applied to the result from 20Hz to 20kHz.Each of these measurement methods have benefits andweaknesses. You may ask why so many measures of perfor-mance are required. I will touch on these details as neededwhile describing each measurement technique and its prop-erties. Appendix A contains a brief overview of the timedomain and frequency domain analysis techniques used inthese measurements. To achieve accurate results the stimu-lus signal must always have performance characteristics thatexceed those of the device under test.
Signal to Noise Ratio
The signal to noise ratio, or SNR, of a signal is a measure-ment, in dB, of the power in the signal fundamental relativeto the RMS sum of the energy of all in-band noise compo-nents excluding harmonics (EQ. 1). Testing an audio DAC,the Digital signal is set to digital Full Scale. Testing an audioADC, the analog stimulus signal is usually set to within -0.5dB to -1.0dB of the device’s full scale(FS) range. If thiswere not the case, gain and offset errors across deviceswould cause the signal to inadvertently be clipped. Clippingshears off the high and low peaks of the waveform producinga great deal of unrelated noise and harmonics. BecauseSNR measurement excludes harmonics, it is possible to geta false sense of the device’s overall performance. Therefore,this measurement should always be considered along withTotal Harmonic Distortion when evaluating total perfor-mance. Examples of some common audio applications, andtheir SNR, are listed in Table 1.
Total Harmonic Distortion
Total Harmonic Distortion, or THD, is a measure, in dB, of therelative level of the energy in the fundamental to the RMS sumof the energy of all in-band harmonics (EQ. 2). The signal is asingle FS analog tone for ADCs or FS digital tone for DACs.Measurement of the THD in conjunction with the SNR of adevice is a good indication of the in-band performance of theaudio device. When reporting THD performance, the highestorder harmonic used in the computation must be specified.
Plain Old Telephone System or POTS40AM Radio, LP Records50FM Radio, Cassettes70CD Player90Human Ear Range (Instantaneous)85HiFi Studio Recording Equipment120Human Ear range (Total)120SNR20
Full scale RMS signal energyRMS non-harmonic noise energy
(EQ. 1)THD20
Full scale RMS signal energyRMS harmonic energy
(EQ. 2)
Application NoteFebruary 199
Author:Arlo J. Aude 
Signal to Noise + Distortion Ratio
Signal to Noise Plus Distortion, or SND, is a measure, in dB,of the relative level of the energy in the fundamental to theRMS sum of the energy of all in-band spectral componentsincluding harmonics and noise over the specified bandwidth.A FS analog or FS digital signal is used. SND is effectivelythe RMS sum of THD and SNR.
Dynamic Range
Dynamic range, or DR, is a ratio of the greatest magni-tude(undistorted) signal to the quietest(discernable) signal ina system as expressed in dB. For audio applications, DR is aratio of the full scale RMS signal level to the RMS sum of allother spectral components over the specified bandwidthusing a -60dB FS amplitude signal. DR differs from SNR inthat a -60db FS signal is used. To refer the measurement tofull scale, 60db is added to the resultant measurement. Inthis way, the device is being excited, but the harmonic com-ponents, which are generated with a full scale input, are nowtypically well below the noise floor. DR is often used to esti-mate SNR. However, if a device operates in such a way thatthe level of the noise floor increases with increased inputlevel, then a measure of the Dynamic Range is no longer agood estimation of the actual SNR.
Idle Channel Noise
Idle channel noise, in dB, is a ratio of the full scale RMS sig-nal level to the RMS sum of all other spectral componentsover the specified bandwidth using a zero amplitude signal.ICN is a measure of the static noise produced by the devicewith a zero amplitude signal. It is useful to have good ICNperformance in order to avoid an irritating noise commonlyreferred to as hiss, random noise, or white noise. Leakagefrom local sources, such as power lines, will show up anddegrade ICN performance as well.
Interchannel Isolation or Crosstalk
Crosstalk is a measurement, in dB, of the signal amplitude inan unused channel relative to that of a channel driven with asignal. The unused channels should be grounded, or set toan appropriate bias point. The signal going to the drivenchannel can be either of FS or -20db FS amplitude. Ideally,the two measurements should produce identical results.However, to avoid corruption of the signal due to non-lineari-ties, excessive power consumption, or heat buildup fromexcessive signal levels, it is best to measure crosstalk with a-20db FS signal. Crosstalk is expressed in dB.
Out-of-Band Spurious Components
Out-of-Band spurious components are measured at the ana-log output of the device under test with no input test signalstimulus. An output high pass filter may be used to removeall in-band signals from the device output. The level of allcomponents above the upper band-edge frequency of thedevice output spectrum are expressed as a dB ratio of thefull scale signal level.The upper and lower band edges forthe out of band range must be specified. For audible compo-nents, this range is 20kHz to 28.8kHz, while the inaudiblecomponent range is 28.8kHz to 100kHz.
Suppression of Imaging Components
This measurement is identical to the out of band spuriouscomponents measurement with the addition of a test signal.Typically, the test signal is -20dB FS. The RMS sum of allcomponents above the upper band-edge frequency of thedevice under test output spectrum are measured relative toFS output level and expressed in dB FS. You can use filtersto remove and isolate unwanted signals. A notch filter, at theoutput can be used to remove the test signal and a high passfilter may be used to isolate the out of band components.
Frequency Response 
Frequency response is the variation of the system’s outputlevel relative to the input level across a frequency range(EQ. 3). The typical human hearing range is 20Hz to20kHz. Therefore, audio systems with a flat response overthis range seem to sound the most natural. As a perfor-mance benchmark, an in-band frequency flatness toler-ance, in dB, is usually specified. For example, mostconventional stereo audio systems specify a frequency flat-ness tolerance of
3dB. In addition, the -3db points of thesystem at high and low frequency extremes are also speci-fied. The -3dB point corresponds to the frequency at whichthe signal power has been reduced to one half of the nor-mal 0dB signal level. A typical system frequency responseplot is pictured in figure 1 with the -3dB points at 20Hz and20kHz. It has been shown that human perception is capa-ble of detecting signal amplitude differences as low as0.1dB. However, under dynamic signal conditions, 1dB ismore realistic. Table 2 lists some common frequencyresponse examples. The frequency response of a systemis usually measured with an input signal that is -20dBbelow full scale.
Plain Old Telephone System or POTS300Hz to 3kHzAM Radio100Hz to 5kHzFM Radio50Hz to 15kHzConsumer Stereo System20Hz to 20kHzProfessional Audio Equipment5Hz to 24kHzFrequency Response(f)20Vo(f)Vi(f)
(EQ. 3)
Application Note 9789 
Weighting Functions 
Our ears are capable of hearing sounds from 20Hz to20kHz, but we don’t perceive those sounds with equal loud-ness. For this reason, most audio band measurements use afrequency weighting function to compensate for the ear’snon-uniform amplitude detection.Weighting functions are needed to adjust the qualitativemeasurement of the real world to the human ear. Withoutthis adjustment, the perceived system performance wouldnot correlate well with the measured performance. Forinstance, our threshold of hearing for normal speech (200Hz- 3kHz) is much lower than the threshold of hearing at lowfrequencies (DC to 100Hz). Two systems, one with a greatdeal of noise near DC, and another with very little, would vir-tually sound the same. However, an SNR measurementtaken with flat frequency weighting, would suggest poor per-formance for the first system. Three common weighting func-tions are used to compensate measurements for thediscontinuity between perceived performance and measuredperformance. They are referred to as A, B, and C weighting.The respective frequency responses of these weightingfunctions are shown in Figure 2.What does A-weighting mean? The first tentative standard forsound level meters(Z24.3) was sponsored by The AcousticsSociety of America and published by the American StandardsAssociation in 1936. The tentative standard shows two fre-quency weighting curves “A” and “B” which were modeled onthe ear’s response to low and high levels of sound respectively.The most common weighting today is “A-weighting” dB(A),which is very similar to that originally defined Curve “A” in the1936 standard. “A-weighting” is used for measuring low levelsignals and has become a standard for electrical and acous-tic noise measurements of all signal levels. “B-weighting” isused for intermediate level sounds. “C-weighting”, which isoccasionally used for very loud sounds in acoustic applica-tions, has a relatively flat response in the lower end of thespectrum. The mathematical functions that describe each fil-ter are in Appendix B.When an audio measurement is reported, the weighting filtermust be indicated. For example, a Digital to Analog con-verter SNR measurement of 91dB relative to full scale usingan A-weighting function would be listed as:DAC SNR = 91dB(A) FS.
Why Decibels? The decibel is a logarithmic unit which is usedin a number of scientific discipline to compare some quantitywith some reference value. Usually the reference value is thelargest or smallest likely value of the quantity. We use deci-bels for several reasons. Quantities of interest often exhibitsuch huge ranges of variation that a dB scale is more conve-nient than a linear scale. For example, the listening level ofyour home stereo can vary by seven orders of magnitude. Inaddition, the human ear interprets loudness on a scale muchcloser to a logarithmic scale than a linear scale. The ‘bel’,named after Alexander Graham Bell, is the logarithmic ratio oftwo powers, P1 and P2, and is expressed in Equation 4.The reference power is usually based on some very small natu-ral occurrence. An example of which is sound pressure level.The reference sound pressure level in air is 0.0002 Pa(RMS). Atypical loudspeaker, with 1 watt of power at 1kHz, produces 9Bof sound pressure measured at a standard distance of 1 meter.The same loudspeaker is most likely limited to about 11B ofpressure. Average listening levels are usually around 6B. Thismakes the measurement range only 5B. Due to the small sizeof the bel, the more convenient decibel has become standardand is expressed in Equation 5.lThe decibel is often used to express the relative amplitude orpower of a signal. Since power is the square of amplitude, asimple translation from Amplitude to Power can be made asin Equation 6. Some common variations on the decibel arelisted below.“dB FS” stands for “dB relative to full scale” and is generallyused in all audio measurements unless otherwise specified.“dBr” stands for “dB relative to some absolute level.” Whenthe absolute level is set to full scale, “dBr” is equivalent to“dB FS.”“dBV” stands for “dB relative to 1V.”
      (      d      B      )
      (      d      B      )
( )
(EQ. 4)AdB
( )
(EQ. 5)10A
(EQ. 6)
Application Note 9789 

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