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At the Tuesday, October 18, 2011 meeting...
Some New Evidence that Teenagers May Prefer Accurate Sound Reproduction
With Sean Olive, Director of Acoustic Research at Harmon International

It frankly seemed an unusual subject for a SMPTE meeting, even one that was jointly sponsored by the SMPTE, the Boston Audio Society, the Audio Engineering Society, and the Acoustical Society of America.

The meeting was simply billed, 'Some New Evidence that Teenagers May Prefer Accurate Sound Reproduction,' by Sean Olive.

Approximately 45 members of the combined organizations converged on Boston College's Fulton Hall to explore further what this might all be about.

One could have easily dismissed this topic as being somewhat arcane, were it not for the fact that the source of the research and the evening's presenter was none other than Doctor Sean Olive, the Director of Acoustic Research at Harmon International, one of the world's leading manufacturers of audio products for both professional and consumer.

Dr. Olive heads Harmon's corporate research group, overseeing the subjective evaluation of new audio products. He has spent his entire career in this field, having conducted research at the National Research Council of Canada after earning his Masters and Ph.D. in sound recording from McGill University in Montreal. He also holds a Bachelors degree in Music from the University of Toronto.

Somehow, you knew that with Dr. Olive on the podium there was going to be more to this topic than met the eye, or perhaps more precisely, the ear.

First, Dr. Olive described how the notion that teenagers actually prefer less than top-notch audio quality grew to become almost conventional wisdom in the media and even in the industry to some extent. Seems it all started when some pretty dubious research from a poorly constructed and incomplete study eventually stole its way into the New York Times. The myth really snowballed from there. No question, it certainly made for a good story.

If these conclusions proved to be true, the implications for high-end audio industry would be grave. So Dr. Olive and his team at Harmon set out to test these suppositions for themselves, constructing a rigorous subjective testing model that was as double-blind and airtight as possible.

The results of these tests, conducted with both high school and college students revealed that all things being equal 67% of the high school and 72% of the college students preferred the sound of CD's to that of MP3.

The encouraging news: good sound is not lost on 'gen-Y' listeners, but education is important.

Dr. Olive also delved deeply into both the subjective and objective testing methods for both evaluating and comparing loudspeakers as well as how Harmon's testing methods likely influenced those used by Consumer Reports after that organization's evaluation methods for testing loudspeakers was found to be lacking by Olive and his staff.

Harmon's view that single curve sound power measurements that looked for flat frequency response using only third octave measurements was not an effective methodology.

Dr. Olive contends that you can't design an audio product with good sound unless you can accurately measure it.

It is doubtful that anyone in SMPTE would disagree with him on that score.

Marty Feldman
Chair
SMPTE/New England Section

Click here for writeups of other past meetings

Posted: 31 October 2011
Bob Lamm, SMPTE/New England Newsletter/Web Page Editor
robert.e.lamm@gmail.com