All About Sound: What is Distortion?

Distortion, a close cousin of coloration, is another evil villain of loudspeaker performance.

There are two main types of distortion that manifest in loudspeakers: harmonic, and mechanical.

Harmonic distortion "colors" sound with additional levels of tones above and below the pure original note. For example, a loudspeaker driver producing a 40 Hz note may also, at the same time, produce output at 80 Hz, 120 Hz, 160 Hz (and so on), even though these tones are not part of the original sound.

It's very difficult to completely eliminate tonal distortions like this example. Drivers produce sound over the whole of their area, with some sounds happening around the intended original sound. To cut down on this kind of distortion, Paradigm engineers use specific driver material, the more rigid the better, to avoid harmonic distortions across the surface of the driver cone. Other innovations, like more durable surround material, carefully engineered motor structures and vibration-killing chassis designs, also keep harmonic distortion to an inaudible minimum.

Non-harmonic, or mechanical, distortion happens either when there is a discernible buzz or rattle in the actual assembly of the loudspeaker, or when the signal is boosted beyond the capacity of the driver to deliver it clearly, and the sound becomes a raspy mess.

Paradigm defeats the first kind of mechanical distortion with bulletproof enclosure design and construction. Using only the most rigid materials, with solid internal cross-bracing, damping material, and hand-finished connections, Paradigm speaker enclosures are completely inert.

Stabilizing feet, designed for both hard floors and carpeted floors, keep the cabinet upright and solidly in place.

It's up to you to avoid the second kind of non-harmonic distortion. Make certain that your loudspeaker impedance matches the output of your amplification equipment, and never exceed your amplifier's output capacity. In other words: If you hear distortion in the form of raspy noise or clipping signal, turn it down!