Distortion Hurts: Why Finding the Right Sound System Matters
published onAugust 1, 2013

Have you ever been out for a night on the town, and wondered why you just could not get into a groove?

You may have been at a friend’s wedding, the local tavern or at the new ultra lounge in the city. You should have been in a great mood, but the night was rather disappointing, for lack of a better word.

You probably went home in a bad mood, with a blistering headache and could not wait to go to bed.

Any clue what caused the night to go south when it was the one day you looked forward to all week? It might have been all the pints of Guinness. Or the tequila shots. And those kamikazes probably weren’t a great idea, either. You live and learn.

But, I have another theory. In one word: “distortion.” Webster’s Dictionary defines the word as “falsified reproduction of an audio or video signal caused by change in the wave form of the original signal.”


In layman’s terms, distortion is a “dirty” signal.

Perhaps the best way to describe distortion would be to reminisce about the past. Remember being a teen and cranking the car stereo to gain attention as you drove down a block? And if you say no, you’re just not being honest.

Well, anyway, eventually the volume reached a point where the music sounded garbled. That garbled noise was distortion. It’s what made the little old ladies shout out their windows for you to turn down that noise. It’s what made your parents say, “How can you listen to that stuff?”

Sound Distortion Causes

Distortion can be caused by a number of things; the most common cause is overdriving a speaker or amp. If you ask a loudspeaker to push louder than it is designed too, it will give you distortion before it eventually dies.

If the speaker can handle it but the power amplifier can’t, you’ll get the same result. You’ll eventually blow the amp.

Another common form of distortion occurs when a music track is recorded too loudly. It will peak the mixer channel and ultimately feed the amp and speaker a distorted signal, even though the wattage of the amp and speaker are well matched.

Why Distortion Free Sound Rocks the House

Now you’re asking: “What does this all mean? Why should I care? I just want to listen to music and have a good time.”

It means if you are the host of a party or the owner of a club, and your sound system has distortion, your guests will not be comfortable. It’s not the food, ambiance, or even the music. It is how the music is being received by your ear drum. Your ears are delicate organs that can bring great joy by hearing the proper tone, just as your tongue can bring happiness from tasting something sweet.

Sound Distortion in Action

A short while ago I had the privilege of watching my daughter compete in a regional dance competition in Lancaster, PA. Her dance studio cleaned house, taking home first place in almost every category. In one particular dance they were crushed by a competitor. It should have been a nail-biting, edge-of-our-seats experience for the audience. Yet, it did not seem exciting to watch any of the dancers. In fact, a parent from that school actually admitted it.
They asked me why. My explanation was rather simple. Once again, we can blame distortion.

“While the dance moves of that studio were picture-perfect, the crowd could not feel like they were involved. Whoever recorded the music did so at such a high volume that the engineer of the show had no choice but to pull back on the volume in order to save his sound equipment. Because of this, the crowd was never able to feel the energy of what truly was a great performance.”

What does all this tell us? A few things.

First, if your speakers are crackling, lower the volume. That’s the simple answer. You can save your speakers and your amps from an expensive malfunction, and also make the music more enjoyable for everyone. If you’re hosting a party or holding an event and you feel your guests are not comfortable, check the sound system to make sure it’s making the proper impact. Your sound system’s performance really does make a difference.

Finally, whether you’re a club, bar or restaurant owner, or just someone buying a sound system for your home or backyard, pick the proper sound system for your application. Sometimes, this requires professional help – especially if your livelihood depends on a good sound system to keep people coming back. Good sound and the right sound system really is that important.