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Purposeful Distortion or It is Cool to be Square

The frequency Spectrum of a Sine Wave.

The frequency Spectrum of a Sine Wave. (Click on the picture to expand it.)

Distortion is something that is unwanted in music reproduction systems. Those systems used to be advertised as high fidelity and claimed to reliably reproduce the sound files sent to them from phonograph records, audio tapes, etc.  I have not heard that term in a while, but then I am not listening for it.

Sine waves are very handy for those of us wanting to understand systems.  However, it is not very interesting to listen to.  Musical instruments produce harmonic waves and the number and relative strength of those harmonic wave produce the characteristic sound of the different instruments. Once instruments started becoming amplified it was found that the sound coming from the instrument could be modified to produce even more interesting sounds before it hit the loudspeakers.  Often musicians operate switches or other controls mounted on pedals on the floor.  One of these “stomp pedals” often turns on something called distortion or overdrive and sometimes fuzz.

What this type of distortion does is amplify the signal coming from the instrument and then clip off the top of the waveform making it a more square wave.   This adds harmonics.  Tone control can then vary the relative strength of these harmonics.

In the last post we added harmonics to create various kinds of waves.   In this video I am doing the exact opposite and generating waves and seeing what kind of harmonics they produce.   I also go one step further and allow you to listen to those waves.   Enjoy artistic nerd ism.

Thumbnails of the spectrum of the other three types of waves are below.  If you click on the thumbnail it will expand to a large size so you can see it better.

Square wave spectrum

Square wave spectrum

Sawtooth wave spectrum

Sawtooth wave spectrum

No Allias Square Wave Spectrum

No Allias Square Wave Spectrum








Last but certainly not least, the video associated with this post. The video allows you to hear the sounds as well as see how I generated the sound files and the spectrum plots.


As always I hope you find this interesting and informative.


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Purposeful Distortion or It is Cool to be Square” by Create-and-Make.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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