Frequency Response: Why is it so Important in Audio Equipment?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 3, 2022

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Frequency response is the quantitative measure of the output spectrum of a system or device in response to a stimulus and is used to characterize the dynamics of the system. It is a measure of magnitude and phase of the output as a function of frequency, in comparison to the input. In simplest terms, if a sine wave is injected into a system at a given frequency, a linear system will respond at that same frequency with a certain magnitude and a certain phase angle relative to the input. Also for a linear system, doubling the amplitude of the input will double the amplitude of the output. In addition, if the system is time-invariant, then the frequency response also will not vary with time. Two applications of frequency response analysis are related but have different objectives. For an audio system, the objective may be to reproduce the input signal with no distortion. That would require a uniform (flat) magnitude of response up to the bandwidth limitation of the system, with the signal delayed by precisely the same amount of time at all frequencies. That amount of time could be seconds, or weeks or months in the case of recorded media. In contrast, for a feedback apparatus used to control a dynamic system, the objective is to give the closed-loop system improved response as compared to the uncompensated system. The feedback generally needs to respond to system dynamics within a very small number of cycles of oscillation (usually less than one full cycle), and with a definite phase angle relative to the commanded control input. For feedback of sufficient amplification, getting the phase angle wrong can lead to instability for an open-loop stable system, or failure to stabilize a system that is open-loop unstable. Digital filters may be used for both audio systems and feedback control systems, but since the objectives are different, generally the phase characteristics of the filters will be significantly different for the two applications.

In this article, I’ll explain what frequency response is, how it affects the sound, and how you can measure it. Plus, I’ll share some tips on how to get the best frequency response from your audio equipment.

What is frequency response

Understanding Frequency Response: The Key to Audio Equipment Performance

Frequency response is a term used to describe how an audio system responds to different frequencies of a signal. In simple terms, it refers to how well an audio system reproduces sound across a range of frequencies.

How is Frequency Response Applied in Audio Equipment Design?

Designers use frequency response measurements to design audio equipment that operates in a linear and predictable way. They use filters, amplifiers, and other circuits to shape the frequency response to achieve a particular sound or to compensate for deficiencies in the system.

What is the Fourier Transform?

The Fourier transform is a mathematical procedure used to represent a signal in terms of its frequency components. It is used to partition a signal into its constituent frequencies and amplitudes, which can then be plotted on a frequency response curve.

What is the Relationship Between Frequency Response and Signal Processing?

Frequency response is an essential concept in signal processing because it describes how a system responds to different frequencies of a signal. Signal processing techniques such as filtering and multiplying are used to manipulate the frequency response of a system to achieve a particular sound or effect.

What is the Role of Frequency Response in Audio Equipment Performance?

Frequency response is a critical factor in determining the performance of audio equipment. A system with a flat frequency response will reproduce all frequencies equally, while a system with a shaped frequency response will emphasize or attenuate certain frequencies. Designers must balance the desire for a particular sound with the need for accurate and reliable performance.

Why Frequency Response Matters in Audio Equipment

When it comes to audio equipment, frequency response is a technical term that is often thrown around without people fully realizing its importance. In simple terms, frequency response refers to the ability of a device to reproduce all the tones in an audio signal, from the lowest bass notes to the highest treble notes.

The Role of Frequency Response in Producing Good Sound

The frequency response of an audio device is crucial in determining the quality of sound that is delivered at the end. A device with a flatter frequency response is considered to be more balanced and able to produce a wider range of sounds, while a device with a shaped frequency response may be designed to emphasize or de-emphasize certain frequencies.

Why a Balanced Frequency Response is Important

A balanced frequency response is important because it allows the device to accurately reproduce the sounds of different instruments and styles of music. For example, a device with a strong bass response may be great for playing certain types of music, but it may not be suitable for recording or mixing pieces that include a lot of upper range sounds.

How Frequency Response Affects Performance

The frequency response of an audio device can also affect its overall performance in a number of ways. For example, a device with a low frequency response may not be able to pass enough energy to produce good bass sounds, while a device with a high frequency response may not necessarily be able to produce good low-end sounds.

Why Frequency Response is Important in a Studio Setting

In a studio setting, frequency response is even more important because it can affect the quality of the recordings that are produced. A device with a balanced frequency response can help ensure that the recordings are accurate and sound good across a wide range of playback devices.

How to Choose Audio Equipment Based on Frequency Response

When shopping for audio equipment, it’s important to keep frequency response in mind. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Look for devices that offer a balanced frequency response across the entire range of tones.
  • Consider the type of music or sounds you will be producing or listening to, and choose a device that is designed to handle those particular frequencies.
  • Don’t get too caught up in technical details or specifications. While it’s important to understand the basics of frequency response, most people won’t be able to hear slight differences in frequency response between different devices.
  • Keep in mind that frequency response is just one factor to consider when choosing audio equipment. Other factors include the type of input and output signals the device can handle, the level of detail and clarity it offers, and the overall quality of the sound it produces.

Measuring and Plotting Frequency Response: The Technical Details

  • The most common method involves applying a test signal to the input of the audio equipment and measuring the resulting output signal.
  • Another method involves using a microphone to pick up the sound produced by the equipment and analyzing the resulting signal.
  • Both methods typically involve using a series of test signals at different frequencies to cover the entire frequency range of the equipment.

Frequency Response Plotting

  • Frequency response is typically plotted on a graph with frequency on the x-axis and level on the y-axis.
  • The resulting plot can take on different forms, including a smooth curve or a series of rectangular shapes.
  • The plot can also include information about phase, which is the relative timing of different frequency components in the signal.

Frequency Domain Specifications: Enforcing Limits and Tracking Signals

Frequency domain specifications are technical parameters that specify how a system should respond to input signals at different frequencies. They enforce limits on the system’s gain, sensitivity, and attenuation of disturbances, and track signals to ensure that the output matches the desired profile.

What is Systune?

Systune is a software tool that automates the process of tuning frequency domain specifications for control systems. It uses a closed-loop script to adjust the system’s parameters and track the desired response.

What is SISO?

SISO stands for “single-input, single-output,” and refers to systems that have only one input and one output. SISO systems are subject to frequency domain specifications, which enforce limits on their response to input signals at different frequencies.

Is Amplification the Same as Gain?

Amplification and gain are related, but not the same. Amplification refers to the overall increase in signal level, while gain refers to the ratio of output to input at a specific frequency. In some cases, it may be preferable to specify amplification instead of gain, depending on the requirements of the system.

What is Norm Constraint?

Norm constraint is a type of frequency domain specification that enforces limits on the norm of the system’s transfer function. This is useful for constraining the overall response of the system, rather than its response at specific frequencies.

Flat vs Shaped Frequency Response: Which is Better for Your Microphone?

Shaped frequency response, on the other hand, means that the mic has been designed to emphasize or de-emphasize certain frequencies. This can be done for a variety of reasons, such as to compensate for a room’s acoustics or to improve the sound of a particular instrument. Some examples of microphones with shaped frequency response include:

  • The Shure SM7B: This mic has a boosted midrange and a roll-off in the upper frequencies, making it a popular choice for recording vocals.
  • The AKG C414: This mic has multiple alternate versions, each with a different shaped frequency response. This allows the user to pick the version that best suits their needs.

Choosing the Right Frequency Response for Your Needs

So, which is better: flat or shaped frequency response? The answer is, it depends on your specific needs. Here are some things to consider when choosing a microphone:

  • If you want a mic that accurately reproduces the sound of the source, a flat frequency response is the way to go.
  • If you are recording in a room with poor acoustics, a mic with a shaped frequency response can help compensate for this.
  • If you are recording a specific instrument or sound, a mic with a shaped frequency response that emphasizes the frequencies of that instrument or sound can improve the resulting audio.

It’s also worth noting that some microphones, such as the famous Neumann U87, have a slightly boosted high-end frequency response. This can result in a brighter, more detailed sound, but can also lead to more noise and require careful processing.

Applications of Frequency Response

The frequency response of an audio system is an important factor in designing audio equipment. Engineers need to ensure that the system can reproduce the desired range of audible frequencies with sufficient accuracy and fidelity. This requires a flat frequency response with tight tolerance, meaning that the system should not attenuate or emphasize any particular frequencies. To achieve this, engineers may use a combination of analog and digital filters, depending on the specific requirements of the system.

Measuring and Analyzing Signals

Frequency response is also important in measuring and analyzing signals in electronic systems. Engineers use frequency response curves to indicate how well a system reproduces or attenuates different frequencies. This information is critical in designing and testing electronic components, such as amplifiers, microphones, and filters. By analyzing the frequency response of a system, engineers can calculate the finite impulse response (FIR) of the system, which lets them compensate for any arbitrary frequency response.

Communications and Wireless Systems

Frequency response is also important in communications and wireless systems, such as radio, video, and switching systems. Engineers use frequency response curves to indicate the range of frequencies that a system can transmit or receive. This information is critical in designing and testing antennas and coaxial cables. In wireless systems, engineers also need to consider the infrasonic frequencies that can be caused by earthquakes or electroencephalography (EEG) signals.

Emphasis and Attenuation Requirements

In some applications, such as audio reproduction or speech intelligibility, a shaped frequency response may be desired. For example, a particular type of music may require more emphasis on the bass frequencies, while a speech intelligibility system may require more emphasis on the midrange frequencies. In these cases, engineers may use filters to shape the frequency response of the system to meet the specific requirements. However, it is important to ensure that the shaped response does not result in poor fidelity or intelligibility.

Protection and Notification

Frequency response is also important in protecting electronic components from damage. For example, a loudspeaker may have a frequency response that extends beyond the audible range, which can damage the speaker if it is driven with a signal that contains infrasonic or ultrasonic frequencies. To prevent this, engineers may use filters to limit the frequency response of the input signal. In addition, frequency response can be used to notify users of potential problems in a system. For example, a sudden change in the frequency response of a system may indicate a faulty component or a loose connection.


So, frequency response is the measure of how well a speaker or a piece of audio equipment reproduces different frequencies. It’s a crucial factor when choosing the right equipment for the sound you want to achieve. 

So, now you know what frequency response is and how to measure it. I hope this guide has answered all your questions and helped you learn more about this important aspect of audio equipment.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

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