Harman Curve: Why Say It Give the Premium Sound Quality?

Ali Abdaal

Here is a guide to the Harman curve and its role in psychoacoustics. Are you a music lover and appreciate a fine-tuned listening experience? The Harman curve is an industry standard for producing studio-quality sound in headphones. You can read the post below to understand the Harman curve and how to utilize the fine-tuning sound architecture.

Premium quality headphones have an expensive price tag for a reason. Intensive work goes into producing top-tier hardware and software for headphones. The Harman curve is one of the essential elements that most quality headphones utilize in their design when releasing a top-of-the-shelf product. What is the Harman curve all about? Here is a comprehensive guide to the Harman curve signature.


Table Of Contents

What Is the Harman Curve?

The Harman curve is a byproduct of the Harman audio equipment manufacturer. The audio concept began to gain popularity in 2013 after one of its lead researchers, Tyll Hertsens of InnerFidelity, wrote a comprehensive feature article about the features of the Harman curve. The audio tuning format is currently under the patent ISO 226, where you can find a disclosure of its main features.

The Harman curve is a frequency response target used in audio engineering. The sound technology aims to improve audio quality by emphasizing select frequencies to compensate for human hearing preferences. Human hearing capabilities are subjective, and the Harman curve is one of the closest attempts to produce a universal mastered sound output.

Significance of the Harman Curve in Producing Premium Sound Quality 

The Harman curve plays an essential role in premium sound quality production by tweaking the frequency response to align with human hearing preferences. The curve emphasizes select audio frequencies while toning down others to improve clarity, detail, and naturalness in sound reproduction. The Herman curve is actionable in various professional fields, including music, film, broadcasting, and automotive industries.

Under its international standards (ISO 226), the Harman curve specifies combinations of sound pressure levels and frequencies of pure continuous tone. However, the specifications assume the following factors are constant when testing the effectiveness of the audio curve.

Sound field: Without the listener, the testing field comprises a free progressive plane wave.

Source: The sound must originate directly in front of the listener.

Signal: The audio signals in question are pure tones.

Position: Measurement of the sound pressure is at the center where the head of the listener ought to be but without the listener.

Listening: The listening experience ought to be binaural, thus involving listening with two ears.

Subject: The listener is “ontologically normal,” thus comprising persons between the ages of 18-25 years.

Benefits of Harman Curves in Sound Reproduction 

The formula for deriving the normal equal-loudness-level contours in Harman curves is complex. However, behind the complex science is a simple algorithm that delivers one of the best optimal listening experiences. Below are the benefits of the Harman curves in sound reproduction.

The development and perfection of the Harman curves is an evolving process that has seen several variants of the sound tuning project hit the market. Below are the popular variants of the Harman curves to hit the market to date.

Harman Target Response Curve (2013): It is the original Harman curve and credits its development to Dr. Sean Olive and Dr. Todd Welti of Harman International Industries. The extensive research behind it makes it a fundamental reference for achieving accurate sound reproduction.

Harman In-ear Target Response Curve (2015): Its design is specific to in-ear headphones because it accounts for the unique characteristics of in-ear monitors to optimize their sound performance.

Harman Automotive Curve (2017): Its adaptation focuses on optimizing sound quality in automotive audio systems. It addresses vehicle environment challenges, like road noise, speaker placement, and cabin acoustics, to ensure a balanced and immersive listening experience.

Harman Samsung Curve (2019): Its development is in partnership with Samsung and seeks to optimize sound quality on Samsung consumer audio products. It utilizes Samsung’s quality hardware and software to deliver an optimized listening experience.

Criticisms Surrounding Harman Curves

Like most tech innovations, the Harman curve has its fair share of criticism. The jury is still out on the scorecard regarding the efficiency of the Harman curve, but below are highlights of the arguments against the sound tuning feature.

Not ideal for audiophiles: There is a school of thought among audiophiles who detest headphones utilizing the Harman curves because of the flat/natural sound. Such audiophiles would prefer companies like Grado,  HiFiMan, and Etymotic, with quality products that deliver a bright tonal balance, emphasizing treble and attenuating bass.

An average preference curve is impossible: Humans tend to hear differently, and the idea of a perfect average preference curve is impossible to actualize.

Boring/artificial sound: Some audiophiles argue that the Harman curve effect makes sound boring

Scientific mumbo jumbo: Some critics argue that the science behind the Harman curve is overrated, and without it, the audio curve is simply just another equalization preset.


Harman International, the company behind the Harman curve, is also responsible for top audio brands like AKG, JBL, Bang & Olufsen Automotive, Soundcraft, and Lexicon. However, Samsung bought the company in 2017, setting the stage for the next evolution of the audio curve, with variants such as the Harman Samsung Curve (2019).

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