Podcast 98: Sean Olive

Sean Olive, director of acoustic research at Harman International, talks about the importance of training listeners to evaluate sound systems, Harman's "How to Listen" training program that's available for free online, blind vs. sighted listening tests, Harman's Multichannel Listening Lab, the lack of meaningful speaker specifications, subjective vs. objective evaluation of room-correction systems, research into sound-quality preferences of high school and college students, answers to chat-room questions, and more.

Run Time: 45:57

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Sean Olive is Director of Acoustic Research for Harman International, where he has worked since 1993. He currently directs the Corporate Acoustic Research Group that focuses on the perception, measurement, and improvement of sound quality in Harman home, professional, and automotive audio products. An important role of the Corporate R&D Group is to conduct competitive benchmarking on new Harman audio products to ensure their sound quality is best-in-class, using scientific-based, controlled listening test methods.

Prior to 1993, Sean was a research scientist at the National Research Council of Canada where he worked with Dr. Floyd Toole on research related to the perception and measurement of loudspeakers, listening rooms, and microphones. Sean received a Bachelors degree in Music from the University of Toronto, and his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Sound Recording from McGill University in Montreal. His Ph.D. research was on room acoustic adaptation and the acoustical interactions between loudspeakers and rooms. Sean has taught various audio courses at CEDIA, McGill, and UCLA on topics that include sound recording, room acoustics, and the perception and evaluation of reproduced sound.

Sean has written over 30 research papers on the perception and measurement of audio for which he was awarded the Audio Engineering Society (AES) Fellowship Award in 1996, and two Publication Awards (1990 and 1995). He is the current Vice President for the AES Western USA-Canada region (his second consecutive term), and writes a blog on audio called "Audio Musings" at www.seanolive.blogspot.com.

Here's the video of this podcast:

Jarod's picture

Very interesting hearing, no pun intended, about these listening tests and how poorly reviewers actually fared compared to trained ears. Is a speaker review simply just personal vindication of personal taste!? Just kidding, lol. Looking forward to learning about these "quantum dots"and Nano technology next podcast.

theo's picture


This podcast was simply excellent. All the guests you have are always informative and interesting but this topic especially was really great to learn more about. I'm surprised you didn't ask about the methodology (if I am correct) that in certain listening examples, they switch only one speaker... so that the source is mono. However, in Floyd Toole's book, he describes the Harman lab as supporting two channel and also multi-channel setups in the lab. Regardless, it's really incredible that they provide this software out there for free. I'd be curious if using the software can help enthusiasts like us diagnose speaker setup or placement issues. In other words, is there a practical application to us hard-core enthusiasts that can help us make our home theater and especially listening experience and setup more valuable.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
Thanks for your kind words! I actually thought to ask about evaluating speakers in mono as they do in the MLL, but I had less time than usual because we were delayed in starting and I couldn't run past my normal end time. I think the training program could help enthusiasts diagnose setup and placement issues, since it teaches you to identify what's going on in different frequency ranges. So if a certain placement causes a particular frequency range to be bloated or diminished, you'd be able to identify that and move the speakers to improve the sound. However, I don't think the program teaches anything about how speaker placement affects the sound; you need to learn that elsewhere.
theo's picture

I'm completely impressed by the software. It's so easy to use and is such a great tool. Kudos to Harman for making it available for free.