Home Theater & Entertainment Audio What Is Intermodulation Distortion (IMD)? Share Pin Email Print Intermodulation Distortion results in the formation of sideband frequencies not present in the original signal. BeholdingEye / Getty Images Audio Speakers Stereos & Receivers By Gary Altunian Writer Gary Altunian was a freelance contributor to Lifewire and industry veteran in consumer electronics. He passion was home audio and theater systems. our editorial process Gary Altunian Updated November 01, 2019 46 46 people found this article helpful Intermodulation Distortion is an amplifier or pre-amplifier specification that quantifies the non-harmonic frequencies added to an input signal. It can also exist for other audio components like speakers, CD/DVD/media players, etc, and can be one of the most difficult music-related distortions to mitigate in audio systems. How Intermodulation Distortion Works Similar to Total Harmonic Distortion, Intermodulation Distortion is measured and represented as a percentage of the total output signal. And just as with Total Harmonic Distortion, lower numbers are better for improved performance. Intermodulation Distortion can occur when two or more signals are mixed through a non-linear amplifier device. Each of the tones interacts with each other, producing altered (or modulated) amplitudes. This results in the formation of frequencies (often referred to as "sidebands") not present in the original signal. Since these sideband frequencies pop up at the sum and difference of the original tones, they are considered non-harmonic and highly undesirable due to the unmusical nature. To illustrate, say that instrument one plays a note and produces a fundamental frequency of 440 Hz. Harmonic frequencies (integer multiples of the fundamental) for instrument one occur at 880 Hz, 1220 Hz, 1760 Hz, and so on. If an amplifier creates a non-harmonic frequency of 300 Hz along with the fundamental frequency of 440 Hz, a third frequency of 740 Hz will be reproduced (440 Hz + 300 Hz), and 740 Hz is not a harmonic of 440 Hz. Thus, it is termed Intermodulation Distortion because it is between harmonic frequencies. Why Intermodulation Distortion Is Important Since Intermodulation Distortion is discordant (not harmonic), it's a more meaningful measurement. And when present, it's far easier to pick up on by ear than harmonic distortion, since harmonics are generally present in audio signals anyway. But at lower volume levels and/or with more simple music, Intermodulation Distortion may not be so noticeable. Separate tones can still be clearly heard but once volume increases to a point where non-linearity happens within the amplifier, the alteration and unwanted generation of frequencies muddles or blurs the original signal. This effect is also compounded with more complex music genres (e.g. orchestra) where there is greater interaction between all the frequencies. And the result can be the creation of a noise floor that effectively erodes sonic detail and precision. At best, Intermodulation Distortion leads to dull, veiled, or lifeless-sounding music. At worst, everything sounds harsh and/or grossly distorted. However, as with Total Harmonic Distortion, Intermodulation Distortion is usually so low that it is imperceptible. Most modern amplifiers are designed well enough to make Intermodulation Distortion quite insignificant. Just remember that your ears are the better judge of sound quality, so don't judge components solely by the specification for Intermodulation Distortion.