It is instructive to study the modulation of one sinusoid by another. In this section, we will look at sinusoidal Amplitude Modulation (AM). The general AM formula is given by
Let's analyze the second term of Eq. (1) for the case of sinusoidal AM with and :
When is small (say less than radians per second, or 10 Hz), the signal is heard as a ``beating sine wave'' with beats per second. The beat rate is twice the modulation frequency because both the positive and negative peaks of the modulating sinusoid cause an ``amplitude swell'' in . (One period of modulation-- seconds--is shown in Fig. 2.) The sign inversion during the negative peaks is not normally audible.
Recall the trigonometric identity for a sum of angles:
Equation (3) expresses as a ``beating sinusoid'', while Eq. (4) expresses as it two unmodulated sinusoids at frequencies . Which case do we hear?
It turns out we hear as two separate tones (Eq. (4)) whenever the side bands are resolved by the ear. As mentioned in [7, Section 4.1.2], the ear performs a ``short time Fourier analysis'' of incoming sound (the basilar membrane in the cochlea acts as a mechanical filter bank). The resolution of this filterbank--its ability to discern two separate spectral peaks for two sinusoids closely spaced in frequency--is determined by the critical bandwidth of hearing [5,9,11]. A critical bandwidth is roughly 15-20% of the band's center-frequency, over most of the audio range [8]. Thus, the side bands in sinusoidal AM are heard as separate tones when they are both in the audio range and separated by at least one critical bandwidth. When they are well inside the same critical band, ``beating'' is heard. In between these extremes, near separation by a critical-band, the sensation is often described as ``roughness'' [3].