Studies on Morse code recognition

Nice drawing of Morse key by Dutch
radio amateur 
Dick Kraayveld, PA3ALM
(http://www.morsecode.nl/pa3alm.html)

In the early 90’s there were some interesting studies performed on Morse code recognition and the effects of pitch frequency, signal to noise ratio and code speed. They were part of the PhD work of Peter Montnémery who is a medical doctor and also radio amateur SM7CMY. I reread these papers now since there was a discussion on the pitch frequency (CW pitch resolution) just recently on the Elecraft mailing list. This discussion comes up from time to time, as it did for instance in 2006 also (Sidetone questions — copy speed vs sidetone pitch).

The two first papers are probably the most interesting ones for radio amateurs, so therefore I have posted their abstracts and a key figure from each of them also.

Press figure for larger size

Paper 1: Montnemery, P., Almqvist, B., & Harris, S. (1991). Recognition of Telegraphy Disturbed by Noise at Different S/N-Ratios and Different Telegraphy Speeds A Comparison to Short-Tone Audiometry. Scandinavian Audiology, 20(1), 33-39.

Abstract: “The ability to recognize telegraphy at different S/N ratios and telegraphy speeds was compared for 10 normal-hearing men trained in detecting telegraphy. The ability to recognize telegraphy disturbed by noise decreased with increasing telegraphy speed and reduced S/N ratio. The recognition of telegraphy disturbed by noise seems to follow the relations known from experiments with short-tone audiometry.”

The figure above (Fig. 5) shows recognition in % vs signal to noise ratio (SNR) for speeds 13, 25, 40, 63, 82, and 103 characters per minute (CPM) which when divided by five correspond to 2.6, 5, 8, 12.6, 16.4, and 20.6 words per minute (WPM). Note how recognition at the 90 % rate is easiest (works under lowest SNR) at 5 WPM, then 8, then the exception for the slow speed 2.6 WPM, and then gets even harder at speeds 12.6, 16.4, and 20.6 WPM.

Press figure for larger size

Paper 2: Montnemery, P., Almqvist, B., & Harris, S. (1992). Recognition of telegraphy signs at different listening levels and frequencies. Scandinavian Audiology, 21(4), 255-260.

Abstract: “The recognition of telegraphy masked by noise at 40 and 80 signs/min telegraphy speed was studied in 10 normal-hearing subjects at different sound pressure levels (25–85 dB SPL in steps of 5 dB) as well as at different test frequencies (2000, 1000, 800, 630, 500 and 250 Hz). The ability to recognize the signs varied with varying SPL. Recognition for most of the subjects was best at an SPL close to 70 dB. All subjects improved their recognition as the frequency was lowered to 500 Hz, some even at 250 Hz. These facts should be taken into consideration when training telegraphy operators as well as in the construction of radio receivers to permit listening at low frequencies. Furthermore, the critical ratio was calculated at the different test frequencies.”

The figure above (Fig. 6) shows recognition rate at different pitch frequencies at a speed of 80 CPM = 16 WPM. There is an improvement as the pitch is lowered and it more or less seems to level off at 500 Hz, except for the lowest SNRs (-13 and -14 dB) which improve at a pitch of 250 Hz. As a side note, the SNR scale must be different from that in the former figure since the values are considerably lower here.

The other papers in the thesis “Signal Detection in Noise, with special reference to telegraphy” are:

The first paper shows how lowering the speed enhances recognition when conditions are poor. Unfortunately only 250 and 500 Hz were tested in the second paper, but it should be clear that a low tone is preferable. If one were to do a follow up study, it would be interesting to zoom in on the frequencies between 250 and 500 Hz for further testing. Since 40 and 80 CPM is only 8 and 16 WPM, it would also be interesting to test at higher speeds.

Sverre Holm, LA3ZA, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Norway. Contact him at [email protected].

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