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  1. #1

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    Default Audio terms -- are they useful?

    At some point I'd like to see the audio world speak the same language.

    IMO, most audio terms are meaningless. Since there is no agreed upon definition of terms among audio reviewers and those of us who read their reviews, they only have meaning to the author. I realize audio is super subjective, but what's the point of doing a speaker review if you've got 30 worthless words thrown in to describe the speaker. It only adds confusion. There's airy, smooth, sweet, spacious, warm, detailed, crisp, rich, full, fat, muddy, harsh, bright, chesty, transparent, thin, muffled, smeared, bloated, boomy, grainy.......Shouldn't the term, "muddy" cover what is considered as smeared, bloated, boomy, grainy, lackluster, unrefined, etc.? It's either clear or muddy, right? If it ain't clear, it ain't clear. The type of mud doesn't really matter.

    In Early B's world, every audio review would only be three paragraphs long -- the first one would be a physical description of the product, specs, and what gear you're using. The second paragraph would be how the product performs based on a general concensus from multiple listeners. The third paragraph should be the conclusion and whether or not the reviewer (and listeners) would actually purchase the product.

    In my universe, there would only be four terms used to evaluate music:

    1. Soundstage (includes imaging, depth, spaciousness, etc.)
    2. Accuracy (this encompasses detail, clarity, speed, and most of the other terms used to describe the music; bottom line -- does it sound like real instruments and real singers?)
    3. Dynamics (for instance, does the bass sound authoritative or wimpy?)
    4. Musicality (how items 1-3 sound collectively; could also be called, "emotionality;" in other words, are you bobbing your head and tapping your feet?)

    That's it. I came up with these terms because I couldn't think of any other catch-all phrases that really mattered to me when I listen to music. Music does not need to be complicated in its description -- you either like what you're hearing or you don't. No need to come up with 50 different verbal descriptions for your opinion.

    Can someone let me borrow their audio dictionary? I'm headed to the toilet to read the latest edition of Stereophile. (I'm lying -- I only subscribe to it for the pictures.)
    HT/2-channel Rig: Sony 50” LCD TV; Toshiba HD-A2 DVD player; Emotiva LMC-1 pre/pro; Rogue Audio M-120 monoblocks (modded); Placette RVC; Emotiva LPA-1 amp; Bada HD-22 tube CDP (modded); VMPS Tower II SE (fronts); DIY Clearwave Dynamic 4CC (center); Wharfedale Opus Tri-Surrounds (rear); and VMPS 215 sub

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  2. #2

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    I think they do muddy up the terms a little. The biggest thing I think is some spend too much time trying to disect the most miniscule measurements that you couldnt hear in the first place. Like worrying about the extra lenght in speaker cable from one channel to the next or the difference between .004% THD and .0004%.

    Then again, maybe Im just not smart enough to keep up. :D
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  3. #3

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    I agree terms can get out of hand pretty quickly. But, since it is subjective and individual, lots of terms/descritions/adjectives apply. Think about other subjective topics like Wine or Coffee, things like that. They have written paragraphs describing certain wine charateristics. In audio it's whatever it means to you and your ability to pinpoint/describe what you are hearing and feeling emotionally. Some people are more eloquent than others. Anything subjective is very hard to standardize. I think there is a psychological test where they show you a color and ask you to describe what it looks like and how it makes you feel. Some will write 2 words others will go on for paragraphs.

    H9
    Last edited by heiney9; 12-24-2005 at 08:39 AM.
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30; Eastern Electric Mini Max; Adcom GDA600; MIT S3/Z Pc; SDA 1C; Squeezebox; Tubes add soul!

  4. #4

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    I agree w/ H9. Sometimes the writer tries too hard, sometimes too technical. But emotions are hard to describe, too.

    I have found some to be rather elitist, IMHO. I guess Joey Bag o Doughnuts just ain't gettin it.

    Hey, I might not be too bright, but I can move heavy tings...
    I smell ass, burning ass, glowing cherry red spanked ass.

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  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Early B.
    Can someone let me borrow their audio dictionary? I'm headed to the toilet to read the latest edition of Stereophile. (I'm lying -- I only subscribe to it for the pictures.)
    So, you read the articles in Playboy and look at the pics in Sterophile. Seems resaonable to me :D

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30; Eastern Electric Mini Max; Adcom GDA600; MIT S3/Z Pc; SDA 1C; Squeezebox; Tubes add soul!

  6. #6

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    I agree that describing the way music sounds can be challenging, but descriptions are based on words and words have meanings. It would be nice for the audio world to adopt the same meaning for terms. That way, one reviewer's use of the word "grainy" is the same as another reviewer.

    I also think that since audio is so subjective, there should always be several reviewers, not just one. For instance, why listen to a single movie reviewer? If lots of people say a movie sucks, then that holds more weight than just one guy whose tastes are likely to be entirely different than most of his audience. That's one reason why I don't make purchases based on the comments of a single reviewer. I want to know what consumers who own the product have to say about it. For instance, based on their experience, many Polkies say that for sub duty, you're better off with a non-Polk sub. Well, that's a powerful statement and the reason I never considered purchasing one, regardless of what some reviewer says about it.
    Last edited by Early B.; 12-24-2005 at 09:45 AM.
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  7. #7

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    I make up my own words...

    I think you have to become familiar with the reviewer before any reviews are helpful.

    madmax
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  8. #8

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    DYNAMICS -- The dynamic range, impact and weight of the musical event

    DYNAMIC RANGE -- the required range of audible frequencies with the same loudness or output: Perhaps a symphonic selection with wide dynamic and frequency range

    WEIGHT -- The authority and feel of a solid and correct bass foundation to the music: Perhaps an Upright Bass, Kettle Drums, or Organ selection

    IMPACT -- The strong concussive forces of live music, mainly in the bass region: Definitely a Percussion Selection, more drums the better

    PRESENCE -- The quality of the realism and vitality of the music

    ATTACK -- The initiation and buildup of sound when an instrument is bowed, struck or plucked: Violin, Piano, Plucked Guitar, Xylophone, Solo Clarinet

    PACE -- The apparent tempo of the music, tempo is the rate of speed of a musical passage: Select “Tight” bands and Music with varying Tempo, Jazz, Classic Rock

    RHYTHM -- The synchronization of the ensemble playing the music
    Go Latin, Cuban or Brazilian, Demo Disc Time

    COHERENCE -- The imaging, layering, height and ambiance of the musical event

    HEIGHT -- A stable and properly sized location of the instruments up and down the sound stage: Classical or Choral, Don’t forget Gospel

    IMAGING -- A stable and properly sized location of instruments across the width of the sound stage: Ideally a selection that was recorded with a single microphone

    LAYERING -- A stable and properly sized location of the instruments through the sound stage's depth: A good recording with a vocalist centered in front of a symphonic orchestra

    AMBIANCE -- The spatial and reverberent cues of the “hall” where the musical event was recorded: Symphonic, String Quartet, Jazz “Live”

    RESOLUTION -- The low level detail resolution of instrumental sounds and reverberation decay.

    AIR -- The treble sounds delicate, open and unrestricted without any grain or edge: Strings, Triangle, Bells, Flute

    FOCUS -- The musical instruments are clearly defined and you can hear the silence between the musical impulses: Accappella, Scat, String Quartets, Jazz

    ARTICULATION -- How well an audio component resolves the inner harmonic structure of an instrument:Solo Violin, Piano, Female Voice, Eva Cassidy

    VOICING -- The accuracy of the sound and range of the instruments in your perception

    TIMBRE -- The full complex harmonic structure of an instrument's voice:
    Violin, Woodwind, Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Brass

    TONAL BALANCE -- proper loudness of the instruments upper and lower frequencies: Solo Piano, Organ

    ACCURACY -- The reproduction of the music without adding any coloration or distortion: Acoustic Instruments

    Those are what I try to use (from Dennis Boyle, Chimera Labs), there are many elements of sound reproduction, and what may be nit picking to some, is simply a detailed evaluation to another.
    Last edited by RuSsMaN; 12-24-2005 at 06:41 PM.
    Check your lips at the door woman. Shake your hips like battleships. Yeah, all the white girls trip when I sing at Sunday service.

  9. #9

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    Russ said it all!

    I will add musical as a verb. 6922's are very musical!

    1/4twin
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  10. #10

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    Russ hit it on the head.
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  11. #11
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    I agree with those above that you need multiple terms. Russ' list looks relatively complete. Only one that comes to mind that doesn't seem to be there is "control".

    EB,
    If you look, you have more than four terms.
    More later,
    Tour...
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  12. #12

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    Kicks ass = sounds really good
    That sucks = sounds really bad
    Not bad = sounds ok

    Those are the terms I use.

    I find I can describe all the components in my lineup and how they sound and perform by using only those 3 terms.
    polkaudio sound quality competitor since 2005
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  13. #13

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    A question -- how do you qualify the use of such terms as attack, decay, pace, presence, etc. between the musical effect of a change in a component and the intended sound or quality of the recording without a baseline upon which to judge it?

    Seems to me that if the music sounds great, then it's great music. There's simply no need to articulate the various nuances of its "greatness." That's like a friend telling me about a great action movie by describing in detail why he thought it was great using a host of fanciful phrases that only he understands. What for? You can't describe the taste of an apple to someone who never ate an apple. If one gets too detailed in attempting to explain the unexplainable, isn't it a meaningless endeavor? That's why I can appreciate MacLeod's definitions. :p
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  14. #14
    Old School
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    Quantifying specific terms in a way that's meaningful to someone else is difficult, but the less specific the "measure", the more difficult the communication.

    With subjective measures communication is only possible if there is a common frame of reference. It's one of the things that I get out of Polkfests and other face2face encounters with CP folk.
    More later,
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  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Early B.
    A question -- how do you qualify the use of such terms as attack, decay, pace, presence, etc. between the musical effect of a change in a component and the intended sound or quality of the recording without a baseline upon which to judge it?

    Seems to me that if the music sounds great, then it's great music. There's simply no need to articulate the various nuances of its "greatness." That's like a friend telling me about a great action movie by describing in detail why he thought it was great using a host of fanciful phrases that only he understands. What for? You can't describe the taste of an apple to someone who never ate an apple. If one gets too detailed in attempting to explain the unexplainable, isn't it a meaningless endeavor? That's why I can appreciate MacLeod's definitions. :p
    MMMMMM....this food is great! That doesn't tell me why the food is great, perhaps what one person thinks is great, tastes like poo nuggets to me. I certainly am all for using baseline definitions for audio terms. It comes down to knowing the reviewer and reading multiple reviews to find out if there is any consistancy to reviews. IMO, just saying great, good, bad doesn't give me enough insight into anything.

    I agree with your earlier post EarlyB in that setting a context, listing equipment used, musical material, listening habits, room size, etc....are all nec in a review in addition to the typical terms used to describe what one is hearing. You will never get a 100% correct answer based on other peoples impression/perception of a given event, thing, person, etc.. they are trying to describe. Going overboard in a description is not good either.

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

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  16. #16

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    I can say - this apple tastes good.

    But I can also say - this apple has a nice tart-y taste to it with a skin that isnt too hard to digest and a crunchy core. The meat of the apple is juicy enough that it explodes in your mouth, yet not so much that it dribbles out your lips. The skin is supple and firm to the touch, yet easy to break with a mere tap of your teeth.... it doesnt get in the way of the real apple. The apple, as a whole, is rather small... but large enough to be cupped with one hand - eaten - and rotated for the next bite.

    Personally, I like the latter. But that's me.
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  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Joey_V
    I can say - this apple tastes good.

    But I can also say - this apple has a nice tart-y taste to it with a skin that isnt too hard to digest and a crunchy core. The meat of the apple is juicy enough that it explodes in your mouth, yet not so much that it dribbles out your lips. The skin is supple and firm to the touch, yet easy to break with a mere tap of your teeth.... it doesnt get in the way of the real apple. The apple, as a whole, is rather small... but large enough to be cupped with one hand - eaten - and rotated for the next bite.

    Personally, I like the latter. But that's me.
    That is the sexiest description of an apple I've ever read. . Where can I buy them. :D

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30; Eastern Electric Mini Max; Adcom GDA600; MIT S3/Z Pc; SDA 1C; Squeezebox; Tubes add soul!

  18. #18

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    Some people believe that the BIGGEST invention man has ever accomplished is the written word. So.... why not make the best of it?

    If one is consistent with his use of "audio adjectives", then I say, the more one uses to describe a speaker - the better. It gives me better insight into the speaker's characteristics.
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  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by RuSsMaN
    Those are what I try to use (from Dennis Boyle, Chimera Labs), there are many elements of sound reproduction, and what may be nit picking to some, is simply a detailed evaluation to another.
    An excellent foundation of terms to build musical vocabulary from.

    An understanding of each of course is not really necessary to enjoy the music, however, when I find a musical passage. track, or even an entire movement of music that I really connect with the reason why I like it can generally be found in the list and may point to a piece of gear or entire system that is doing something in the list particularly well. I have found that if I do not understand a reviewer's meaning a simple e-mail is normally answered. As suggested, once you understand what a term means to a reviewer you are better able to relate (or disagree).

    As I change gear or speakers certain components may do a better job in a an area that can be described with the above terms. Of course it all falls back on the artists and for our home systems the recording engineers who have their own language to describe things.

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