How to describe sound – An audiophile terminology guide

Sound Properties

The audiophile hobby can be confusing for the uninitiated, and accurately identify what you are hearing can be hard.  Thankfully, there are many descriptors that audiophiles use, and you will see these terms used throughout my reviews.  I have tried to keep it as simple as possible. These are some of the more technical words/phrases you might encounter when reading various equipment reviews. Oftentimes it’s hard to know where to start and if there is anything you don’t understand, feel free to ask a question via email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Airy – Describes the space and openness of the product usually associated with open-back headphones and live-sounding music.

Analytical – A term used to describe a product that produces a high level of detail about the music being played back

Balance – Usually the tuning of the earphone.  For example, a well-balanced headphone would display the attributes of not having one particularly dominant frequency, e.g., the bass, mids, and highs are all balanced.

Bass – This is the lower end frequency of human hearing. You can measure bass in quantity (heaviness) and quality (the clarity within the frequency).  Other bass descriptors are muddy and boomy.

Bloat – Bloat is usually present in the mid-bass.

Bright/Brightness – usually displayed in the upper frequencies or upper mids.  Brightness is a feature enjoyed by many but walks a thin line to becoming unpleasant due to a potential of treble peaking.

Congestion – Sounds overlapping each other and poor clarity.

Crisp – Clear

Dark/Darkness – Usually where the higher frequencies are less prominent.

Decay – How a sound/note/resonance fades away, i.e., the note decay was lengthy.

Depth – How far away the instrument’s spacing is from back to front.

Detail – The attention to a full reproduction with all sound/notes being audible and present.

Forward – A more intense overall presentation of the sound.  Opposite of laid back and relaxed.

Fun – A usually high-energy sound with an emphasized bass.

Harsh is usually used to describe the upper mid to upper frequencies when you get too much treble, which is an unpleasant quality.

Highs – The upper frequencies/ higher notes.

Imaging – The placement and position of an instrument as interpreted through the use of a product.

Lush – A rich tone and usually with some warmth to the overall presentation.

Microphonics – Friction sound heard in a headphone/Earphone caused by the cable’s movement or rubbing.  High microphonics = Bad.

Mids/Midrange – The middle frequencies (usually the main body of vocals and acoustic guitars amongst others ((see instrument frequency chart))

Muddy – Unclear presentation of sound the opposite of clean/clear.

Natural – Sounds as it should, real and true to life.

Openness – Displays good width and depth in the presentation, plenty of room in between instruments.

Punch – The impact and pop of a particular sound/frequency etc

Sibilant – The high unpleasant peaks that are usually unpleasant to the ear if too prevalent.

Signature – the overall tone/tuning of a headphone or earphone.  Descriptors can be balanced, bassy, sibilant, etc.

Soundstage – Described in 3d terms (height width and depth) 

Timbre – The tone of a note

Transparent – Similar to clarity, it is a clean, clear, open, and detailed quality.

Warm/warmth – Engaging vocals, bumped mid-bass and clear and lush midrange.

Audiophile On
Audiophile On is a website dedicated to high-end audio products. With over 15 years as a reviewer, all articles are hand-written by one person to allow the comparison of products. Headphones, earphones, speakers, amplifiers, or DAC's we cover here.

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