Audiophile Jargon Demonstrated

I've been thinking recently about audiophile jargon and which of them could be demonstrated through setup manipulation to the average listener or less experienced audiophile.  I've found that I didn't have a working concept for many of the terms commonly used, but have had some experiences with my system that were a bit of an "ah ha" moment where I felt like I understood at least a bit more.

Below are some definitions from the link that are related to how audiophiles describe how a system sounds and what they can hear.  Pick one or two and describe a demonstration that could be done to help someone better understand the term.  Can it be demonstrated through adjustments in the physical setup or switching a component or two within the system?


Analytical – Sound with a high emphasis on detail, achieved through a boosting of the high frequencies.

Bloat – A lack of definition and clarity in the mid-bass range. Overly-accentuated bass makes the signature sound heavy and poorly tuned. Bloat is commonly associated with dark, or overly warm, sound signatures.

Bloom – A quality of expansiveness, richness, and warmth in music.

Bright/Brightness – A boost in the upper frequencies or upper-mid range. Brightness is a feature enjoyed by many but walks a thin line to becoming unpleasant due to a potential of treble peaking.

Brilliance – High frequencies from 5kHz up to 20kHz. Not enough? Sound will be muddy. Too much? You'll hear hissing and sibilance.

Clarity – Macro details in sound. You hear every sound distinctly.

Congestion – Poor clarity caused by overlapping sounds. Congested sound signatures lack detail and clarity, making it hard to hear separate instruments and may also be called muddy or muffled.

Dark/Darkness – A quality of sound defined by prominent bass and recessed treble. 

Decay – Describing the fade effect/length of a sound or note.

Depth – Describing how far away the instruments spacing is from back to front.

Detail – The subtlest, most delicate parts of the original sound, which are usually the first things lost my imperfect components.

Dynamics – The volume of a sound or musical note.

Forward – A more intense overall presentation of the sound. Described as opposite of laid back and relaxed.

Glassy – Described as very bright.

Harsh – Usually used to describe the upper-mid to upper frequencies when you get too much treble. An unpleasant quality.

Imaging – The left-to-right localization of sound. The ability to locate instruments on an imaginary soundstage.

Low-Level Detail – The subtlest elements of musical sound, which include the delicate details of instrumental sounds and the final tail of reverberation decay.

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

Microphonics – Frictional sound heard in a headphone caused by movement or rubbing of the cable against itself or other objects. The rustling noise comes from physical vibrations being converted into electrical signals. This is also called cable noise and is minimized with proper shielding in higher-quality cables.

Muddy – An unclear presentation of the sound. The opposite of clean or clear.

Neutral – Sound that is free from coloration.

Openness – Described as good width and depth in the presentation of sound. Plenty of room between the instrumentation.

Resolution – Microdetails in sound. The "texture" of the sound.

Reverb – Short for reverberation. A diminishing series of echoes spaced sufficiently closely in time that they merge into a smooth decay.

Roll-off – Also known as rollout. A frequency response which falls gradually above or below a certain frequency limit. By comparison, the term “cutoff” implies an abrupt loss of level above or below the frequency limit.

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

Smooth – Describing the quality of sound reproduction having no irritating qualities; free from high-frequency peaks, and relaxing to listen to. Not necessarily a positive system attribute if accompanied by a slow, uninvolving character.

Soundstage – A description of the 3D sound space that a driver makes. A wide soundstage allows a listener to discern different positions for various sounds, lending a hand in making the sound more realistic. The bigger the soundstage, the better.

Texture/Texturing – A perceptible pattern or structure in reproduced sound, even if random in nature. Texturing gives the impression that the energy continuum of the sound is composed of discrete particles, like the grain of a photograph.

Timbre – The basic tone of a note, or the recognizable characteristic sound signature of an instrument.

Tonality – In referring to music, tonality is the quality of the instrument’s tone. In referring to audio, it refers to the reproduction of the sound and accuracy of the original timbres.

Transient – The leading edge of a percussive sound.

Transparent – Described as clarity in the sound presentation; being able to distinguish details and qualities.

Uncolored – Free from coloration. Sound that is neither warm nor bright, but neutral.

Veiled – Lack of full clarity due to noise or loss of detail from limited transparency.

Warm/Warmth – A quality of sound defined by fullness, engaging vocals, bumped mid-bass, and a clear midrange. Warm sound is often described as "cozy" or "pleasant"; excessive warmth may be described as "laid back" or "lush."

Weight – The feeling of solidity and foundation contributed to music by extended, natural bass reproduction.

Width – The apparent lateral spread of a stereo image. If appropriately recorded, a reproduced image should sound no wider or narrower than how it sounded originally.


When I rolled tubes in my Pathos and upgraded to some Audioquest interconnects the result was experiencing transients, timbres, and decay in a new way.  The dynamics increased where I can hear individual notes bloom build and then decay.



I think I can say that I've heard "grain" as well.  I had a Cambridge Audio 840A integrated amplifier for a few months that just had a digital grunge sound to it and I think I even used the word "pixels" to describe the sound.

I think almost all of the terms are somewhat subjective based on listener preferences as someone that prefers a warmer sound may consider something most people would consider to be neutral as being too detailed or bright.  The terms are most valuable when making comparisons using something or an experience in common as the reference.

You missed Digital Glare. That additional background that adds an unnatural /unpleasant  tonality.  I found it most noticeable with vocals. It's almost as if autotune was on.  

the Analytical Bloat and Bloom created Brilliance with Clarity not Congestion or Darkness of Depth, Detail and Dynamics .

the Forward, Glassy, Harsh, Imaging gave Low-Level, Lush Microphonics which Muddy the Neutral and Openness of Resolution .

While Reverb with Roll and Sibilant Smooth gave Soundstage Texture and Timbre combining Tonality with Transient Transparent  yet Uncolored Veiled.

of Warm and Width 

@cdc - Buzzword bingo is always fun.

Most of the audiophile terms are relative so must be compared to a common point of reference.

The guy that recommended and sold me Mullard tubes for my amplifier had previously owned the amplifier and currently owned one of the same brand, so had a true point of reference for what he felt made significant improvements.  What was equally valuable was his recognition of his strong preference for a very warm sound, so recommend the tubes with that caveat since the description of my preferences were on the clarity end of the spectrum.  As it turned out, the tubes did result in a warmer sound, but the overall improvement in sound quality was so far superior that warmth vs. clarity wasn't a worthwhile factor for comparison.


I do think, however, that some of the terms describe things that should be able to be demonstrated by changing the physical setup.