Hi-Fi Lingo and What we should be listening for

I'm writing this because I think that it would be beneficial to have a consensus on what various terms used to describe a systems sound mean. I get the impression that there is confusion, or at least that people use the same term to describe more than one quality.

For example i've seen some components described as "overly detailed", this also seems to have connotations in a lot of people minds of brightness or tilted up trebel. I really think the two are completely separate, and that in fact if your goal is to get the most realistic portrayal of the recorded event it is impossible to have an overly detailed component/presentation. You can only have as much detail as was recorded, if you want to recreate it in a manner that is as close to reality as possible (assuming the recording comes close to the semblance of the actual instrument), then almost by definition you want all the detail that is on the recording. Detail is what it is, it does not imply brightness...although tilted -up trebel often gives the impression of detail careful listening will separate one from the other.

The other term that seems full of connotaion and ambiguity is "musical"...this has got to be the most overused desriptor in our hobby. It has connotations of emotional involvment but strangly also of warmth....again i think this needs clarification...I would think and feel personally that the most musical presentation would be one that sounds the closest to the actual event hence warmth would be a detractor and less musical than nutrality...if it is music we are listening for then how can something other than faithful recreation of the musical event be more musical.

If a recordng is warm then the warmth will show up on a neautral system just as a brightly recorded album will sound bright...as it should...

Im not trying to stir anything up just putting this out there to generate a dialogue.

Why dont audiophiles almost by definition like neutral components...assuming the goal of out hobby is the accurate recreation of the recorded musical event.


Nuetrality doesn't always lend itself to being enjoyable to listen to. The goal isn't always the most accurate reproduction possible. The goal (for me) is the most accurate *while* being the most enjoyable to listen to. Otherwise, why would I sit there and listen?

I think the question is: What we should be "feeling" for?
I think bright is also mistaken for detail, I never hear "bright" sound when I see the Cleveland Orchestra but I hear bunches of detail.
Warmth....I dunno what to think when I hear this term, we simply all dont agree on speakers characters. I suppose to me when a speaker has an outstanding midrange and a tweeter that does not over power the mids, that is a warm speaker.
Musical, I always am aware of my toe tapping, almost every single time this happens I consider it musical but thats just me. When a speaker flows and the music emotion and impact gets my head bobbing, my toes tapping and my face grinning, to me thats "Musical".
Frankly, I hope you ARE stirring things up. There is a lot of "mumbo-jumbo" talk in the audiophile universe. It ain't a scientific discipline - though certainly aspects are amenable to scientific study. To me the whole "hobby" is like wine tasting...budget and experience influence your product choices, expectations and level of enjoyment -not to mention descriptive language. To me, listen a lot, buy what you can afford (stretch a little !), love what you buy. And don't worry if it isn't the ultimate last word on the best system for the $ you spend. Chances are you won't be doing A/B testing after the purchase anyway.
Here ya go. Everything you ever wanted to know about describing what you are hearing...or not hearing.

Montyx - Thanks. A very helpful article. I copied and saved the link to my hard drive. I appreciate your constructive input vs my somewhat cranky rant!
I love the subject of this post because too much of the lingo is pretty much meaningless to me. Some however is quite relevant and actually does help us get to a short list of potential components. I do like the idea of using the Stereophile definitions as a baseline.

One of the descriptors that makes me laugh is "true to the source" - as if anyone short of those that were at the recording could have any idea of what the source truly sounds like.

I was reading through a popular audio catalog the other day and saw some of these beauties - an amp with "rhythmic drive", another that promised "greater spiritual depth" and another that delivered "fast paced timing". And I simply must get these cables that offer "pure neutrality" but with "a wealth of warmth in the mid-band" - who knew I could get both a neutral and a non-neutral signal all in the same cable? My favorite is a review of some speakers that I actually own that told me that they had a sense of "following the tune". I sure am glad my speakers can do that!
Itball - those are good examples of the kind of language that makes me crazy. Guess I'm not alone.
Itball, Good examples! It might be fun to start a new thread with just nonsensical terms as the subject.

BTW, FWIW, re comments on detail and brightness, don't overlook that the naturalness of the decay in a signal goes a long way towards establishing whether the sound will be percieved as overly detailed or bright. I believe that a lot of stuff that is linear but still 'sounds' bright or excessively detailed is due to the absence of proper signal decay. The focus of the sound is on the rise time and the decay is too short.
It's hard to describe in words what we are hearing. I've changed my taste over time. For me musical means pleasing to my ear but not maybe exactly the exact true tone that was recorded. Small colorations if you insist. This is what I like but I know it's not quite exact.
Overly detailed for me is something that is very exacting but so much so that I can only hear the flaws on what otherwise is a decent recording. I don't believe in "The absolute sound" anymore, I believe in the art of the recording. I want my hi-fi to sound like... well, like hi-fi, good hi-fi. I've never been more happy with my system, I'm 52 and I'm buying more music than I ever have. I'm not on "the merry go round" and I'm still buying new gear, every purchase brings new enjoyment but unlike in the past the number of my old records that sound good is increasing not diminishing. In the past it was the other way around, to the point where only about 10 albums were worth playing. 35 years in the hobby and I've never had more fun.

Thanx for listening,
great thread! lots of good points. fwiw i have acoustic instrments, grand piano etc., being played in the room bordering my listening area. to me, the only goal in my stereo rig AND ROOM is to as closely as possible recreate that sound quality coming from the 'live' room. if music is recorded poorly i do not find it compelling for very long. a real virtuoso bland recording may be more compelling but still not what i want to spend time with. point is: for ME, the ability to hear the diff. is not something a lot of people may have. not a judgement. my mom has perfect pitch but it does not make her a 'better' musician. AND lotso listeners do not care for my type of music. my system is mismatched with the stones and zeppelin but i still like to hear them on other stereos.
I agree this is a great thread. I have become a little disinheartened lately with everyone who just seems to copy what they say in the audio rags. It seems that when stereophile states a system shouldn't "image" becuase it is an artifact of the recording not of live sound then everyone just agrees. I think that is the worst load of Sh*t I have heard. If you can't hear what direction someone is speaking from then you have no business in this hobby. The reason this relates to this thread is that lately I have noticed people saying things like it has a "Hi-Fi" sound not a musical sound. What the hell is that supposed to mean? "Hi-Fi" the last I looked stood for high fidelity, or highly faithful to the original.

I suspect the confusion of the terminology stems form the same audio rags. If you notice, Stereophile hardly ever gives a bad review. When they do they mascarade it with terms like, it sounded very forward. Well that isn't necesarilly a bad thing could be a forward presentation as in the sound stage was in front of the speakers or some use it to mean it was bright.
Maybe it is because music is not english and can't be quite explained in words, it is also something you feel. That is why some high end systems have it and others sound cold and analytical perhaps. I remember peter gabriel saying something like that your mind interprets music and fills in the details of what you hear in a sense. With a lot of equipment I think there is an art involved in manufacturing and sounding out gear and I wonder if some of it is getting lost through greed over time, which the hifi gurus try to gloss over with their nice words. I noticed the weight of the cd players sound and impact getting thinner the newer the stuff becomes. Also I have older speakers Mordaunt Short Signifer(1980) and comparing these with some modern $3000-$4000 Dynaudio speakers the loss of impact from the Dyn bass mid drivers was shocking. You can hear a drum on the MS and it hits you, it sounds awefully punchless on the dynaudio's.

Perhaps audible differences in music conveyance aren't that great anymore between the various competetitors, so a perception needs to be created by the media that XXX is so much better, and therefore warrents your dollar and because there is no real love for music involved anymore the reviewers get confused. Mind you Art Dudley wrote an article to the effect that all expensive powercables are a waste of time and he has only heard an improvement in sound with a digital source by using a more expensive one. In view of that what do I make of people paying $6000 for a good cable. I think by him writing an article like that his opinion can be regarded as possibly not being manipulated by greed. Music is an experience, and maybe we should get a glossary of word meanings as used in some legal documents to be able to desribe the experience with a more objective tone.