Vacuum of space background.
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Mine is like really , really black. Really!
Seriously it is amazingly dead quiet normally even with tube pre-amp in play, at least when the tubes are running well.
Not sure how much I would attribute this to wires used. There are differences no doubt there but the introduction of the BEl CAnto ref 1000m amps into the system moved things into absolute dead quiet background territory. It was clearly noticeable upon first listen. Background noise is one thing I cannot tolerate if I hear it. Drives me batty, even if only noticeable when nothing is playing and in very close proximity to speakers.
I know one agoner who used the same BC amps with 100+ db efficient horns at one point and also reported no noise issues at the time as I recall.
I think it gets blacker as I age and my hearing deteriorates. Free upgrade!
Really though my background is only as black as the ambient noise of the aquarium between my speakers allows. The noise could be measured but could also be subjective since I don't notice it anymore after close to forty years with this setup.
I go for cables that provide more "air" because I hate it when the room gets hot and stuffy.
I clamped some $5 EMI/RFI filters from Radio Shack onto the power cord to my CD player, and all of a sudden I was hearing small, low-level details and nuances that I'd never heard before. I suppose they'd been masked by electronic hash from EMI/RFI contamination--and that my background is officially "blacker" now. Music simply sounds more natural, expressive, and relaxed, and it's easier to see how musical lines relate to each other. I think Elizabeth's TV grain comparison is right on: less grain, more (and more easily interpreted) detail.
Ironically, I also think a "black" background makes music more expressive and colorful.
All of the above are good answers and yes it is a buzz word used by the manufacturers.
I'll give you the simple answer as the term black is used in my work in the film/video biz.
We all know the term "fade to black"... there is video black and audio black. Both mean no picture or sound, no noise, no distortion. The purest black can be measured on a scope as zero black. (like a flat line).
In hifi I would say black is a signal with no noise, hiss, colouration. The cables would accurately present the music from the source to the speakers.
"In hifi I would say black is a signal with no noise, hiss, colouration. The cables would accurately present the music from the source to the speakers."
Cables might affect the coloration part but not sure any decent properly functioning cable would affect hiss and not even noise again if properly functioning and not defective in some way. A defective cable and/or improperly connected cable can and will produce noise, often clearly audible, though sometimes perhaps quite subtle and not clearly discerned except when absent otherwise.
Mapman, didn't mean to imply cables are adding hiss or noise. I meant the system as a whole. So I'm saying cables are not adding anything, just transfering the signal from the source. Of course some cables "colour" the sound.(and some people want that).
You know, the old garbage in/garbage out theory.
It's not just the shade of black, it's the texture of black. I really like velvet black, as say compared to satin black. The warmth and feel of velvet between notes is so soothing I wish the music would stop playing. I mean the black velvet silence between notes just completely overwhelms any notes played by the artist. My Sonic Enema cables are specially made for just this effect LOL!
A "black background" refers to the absence of noise, allowing each instrument to exist apart from other instruments surrounding it, ALONG WITH its own pocket of the ambience of the venue. It generally means, as Ablang, put it, a lack of RFI/EMI, which add a sonic "halo" around the instruments, joining them together instead of displaying them as separate entitites (e.g., a violin section will sound like there are [depending on your tweeter, of course] 10 violins instead of, say, 5 or 6, or 3 or sometimes - 1 BIG violin. It will have liquidity, but not always, as some backgrounds are clear black, but dry-sounding (usually a lack of 4-8k airiness that allows the venue's ambience to distinguish itself as Carnegie, Musikverein, Avery Fisher, etc.)
The VPI TNT has a black, "velvety" background (the original one: I wouldn't know about later iterations), but it is not a liquid background, nor is it dry. It would be akin to a slightly humid background.
Otherwise, backgrounds are shades of gray-ishness, making for a less clear "picture" of the placement of instruments. Just think of it as a low, low, low, LOW noise floor.
Of course, black refers to the quality of silence but ain't it odd that there are so many ways to describe that silence? Black is black. Silence is silence. You cannot have something that is more silent than silent. The fact that a whole lexicon of superlatives is used to describe that silence makes one wonder about the whole matter of silence -- and how truthful those descriptions are. I used to be in the advertising business. What you read about silence and blackness is ad copy. It has nothing to do with the real thing. There is no such thing as a black background, IMO. It is merely a concept that is used to sell products.
If you check the list in the OP you will get an idea of what I mean by this. "Blackness" is a marketing term for silence but there is no silence -- except when the music is turned off or when the musicians stop playing during a cut. We are being sold a crock with all the talk about blackness. Black is black. You cannot get blacker than black. Silence is silence. You cannot get more silent than silent. What is really at issue are qualities of detail/definition, imaging and sound stage. We are not talking about blackness or silence at all -- except as marketing terms. IMO.
We've basically got three different reference points going in this discussion: 1) the definition of complete silence; 2) what's going on in the quiet parts of a recording; and 3) the background noise and linearity of the playback system.
For number 1, Sabai is absolutely right - silence is silence and you cannot get any "blacker" than nothing.
For number 2, Gbmcleod is correct in that different concert halls sound different, but that really isn't complete silence, whether it is the rumble of the HVAC system or a nearby subway or the decay time involved at various frequencies. You hope the recording you have has accurately captured that along with the rest of the music. But there are often limits. This is particularly true with analog recordings, since a 60 or 70 dB dynamic range is about the best they can do. (Some people do get all excited to hear chairs creak and mike stands get bumped, but that's not really "music".)
Number 3 is the only one really tied to something a listener can control with his choice and setup of equipment. One aspect of that is background noise, but most modern equipment is very quiet in this regard. The source does require care since turntables can rumble and suffer feedback, tapes hiss and low-level signals can suffer RFI issues. Linearity is also an issue since some components, particularly speakers and their interaction with the amp, can compress or otherwise exhibit non-linear behavior as the volume dynamics scale up and down and change frequencies.
The catch with number 3 is, as with many things in audio, some people may prefer those non-linear colorations and describe them in glowing terms. That's fine -- people like what they like -- but I just wish they could scale back the hyperbole a bit.
Pitch black background, powerful and balanced quick, well defined basses gradually entering the mid freqs, clear mid freqs clearly positioning the instruments in space, and solid and well defined high freqs managing as well smoothness as harshness, and those features in a fast response, dynamic and transparent sound. It summits up all that I wish for on a Hifi system.
Pitch black background is just one of the wished proprieties.