How Black is Your Background?

The term "black background" is bandied about quite a bit by cable makers. But has anyone actually ever seen one? Of course, this a visual metaphor because the sound of music is not black, nor is the absence of music black.

If we change the wording, what does that elusive "silent background" actually sound like? The only times I have ever hear a silent background in my system are before the music starts playing and after it stops. Are cable manufacturers and reviewers just pulling our collective legs with a wonderful marketing term -- selling the concept of a "black background"? Or is there more to this than meets the ear?

Here are some of the terms that cable manufacturers and reviewers use to describe the "black background". Can you pick out which term applies to your system? Can anyone explain the differences between these multifarious descriptions of blackness?

“dark background”
“black background”
“blacker background”
“blackest background”
“an almost eerie, black background”
“super-black background”
“liquid black background”
“black hole background”
“exquisitely black background”
“inky black background”
“surprisingly black background”
“absolutely silent and black background”
“velvety black background”
“naturally black background”
“jet-black background”
“totally black background”
“deep black background”
“wonderful dark blackground”
“drop-dead silent background”
“pitch black background”
“quiet black background”
“blacker quieter background”
“blackest background possible”
“blackest background that you have ever heard”
“darkest blackest background”
“very black background”
“darkest and blackest background possible”
“blackest of backgrounds”
“blackest of black background”
“enhanced black background”
“deep dark background”
“impressive dark background”
“ultra black background”
“dead black background”
Vacuum of space background.
how about 6 feet buried underground black?
Blacker than a flat array of vertically-aligned, single-walled carbon nanotubes.

Blacker than my true love's hair.
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.
Center of a black hole background
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.
My advice is the OP shouldn't waste too much time worrying about a precise interpretation of an audio buzz word as embellished by a bunch of wanna-be Truman Capotes.
My background is a black as Darth Vader's helmet.
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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.
To quote Mr Spock

Fascinating!!! eyebrow raised.
A "liquid black background" without coloration or frequency emphasis is what i'm trying to achieve.
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.
Eh could be blacker as my always pessamistic grandmother used to say. If more blackness couldn't be attained what would all these blackening enhancing products have to say. They would shrivel and die into a blackness they would never recover from.
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!
I like tha blackness of my Isoclean transformer/power conditioner/cables in my system.....since I put it into my system, I do not think about any blackeness any more.....
I like my background so black that it bends the light in my room.
It really focuses my attention.

All the best,
My background becomes eerily black when I turn off the lights and close my eyes, but I can only do this for short periods at a time as I am worried that the boogie man is going to jump out of my speakers at me, when I least expect it :-(
I hate the boogie man. He ruins everything.
can I borrow your "Sonic Enima" cable name that one is very funny.
Lol, Mechans, I first thought that you just wanted to borrow his sonic enima cable...ewww!
Three shades darker than a Hershey bar !!!!
I killed this thread, huh? Oops...
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.
Gbmcleod-Great post! Studio or hall acoustics can determine the type of blackness one hears when heard live or in a recording. All concert halls do not sound alike. So why is it difficult(for some) to believe there are different characteristics of blackness?
Gbmcleod, thanks, that actually makes sense! You taught me something new! Thanks :-)
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.
mine is more of a Payne's grey... Maybe I should work on that...
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.
When you manage to have a hifi system that sounds on speakers as good as on a high quality headphone / phoneamp set, you know you made it. It’s a peaty the process takes so many dolars in the way.
Never blacker than when the system is off. This discussion lacks substance, the exact opposite of a black hole