minimze ambiguity when describing audio components

i have noticed and i myself am guilty of using adjectives when trying to describe the "sound" of audio components.

the words, warm, bright, dull, dark, to name a few are ambiguous terms for two reasons.

first, we hear differently. when serious listeners are evaluating the sound of audio equipment, several opposing terms may be used to describe the same component. secondly, without a definition of a term, a word may have different meaning when used by serious hobbyists.

there are 2 solutions.

first, lets have some definitions of commonly used adjectives, and post them where all can see them.
this may not be practical, so hear is solution 2:

describe the sound, instead of saying bright, say elevation in sound pressure in the range 1000 hz to 3000 hz. that is clear and specific.

if someone is looking for a cable wwith a particular sound, describe the sound specificalyy instead of using adjectives.

the word "polite" has idiosyncratic conotations. say what you mean by polite instead of saying "polite".

there still is an unavidable problem, namely differences in perception. someone may hear an elevation in spl in the bass (50 to 100 hz), while someone else may disagree, saying there is no increase in spl in that region.

differences in perception are unavoidable., but at least specifics make it easier to confirm or disconfirm a perception or opinion.
Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.
A certain cable will have a different sound depending on the system it's placed in. It's all sales talk,most everybody knows that;'ya think?
Here are some useful definitions from Stereophile.

describe the sound, instead of saying bright, say elevation in sound pressure in the range 1000 hz to 3000 hz. that is clear and specific

If that's what you want to know, fluffy verbal decriptions are not the right tool for the job. Meaure the thing.
hi avguygeorge, i agree with you. when two people listen to the same system, there will be 3 opinions.

when the two listeners tell a third person, they may use different adjectives to describe that system, confusing the third person, or they may use the same adjectives differently.

zargon has the right idea. go to the stereophile glossary of terms and hope evryone is on the same page.

instead be direct. describe precisely what you hear.

my favorite is: "the cymbal sounded more like steel than brass" .
Avguygeorge, I used to think that was true, but now I think you've got it backwards. That is to say, a particular cable will have a particular sonic signature. Its physical and electrical properties do not change after break-in. However, the different systems (and different locations within a system) where the particular cable is placed will vary quite a bit. This doesn't change the sound of the cable -- the sound of the system, as a whole, is what varies/changes...
Whether or not a cable or interconnect has a particular sonic signature, I think MrTennis is suggesting that we adopt a different set of descriptors. I understand his point, but disagree with the idea. It has taken audiophile magazines and hobbyists several decades to try to develop an audio "language" which is -- while still rather imprecise -- largely understood by most of us. My "bright" may not be exactly your "bright", but at least we understand the premise. There is also some merit to having a commonly accepted shorthand for describing audio qualities. So, I for one would rather stick with the language we have already have.
Sd, I think Mrtennis is suggesting that we define the terms we already have -- not change them or make up a new set. Additionally, he would prefer it if we used more specific scientific language instead of the customary audiophile subjective terms, which can vary in their scope of meaning from person to person...

That said, I'd like to be 6'2" instead of 5'9". :)
there is a broader problem sdcampbell. it's variation in perception.

if the word bright is used, maybe you hear an elevation in sound pressure between 100 hz and 3000 hz and you use the term bright.

i might not perecive what you perceive when listening to the same stereo system you already heard.

it is better to describe directly what you heard. if you are listening to a recording featuring certain instruments, mention what they are and discuss what you hear using nouns.
of course there still is no guarantee that what you describe i will confirm if i heard it myself, but at least its a step in the direction of better communication. i don't want to have a 2 or 3 page list of terms and definitions in front of me when i try to understand an anecdotal narrative of a listening experience.
Ah, Mrtennis, I see part of your problem. The term "bright" is rarely used to describe the sonic range between 100Hz and 1000Hz. To me, upper-midrange brightness is between about 2kHz and 3.5kHz; lower treble brightness is between 4kHz and 10kHz, and upper treble refers to sounds over 10kHz. But 100Hz is very definitely a bass frequency...
It seems Zargons' post and suggestion to use the "glossary"
by Stereophile would be a good start at the very least; until someone comes up with a better idea.
hi plato. the problem is not definition. its perception. how confident can one be of hearing an elevation in spl in the range 1khz to 3khz. without a spectral analyzer, such a statement would be a conjecture.

however describing the "sound" of instruments in concrete, clear and easy to understand terms would eliminate the use of adjectives.

does the cymbal sound (more) like brass or steel ? again, its easy to listen to a cymbal, go to a music store, find a drum stick and strike the cymbal. it should sound like a brass object. one can, to some extent train one's ears to recognize the sound of different metals.
No, Mr. Tennis, it isn't that easy. You must, at the very least, find both a brass cymbal and a steel one, and listen to them over and over and over again until you can tell which is which without looking. Then and only then will you be qualified to judge whether a certain system makes cymbals sound more like brass or steel.

Listener training is not easy. If you want to get an idea of how hard it is, Sean Olive wrote an AES paper on training his expert listening panel at Harman. Not only were untrained listeners terrible at the task (in this case, identifying the general frequency region that was out of baance), but must people still couldn't do it after extensive training.

No audiophile or--more importantly--audio reviewer has ever subjected himself to that level of ear training, which is precisely why subjective reviewing is worthless, no matter how tightly you try to control the language they use. Your holy grail doesn't exist.
I agree with Pabelson, this is far from easy. 1000hz or 3000hz. Brass versus steel. Everyone must be able to discern these differences in an exact, uniform and unanimous fashion for them to have any meaning at all.

Besides, I don't have a problem at all with the various ways people describe what they hear using the existing terms or even a person's own unique writing style. I've been buying used equipment on Audiogon for almost six years based on other member's descriptions and have almost never been surprised.

Take for example the second post by Skyboy in this thread. WHo the hell else writes like this? Yet I made a purchase based on his post and got exactly what I expected:

I'm happy with my clear sky, fine wine, wilderness landscape DAC.
MrTennis, I'm wondering if you had something like this in mind when you talk about steel versus brass sounding.

A few years ago I compared Acoustic Zen Hologram II speaker cables versus Audience's AU24 over a five month period. One of the descriptives I used when trying to relate the contrast in the way these cables rendered high hats was that with the AZ Hologram I was much more aware of the sizzle and shimmer after the strike, where as with the AU24 the sound of the wooden stick hitting the metal surface was more central to the sound.
hi gunbei, i think you're onto something. if you mean that the sound of the wood of the drum stick was more noticeable relative to the cymbal using the audience cable, relative to the acoustic zen, then i believe you have communicated clearly.

would you perhaps also mean that there was a difference in the balance, especially in the lower treble ?

the other comments about ear training are accurate and any anecdotal, subjective statements about the sound of steel vs brass should be taken in the context that a listener probably has not had sufficient training to make a definitive statement.

since most listeners and reviewers have not had rigorous training in the detection of instrumental timbral differences, subjective comments are at best taken lightly, like other subjective opinions.

unfortunately, making decisions based upon such comments can be risky.
"No audiophile or--more importantly--audio reviewer has ever subjected himself to that level of ear training, which is precisely why subjective reviewing is worthless, no matter how tightly you try to control the language they use. Your holy grail doesn't exist."
That could well be true. There are at least two "Ear Training" courses available in CD format, by David-Lucas Burge*. I own them both but have been too undisciplined to go all the way thru them (my bad, but at least I'm honest).
The Perfect Pitch ® Ear Training SuperCourse

{{{*FOOTNOTE: No conflict of interest exists--I don't work for him or sell the product or personally know anyone (or even OF anyone) who sells the product.}}}
“All knowledge is ambiguous.” J. S. Habgood, Archbishop of York
Mrtennis, that's exactly what I was trying to relate. I was pretty shocked that such subtle nuances could be discerned. I noticed this contrast in the midrange as well.

Mdhoover, boy, that disclaimer at the end really is "mouse type", heheh.
gunbei, you have good ears and clear prose. i wish all reviewers followed your example of clear and concise expression.
Thanks Mrtennis, but in the case of the AZ/Audience comparison I did allow myself 5 months to discern these differences, heheh.