Neutral or warm? Which do you prefer?


I have 2 sets of speakers with different characteristics (among others I have).

One is neutral while the other one has more warmth to the sound.

I enjoy both on different music, but started wondering what do other members prefer?

What's "supposed" to be "better"? ... if there is such a thing in hifi.

Opinions of members here are most interesting and educational for me...
liquid-smooth
Mind you, I'm not an audiophile. I just like to listen to music and enjoy it more when it sounds good. I prefer speakers to be more neutral so that I can hear the music as it was intended.

To me, the term "warm" infers that edges have been rounded off and this is done at the expense of some detail.

I'd go for neutral, but I have experienced some recordings that could do with a bit of added warmth. I recently picked up a Yaqin tube buffer with a set of JAN Philips 6sn7 tubes. Now, I just kick it in when I want to warm things up a bit.

For what my opinion is worth, I'd say that there's no "supposed to be better." I'd go with whatever has you closing your eyes and listening to the music rather than the equipment.
To answer your question first, "better" is whatever is best for that individual.

There are no absolutes in this hobby. If there was then the near endless debates about amp types, speaker types, cartridge types, cable types etc, would not need to exist OR there would be near universal answers.

Now if you are asking if more members prefer a system that they know is "colored" but prefer it anyway or do they prefer a system that sounds as "neutral" as possible to them, that's a horse of a different color.

For myself, I strive to reproduce the music as close to possible as to what I hear in real life. Of course that does not keep me from telling someone I prefer product "X" because it has a "warmer" sound however in that case "warmer" to me would be a more natural sound than "leaner, colder" product "Y" in that particular case.

In the end it's all about whatever gets you feeling as good (if possible) as the original live music would have.
Hi Liquid-smooth -- I've been interested in the question of "neutrality" vs. "warmth" for several years. Two threads that may interest you are How do you judge your system's neutrality? and What is "warmth" and how do you get it?. Judging from the responses on those threads, my impression is that the majority of audiophiles prefer warmth to neutrality. There is also a contingent of audiophiles who maintain that 'neutrality' is a meaningless or useless concept. I am not one of them.

Personally, I prefer a system that is built for neutrality with just a little bit of warmth. There is no right or wrong. It's a matter of preference. But an interesting question nonetheless.

Bryon
I like warm sound better as long as bass isn't soft.
For what my opinion is worth, I'd say that there's no "supposed to be better." I'd go with whatever has you closing your eyes and listening to the music rather than the equipment.
Very good answer, Tonyangel.

Neutral or warm? Neither, I prefer natural and lifelike, as if the actual instrument was playing in the room.
I believe in balance, usually I can make just about any gear work. Take the neutral speakers and run some nice organic electronics. Then take the warm speakers and run some revealing electronics. The outcome will sound similar.

I like my sound totally balanced, revealing, but not edgy, musical yet not dark. It's like walking a tightrope getting the sound just right. If pressed, I would say that I prefer a system that errs slightly on the side of musicality rather than a system that errs on the side of transparency.
I think I would say that I prefer neutrality, but the sonics of my room can be somewhat cooler, so I prefer warmer components. However, warmer components in a more neutral sounding room might leave me wanting. It's all about synergy between the components and the room.
Technical director of Benchmark Media Systems Inc. said this about DAC1:

"We designed the DAC1 for maximum transparency. If you want to add warmth, you can't add it with a DAC1. Personally, I do not like what warm sounding equipment does to the sound of a piano. Warmth is wonderful on vocals, guitars and certain instruments, but it beats against the stretched overtones of a piano. The overtones in a piano occur at slightly higher than harmonic ratios, and these create beat notes with the exact integer ratios produced by electronic equipment (and speakers). Too much harmonic distortion will make a piano sound out of tune."

I like slightly warm sound to compensate for overly bright recordings, that can be very unpleasant on neutral system.
Liquid Smooth,since you have both of the speakers in your possession, you're the best person to answer your question.

Being as ignorant as I am with regard to the hows and whys of audio, I really can't pin point particular qualities in equipment. Still, as I said, I do like to listen to music.

The personal litmus test that I devised is as follows. I get home. I fix myself an Old Fashion and I turn on some tunes. Over the course of about a week or so, I'll reflect on how much listening I did, assuming that I had time. What I've found is that even with speakers (or a system as a whole) that I think I like, I tend to listen for shorter lengths of time when I'm not really enjoying it as much as I think I am.

I know, it sounds idiotic, but I did admit to ignorance. My last three sets of speakers can be used as an example. I started with a pair of System Audio SA-505s. These are WONDERFUL little speakers. They sounded natural. I could listen to these for hours on end. I only turned the system off when I had to. The downside was that they didn't do rock very well. Not nearly as well as they did jazz and blues, anyway.

So...I got a pair of Paradigm Studio 10s. When I heard them at the dealer I fell in love. I got them home and I liked them. Very dynamic and detailed. Over the course of about a month or so, I discovered that I was listening much less that I was with the 505s. I was just getting tired of listening.

So...I put the 505s up for sale and got myself into a pair of Silverline Minuets. All I can say is that I've found my home (for now). They've done everything I've thrown at them well. Who would have thought that these relatively inexpensive speakers could be so nice. Since I got them, I've been listening continuously. When one play list ends, I start another.

In the end, it turns out that putting the analysis aside and letting my ears be the judge turned out to be the best way to decide.

It's tough to ask others to answer this question for you because you are the only one with your equipment in your listening area. I'm sure that another in different circumstances could greatly enjoy the 505s and the Studio 10s, but for me in my listening room, I just had to find what worked.
"Better" depends on the individual and listening environment. Generally I prefer a slight bias toward warmth but not too much.
UMMM ??????? neutral :)
Neutral.
Neutral.

Once you have distortion you can't get rid of it - if you want warmth you can add a warm source and/or amp.

Thanks
Bill
Neutral for evaluations and vinyl and warm for long term listening and digital. Jallen
I have to challenge all of these calls for 'neutral', as to me, 'neutral' is an ambiguous reference. However, many times on these boards, 'neutral' is used to refer to gear that is 'transparent', or gear that artificially brightens the upper midrange and lower treble region.

In my opinion, I also like a 'neutral' sound, a sound that is not rolled off, or darkened, but also a sound that is not artificially highlighted, or lightened. Many times I listen to equipment that some folk refer to as 'neutral', and it is obvious that the equipment has emphasis in the 'presence' range, to help highlight detail. In my humble opinion, this is NOT neutral.

I have nothing against folks that enjoy a tilted up high frequency response, but I do wish they would stop referring to it as 'neutral' sounding. Neutral gear should sound neither rolled off nor lit up, it should just sound relaxed and natural.
I'm one of those folks who can't identify with the use of the term 'neutral' as applied to live music, and as a result do not find it particularly useful in describing audio outside of the ideal (to some) of reproducing in your room exactly what was put down on your disc in the recording studio. (See threads mentioned by Bryon above.)

I want my recorded music to sound as 'natural' as possible, which considering the nature of most sources emphasizing the upper frequencies and concurrently a tight bass, understandably results in my choice of a system that reproduces a more warm tone to compensate.

Chauk me up for 'warm' if you must, but I really want a balanced and 'natural' sound.
I have nothing against folks that enjoy a tilted up high frequency response, but I do wish they would stop referring to it as 'neutral' sounding

I couldn't agree with you more. Evertime someone has reccomended a "nuetral" speaker to me, all I hear is a tilted up design, actually nothing but nuetral. Please don't take this personal if you own these but Usher Dancer is the most guilty of this "trick". Excellent cabinet, good components sounds almost brittle.
If by nuetral you mean uncolored I think we want that as a starting point but the poorer the recording the more we try to make it sound "better".
Smooth, fast, sweet, and clear. If you can check all those boxes you're done...

-RW-
"I have nothing against folks that enjoy a tilted up high frequency response, but I do wish they would stop referring to it as 'neutral' sounding. Neutral gear should sound neither rolled off nor lit up, it should just sound relaxed and natural."

I totally agree but if lots of people are using "neutral" to describe speakers with a tilted up frequency responce than what word are they they using to describe speakers that do the least amount of tonal shifts either up or down?
05-24-13: Rlwainwright
Smooth, fast, sweet, and clear. If you can check all those boxes you're done...

-RW-
Couldn't be more true
I wonder if you will get a different kind of response if you mention the two speakers.

I presume by the two terms "neutral" and "warm" you refer to tonal balance. If that is the case, I prefer a neutral tonal balance that does not emphasis particular frequencies over others. I think this conveys more accurately what is on the recording and what the engineers intended. It also means that the quality of recordings will vary more.

Having written that, in the end, I prefer what sounds most natural and like real voices and instruments. That is usually a neutral system playing very well recorded acoustic music, in my experience. And people may not agree on where the line between neutral and warm lies.

I love a great piano or cello concerto on my small scale system. Listening to Led Zeppelin is another matter and makes it a bit more difficult to define neutral and warm tonal balance. But I love that too.
My freak things are clarity and upper frequency perfection.
Those need to be perfect as can bee attained.
The rest is better in the neutral range than warm.
Though not to the point of being clinical..
Previously thought I preferred "neutral", by comparison, until I actually measured. Makes me wonder what some consider "warm".
I don't know what reality brings. I'll know it when I hear it.
I think warm works better with a cheaper rig

neutral when the hi fi is very good

in general, ymmv

I lean toward a gentle golden glow myself...
05-24-13: Jjrenman
I totally agree but if lots of people are using "neutral" to describe speakers with a tilted up frequency responce than what word are they they using to describe speakers that do the least amount of tonal shifts either up or down?

Well those that feel that tilted up high frequencies are "neutral" would probably refer to speakers with little tonal shift as rolled off, or warmer sounding. While those that like a true neutral sound would probably refer to such speakers as "neutral", or "natural" sounding. Those that like warmer sounding speakers would probably refer to the same speakers as a bit "bright" sounding.
Natural
Liquid-smooth,
I'll take mine naturally warm.
I prefer natural, which is neutral with the natural warmth that accompanies it. Clarity is paramount as it is part of natural, which is neutral and with the warmth that accompanies it.

I could go on but I won't (you're welcome).

Yes, it is all subjective which is why we must use acoustic performances and our aural memories as a baseline if, indeed, one is to recreate a neutral performance with the natural warmth that accompanies it.

We know it when we hear it. It isn't on every recording. If and when we do hear it, don't dismay at not be able to recreate it again on other recordings as it's not your system that is at fault, it's the recording. Taking this in mind should make most realize that our systems are mostly okay and are capable of delivering the goods. We just have to be more discerning in selecting our music. Our systems can't wake the dead.

All the best,
Nonoise
I realize this is very subjective, but like most of the other musicians I know, my preference is that which sounds most like a live performance. That sound seldom seems to come with speakers (or electronics) which produce a "warm" sound, including many of the audiophile components and speakers highly touted on this site. The words which come to mind are "muted" or 'muffled" especially on the high end. Guess that puts me in the "neutral" camp. To each his own. Cheers.
Sincere thanks to all the posters!

I had fun reading them, and learned a lot...

You guys are great to have around, for questions on hifi.
This thread is classic.

We can't even agree on the meaning of 'warm' or 'neutral', which are two of the most used audiophile descriptive terms.

It's hard to communicate if everything is subjective...
I changed my interface from a computer (USB DAC) from a warm one to a more neutral sounding one, and it just sings!

Thank you everyone for your input - made my day...
@Esprits4s, audio is a subjective hobby. Arguing for neutrality in audio reproduction is like arguing what color in a rainbow is closest to grey.
Yes, audio is subjective and certainly no product is 100% transparent as we all know. So we all spend time using words like bright, forward, warm, fast, slow etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. With that said we need a word that means that the product has the least amount of all those noticeable attributes.

If not neutral than what?

Transparent?

Impartial?

Indifferent?

Unbiased?

Bland?

Uncolored?

Natural?

Evenhanded?

Unaffiliated?
Neutral is certainly the word that should be used to describe gear that is not fast, slow, warm or bright. Neutral should be associated with gear that is neither tilted up nor tilted down.
Unfortunately, many folks use the word neutral to be associated with the opposite of warm, or bright gear, instead of truely neutral gear. If everyone understood what neutral meant, this confusion wouldn't exist.
I agree. So you vote that we stay with the word "neutral" and do our best to define the word whenever we use it?
05-28-13: Jjrenman
I agree. So you vote that we stay with the word "neutral" and do our best to define the word whenever we use it?

Yes. Most folks will not define what they mean by 'neutral', but you can usually read that they are inappropriately using the word. They will post something like "Neutral or warm? Which do you prefer?", which I will just interpret as "Bright or warm? Which do you prefer?". ;)
Neither. Warm can sound muddy and neutral can sound weak and thin. My system is very close to neutral, but I listen to vinyl with tubes in the preamps. Also, I have a little open baffle bloom. This lights my fire.

Bob
I don't know what it is really called, but if I am listening to Eric Clapton Unplugged he better be in my room between my speakers playing,breathing and running his fingers up and down the neck of his guitar as was recorded;I prefer to call it accurate and natural.
On a good recording, if the performance sounds "accurate and natural", I find it usually means that the system has a "neutral" tonal balance, that is, it does not emphasize one frequency over another.
05-29-13: Rsimms
Neither. Warm can sound muddy and neutral can sound weak and thin.

05-29-13: Peterayer
On a good recording, if the performance sounds "accurate and natural", I find it usually means that the system has a "neutral" tonal balance, that is, it does not emphasize one frequency over another.

You see....that is the problem with the word neutral, it is often misused. In this case, Peterayer has used the word neutral correctly, while Rsimms has used the same word incorrectly. If it sounds weak and thin, it has tilted up high frequency response, and is therefore, NOT neutral.

However, this is not uncommon on these forums. In fact, I find that more folks use the term neutral to mean tilted up highs that highlight the treble region for the sake of detail, than use it to describe a natural sounding system which emphasizes neither the highs or the lows.
I always thought the opposite of warm was cool.
What is wrong with a system being balanced or unbalanced ?
If it is unbalanced, that can mean either upward or downward.


You see....that is the problem with the word neutral, it is often misused. In this case, Peterayer has used the word neutral correctly, while Rsimms has used the same word incorrectly.

I use that term because when I listen to live acoustic music, it can sometimes sound weak and thin. If using neutral to say that speakers sound like live music is wrong then I don't understand.

Bob
"What is wrong with a system being balanced or unbalanced ?
If it is unbalanced, that can mean either upward or downward."

I agree, the word balanced is less open to interpertation.

So BALANCED is added to the list of words to be used insted of neutral.
I was just going to say, until Bob beat me to it, that live acoustic events can sound weak, thin, and not very image specific. Go one step further and play the same acoustic material at another place and the sound can and will change dramatically. Quite the can of worms, eh?

So, like Peterayer and Jmcgrogan2 imply (if I infer it correctly) is that an actual acoustic event can be not so neutral sounding as we'd like. I think this is due to our hearing acuity, which we should never doubt. Live events can sound wrong if out of tune or played incorrectly. Neutral is satisfying to our ears as no one part of the spectrum is out of line with the rest, drawing attention to itself.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if something sounds pleasant, involving, and gratifying to us, it can be considered to sound "neutral", which then makes it very specific and therefore unique to each and every one of us. But a consensus can be arrived at that most can agree on. The same goes for our home systems even more since that is where we build and validate our beliefs.

All the best,
Nonoise
Neutral is satisfying to our ears as no one part of the spectrum is out of line with the rest, drawing attention to itself.

Nonoise, I think that this is what I would have tried to say and goes with the notion that some systems are cold and some systems are warm. Neutral would be in the middle, I suppose.

I really don't like saying that I want my music to sound as though it is live, because like others have mentioned, live isn't always a good thing. In fact, most live shows sound like cr@p.
I really don't like saying that I want my music to sound as though it is live, because like others have mentioned, live isn't always a good thing. In fact, most live shows sound like cr@p.

I think it might be better if we were to stay with lifelike sound vs live sound. The point being that most recordings are not live in the sense that the venue is having an impact on what is being recorded and thus can adversly effect the sound quality.
Yes, some live events are geared towards aging audiences with the treble tilted up, the same trick that some recording engineers also use. I have also been at poorly produced live shows, that doesn't mean adjusting the sound one way or the other is neutral.

My point is that neutral sounds neither rolled off or tilted up, the presence region is neither enhanced nor hidden. Neutral is not thin sounding, bright or weak. Electronic adjustments are made to accentuate detail that lead to this phenomena. Neutral is natural sounding.

It is easier to judge the sound of live performances without amplification or speakers. Something like an Orchestral performance. I have never heard live, unamplified music to sound weak or thin. As always, YMMV.
Agreed. Speaking of venues, I had the pleasure of being stuck at a traffic light and was fortunate to be under an overpass and some kind soul was playing the sax ever so lovingly. Not loud enough to reverberate like crazy but softly, allowing the sound to expand and trail off beautifully.

That was a nice, momentary, venue. Too bad it doesn't happen often enough where I live.

All the best,
Nonoise