I take it as when there is no music playing the system is very quiet. If it is not dark then there is some hiss even though there is no music playing.
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With respect to TTs, it means that there is very little surface noise when the music is not playing. Such as between tracks. There can be a great deal of difference between the amount of surface noise that you hear from one table to the next even with the same record. One of the many reasons I chose Galibier. Teres tables are also very good at dark backgound.
It's more than just quietness between tracks. Many components always produce a certain amount of background noise, like preamps and amplifiers as well. There is something called a noise-floor, the point of audibility for this type of noise. Record players have a noise-floor too. The lower the noise-floor, the more actual musical information surfaces, as the more delicate less audible details, resonances and so forth, get wiped out by a more prominent/higher noise-floor. A turntable's noise floor is determined not just by surface noise, but also by environmental noise coming across the air or through the feet/stand, noise from the motor, from the belt-and-pulley or idler-wheel or whatever system, and from its own bearing and plinth design's ability to cope with these various sources of noise. A turntable with an especially black background reduces the noise floor to a greater extent than one with less black backgrounds, which translates into more detail and various other types of information, which means it is audible (by not being there) during music as well. So "quiet between tracks" doesn't quite cover it. Hope this helps!!
There is a very good glossary of subjective audio terms in Stereophile. It was written by J. Gordon Holt and was published in three parts, July, August and September, 1993.
There is also a series of articles on audio jargon and phrases written by Jack English in Stereophile, May, June and December, 1993.
From page 69, August, 1993:
"dark. A warm, mellow, excessively rich quality in reproduced sound. The audible effect of a frequency response which is clockwise-tilted across the entire range, so that ouptput diminishes with increasing frequency. Compare 'light'."
The phrase "dark background" is not specifically identified. Depending on the context of its usage, "dark" could have the meaning as defined above. Alternatively, it more likely means silent, or free from noise. In the context of a turntable, I suspect that the latter is more likely to be the intended use of "dark" as an adjective.
If I would take the statment "Emotionally envolving" literally, I have to say definitely. There were a couple of times where I played tracks that actually made my eyes water. It was so intense that it really hits your soul. Reminds me of the the movie Philadelphia when Tom Hanks played that classical piece in his apartment and he was so in to it.
The description from "page 69 Aug,1993" makes a lot of sense. I guess I have to take it soemwhat in two ways.
First: Dark = Very rich quality-As in Dark Chocolate, Dark coffee etc.
Second: Dark = Very quiet-As in Dark winter night, Pitch- black, Dead quiet.
Now, let me talk to some of my buddies and impress them with my audiophile lingo.
You can also just invent your own terminology. It will be as useful as the terms many of the reviewers employ. Is your system too yang? Does it lean toward the whiter side of orange. Is there a self-effacing restraint in the upper registers as if the contrast was just slightly too sudden on light jazz at lower SPL? Have you found that Madonna displays a bit too much cleavage when entering contralto range?
See it's really quite easy. The real task lies in getting hired so that you can be paid to jibberize.
I think Johnnantais nailed it pretty good. I'm also not suprised that earlier audiophile definitions don't address this. It seems to me that the issue of noisefloors in systems is a more recent area of attention: for a long time, the issues were around tonality, range, dynamics, imaging and other attributes of the sound the system was making, as opposed to the background 'noise' that wasn't supposed to be heard. Not so much hum, or rumble, or even the level of ambient 'noise' the system is producing while on, when no program is playing.
Instead, as I think Johnnantais suggests, it is the difference between the music on the one hand, and utter silence on the other- the more of the latter, the more the music is going to emerge from an environment that is uncolored and contrasts starkly with the sound of the instruments. If the system has a 'sound' in place of this silence, there is not as much contrast between the music and the silence- so the small details are obscured; in addition,
the 'sound' of the system will also be present when notes are playing and color the music in the same way. So, to me, a dark background means dead quiet in the silences, and also speaks to the lack of a coloration being imposed on the music itself.
It may be that with quieter sources- CD perhaps, for the lack of surface noise, and improvements in electronics, as well as AC, we are hearing more artifacts of the equipment itself- not just what the equipment is designed to sound like, ie, its obvious colorations that are as much revealed in the silences between notes as the sounds of the notes themselves. The attention paid to this also seems to coincide with all the consideration now given to isolation stands, AC conditioning and the like.
Justubes, there are in fact two different issues here, but my understanding is that "dark," what you call "first dark" refers to something's tonal attributes, as in: The current Levinson amps have a dark sound.
The other issue, noise floor, or background noise, what you call "second dark" I've always heard referred to as "black" or "black background", never "dark." As in: The sound emerged from a totally black background. I've never heard the term "dark" used in this context.
In the first case, a range or degree is implied (dark, darker, very dark ;--)
The second case implies an absolute -- absolute silence. The sound never emerges from a "dark gray" background ;--)
The subtleties of the leading edge of notes, note decay, reverberant space, hall depth, etc., that contribute to a realistic rendering of music, seem to be revealed in contrast to dead silence (blackness). But it's debatable whether the absence of this desireable attribute is caused by a higher noise floor, or by false signatures imposed by lesser equipment at the threshold of audibility. For example, when the music isn't playing, a good SS system is generally quieter than even a great tube system due to tube noise. But to me at least, the tube system can be just as effective at communicating the subtleties of music on the verge of silence. In any case, the presence of modest tube noise in the background does not make it any less "black" sounding.