Thinking about the question, thank you, I associate "polite" with speed or the lack of it. That connects to three factors: PRaT, dynamics and HF extension. Ouch, what a dismal fate, to be lacking in all of these! The word "polite" is... polite, of course, and IME doesn't usually refer to really horrible sound, just sound that is more or less easy to ignore. Better than sound which grabs your ears and twists. Not polite.
Seems obvious that there would be degrees of politeness. Polite compared to what? I don't especially associate Classé with "polite" but then my definition of polite sound was formed by my Dad's old system, a pair of B&W DM14s being driven, if that's the right word, by a 45wpc Sherwood solid-state receiver.
Polite by me is interpreted as opposite of forward...a laid back presentation. I find Verity and Vandersteen fit this description.
"Polite" sound is often what reviewers say when they can't define a specific defining characteristic of a component or speaker (i.e. descriptors like deep bass or scintillating highs, edgy, bright, harsh, sibilant or recessed don't seem to apply etc.)
In a high quality system this is usually indicative of a good design especially when the reviewer just thinks the sound is very natural and convincing. It is another way of saying that nothing stands out like a sore thumb about the design and therefore the system is likely to translate well too most recordings and genres. (Unfortunately this type of system may not sell well in a shop demo, however, there is a higher probability that you will not tire quickly of a system that is polite)
'Polite' sound is a description of a system with restricted dynamic range and restricted frequency range.
Tobias seems to have gotten it about right.Those who describe the sound of a system or component as polite are probably commenting on a lack of resolution which is primarily manifest in lack of dynamics and speed.I would disagree about there being any relationship to high-frequency extension,though.My speakers only extend to around 12,000hz,and while some would not care for the sound,I don't think they would ever be described as sounding polite.
Polite systems struggle with contrasts,imprinting a sameness to the music which might lead to disinterest and more frequent napping.
Low sensitivity speakers with nonexotic tweeters and medium resolution electronics is a sure fire route to polite audio.
Most likely would be some British speakers "driven" by a French amp.
I definately feel that a polite sound is due to a slight lack of top end extension. If you are missing the high frequencies, the leading edges get rounded, dynamics are softer, the sound doesn't jump out at you, the bass becomes more noticible, diction becomes a little harder to understand, contrasts aren't as clear, speed slows down, etc.
However, there is a postive side (remember that with any positive there is a negative, and vice versa. Everything in nature is a compromise). The sound will not be harsh or bright, poor recordings are more enjoyable, a digital-sounding CD player will be nicer, loud volumes will be impressive rather than painful, classical music takes on a more emotional role, the interconnections between notes will be more obvious, flow of music will be analog, etc.
IMO and IME, the politeness of my Classe amps has been welcome when combined with other components that are more mouthy and pushy. There always has to be a balance so I don't feel that anyone can criticize politeness or forwardness unless the entire system is one or the other.
Some people prefer forward gear and then they will say that (forward) CD sounds like crap and you need a (polite) turntable to make it all better. I prefer the opposite: a more polite amp with a CD player. They are simply two different ways at solving the same problem. Either way, you have to find the right balance. There is no right or wrong.
Sometimes it could be the other way around: polite sound could be the result of a significant amount of dynamic headroom (amplifier) and lack of distortion. The sound becomes very clean and due to the dynamic headroom one feels never "stressed" when listening. In real life music never sounds stressed or "dynamic". It sounds very "relaxed" with plenty dynamics, but never forced. Sometimes I think when I'm attending a live classical music concert (orchestra): it's kinda dull and polite sounding, but of course it isn't. It's a psychoacoustical thing. Like amplifiers with little dynamic headroom that can sound very "dynamic" and up front (which is a bit contradictory, I know) .
A polite sound does not have an odor.
sound that never gets in your face. the opposite of 'forward'....'laid back' about is the same thing
My interpretation of polite is lacking dynamics or liveliness. Generally not a good thing unless you're into background elevator-type music.
Similar to: non-aggressive, stable, relaxed, natural
As opposed to: forward, punchy, bloom.
It's more of a soundstage adjective. Not many would say Classe is lacking in dynamics or frequency extremes. I'm not that familiar with Classe but I consider "polite" a good trait of Plinius and Pass.
IT say's thank you when you turn it off durring a thunderstorm.
polite means well mannered. what is well mannered sound ?
a presentation which does not offend. unfortunately there are many descriptions of "sound" which does not offend.
the term "polite" is just another indication of the subjective nature of this hobby, but does not necessarily facilitate communication.
often conversation includes too many ambiguous or imprecise adjectives. this is another term that is not useful.
it is better to be factual than vague.
if you place 10 audiophiles in a room, there will be 11 opinions of what audiophle adjectives mean.
polite is just another audiophile adjective.
"polite" rarely uzed term would mean weak in bass and rolled highs. Tp ,e the Spendor 8 's were too polite, weak in all 3 main fq ranges. No authority for a speaker retailing at $3K. More often you will hear the term "warm" there are plenty of speakers in the warm category. Few in the "cool" category. Mine are 'cool", with no warmth in the mids at all. Hope that helps.
I think to get polite sound you should play 'polite' music. You wouldn't want a system that made Wagner or The White Stripes sound resricted and 'polite' because then it's not Hi-Fi.
''polite'' usually refers to people. Many reviewers are now using such terms as you would think they are describing a personality, and not a wooden box with drivers in it to provide sound, not matter how good or how bad it is. Using this terminology enables them to inflate or deflate the always-subjective reputation of audio gear.
These terms should always be taken with a grain of salt, as I pay no credibility to the reviewers who abuse of them.
Each of my audio components have a very distinct personality - just like people and cars. They are all complex systems with complex variables and outcomes. I feel it is very fitting to use personality adjectives to describe philosophies of individual audio components.
Sure, it is subjective but if that was worthless, all the audio forums and audio reviews of the world would not exist.