What is Warmth?


Would someone kindly explain the audiophile term "warmth?" Most appreciated.
Cheers!
cinellipro
Warmth is a Cinelli on silk. Sorry, back to audio:)
A rich quality in the reproduction of sound.
Warmth = Classical on vinyl
When listening to Nancy Wilson and feeling all warm... then realizing you pee'd yourself:)
Wow--zero for 3!

'Warmth' is a tonal characterstic wherein the lower-MR--say below 500 Hz--and upperbass frequencies are slightly elevated. One could call it a rich bloom. It is not a description of hi-frequency levels. A friend has called it a slight emphasis on the 'power' region of the orchestra--basses, cellos, etc. I love a bit of warmth in my system, but too much turns into thickness, which is NOT attractive.

Hope this helps.
.
Jeffreybehr,
Thanks for the response. I see that word bandied about quite a bit, but I think I'm not the only one with confusion about how it relates to sound.
From what you're saying it is energy in the upper bass region and perhaps equivalent to pushing the "loudness" button on some old receivers. It elevates the lower frequencies.
Best wishes.
Far be it for me to disagree with Mr. Behr but many audiophiles think of it as a less pronounced high frequency response. The so called rounded off top end. This may mean that the tonal balance then emphasizes the mid and upper bass regions. Thus we may be saying much the same thing. I do agree that blunted thick sound is undesirable but is that a question of speed?
"Far be it for me to disagree with Mr. Behr but many audiophiles think of it as a less pronounced high frequency response. The so called rounded off top end. This may mean that the tonal balance then emphasizes the mid and upper bass regions. Thus we may be saying much the same thing. I do agree that blunted thick sound is undesirable but is that a question of speed?" Mechans (Threads | Answers | This Thread)

+1 , I would add when the recorded human voice still sounds alive with the tone and timbre to retain its "warmth"

Cheers
Here's all the relevant terminology by the fellow who created them in the first place:

http://www.stereophile.com/reference/50
Dear Cinellipro: IMHO is only a distortion that apeal to some people but been a distortion it is a coloration that was not when the recording microphones pick-up at the very begin of the recording.

It is a false colorations that IMHO has no sense that so many people " die for it ".

When was the last time that any one of us heard a violin concert ( live or other instruments. ) seated at 2-3 meters from the player and heard it that warmth?, because I attend to not less than 60 times a year to listen live music and till today ( in the last 25 years. ) I never heard that warmth.

IMHO music is everything but warmth, at least in the audiophile warmth meaning.

Warmth IMHO is only a synonimous of a distorted audio system.

Maybe I'm wrong but this is my take about.

Regards and enjoy the music,
Raul.
Agree with Raul and add that warmth in a positive sense is communicated as musical flow, a phenomenon of dynamics and timing more than frequency response.
Musical instruments themselves can have a have warmth characteristic also. Different woods used in a violin for example. It's not only tied to sound of an audio system.
You may find this thread of interest. Lots of definitions of warmth were discussed.

Bryon
Isochronism, nice refernce. Alas I'm relegated to mere Ti and clinchers.

Not coldness.

_______
J. Gordon Holt, founder of Stereophile, is the originator of subjective audio review and development of a consistent set of descriptive terms. Here is his audio glossary, including the subjective audio definition of "warm."
Raul, I disagree a bit about warmth in live classical concert. People described various concert halls' characteristic and warmth is certainly one word that keeps cropping up. I have not heard all that many great halls around the world but I would say for example that Vienna State Opera House certainly sounds warmer Grosse Festspielhaus in Salzburg which is warmer than Metropolitan Opera House. The old Orchestra Hall (before renovation10-15 years ago) was quite a bit drier, cooler in tone than Carnegie Hall and so on. Fazioli piano is crystal clear, cooler in tone than Grotrian which is more woody, darker/warmer tone. Warmth is a coloration for sure but I am not sure if it is neccessarily an abberation. What should be use as a standard in neutrality?
Some violins are warmer than others, and some violinists have sweeter technique.
Warmth in a hi-fi system is typically characterized by a rolled off top end, and possibly a bump in mid-bass as well.

As Raul said, it's a distortion - a band-aid to cover up flaws.

A correctly designed system can have an ease of presentation, an extended top end and balanced frequeny response without being murky, muddy, or warm. It will have rich, vivid tone colors because the harmonic overtone structure is correctly represented. It will also have an ease of presentation, and all of these attributes will at first blush, possibly be described by some as being warm, because people tend to confuse the lack of listening stress induced from a good system with warmth.

With respect to concert halls (which I don't believe the original poster was asking about), the answer would be a bit different. A warm concert hall could have either or both of the following:

1. An absence of excessive reflections.
2. An emphasis toward mid and upper bass frequencies.
3. An audience wearing heavy winter clothing
4. ???

The difference between talking about concert halls and audio systems is subtle, but important.

I'd never call a warm concert hall rolled off in the top end, where frequently this is the case with "warm" hi-fi rigs.

Warmth is also different from tone color. As I mentioned above, the reproduction of complex overtone series (say of a first class violin played by someone who knows how to play) are both rich and have an extended top end. The words I'd use to describe such an instrument are vivid, tonally dense, etc., but NOT warm.

Cheers,
Thom @ Galibier
A neutral transparent speaker can sound plain. It often would be easy to just walk on by such a speaker. Notice how they often close mike musical instruments and singers to capture more richness. I had some speakers with a TPX plastic cone. They gave a very pleasant richness and tone to stringed instruments. I went to my classical guitar and couldn’t duplicate that richness. My guitar sounded plain in comparison. I would call that warmth. My speakers are transparent so I usualy like a tubed preamp and vinyl to add warmth.

Bob
search: "pearls before breakfast". very interesting!! Joshua Bell
I think with regard to audio terminology, especially on audio forums, it is important to distinguish the proper definition of the term (a la the Holt Stereophile glossary of audio terms, etc), and the way that the term is used more broadly (and sometimes inaccurately vis a vis the dictionary definition).

In the case of warmth, it often seems that this term is also used to describe a system or component that handles the timbre and tonality of instruments particularly well.

(Reviewers may be more likely to employ audio terminology more correctly and precisely, but not necessarily.)
My definition of warmth I actually hear in live symphonic performances all the time. I think the hall can influence this quite a bit. One thing I never hear in a live performance is false sense of detail we hear in many systems. I would say the real thing actually sounds dull, slow, very rolled off and somewhat neutral. I never hear triangles, brass, anything for that matter sound as bright and detailed, the highs many talk about, it does not exist in live music ime It just goes to show how we all hear different. Very interesting thread.
Dear Suteetat: I'm not talking of halls per se but the performance of instrument as we hear when we are seated/listening at 2-3 meters from the players as the recording microphones are. This is the context and IMHO in this " environment " I think you can't find out that audiophile warmth everybody here are talking about. Their context is way different from what I posted.

That example that different violins could sounds one warmth over the other makes no sense to me, we can hear a Stradivarius against a Guarneri or against an Amati and even that these ones sounds different maybe we can't use the warmth word to differentiate one from the other, especialy on the audiophile warmth meaning.

In the other side what for one person can be warmth for other person it is just more neutral or accurate.

Anyway, my take is the same: audiophile warmth meaning is just a distortion/coloration that does not exist in the music pick-up ( at the very first instant. ) recording microphone. A warmth is a distorted characteristic in an audio item or in an audio system. I'm not talking here if what we like is that warmth tone in music but what is " correct/right " and IMHO warmth is " wrong ".

Regards and enjoy the music,
Raul.
Hi Raul, it is difficult to define such a subjective term. I agree with you about the location of recording microphone and actual listening position in a concert hall and all that. On the other hand, I am not sure about the difference between warm sounding stero equipment and instrument/hall. Let see if I get this right. Most people tends to imply that roll off high frequency and the bump in mid upper bass seems to give rise to what we hear as warmth in stereo equipment. Now, acoustically dry concert hall, as I understand it is a hall the have very small reverberation time, say 2-3 ms where as the acoustically more pleasing tone hall, those that seems to be richer, denser tonal color, usually has longer reverberation time, around 4-6 ms (I read about this somewhere a long time ago, not sure if I remember the number correctly). However, richer, denser tone does not neccessarily means warmer sound. Depending on where you sit in the audience, there is definitely going to be some roll off of high frequency in comparison to close mike position. Sitting at 10-30-50m away from the stage, one would expect certain decline or roll off of high frequency, more so than low frequency by various instruments to exist. I think that's why real symphonic concert seems to sound less bright and duller than what I hear on recording and that's why orchestra nowaday tries to compensate for that by raising the frequency on the note to give that extra brightness. Whether the roll off characteristic of each hall give rise to warmer sound in some concert halls over the other, I am not sure.

When talking about different made of the same instruments, warmth is definitely a term that I often hear people using to describe the different in sound, French vs German tone, brands of pianos, various wood used in instruments. However, I have not heard anyone specifically say that it is the characterisitic high frequency roll off of mid/upper bass bump that give rise to the warmth quality in each instrument or not. Personally I play piano and own a Grotrian grand piano. I have also played quite a bit on Steinway, Fazioli, Yamaha, Ibach, vintage Erard and Pleyel and I what perceived as warmth tone when compare each instrument is definitely quite valid.
PS when talking about roll off high and mid/upper bass bump, I tend to think of some ported speakers or some tube equipments. However, a warm sounding class A solid state amplifier generally tends to measure pretty flat from 20Hz to 20,000Hz, does it not? May be I am missing something here.
Well designed solid state gear can indeed have "warmth", and often more accuracy...If something is on a recording I don't want it masked by euphonic distortion or anything else. I've heard amazing low powered "SE" tube amps that sound amazingly accurate (to a wattage limited point) and solid stuff that is lifeless...so It's up to the designer how things are voiced and the listener to how it all tastes, so to speak. Warmth for me is lack of harshness. Period.
Suteetat and Raul are both correct.

Instruments and halls can have warmth of their own. This is natural.

HiFi systems can have warmth too. This is not natural- it is a coloration caused not so much by frequency response errors (as is the common myth) but instead by distortion.

The 2nd order harmonic is the most to blame, and is why SETs are so well-known for a warm sound.

It happens that the ear hears distortion as tonality. In the case of music, where most of the energy is in the bass, you get the upper bass emphasis simply because of the harmonics (in addition to the 2nd, the 3rd and 4th also contribute, although to a much lessor degree).

This is why you can measure the frequency response of two amplifiers on the bench, and while they may measure the same, one will sound warm and the other will not. Its because of distortion, not frequency response variation.

Single-ended circuits in general contribute to the 2nd harmonic. Tubes are often blamed for making more 2nd harmonic, but in reality it has more to do with the topography of the electronics than it does the type of amplifying device. It *is* true however that due to the greater linearity of tubes that you can build single-ended circuits with them and get away with it- this has gone on for many decades and so has contributed to the idea that tubes have more 2nd harmonic. But if that were true, how does that square with tubes being more linear??

Now a system can also sound 'cold' which is caused by distortions that are of a higher ordered nature (and especially the odd harmonics). Any harmonic above the 4th is considered a higher-order harmonic. In addition, the ear uses the 5th, 7th and 9th harmonics to determine how loud a sound is. If these harmonics are messed with by the electronics, the system will sound louder than it really is and it will sound brighter (harsher) as well.

Again this is because the ear interprets distortion as tonality.

This issue is tricky for designers! By picking a certain type of topology you will get a certain distortion signature; that can be modified somewhat by the addition of loop negative feedback. Note that I say modified; 'reduced' is not necessarily correct in all cases.

As an example, if one choses a fully differential topology in which there are no single-ended circuits, the primary distortion component will be found to the 3rd harmonic. If you add feedback to reduce it, other higher harmonics will appear.

Finally one should keep in mind that as much as we are wanting to get to the actual musical experience, the fact is that the closest we can get is to correct reproduction of the recording itself. That recording contains distortions of its own!

Hence the great degree of discussion and debate on this topic...
Dear Suteetat: ++++++ " it is difficult to define such a subjective term. " +++++

yes, this is the main issue on that word. Now, I think that people is using the warm term/word to define an instrument/audio system or the like about its intrinsecal " tone ".
Now, you are an experienced/pro piano player: which other word came to you other than warmth when you compare the Grotrian grand piano against a Steinway or other one? which other word could give you/us a better definition of each piano overall tone color?

I have some difficult about because here in México we don't use the warmth meaning to compare different tone colors in music instrumentation or audio systems.

That's why maybe what Wolf posted: +++ Warmth for me is lack of harshness " +++ makes no precise means to me.

Regards and enjoy the music,
Raul.
This is worse than I thought!! All I asked for was an "audiophile" definition of warmth. I'm not reading a uniformed, consistent AND objective definition among the group. I'd hate to ask the group to define imaging or timbre!!
Cheers
Well, if we use subjective descriptions (and I think we must), we have to expect subjectivity in their definitions! You might find it helpful to consider warmth in the light of its opposites - all rather harsh terms like dry, detailed, clinical. I tend to think of a continuum with warmth at one end, detailed at the other, and accuracy somewhere in between.
That's because some people want to hang on to their personal misconceptions rather than accept the fact that the original meaning has already been defined, and adjust accordingly.
The definition that Gordon Holt suggests is really quite adequate.
Atmasphere, thanks for a really good explaination, electrical wise. Not to knitpick since I am learning a lot here but definition that GH gave for warm/dark is really more about imbalance between high frequency and low frequency. If I understand you correctly, it is not that warm audio equipment have tilted frequency response per se but more that distortion from 2nd harmonic is more pronounced at the bottom end giving illusion to more lower frequency and less at the top, is that correct?

Talks of harmonic as distortion is a bit surprising. I suppose, from instrument point of view, it is the harmonics that give rise to richer,fuller, denser, usually more pleasing tone. I suppose wrong kind of harmonics would do exactly the opposite. In fact certain piano maker such as Bosendorfer intentionally added a 4th string to certain range of notes and is not struck by piano's hammers at all to increase sympathetic vibration and presumbably increase overtone and harmonics. I suppose audio equipment is not supposed to add its own signature of harmonics and just play whatever signals that is passed through only.
I am curious if you might have an example of equipments that you would consider to be one that is able to tame most of the harmonics created by audio equipment itself. Certainequipment that tends to emphasize clarity and detail that comes with cold, analytical tendency probably has its own set of distortion as well. What would be your closest ideal to neutrality? I am not picking on you but just would like to get some idea of a reference. Thanks for your comment.
Suteetat:

I also play the piano, and have decades of classical music training. When I sit at a grand piano and play, I hear the sound as: powerful, absolutely. Big, yes. Immediate, yes. Complex, yes. Highly tensioned, also yes. Warm, no.

When I play an upright or a console (short upright), it sounds duller and a little less of everything than a grand, but still I don't know if I could describe the sound as "warm".

Now if I listen to a piano from a typical audience seat, where there is appreciable physical distance between my ears and the piano, or the hall is filled with well-dressed patrons, I could well understand the sound being described as warm (or at least warm-er than the performer's perspective).

However, on the majority of recordings, microphone placement results in a sound that is far closer to the performer's perspective than the audience's (I say this based on being present at various recording sessions and being able to listen to the mike feed, and being able to climb to where the mikes are located and verifying the sound with my own ears).

Switching to audio systems, I don't like to listen to the piano on many warm-sounding systems, because I find the pitch to sound uncomfortable. Nor do I like to listen to complex, heavily orchestrated music on warm-sounding audio systems, because the onset of congestion tends to be much earlier than with more neutral systems, resulting in a sound that I personally find messy, sometimes ugly. FWIW, this is true of digital as well as analog source components.

kind regards, jonathan carr
As far as musical instruments go, here's a good example of them using warm to describe this piano. It has well accepted by musicians and then audio, around the world. Mr. Holt may have gotten the idea from musicians.[http://steinwaychicago.com/instruments/steinway/grand]
My opinions provide me with warmth.
If I understand you correctly, it is not that warm audio equipment have tilted frequency response per se but more that distortion from 2nd harmonic is more pronounced at the bottom end giving illusion to more lower frequency and less at the top, is that correct?

Generally, yes.

I suppose audio equipment is not supposed to add its own signature of harmonics and just play whatever signals that is passed through only.

Right- audio equipment should not editorialize :)

I am curious if you might have an example of equipments that you would consider to be one that is able to tame most of the harmonics created by audio equipment itself. Certain equipment that tends to emphasize clarity and detail that comes with cold, analytical tendency probably has its own set of distortion as well. What would be your closest ideal to neutrality?

Once a bit of electronics has added harmonics (distorted) to the sound there is nothing you can do downstream to correct that (although many people do try, in the name of 'synergy' which in most cases seems to be the act of compounding one distortion with another, although if you were to ask them they would tell you that they are using the 'synergy' to deal with tonal issues). The gear that you are referring to with the 'cold analytical tendency' usually is lacking the lower orders of distortion, but has trace amounts of the higher orders (in particular the 5th, 7th and 9th harmonics). The human ear uses these harmonics to gauge the volume of a sound; IOW we are very sensitive to this type of distortion, so much so that we can often hear it even when our test instruments have trouble measuring it in the noise floor of the amplifier/preamp under test. Audiophiles have terms for such distortion; the phrase 'cold analytical tendency' that you used is an excellent example.
Excellent point, Ralph:
HiFi systems can have warmth too. This is not natural- it is a coloration caused not so much by frequency response errors (as is the common myth) but instead by distortion.

The 2nd order harmonic is the most to blame, and is why SETs are so well-known for a warm sound.
So much to say, so little time ..

Cheers,
Thom @ Galibier
When your wife gives you a big hug and kiss.
You guys have taken a subjective word and tried to make a objective answer out of it.

Here is a question which is warmer a alto sax or a tenor? Or how about a trumpet vs flugelhorn?

Maybe we should ask ourselves should that sound electric when there is no electronics involved. Did you give up tone and body for detail?

From what I have seen most people either can not hear or do not care about how it should sound, only that they like the way that system sounds or looks or some other marketing thing.

I will leave you with this who played warmer Dizzy or Miles?

Enjoy the ride
Tom
Hi Tom - while you are correct that warmth, when describing timbre, can be very subjective, there are huge differences between different instruments, and players of the same instruments. A flugelhorn, for instance, is most certainly a warmer timbre generally speaking than that of a trumpet or cornet. Miles Davis had a warmer sound in general than Dizzy. This is not to say that Dizzy did not at times have a very warm timbre. This is not at all a simple thing - many factors go into it. Speaking of brass instruments, the alloy the instrument is made of has much to do with it, as does the design of the instrument, as does the mouthpiece used to play it. In the case of the horn, my instrument, the position of the player's hand in the bell of the instrument has a great effect on the timbre. The way the player's airstream moves into the instrument, and the way the player's embouchre is formed (the position of the lips and the manner in which they buzz or vibrate) and manipulated have a very great effect as well. All of us musicians are constantly working on our timbre production, and the variety of it, and warmth is definitely a word we use to describe it, and we would like an audio system to reproduce this quality. Unfortunately, even the very best recordings played back on the very best systems do not come close to capturing the minute variations in timbre that can be heard live in a good concert hall (speaking of which, the room itself of course has a great deal to do with the perception of warmth, and the room an audio system is in will also have a big part in the listener's perception of warmth).