You'll know it when you hear it

When I first joined Audiogon several years ago, I kept reading all of these descriptions of sounds that stereo components make. None of the descriptions made sense. I started buying and selling equipment, upgrading along the way, and sure enough, I started to experience all of the terms that were used describe the sounds that members talked about.

My neighbor bought a $150 reciever and a little pair of $100 speakers from Best buy and he was as pleased as punch. He is a photographer and painter and uses the system as background music while he works. He invited me over for a listen and I started talking about things like the lack of inner detail, soundstage, depth…..and he looked at me like I was crazy and had no idea what I was talking about. So I just shut up after realizing that there was no way he could understand what I was talking about.

Below are some of the terms that I hear all of the time here on Audiogon and my experience hearing them for the first time.

Disclaimer: These are my experiences and are not meant to disparage or promote any manufacturer. I am not a dealer or retailer.
Thin Sounding…….Audio Research SP9…….I kept it two weeks and sold it. After hearing it, I knew what thin sounding meant.

Black Background……..Audio Research LS-10……The first time I heard this preamp was scary, music seemed to come out of nowhere. I then understood what a black background was.

Inner Detail……Audio Research Ref3

Wide and Fat Sound……….My Dokorder reel-to-reel of 35 years ago.

Below are some terms that I had heard of, and the first time I experienced them I understood that, “oh, so that’s what they are talking about”


Extended Decays

Sweet Spot

Bloated Bass

Fast / Speed


Bass Extension (I thought that I knew what this was….when I got my Infinity Betas, I really understood what bass extension was)




Clinical Sounding


Warm Sounding

Tubey (my Audio Research Ref 1)

Honey Colored Sound…..I’ve never experienced this one. I hear people describe some Conrad Johnson as honey colored.

Liquid / Dry

Bright / Dark


Rolled Off

Air Around The Instruments……I was always curious about this one. When I finally heard it, I thought wow!

Forward Sounding

Please share your first time experiences of experiencing an audiophile term and immediately recognizing it without having it explained to you. Feel free to add additional terms and your experiences recognizing it for the first time. You may also add comical anecdotes of you trying to explain any of these terms to a non-audiophile.
My favorites are the "....ality" series of descriptions. Musicality, etc. The most elusive thing for us audiophles is the pursuit of "Moreality". We will always want more; more base, more highs, more detail, more seamlessness, more soundstage, more depth. It is this insane drive towards Moreality that is our downfall. I am slowly learning to enjoy what I have, if not perfect. To forgive my systems sins and short-commings and accept it for what it is, flaws and all. I hope that I can pull myself away from this quest of absolute moreality and just learn to accept the diversity of sound. Just a thought.
Perhaps what you are telling us is that our Moreality is Immorality.
As for your first point I think that musicality is a term that describes something the conceeds many of our imagined superlatives as missing but what is left is still enjoyable. I for one do not like most so called musical equipment, especially when compared to the very enjoyable gear that has everything present and conceeds little in terms of our desirable equipment descriptors. I am sure most people on the planet really love their iPods and that they are supremely musical to them. This hobby speaks to those who want more as you aptly put it. And there is no shame in pursuing something that is somehow better sounding to whomever is listening.
It's just a way for people to explain subjective thoughts. People into wine and art use similar language. When I get together with friends to discuss music, we explain music and musicians in subjective terms.

A lot of "audiophiles" don't understand how subjective music listening is. They tend to think in absolute terms and fundamental ways. I think this is dangerous. If people enjoy music on their system (no matter what the setup and cost), it's not anyone else's place to have a prejudice against them. You are allowed to have an educated opinion, but not a prejudice.

The difference between "objective" and "subjective" opinions, as well as the difference between an "opinion" and a "prejudice" is something we should put more thought and care into. Not just with audio, but life in general.
I remember the first time reading here where a guy mentioned that he watched his speakers 'disappear'. For the life of me, I couldn't imagine what he was talking about. As my system improved and the first time I witnessed it in my system, I was stunned......they really did disappear.

Try explaining disappearing speakers to a non-audiophile.
I like this thread :) Good post.
The one that has always had me thinking about exactly what is meant by its use was this: the difference between the performance taking place in your room versus you being transported to where the performance is taking place.

Just the idea of this (the distinction) was confusing to me. That is until I heard Ray Kimber's ISOTEK? recording of a male choral group played through four channels of Emmlabs digital/Pass Labs amps/Sony speakers at this year's RMAF. For the first time in my admittedly limited experience, I was completely and utterly transported to the stone church in which that recording was made. It was stunning. The singers were there in front of me and the physical dimensions of the room in which I was listening disappeared and were replaced by the walls of the church.

Prior to that experience, the best I could say is that on rare and successful occasions, a small ensemble, say bass and piano, solo cello, or simple vocals, was pretty believably being performed in the room in which I was sitting, and often in my room by my system.

Both of these can be quite remarkable, but now having experienced each clearly, I understand the distinction and think the former is much more difficult to achieve and probably a better goal for which to aim.

I have not tried to explain any of this to my non audiophile friends. They view my interest in audio about the same as they view my interest in competitive indoor badminton. To most people, music is about MP3, Bose and badminton is about plastic racquets and backyard barbecues.
Mitch4t, that is a good argument for vintage audio. I remember in the 70's when I was in high school, going to freinds houses, listening to Aqualung and various pink floyd and led zepplin lp's while enjoying the ritual of the bud, and in fact, many times the speakers did physically disappear. I need to find me some of those old JBL's cause no matter how much single malt I drink those Verity's are sittin' right there on the floor.
Yea...what is it about those old JBL's?? They always seem to evoke oohhs & ahhhs back in the day. Perhaps we are now listening to our "speakers" and not the music?? Or perhaps it was a combination of alcohol and "other" substances injested or inhaled back then.... I think that 70's rock just sounded great on JBL's. I might even buy an old pair of 4312's or whatever and see if that magic is still their!
The problem Davt is you're missing the bud!
The first time I recognized "attack" was when I
bi-amped my Infinity Kappa 9 speakers. Oh my goodness!
Tons of headroom from the amps kicked the speakers right in
the butt.

I bought an Audio Research Ref2 Mk2 preamp several years ago
and I was very happy with it. Outstanding preamp. I read a
review of that preamp here on Audiogon. The member gave it
an excellent review, but stated, "it could stand extend
the decays a little more". Heck, I'd never even heard
of decay being a desirable attribute to a good preamp. I'd
never heard extended decays before, therefore I didn't know
what I was missing. I bought the Ref3 about a year later.
I was just sitting listening to a familiar jazz tune, and
all of a sudden a passage came up where the drummer hit a
cymbal......the sound of the cymbal decay seemed to go
linger in the air forever. Then I understood what the
reviewer meant by extended decays.
The first time I ever understood what imaging was ....age 12 or so and heard Dalquist DQ 10's. I was stunned to say the least- and hooked for life.
The first time I experienced PRaT was hearing a full Naim system. It seemed like the CD spun faster, but in a great way.
PRaT = Pace Rhythm and Timing. I have yet to experience that one. Or, I may have already heard it and didn't recognize it or know how to explain or describe it.
Actually we might want to catalog our knowledge and understanding in some sort of Gonopedia except that name rhymes with gonorrhea. I'll try another name how about wikiGon?
Catalog our knowledge and understanding.....great idea Mechans.