Your vote: Most Useless Audio Adjective

From what I've seen in online audio discussion forums such as Audiogon, words like warm, taut, wooly, and forward can upset even died in the wool audiophiles. While some may have a hard time getting their arms around them, most of the terms seem quite appropriate to me. You have to develop some list of terms in order to convey a description of a component's sonics, or to delineate it from another component.

However, I have noticed the description "self effacing" creeping into more and more reviews, and it flat out boggles my mind. Initially, it seemed to fit into the context it was being used - affordable or downright cheap gear, that was fun and lively. However, now that I've read the term being used to describe quite a serious piece of high end kit, the time has come to point out how ridiculous things are getting.

I had to laugh out loud thinking of the snootiest, most condescending audio dealer I know who was carrying this brand. Using the term "self effacing" with anything had to do with this guy was akin to describing Phyllis Diller a young, hot sex symbol.

What is your most useless audio adjective???
Mint or 9/10. since most gear described as such isn't.
Rightness, I have a friend who is always searching for a certain sense of "rightness". It may come as a shock, but he has never found this "rightness".
Emotional, organic, and involving.

Please save those for your love life and tomatoes.
Too easy: PRaT
Aroc nailed it, it's "mint".
I'd vote for 'tubelike' in ads and 'musical' in general comments. Both are misleading at best and far to vague for usefulness.
Newbee posted my first choice: tubelike. I'm convinced half the people who use this adjective have never heard a tube amp.

Jafox posted my second choice: PRaT. Useless term.
I am still bothered by "musicality". Different reviewers and audiophiles seem to through this term around the same way "rightness" is thrown around - in different contexts it seems to imply different things.
Further to "PRaT", this expression is used mainly by the UK audio press, and a bit of fluency in UK vs American English may give an important clue to the origin of this audio expression.

In UK English, a "prat" is a self aggrandizing, pompous "delusionally arrogant" person who "acts against logic".

Hmmmm.....maybe the folks who figured out how to put Naim and Linn electronics in weird boxes and charge huge prices decided that all of there customers were "PRATS" while laughing all the way from the demo room to the bank?
Not just "mint" but "minty" - Item usually has 2 scratches, a couple of "minor dings", "low hours" and always in my "second system"...
"Musical": Isn't that the purpose of Hifi equipment - to produce music.
Yes, "tubelike" is also one of my favorites. Good job, Newbee!

Grant, I believe you make the most excellent point, about half of the people using this never having heard a tube amp. I'll say the other half has heard (and, maybe even, owned) a tube amp, and they still have no idea what a tube amp sounds like. In my own, admittedly contrarian, opinion, a tube amp sounds EXACTLY the opposite of what they are normally described as. Instead of being distorted, veiled, thick, slow, warm, and ripe, they are MORE upfront, lively, engaging, clear, and bright.

Still, I just cannot get past "self effacing". Definitely the most useless I've ever encountered. I mean, when a component finally gets up, and begins making fun of itself, I'll agree that it's self effacing. This particular review pushed me over the edge, since it was an expensive component, written by a reviewer who has always come across as a fantastically nice guy, but one who knows little about audio equipment. Sadly, he's writing for the biggest publication in North America.
Just like Phyllis Diller, my system is just "broken in".
That term always cracked me up in regards to cables.
Minty fresh. And liquid. If it's warm I'm pissing down my leg.

This is the most stupid, insipid term that has ever been invented by a moron audiophile. (If I just hurt your feelings, GOOD! Stop using it!)

At best, Minty refers to a flavor, not the condition of a piece of hardware.

Got it? Good!
Restock, Not really, a stereo system is meant to replicate recorded music. It produces sound. The music is in the recorded performance. I can hear the 'music' in a poor system or a very advanced system, even if the output from the speaker is rolled off, bloated, shrill etc.

As a descriptive term, I believe it is usually connected with someone's attempt to describe a system as smooth with a neutral to warmish tone. But, its just undescriptive as everyone has their own opinion of what sounds 'musical' to them. Some would strike my assumption that 'musical' connotes any warmth. That to be 'musical' it must be 'neutral', which of course to me would suggest that in their definition 'accuracy' equates 'musicality'.

Rather than 'musical' why not for example 'the upper bass/lower mid-range is a tad warmer than normal, the mid-range is smooth and transitions into the highs without any upper midrange emphasis, and the highs are detailed and airy with out being bright? (Or what ever combination of adjectives you care to decide to use which would define your use of the term 'musical').

Were you to use your own specific terms I could then apply my knowledge of the components in your system to decide whether or not your opinion would be useful to me, but when you just say its musical I really don't have a clue about what it is that makes it 'musical'.

To me saying a product is 'musical' is much the same as saying its a 'killer', 'beats all', choose your own superlative, but you get the idea.

I don't know if this makes sense to you, its JMHO.

PLUMY, who the hell came up with THAT???
Minty -- reminds me of a few lines from a Steven Leacock story "She had a face that was so face like in appearance as to be absolutely facial."

The word minty makes me hope for the days when matter can be transfered through the ether so I can slap the person using the word minty.
most adjectives are ambiguous because they are subjective and have idiosyncratic conotations.

for example, "bright". what does it mean ? i believe, it means a peak in the range 100hz to 3000hz ?

what does it mean to someone else ?

also, how does one translate a qualitative variable into a quantitative one ?

nouns and description are easier to understand.

another problem is that most adjectives are threshold based. this means that it depends upon someone's ability to perceive changes in "sound". if 2 listeners are reporting an experience of auditioning a stereo system, one may say "i hear thinness", while the other may disagree.

there is the issue of aural acuity and what constitutes thinness to each listener.

thus, there are too many variables involved in using an adjective which reduces the clarity of communication.

even a simple description such as " i hear an excess of treble harmonics" and is subjective and not necessarily replicable.

such a statement is preferable to "i hear brightness" .
Audiogon could use some minty threads.
'Simply' or 'in a word' -- a cliche that is used to preface another cliche, for instance "in a word, astonishing!"

BTW: 'astonishing' is another good candidate for most worthless audio word of the century.

The term that riles be the most is "blows away". Talk about hyperbole. Most of the top components are simply too good be be "blown away".


I'm going to go against the views of the majority of posts in this thread on the word "mint".

If there are any coin collectors out there, you will know that "mint" is one of the most precise and exact descriptors that exists. It is very objective because it essentially describes physical appearance. There is less room for differences of opinion. On the other hand, most audio terms are subjective and relate to perceived sound rather than appearance. They are subject to much greater variability in interpretation. Thus they have less value unless you are familiar with the particular person who uses them and know their reference point.

The trouble that I have with "mint" is that most of the time it is not used accurately. The problem is the person, not the word.

I also have no trouble with "tubelike". I equate it with "fuzzy, warm and distorted due to even order harmonics,... but pleasing to the ear nonetheless". If that is not what is intended by the person using it, then maybe they should be more cognizant of the impressions they are leaving with people with the words they use.

One word which I see fairly often in reviews which I do have trouble getting my head around is "bloom".
A few come to mind:

"On a whole different level" Think about it: it can mean better or worse. Empty-headed nonsense. Distrust anyone who says it.

"Lifted a veil" Sheesh. In some cultures lifting veils is frowned upon (thanks, Jafox).

"Blacker background" I want to hear the music, not be left in the dark or look at bad velvet Elvis paintings in front of the gas station on the corner.


I also have no trouble with "tubelike". I equate it with "fuzzy, warm and distorted due to even order harmonics,... but pleasing to the ear nonetheless".
This is precisely where I have an issue with the adjective, tubelike. The definition expressed above has no relation to the sound of any tube amps I have heard in the last four years, including SET and push/pull designs.
"Reference" as in "reference system"
I happen to use my system as my reference for what sounds good. That makes your reference wrong. ;) This is why I write uncannily accurate reviews like the one I just posted on the world-class cheapo speaker, the Insignia 6.5" Two Way. My new under $50 Reference speaker!
"Tuneful," as in "tuneful bass". Aaaarrggghhhhh!

Jim Crane
"Priced to Sell"
I agree with Narrod on "Blows Away", uugghhh.

Though admittedly it doesn't come up all that often.
Jaw Dropping. Is that good or bad? One certain integrated amp seems to have all its proponents with dropped jaws. Is that like being a knuckle dragger or mouth breather?

Lifting veils, blown away, minty, PRaT, power chord - all wonderful exapmles of the nonsense seen so often.
This wonderful piece would be MINT/PERFECT.... EXCEPT for three scratches on the top, which can't be seen from X feet away, one ding....on EACH side, and a very small GOUGE in the faceplate. And....oh yeah, the dog chewed off the powercord and ......yadda, yadda....but EXCEPT for those FEW things, it's in absolutely PERFECT condition.
Hate to part with it...but:
1) I just knocked up my girlfriend
2) The IRS just audited me
3) I'm jumping bail to avoid prosecution
4) My bookie will break my legs by Friday
5) My drug habit has returned
6) At least Kobe had to buy a MUCH bigger diamond
Choose one :-)
-ality. Musicality, bassality, tonality, trebality, darkality, lightality. What we don't need is more-ality.

I also cast a vote for minty. I will never buy an item that is minty. Gives me the impression the seller has been licking the product.
Hey wait a minute, I like's the color of my walls!

Surprised nobody mentioned yin(g) or yan(g) or the dreadful, continuousness.

And yes, Brian, you're only allowed to lift the veil when the minister has given you permission to do so.

And yes, let's ditch MORality.
Alright, how are we supposed to sell anything without it being minty, tubelike and muscial! ...geez what a bunch of Prats! =)

1) I just knocked up my girlfriend
2) The IRS just audited me
3) I'm jumping bail to avoid prosecution
4) My bookie will break my legs by Friday
5) My drug habit has returned
6) At least Kobe had to buy a MUCH bigger diamond

Those would be the most homnest reasons to sell gear I have ever heard!!!!!
BLISS has to be the stupidest word used to describe gear,there is a seller who no matter what he is selling use's the word BLISS to describe how we will feel if we would just buy the gear.
'liquid' ss amp that is TUBELIKE is good, but a tube amp that is TUBELIKE is bad...go figure....
I agree with Trelja, Tvad et. al. Tubey meant vintage dark (there goes another audiophile term,) with rolled off highs with midrange bloom , oops there goes another, it's not really floral. In fact what is bloom? Poor equalization? Modern day tubes amps and even just some newer designs are very clean and yes bright sounding one might even say sparkly. The list is endless but my current term du jour is chocolately, which may have something to do with liquid but I am not sure.
I think the most useless words in audio are "good" and "bad".
I'll agree with "blows away"...way over used at all audio forums. "Liquid?"...dumb, "fast bass?"...what the heck is that?...if one bass driver cycles faster than another, aren't they playing at different cycles?

Mrtennis, a quantitative world, one without adjectives of the type we use, is simply one desired by the so-called objectivists.

As an example, reviewing bar b que ribs qualitatively and quantitatively: "The meat was tender, yet not to the falling off the bone stage. My only complaint was that things were just too salty." versus "I performed three measurements on a section of meat, having stripped the fat, and 3.4 mm from the bone, averaging 6.55 whatevers. Via an evaportative method, 600 mg of sodium residue was collected per kilogram of edible content."

Reviews of most things outside of audio follow the subjectivist model, and the world is comfortable with that. For whatever reason, audio does not follow suit, despite a long history of sound and measurements often not showing the best of correlation. High end audio does not have to be a physics or engineering exercise.
I performed three measurements on a section of meat, having stripped the fat, and 3.4 mm from the bone, averaging 6.55 whatevers. Via an evaportative method, 600 mg of sodium residue was collected per kilogram of edible content.
Obviously, a review of Corky's Barbeque.
Newbee, I thought musical meant engaging, tubelike, tuneful with lots of PRAT ;-)
hi trelja, i try to follow the motto "do no harm" .

since most adjectives are ambiguous because the intended meaning may not bge the same as the perceived medium, it may do more harm than good and motivate a decision involving an investment of funds and then disappointment.

referring to your food analogy.

it is sufficient to indicate the cut of meat without any adjectives. i will taste it and form my own opinions.

if there is fat surrounding the steak, say so. anything which is easy to confirm is useful, but often subjective comments could be tricky.

i know, life is dull without adjectives, it's hard not to have an opinion where adjectives are used, however, i guess one accepts opinions with good graces and makes the best of them
"digital ready" - when applied to speaker descriptions
"Inner Detail", "Leading-edge Transients", "Attack", "Fast". I find the terms are pretty cool but I'm just not sure I can attribute them to a component.
not an adjective but the phrase 'what do you think?" as opposed to listening yourself.

DOOHHH! (spoken like Homer)