How to describe sound - An audiophile terminology guide

how to describe sound

Sound Properties

The audiophile hobby is on that can be confusing for the uninitiated and to accurately identify what you are hearing can be hard.  Thankfully there are a number of descriptors that audiophiles use and you will see these terms used throughout my reviews.  I have tried to keep it as simple as possible. These are some of the more technical words/phrases you might come across when you are reading various equipment reviews. Oftentimes its hard to know where to start and if there is anything you don't understand feel free to ask a question via email, facebook or twitter.

Airy – Describes the space and openness of the product usually associated with open back headphones and live sounding music.

Analytical – A term used to describe a product that produces a high level of detail in reference to the music being played back

Balance – Usually the tuning of the earphone.  For example a well-balanced headphone would display the attributes of not having one particularly dominant frequency eg the bass, mids and highs are all balanced.

Bass – This is the lower end frequency of the human hearing.  Bass can be measured in quantity (heaviness) and quality (the clarity within the frequency).  Other bass descriptors are muddy and boomy.

Bloat – Bloat is present usually in the mid bass.

Bright/Brightness – usually displayed in the upper frequencies or upper mids.  Brightness is a feature enjoyed by many but walks a thin line to becoming unpleasant due to a potential of treble peaking.

Congestion – Sounds overlapping each other and poor clarity.

Crisp – Clear

Dark/Darkness – Usually where the higher frequencies are less prominent.

Decay – How a sound/note/resonance fades away ie the note decay was lengthy.

Depth – How far away the instruments spacing is from back to front.

Detail – The attention to a full reproduction with all sound/notes being audible and present.

Forward – A more intense overall presentation of the sound.  Opposite of laid back and relaxed.

Fun – A usually high-energy sound with an emphasised bass.

Harsh – Usually used to describe the upper mid to upper frequencies when you get too much treble, an unpleasant quality.

Highs – The upper frequencies/ higher notes.

Imaging – The placement and position of an instrument as interpreted through the use of a product.

Lush – A rich tone and usually with some warmth to the overall presentation.

Microphonics – Friction sound heard in a headphone/Earphone caused by the movement or rubbing of the cable.  High microphonics = Bad.

Mids/Midrange – The middle frequencies (usually the main body of vocals and acoustic guitars amongst others ((see instrument frequency chart))

Muddy – Unclear presentation of sound the opposite of clean/clear.

Natural – Sounds as it should, real and true to life.

Openness – Displays good width and depth in the presentation, plenty of room in between instruments.

Punch – The impact and pop of a particular sound/frequency etc

Sibilant – The high unpleasant peaks that are usually unpleasant to the ear if to prevalent.

Signature – the overall tone/tuning of a headphone or earphone.  Descriptors can be balanced, bassy, sibilant etc

Soundstage – Described in 3d terms (height width and depth) 

Timbre – The tone of a note

Transparent – Similar to clarity it is a clean clear open and detailed quality.

Warm/warmth – Engaging vocals, bumped mid bass and clear and lush midrange.