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A plea to the community--let's standardize the way we describe sonic signatures

post #1 of 50
Thread Starter 

I'm posting this thread in the hopes that the people who are the leaders in our community will consider making it a sticky thread, as I firmly believe it'll help many members, as well as improve the overall quality of our forums, leading to much more helpful posts and discussions. I should be posting this in the Sound Science section of the head-fi forums, but the problem is, posting there is like preaching to the small minority of already converted--it's useless. So I'm posting this in the full-sized and portable headphones sections, because that's where most members visit, and I could reach a lot more people who could benefit the most.

 

The point of this post is simple--there is no standard in how people are describing sonic signatures, so it's very confusing and contradictory when people either don't really understand how to properly describe audio characteristics, or people use the same word to describe very different things. This makes all the posts, reviews, debates...etc very chaotic and hard to reach any sort of real understanding between members.

 

What I propose is to have a set standard, such as a sticky thread, and this standard will be based on the most current and authoritative published materials on mixing and mastering from world-renowned audio engineers. If we all use the same standard, we could then know exactly what the other person is talking about, without any confusion or misinterpretation. This set of standards could be updated as necessary.

 

For starters, we need to make sure members actually know what bass, mids, and treble actually REALLY mean, because so many members do not understand and misuse these terms.

 

Here's a great primer on the frequency bands and exactly what audio information is isolated in each:

http://www.dplay.com/tutorial/bands/index.html

 

If you want to familiarize yourself with exactly what each frequency sounds like as a pure sine wave tone, this is a great place to listen to examples:

http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/hearing.html

 

So instead of simply saying bass, mids, or treble, or the somewhat more detailed sub-bass, lower/upper-mids, and so on, we can talk about sonic signature in proper detail by describing the exact frequency range we're referring to. This will alleviate the problem of one person saying "the mids are too forward" and we have no idea what frequency range the person's talking about. "mids" can range anywhere from 250Hz to 4KHz, and without saying exactly where in the frequency range one is talking about, it's practically useless. Same with treble and bass--too many people have no idea what they're talking about when they use those terms.

 

There was a thread on head-fi a few years ago that actually listed a glossary of terms used to describe audio, and I'm surprised to see that it was not made into a sticky:

http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/220770/describing-sound-a-glossaryhttp://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/220770/describing-sound-a-glossary

 

For those of you who are more visual, here's a very helpful chart that makes it extremely easy to describe sound in detail (taken from a couple of the books I own):

P1030413_resize.jpg

 

P1030414_resize.jpg

 

And finally, for those who would like to educate themselves on how to listen proper to audio information, these books will definitely teach you a ton about the secrets behind how audio professionals use critical listening skills, or to shape audio into the music we all love so much:

 

Critical Listening Skills for Audio Professionals, by F.Alton Everest (contains audio examples CD):

http://www.amazon.com/Critical-Listening-Skills-Audio-Professionals/dp/1598630237

 

The Mixing Engineer's Handbook, Second Edition

http://www.amazon.com/Mixing-Engineers-Handbook-Second/dp/1598632515/ref=cm_cr_pr_sims_t

 

Mastering Audio, Second Edition: The art and the science

http://www.amazon.com/Mastering-Audio-Second-art-science/dp/0240808371/ref=pd_sim_b_4

 


Edited by Lunatique - 3/29/11 at 4:44am
post #2 of 50

Don't forget about this, which is absolutely helpful:

http://www.independentrecording.net/irn/resources/freqchart/main_display.htm

 

Unfortunately the current forum platform isn't meant for sticky. However I have already turned the Sound Glossary thread into wiki a while ago:

http://www.head-fi.org/wiki/describing-sound-a-glossary

 

post #3 of 50

Not a bad idea but really, it's difficult to get right even with help. For instance, you defined mids as 600 to 2Khz and I would start my definition of mids at least a full octave lower (300hz is certainly not bass). The table supplied isn't bad.

post #4 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by goodvibes View Post

Not a bad idea but really, it's difficult to get right even with help. For instance, you defined mids as 600 to 2Khz and I would start my definition of mids at least a full octave lower (300hz is certainly not bass). The table supplied isn't bad.

 

That was just a quick example of how wide of a range "mids" can "typically" be, even without splitting hair and getting accurate. If I were to be totally accurate, I wouldn't even say "mids" and I would say low-mids, mid-mids, and high-mids. That is why it's far better to just describe using actual frequency number ranges, or simply say something like "the mids (2KHz area, narrow-band) are recessed" instead of just "the mids are recessed," because no one will know exactly where the recess is in the frequency range. But I'll edit my OP just so one one will nitpicks on it. :)

 

post #5 of 50

 There's nothing typical about frequencies which I think was the point of  your post, getting it right. 300hz is either part of the bass range or the mid range and it's quite definitely mid.

 

 It wasn't a nit pick. It was an example of how it's hard to do without a good amount of experience. Often a percieved frequency is not that but a combo of harmonic interaction in music so picking ranges like in the chart works better. It's very often here that when a poster points to a frequency, he gets it wrong. I do like the table provided as it's a nice way to describe what's heard without getting too technical and there's alot more to goodness than just frequency accuracy. 


Edited by goodvibes - 3/29/11 at 7:07am
post #6 of 50

Problem is, subjective as audio is, every person hears differently. It's easy to pick out individual frequencies when listening to them individually, but you listen to a full track, it's not easy to start picking out each individual detail and put it in words.

post #7 of 50

I have a little issue with the hears differently part. Your perception of natural based on your particular ear mechanicals may be different on an absolute basis but an accurate reproducer will allow you hear something in that same different way and make us both perceive it as accurate. Now, ear canals with IEMs may well be a variable to that as it takes some of the ear away so I can see it causing some repeatability issues but I have no idea how much. I suspect some but not a large amount though it doesn't take big swings for significance. It also doesn't speak to taste and that nothing's perfect so there's room for preferences in 'accurate'. There's also no badge of honor to need accuracy. As long as it makes you come back for another listen, you're doing good.bigsmile_face.gifPerhaps that's what you meant.


Edited by goodvibes - 3/29/11 at 8:05am
post #8 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by goodvibes View Post

I have a little issue with the hears differently part. Your perception of natural based on your particular ear mechanicals may be different on an absolute basis but an accurate reproducer will allow you hear something in that same different way and make us both perceive it as accurate. Now, ear canals with IEMs may well be a variable to that as it takes some of the ear away so I can see it causing some repeatability issues but I have no idea how much. I suspect some but not a large amount though it doesn't take big swings for significance. It also doesn't speak to taste and that nothing's perfect so there's room for preferences in 'accurate'. There's also no badge of honor to need accuracy. As long as it makes you come back for another listen, you're doing good.bigsmile_face.gifPerhaps that's what you meant.


Yeah, something like that. Better way to put it may be that our own preferences dictates how we describe sound? One man's thick and deep is another's boomy and messy.

 

post #9 of 50

Some members here aren't interested in the music from the standpoint of which is the best technically. I think what you are proposing would take the fun out of reviews on general posts. Just like with my readers of my jazz reviews, most lovers of jazz are not musicians. They don't understand about jazz in terms of half notes, bent notes or even the AABA scheme. They want to know about the music as it relates to how it makes the listener feel. Is the music relaxing or aggressive? Is the chaotic or melodic? Hard bop or avant-garde? What mental picture does the music paint? The technical aspects of the music is better left to musicians, not the consumers. Likewise, that's how I and many general members (or noobies) approach this forum, I believe. I think what you are suggesting is best left within specialized technical threads on this forum. Simply put, I wouldn't want a technical breakdown of what make my B&W Nautilus 802s sound so great to my ears as compared to Magneplanar 3.7 speakers. I want to know which has more bass, clearer mid-range or is the most natural sounding in reproducing the piano without getting overly technical. I think what you are proposing will in essence make the website in general too elitist. Just my opinion though.

post #10 of 50

sweet! I like the foldout. where did you get it?

post #11 of 50
Thread Starter 

Quote:

Originally Posted by goodvibes View Post

 There's nothing typical about frequencies which I think was the point of  your post, getting it right. 300hz is either part of the bass range or the mid range and it's quite definitely mid.

 

 It wasn't a nit pick. It was an example of how it's hard to do without a good amount of experience. Often a percieved frequency is not that but a combo of harmonic interaction in music so picking ranges like in the chart works better. It's very often here that when a poster points to a frequency, he gets it wrong. I do like the table provided as it's a nice way to describe what's heard without getting too technical and there's alot more to goodness than just frequency accuracy. 


What I meant was that it's what the average member's idea of typical is, and the average member wouldn't know exactly what range the mids extend to. If "I" were to talk about the mids, I wouldn't just say "mids"--I always state the actual frequency range or state which part of the mids I was referring to.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by azncookiecutter View Post

Problem is, subjective as audio is, every person hears differently. It's easy to pick out individual frequencies when listening to them individually, but you listen to a full track, it's not easy to start picking out each individual detail and put it in words.

I think anyone who's somewhat serious about a hobby would take some time to learn the basics of that hobby. That first link I posted is great for helping people understand the frequency ranges of music in isolated form. If someone were to look at the few links I provided, in conjunction with the graphs I posted, they would only need to spend a total of maybe 15 to 30 minutes and immediately gain a ton of understanding that will greatly help them describe audio in a way that is actually informative and helpful to others.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by goodvibes View Post

I have a little issue with the hears differently part. Your perception of natural based on your particular ear mechanicals may be different on an absolute basis but an accurate reproducer will allow you hear something in that same different way and make us both perceive it as accurate. Now, ear canals with IEMs may well be a variable to that as it takes some of the ear away so I can see it causing some repeatability issues but I have no idea how much. I suspect some but not a large amount though it doesn't take big swings for significance. It also doesn't speak to taste and that nothing's perfect so there's room for preferences in 'accurate'. There's also no badge of honor to need accuracy. As long as it makes you come back for another listen, you're doing good.bigsmile_face.gifPerhaps that's what you meant.

I think that regardless of the differences of how we hear, we actually share a vast cross section of similarities--enough so that we can actually have discussions about audio in a meaningful way. If we hear totally differently, then the entire world would have stopped having discussions about audio ages ago. For example, we can all tell when an album is over-compressed to the point of distortion, or if someone has a nasally voice, or if a headphone outputs authoritative sub-bass, and so on. We share far more similarities than most people realize, and often disagreements stem from lack of understanding and miscommunication rather than hearing very differently.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ericp10 View Post

Some members here aren't interested in the music from the standpoint of which is the best technically. I think what you are proposing would take the fun out of reviews on general posts. Just like with my readers of my jazz reviews, most lovers of jazz are not musicians. They don't understand about jazz in terms of half notes, bent notes or even the AABA scheme. They want to know about the music as it relates to how it makes the listener feel. Is the music relaxing or aggressive? Is the chaotic or melodic? Hard bop or avant-garde? What mental picture does the music paint? The technical aspects of the music is better left to musicians, not the consumers. Likewise, that's how I and many general members (or noobies) approach this forum, I believe. I think what you are suggesting is best left within specialized technical threads on this forum. Simply put, I wouldn't want a technical breakdown of what make my B&W Nautilus 802s sound so great to my ears as compared to Magneplanar 3.7 speakers. I want to know which has more bass, clearer mid-range or is the most natural sounding in reproducing the piano without getting overly technical. I think what you are proposing will in essence make the website in general too elitist. Just my opinion though.

 

See, in your simple example alone, I already feel like I have no idea what you meant when you say "clearer mid-range," since the mid-range covers a really wide frequency range, and without being more specific, it's next to useless to anyone looking for informative reviews and opinions. I also think when someone has reached the point of comparing B&W to Magneplanar, they are most likely at the level where they consider themselves a more discerning listener, and have accumulated a certain level of understanding of audio. The people who would be interested in reading about such comparisons are likely not your typical noobs either--they are people who are talking the whole audiophile thing a bit more seriously, or else they wouldn't even know what B&W or Magneplanar is. 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by aleki View Post

sweet! I like the foldout. where did you get it?


It's from a book called The Guide to MIDI Orchestration, by Paul Gilreath. It'll be completely useless to anyone but those who are very passionate about composing realistic sounding orchestral music with MIDI/sample libraries. It happens to have a section on using effects in the context of orchestral compositions, and that's what that fold out is for.

 

post #12 of 50

bump for great thread

post #13 of 50

Mmm no time to read this now but I've bookmarked this thread.

post #14 of 50
Awesome thread. I'm new to this forum and I love music. I enjoy 'good-sounding' music and often have a hard time finding a good sound setup whether it be home or portable. This thread definitely gives me a good starting point for my quest in understanding the basics of music frequencies.

I love the 'punchy' bass seen in the picture graph in the op. I just ordered the Atrios MG7s after a failed attempt at finding new TFTA 1XBs. I know this isn't exactly the sound I'm looking for but I'm hoping the fiio e11 I ordered will help with the sound I'm looking to achieve.

Awesome thread. Thank you so much!
Edited by ergibson83 - 3/5/12 at 5:46am
post #15 of 50

I totally agree with ericp.  Most viewers are not interested in the technical aspects of the sound, they want a generic description of the signature.   I really appreciate Clieos thread, "http://www.head-fi.org/t/541204/concise-multi-iem-comparison-atomic-floyd-superdarts-remote-added-march-1st-2012  which describes sound signatures such as "warm" or "analytical" etc.   Any more scientific than that would be too technical for me.   I appreciate fun and creative descriptions in reviews, however; knowing a general heading such as "warm" would be enough.    Any more than that would be like a Stereophile review, I don't like technical journals.   However, Lunatique, why don't you start a "technical review forum for IEMS and Headphones"?   That would allow those who want to do a "technical review" and those who want to read a "technical review" the opportunity to do so without offending or turninig off the non-technical writers and readers.?

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