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The highest genius of hi-fi salesman: "audio speak"  

post #1 of 78
Thread Starter 

As everyone who read George Orwell knows, language shapes - or mis-shapes - thought. Hi-fi marketing people aren't fools and read 1984 at school like the rest of us and so they invented, pruned and promoted a pretentious, meaningless and confusing vocabulary guaranteed to bewilder and confuse the weak-minded. For example we read (from head-fi's own dictionary) that

 

Aggressive - Forward and bright sonic character.

 

And

 

Forward(ness) - Similar to an aggressive sound, a sense of image being projected in front of the speakers and of music being forced upon the listener. Compare "Laid-back".

 

..How can this make sense? These two things are defined in terms of each other! And what is a "sense of image"? And how, sanely, can we speak of music "being forced on the listener"? Louder I understand; more accurate I understand; higher or lower pitch I understand - but what the devil does it mean when music is more "forced" on me? One can't help bust suspect that this terminology exists to help the salesman's patter when he plays the old trick of upping the volume when he demonstrates the more expensive equipment... 

 

Bright - A sound that emphasizes the upper midrange/lower treble. Harmonics are strong relative to fundamentals.

 

Well, the first part at least makes sense - "bright" is a pretentious way of saying "emphasizes treble". But the crap about harmonics? How does a piece of audio equipment know that a bit or an electron is part of a harmonic and to emphasize it? How does a headphone resonance chamber look at two waves of equal frequency, one being the fundamental say of the lead guitar and the other the first harmonic of the bass, and know to emphasize the second? Do these people think that headphones echo chambers are occupied by cooperative demons???

 

Plenty more to laugh at - or despair at - here: http://www.head-fi.org/a/describing-sound-a-glossary

post #2 of 78

Human beings aren't machines.  As such, they use subjective qualifiers to describe what they see/hear/smell/touch/taste.  Different humans use different terms sometimes to describe the same things.  These are called synonyms.  Synonyms are different words that mean the same thing.

 

I'd suspect some people are more specific in their usage and have emphasis on particular parts of the audio band when using different terms.  Most people aren't that careful.

 

This is because when people give an opinion, they don't expect it to be the last word or any kind of objective standard on what they are opining about.  They are just describing, to the best of the ability, what they are experiencing.  

post #3 of 78

There is a surprising lack of audio-specific adjectives in the English language.  Most terms used to describe sound quality are analogous to some other type of sensory stimulus.

 

Open

Muddy

Veiled

Gritty

Raspy

Cloudy

Grumpy

Clear

Dopey

Sterile

Flat

Sharp

Bashful

Restricted

Edgy

 

Nearly all of the above have been used in high-end audio reviews.  The ones that haven't are dwarves. 

post #4 of 78

When I speak about sound, I talk about response (subbass, bass, low mids, mids, upper mids, treble, high frequencies), distortion (crunchy or smooth), dynamics (punchy or dull), reverb (dry or wet), etc. Everything relates to one of the aspects of sound. I don't use vague words like fuzzy or veiled.

post #5 of 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by scuttle View Post

As everyone who read George Orwell knows, language shapes - or mis-shapes - thought. Hi-fi marketing people aren't fools and read 1984 at school like the rest of us and so they invented, pruned and promoted a pretentious, meaningless and confusing vocabulary guaranteed to bewilder and confuse the weak-minded.

 

Yes, there was a series of meetings. The resultant lexicon came to be known as "The Protocols of the Elders of HiFi".

 

If I were to become a hifi salesman I would make sure to adapt my diction to suit the target customer. For instance, were I to run into an anti-establishment plain-spoken proponent of egalitarian logic such as yourself, I would simply shift to making fun of the whole sales pitch while endowing such commentary with words like "true value" and "linearity". I would mock audiophilia and wear my job as a proud irony of a fan of the art and science of music reproduction.

 

It's the customer who determines the vocab and a sale only works if there's a measure of mutual understanding. The issue is analogous to the rift between prescriptive and descriptive grammar, where you're ultimately talking about the language as it is used in real life vs. dry technical writing. Even audio professionals use shorthand terms like "brightness" and "aggressiveness" in in-studio discussions continuing without confusion, not missing a beat.


Edited by anetode - 2/7/13 at 7:34pm
post #6 of 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by scuttle View Post
Well, the first part at least makes sense - "bright" is a pretentious way of saying "emphasizes treble". But the crap about harmonics? How does a piece of audio equipment know that a bit or an electron is part of a harmonic and to emphasize it? How does a headphone resonance chamber look at two waves of equal frequency, one being the fundamental say of the lead guitar and the other the first harmonic of the bass, and know to emphasize the second?

 

From the implicit assumption (yours) that one of the harmonics of the bass (including the non-linear ones imparted by non-ideal audio equip) ends up in the same frequency as the fundamental of a particular guitar note:

 

The audio equipment generates (non-linearly) the harmonic from the bass and it may add to the fundamental of the guitar. This could make the guitar louder if things add constructively depending on phase. However, since we are dealing with non-linear stuff, things could get worse since superposition theorem starts to loose ground as things become more non-linear (think IMD)

 

Furthermore, non-linearly generated harmonics (pretty much a form of noise) may not necessarily line up with the frequencies from the source (signal).

 

(Edited to try to make the point more readable biggrin.gif)


Edited by ultrabike - 2/8/13 at 12:18am
post #7 of 78

Eh, I don't think that the terms themselves are too terrible. Some are a bit ambiguous but they're generally used to represent something real.

 

The only problem I have with audiophile terms is that they tend to be either euphemisms or dysphemisms. They have an emotional attachment to them that influences someone's feeling about that particular quality and can cause a bandwagon effect. A good example is "cold and analytical".

post #8 of 78

Well, recursive definitions are to be expected with poorly-maintained wikis.  Harmonics vs. fundamentals balance is a stumper for me, unless you're talking about a device that's contributing a lot of harmonics via non-linear distortion.  But many sounds have much higher harmonic content than that.

 

With a relative lack of audio-specific words, it's hard to get across the right message and one that everybody will understand.  A lot of the words used mean different things to different people.  Certainly, this is to the advantage of audio reviewers and audio manufacturers, but I wouldn't call an outright conspiracy.

 

That said, "bright" and some others seem to be somewhat universal, at least in a general sense:

http://music.cs.northwestern.edu/publications/sabin-pardo-acmcc09.pdf

 

 

I feel like musicians have their own vocabulary (typically not too ambiguous, as the focus is often on the mechanism and idea behind producing certain kinds of sounds), audio professionals have another, and audiophiles have yet another, with some overlap but not as much as one might guess.

post #9 of 78

Even in the audio world there are 4 basic types of buyers.

 

Dominate

Structured

Egotistical

Paced

 

 

Dominate don't want bs answers or snake oil jargon, just answer their questions and get down to it. They want to see results.

 

Most of the profile I meet here at Head-Fi is the Structured and Paced mind type. They will conduct an information package based on the needs they think they need. The Paced ends up all being time based so when the time is right, then the purchase is right. The time gathering info is more important than the results from the wisdom of information. Dominate types will look for resulting understanding not paced to a time frame.

 

 

Ego will strictly look at how the purchase will reflect his status on the Head-Fi site.

 

This is nothing new and was incorporated into animal type behavior in the time of the Greeks.

 

 

 

The sales person needs to understand and communicate to each level of buyer. Some people are fully mixed types, so their 50-50 or 25-75 levels of mixture must be understood. Some are 25-25-50 of the profiles. The key is to understand the mind-set so as to pull the strings of emotion with words of logic. The key is to find the whole pace and plan of the sale. To talk too much is death. To ask too quick is death. The close is felt by instinct at the right time. Every sale is different.

 

 

The audio linguistic verbiage is tailored in real-time to each of the 4 types. The amazing thing is each type used it's own language. Ego is based on statue and profound personality enhancing words. The direct want simple straight words. The paced are looking for caring audio words and honesty where the structured will be become involved with the use of statistics and graphs. The more scientific it is then the more they can structure the fact charts.

 

The key is to read the emotions and find the inner hot points as even the most thought-out buyer will make an emotional decision with their money for audio products in the end.

 

 

The sales personal who understands the personality type by being observant will engage in far superior results due to listening and not talking, thus finding the personal needs and results searched for by the buyer. The linguistic verbiage will then be emotional and tied to the inner wants of the buyer due to the sales persons profound communication and personality understanding skills. There is also 10 gates to the sales process, the process all has it's own guide-posts and target places of passing though to the end result of a purchase.


Edited by Redcarmoose - 2/7/13 at 8:04pm
post #10 of 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigshot View Post

When I speak about sound, I talk about response (subbass, bass, low mids, mids, upper mids, treble, high frequencies), distortion (crunchy or smooth), dynamics (punchy or dull), reverb (dry or wet), etc. Everything relates to one of the aspects of sound. I don't use vague words like fuzzy or veiled.

You'll get cross-eyed looks from audiophools, and be understood by engineers.  You might get cross-eyed looks from audiophools anyway. 

post #11 of 78

Quote:
Originally Posted by Radio_head View Post

Human beings aren't machines.  As such, they use subjective qualifiers to describe what they see/hear/smell/touch/taste.  Different humans use different terms sometimes to describe the same things.  These are called synonyms.  Synonyms are different words that mean the same thing.

 

I'd suspect some people are more specific in their usage and have emphasis on particular parts of the audio band when using different terms.  Most people aren't that careful.

 

This is because when people give an opinion, they don't expect it to be the last word or any kind of objective standard on what they are opining about.  They are just describing, to the best of the ability, what they are experiencing.  

 

This is exactly it. I've seen many an experienced HF'er say "why not simply say +6db peak at 7150Hz with a Q of 5.4". Well it's because most human beings do not have Mr. Spock's, Commander Data's, or Rainman's capabilities. It's very easy for my friends of even my wife to tell me if something sounds bright or forward, etc.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeaj View Post

With a relative lack of audio-specific words, it's hard to get across the right message and one that everybody will understand.  A lot of the words used mean different things to different people.  Certainly, this is to the advantage of audio reviewers and audio manufacturers, but I wouldn't call an outright conspiracy.

 

Many of these words (and even more) are actually used by recording engineers. Believe in or not, they don't speak like Commander Data or Mr. Spock either.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by scuttle View Post

Bright - A sound that emphasizes the upper midrange/lower treble. Harmonics are strong relative to fundamentals.

 

Well, the first part at least makes sense - "bright" is a pretentious way of saying "emphasizes treble". But the crap about harmonics? How does a piece of audio equipment know that a bit or an electron is part of a harmonic and to emphasize it? How does a headphone resonance chamber look at two waves of equal frequency, one being the fundamental say of the lead guitar and the other the first harmonic of the bass, and know to emphasize the second? Do these people think that headphones echo chambers are occupied by cooperative demons???

 

Plenty more to laugh at - or despair at - here: http://www.head-fi.org/a/describing-sound-a-glossary

 

The in context of the definition, fundamentals refers to the fundamental or lowest frequencies of a sound. Human voice fundamentals range from 100 cycles to 1500 cycles. Some wind instruments will have fundamental frequencies up to 2000Hz. Harmonics, as scientifically defined, are multiples of the fundamentals. For example, the 3rd harmonic of 1000Hz is 3000 Hz (3 x 1000), the 5th harmonic of 800 Hz is 4000Hz (5 x 800). If anything, the definition is imprecise. Perhaps "higher order harmonics relative to the fundamental frequencies" would be a better. In essence, it's just a more scientific way of stating the first sentence. In other words, the word harmonics refers to the scientific definition and should not be thought of as harmony, as in singing kumbaya in harmony.

 

There's no need to laugh or despair with a cynical know it-all-attitude.


Edited by purrin - 2/7/13 at 8:22pm
post #12 of 78

The term on that list that really bugs me is

 

 

Quote:
Musical (or musicality) - A sense of cohesion and subjective "rightness" in the sound.

 

I see that and it tells me absolutely nothing.....yet I see it used often here....sometimes like,  "(insert headphone here) is musical and engaging". Well, what in the hell is that supposed to mean?

A good portion of the terms there,  I can at least have an idea what they are trying to say, but "musical" or "musical and engaging" are meaningless.

 

popcorn.gif 

post #13 of 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by purrin View Post

Many of these words (and even more) are actually used by recording engineers. Believe in or not, they don't speak like Commander Data or Mr. Spock either.

 

You'd know better than me, as I rarely talk with recording engineers.  To be honest, I think they need the most of these words.  I never hear Commander Data though, that's for sure, and I wouldn't expect it.  I've got no beef with non-technical descriptions as long as they make sense and are not overly ambiguous.

 

Taking a sampling of words from the glossary, comparing the definitions used more in music ("yes" means same definition, color-coded below; by "never heard this" I mean I never heard it by musicians or in a music class, that I remember... of course I've heard these things many times by now in other contexts):

aggressive — not the definition I'd think of

analytical — never heard this

articulate — yes definitely

attack — yes definitely

balance — yes definitely

boomy — yes

bright — yes definitely

congested — maybe, not really the definition I'd think of, but close

colored — different definition, from different context

depth — same as above

forward — never heard this

full — yes, mostly

hard — different context, etc.

harsh — different meaning

low level detail — never heard this

lush — yes

nasal — yes

PRaT — uh I don't even want to start

presence — different meaning, context

smeared — yes

soundstage — never heard it this way

tight — maybe

timbre — yes of course

veiled — different meaning somewhat, but mostly same idea

weighty — different context, meaning

 

Obviously not a random sampling, but it shows why I feel like there's a disconnect.

 

 

edit again:

 

P.S. Oh yeah, while you're here, purrin, did you ever get any progress on showing differences between amplifiers via headphones, with acoustic measurements?  I seem to recall something a while back.  Anything pan out yet?  Been busy with other things, or too much noise around to run tests?


Edited by mikeaj - 2/7/13 at 9:08pm
post #14 of 78

When I supervise mixes, usually the director speaks in terms of emotions. As producer, I translate that into practical technical terms and pass it along to the engineers. Works pretty good.

post #15 of 78
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Radio_head View Post

Human beings aren't machines.  As such, they use subjective qualifiers to describe what they see/hear/smell/touch/taste.  Different humans use different terms sometimes to describe the same things.  These are called synonyms.  Synonyms are different words that mean the same thing.

 

 

There are good and bad specialist languages. A good specialist language never uses mutual recursion to defines words!

 

As for using words for the utterly subjective, ***if something is utterly subjective it does not exist.*** 

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