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What exactly are "highs" "mids" "treble" "roll off"?

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

I've spent a lot of time on head-fi lately and always run into people who *seem* to know what they're talking about. Terms like "highs" -- "lows" -- "mids" -- "mid upper" -- "voices sound forward" -- "the base rolls off" -- "treble rolls off" -- "recessed" -- "frequency dips and spikes"..the list could go on....my point is what does all this mean in layman's terms? Can you provide some real musical examples of some of these? In other words, you could go on youtube or something, find a song that has the element you want to describe, and say "Go listen to this song, listen specifically for this instrument or this sound *insert instrument or sound* and THAT is in the range of (high, mid, low...whatever it correlates to). If I sound pushy or aggressive, I apologize...but I'm low on time and really have get to the point. wink_face.gif I just want to understand exactly what I'm reading so I can form an appropriate opinion. 

 

Any and all responses are appreciated. 

post #2 of 19

Did you check the glossary?

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

 

And as for examples, if people could explain them better (audio files, youtube, etc..) they would have done it a long while ago.

 

What you use (headphone, earphone) to listen to those youtube video and songs also plays into representing what people are trying to say. So you won't hear exactly what people are trying to describe.

 

The best and only way to understand is, sadly, for you to go out and audition the same setup that people used while making those statements, and then you'll be able to "see for yourself".

post #3 of 19
Thread Starter 

Nope, I appreciate the link. It did help. However, I still feel as if those definitions lacked "layman's" terms. Perhaps it's just a tad too complicated/subjective to nail down a precise definition, as you said. I'll just keep on listening away and hopefully learn through experience or "see for myself", as you would say. 

 

Cheers. beerchug.gif

post #4 of 19

Yeah... that's sadly the case here.

 

I never understood it myself, either... until I purchased higher-end headphones and "saw for myself" what exactly people meant.

 

Sometimes experience can't simply be expressed in words.

post #5 of 19

This should give you a good idea of what lows, mids, and highs are: http://www.independentrecording.net/irn/resources/freqchart/main_display.htm

 

You can also mess around with an equalizer in those ranges to see what they sound like.

post #6 of 19
Thread Starter 

Thanks, Chewy. I'll give it a ring. 

 

I will be receiving HE-400's tonight, so hopefully I can gain some appreciation for quality sound vs. thumping around with my ATH M50's..not that they're a bad phone...

 

Edit: Wow, I just looked at the link. Pretty damn close to what I want. Thank you VERY much, Chewy. 


Edited by ToInfinity - 2/15/13 at 12:00pm
post #7 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by ToInfinity View Post

Nope, I appreciate the link. It did help. However, I still feel as if those definitions lacked "layman's" terms. Perhaps it's just a tad too complicated/subjective to nail down a precise definition, as you said. I'll just keep on listening away and hopefully learn through experience or "see for myself", as you would say. 

 

Cheers. beerchug.gif


I am fairly new to getting down to the technicalities and or jargon of everything that is used on this forum, it is a great place full of information that fascinates and interests me. I am PhD physicist and I have worked in the Oil Exploration game for close to 20 years. I have worked solely with sound waves of all descriptions and the processing thereof. However for the life of me, whatever I read, whatever I look at, for some reason I cannot consistently assign a description to what is hitting my ear drums, it is more like a feeling, is is more adjectives that I want to use, but those adjectives are totally subjective. I suspect this is the case in general because I am capable of this if anyone is, but I can't. The curves do nothing for me. Maybe my problem is that I am used to interpreting sound waves visually and not aurally. However I am not going to give up. The link above gives me one part of the puzzle yes, thank you for that very much, but if anyone has any gems of layman's adjectives, then that would be cool. Or even actually what to listen for, strip it back one level.

post #8 of 19

The Glossary is probably worth keeping open as I read come to think of it, it is pretty good....

post #9 of 19

Does frequency = pitch? So bass is low frequencies = low pitch instruments like drums or low piano notes?

 

Does it apply to vocals too? Lows = growls?

post #10 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lukien View Post
 

Does frequency = pitch? So bass is low frequencies = low pitch instruments like drums or low piano notes?

 

Does it apply to vocals too? Lows = growls?

Yes to all, although here is a correction of your first statement:

 

Pitch refers to the frequency of a musical note.   Normal pitch is where A is 440 hz and pianos are normally tuned to that "pitch".

 

A sound in nature (or something like a motor) has a frequency, whereas pitch refers to the frequency of a note.

 

A person who can remember pitches, and sing an A that is accurately 440 hz, has "perfect pitch" (and often those people become musicians).

post #11 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by kstuart View Post
 

Yes to all, although here is a correction of your first statement:

 

Pitch refers to the frequency of a musical note.   Normal pitch is where A is 440 hz and pianos are normally tuned to that "pitch".

 

A sound in nature (or something like a motor) has a frequency, whereas pitch refers to the frequency of a note.

 

A person who can remember pitches, and sing an A that is accurately 440 hz, has "perfect pitch" (and often those people become musicians).

 

Thanks a lot for the clarification.

 

I think now i can understand headphone reviews better.  Since i really like metal keyboard/piano solos, the next headphone i buy would have to be one with clear mids then, and of course bass for the drums.

 

Thanks :)

post #12 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by kstuart View Post
Yes to all, although here is a correction of your first statement:

 

Pitch refers to the frequency of a musical note.   Normal pitch is where A is 440 hz and pianos are normally tuned to that "pitch".

 

A sound in nature (or something like a motor) has a frequency, whereas pitch refers to the frequency of a note.

 

A person who can remember pitches, and sing an A that is accurately 440 hz, has "perfect pitch" (and often those people become musicians).

 

Technically, pitch != frequency. This Wikipedia page describes the difference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitch_%28music%29

 

Also, A440 is merely a convention for the middle 'A'. Orchestras will tune to it most of the time, but other times they'll go up to A441+ or down to A439- depending on how they want to sound. To be technically accurate on this: 440Hz can be an 'A', but an 'A' isn't necessarily 440Hz exactly. The human voice also can't reproduce 440Hz flatly/purely/exactly either - only a machine can. So even those with so-called perfect pitch might not be able to consistently sound out 440Hz, it's more likely that they'll vary in Hz a little bit as they sound it out. ;)

 

Also technically, people who have perfect pitch are able to discern musical notes from each other, not the fundamental frequencies (440Hz, for example). As in, they can sound out a B-flat or B-sharp on their own without assistance. Hitting the fundamental frequency accurately isn't the point (if it were humanly possible), the point is being able to sound out every musical note (flat/sharp and natural) accurately within an octave range. Someone with perfect pitch should be able to tell you, by ear, what note you're playing on a piano without looking.

 

In layman's terms, pitch = a musical note, like B-flat, C-sharp, or F natural. A word that's primarily used by musicians and vocalists. Not anything that particularly has to do with "frequency". When the judges on reality singing competitions on TV call a contestant's singing "pitchy", that means the contestant isn't hitting the pitches accurately - i.e., their A-flat sounds closer to a G-sharp (or worse) than A-flat. When musicians do it, we call them out of tune. :p 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lukien View Post
Does frequency = pitch? So bass is low frequencies = low pitch instruments like drums or low piano notes?

 

Does it apply to vocals too? Lows = growls?

 

Low pitch does usually mean low frequency as well, but that probably gives the wrong idea. There are a lot of instruments that can generate sounds over a wide pitch spectrum. Everyone thinks of violins as high-pitch instruments, which they are on their E-string, but on their G-string they can sound relatively low-pitch. Also, calling drums low-pitch is technically inaccurate. Yes, drums can generate low-pitch (and thus low-frequency) booms. Some types of drums are also tunable, so their pitch output can be adjusted. Also, the larger a drum is, the more low pitch it can generate. Small drums generate appropriately higher pitches. Finally, in order to produce sound, drums have to be physically hit by a stick or mallet, and the sound of a stick or mallet can contribute a higher-pitch component to that drum. My point here is that calling drums "low pitch instruments" is actually inaccurate - some of them are, but not all of them.


Edited by Asr - 10/2/13 at 1:36am
post #13 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lukien View Post
 

Does frequency = pitch? So bass is low frequencies = low pitch instruments like drums or low piano notes?

 

Does it apply to vocals too? Lows = growls?

Pretty much. But musical instruments (and sounds in nature) are not pure (single) fundamental frequencies, they also consist of harmonics above the fundamental frequency which give the instrument its characteristic tone. For instance an 'A' at 440 Hz sounds different when played on a piano or guitar, even though the fundamental (440 Hz) frequency (pitch) is the same. 

 

A low B on a bass guitar is around 30 Hz, and its harmonic frequencies may extend much higher. Bass roll off (say at 50 Hz) may mean that the fundamental frequency of the bass is not reproduced (at least to an audible level). What you hear in this case is mainly the harmonic content of the instrument. You will still perceive it as the same pitch (the brain can compensate for missing fundamentals), but it will be missing some of it's depth (bass).

post #14 of 19

Some theoretical stuff written there, but i get what you guys mean

 

But when i read reviews about high, mids and lows, i could simply assume that these terms refer to high pitches, meduim pitch and low pitches right? I mean, that would be what they are talking about

post #15 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lukien View Post
 

Some theoretical stuff written there, but i get what you guys mean

 

But when i read reviews about high, mids and lows, i could simply assume that these terms refer to high pitches, meduim pitch and low pitches right? I mean, that would be what they are talking about

Yes, but not exactly. To my understanding (and I'm no expert), pitch refers to the fundamental frequency of a musical note (i.e. the lowest frequency of the note). However that is only one of many frequency that is generated when you say press a key on a piano or pick a guitar string. There are also a multitude of higher frequencies generated (harmonic frequencies). 

 

Lets say for example that you press the lowest note on a piano. The pitch of this note is 'A'. This will generate a fundamental frequency of 27.5 Hz (almost at lowest audible threshold), and multiple harmonic frequencies up to say (for illustration purposes) up to 20 Hz. Not all of the frequencies generated will have an equal amount of energy. Generally the higher harmonics will have less energy. For instance, you may not be able to detect frequencies above 10 Hz, either because they are not loud enough, or they are 'drowned out'.

 

If you record and playback this note, it will not sound exactly like it did when you played it live. Recording and reproduction equipment is not perfect, but lets say that is a very good reproduction. You can alter the sound via a graphic equalizer so as to emphasise or de-emphasise selected frequencies. The frequencies on a graphic equalizer are somewhat arbitrarily grouped in to low, mid, and high frequencies.

 

By manipulating the lows, mids, or highs on the EQ, you are changing the energy of those frequencies, and thereby emphasising the sound characteristics, which may be characterised as bassy, middy, trebly etc. But you are not affecting the pitch, it is still an 'A' note. 

 

As playback equipment is not perfect, it will emphasise/ de-emphasise certain frequencies. Different manufactures and models will have different characteristics. It is sort of like they have applied their own EQ to the product. The 'better' gear will typically have less (or more subtle) 'E.Q.', but they will still have a characteristic 'sound signature'. This is where people generally describe the signature in terms of lows, mids, and highs.

 

Treble 'roll off' just refers to the point (frequency) where treble energy starts to diminish, or cease to exist above a certain frequency. Mids don't 'roll off' as such, but are often described as neutral, recessed (de-emphasised), or forward (emphasised), pretty much like applying E.Q.

 

Playing around with E.Q. is good way to familiarise yourself with these sound characteristics and find your preferred sound signature without having to spend money on gear (you should always lower E.Q. bands rater than boosting them, as this can introduce distortion). But E.Q. can only compensate so much for the characteristics design and limitations of the equipment. For example, headphones with bass roll of at 100 Hz will undoubtedly distort and 'drown out' other frequencies (i.e. mids and highs) if you apply enough E.Q. to try to bring out frequencies below 100 Hz.

 

I hope this helps.  

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