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Describing Sound A Glossary

  1. ClieOS
    The following list is a compilation of terms commonly used by Audio buffs to describe sound and sound equipment. Credit goes to fordgtlover for creating the original list which can be found here.

    These are not terms or definitions based on any individual's point-of-view.but rather information that is already available in the public domain. As such, the virtue or accuracy of any of this information can not be guaranteed It serves only to help and inform. I'm sure that this list is not exhaustive, but it is a pretty good starting point.

    Audio Glossary
    Audio Terms
    Audiophile Words

    Glossary of Terms to describe sound. (New and updated entries are highlighted in RED until the next update)

    Aggressive - Forward and bright sonic character.

    Airy - Spacious. Open. Instruments sound like they are surrounded by a large reflective space full of air. Good reproduction of high frequency reflections. High frequency response extends to 15 or 20 kHz.

    Ambience - Impression of an acoustic space, such as the performing hall in which a recording was made.

    Analytical - Highly detailed.

    Articulate - Intelligibility of voice(s) and instruments and the interactions between them.

    Attack - The leading edge of a note and the ability of a system to reproduce the attack transients in music.

    Balance - essentially tonal balance, the degree to which one aspect of the sonic spectrum is emphasized above the rest. Also channel balance, the relative level of the left and right stereo channels.

    Bass - The audio frequencies between about 60Hz and 250Hz.

    Bassy - Emphasized Bass.

    Blanketed - Weak highs, as if a blanket were put over the speakers.

    Bloated - Excessive mid bass around 250 Hz. Poorly damped low frequencies, low frequency resonances. See tubby.

    Blurred - Poor transient response. Vague stereo imaging not focused.

    Body - Fullness of sound, with particular emphasis on upper bass. Opposite of thin.

    Boomy - Excessive bass around 125 Hz. Poorly damped low frequencies or low frequency resonances.

    Boxy - Having resonances as if the music were enclosed in a box. Sometimes an emphasis around 250 to 500 Hz.

    Breathy - Audible breath sounds in woodwinds and reeds such as flute or sax. Good response in the upper mids or highs.

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

    Brilliance - The 6kHz to 16kHz range controls the brilliance and clarity of sounds. Too much emphasis in this range can produce sibilance on the vocals.
    Cable Microphonics - The noise heard due to the movement of a headphone or in-ear-monitor's cable rubbing against an object (ie. a shirt).

    Chesty - The vocalist sounds like their chest is too big. A bump in the low frequency response around 125 to 250 Hz.

    Clear - See Transparent.

    Closed - A closed-in sound lacking in openness, delicacy, air, and fine detail usually caused by Roll-off above 10kHz; in contrast to Open.

    Congested- Smeared, confused, muddy, and flat; lacking transparency.

    Coloured - Having timbres that are not true to life. Non flat response; peaks or dips.

    Cool- Moderately deficient in body and warmth, due to progressive attenuation of frequencies below about 150Hz.

    Crisp - Extended high frequency response, especially with cymbals.

    Dark - A tonal balance that tilts downwards with increasing frequency. Opposite of bright. Weak high frequencies.

    Decay - The fadeout of a note, it follows the attack.

    Definition (or resolution) - The ability of a component to reveal the subtle information that is fundamental to high fidelity sound.

    Delicate - High frequencies extending to 15 or 20 kHz without peaks.

    Depth - A sense of distance (near to far) of different instruments.

    Detail - The most delicate elements of the original sound and those which are the first to disappear with lesser equipment.

    Detailed - Easy to hear tiny details in the music; articulate. Adequate high frequency response, sharp transient response.

    Dry - Lack of reverberation or delay as produced by a damped environment. May comes across as fine grained and lean. Opposite of Wet.

    Dull - See Dark.

    Dynamic - The suggestion of energy and wide dynamic. Related to perceived speed as well as contrasts in volume both large and small.

    Edgy - Too much high frequency response. Trebly. Harmonics are too strong relative to the fundamentals. Distorted, having unwanted harmonics that add an edge or raspiness.

    Euphonic - An appealing form of distortion that generally enhances perceived fidelity, often ascribed to the harmonic elaborations of some valve amps.

    Fast - Good reproduction of rapid transients which increase the sense of realism and "snap".

    Fat - See Full and Warm. Or, spatially diffuse; a sound is panned to one channel, delayed, and then the delayed sound is panned to the other channel. Or, slightly distorted with analogue tape distortion or tube distortion.

    Focus - A strong, precise sense of image projection.

    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".

    Full - Strong fundamentals relative to harmonics. Good low frequency response, not necessarily extended, but with adequate level around 100 to 300 Hz. Male voices are full around 125 Hz; female voices and violins are full around 250 Hz; sax is full around 250 to 400 Hz. Opposite of thin.
    Fun - A term coined by Currawong referring to a tonal balance in a piece of audio gear that has a boosted bass (mid-bass) and treble that is most appealing on first or casual listening but isn't intended to be tonally neutral.  Fun gear is characterized by a U-to-V shaped signature, with good bass impact, energetic (but manageable) highs, and mids that - while recessed - are typically not veiled.

    Gentle - Opposite of edgy. The harmonics (of the highs and upper mids) are not exaggerated, or may even be weak.

    Grainy - A slightly raw, exposed sound which lacks finesse. Not liquid or fluid.

    Grip - A sense of control and sturdiness in the bass.

    Grungy - Lots of harmonic or I.M. (Intermodulation) distortion.

    Hard - Too much upper midrange, usually around 3 kHz. Or, good transient response, as if the sound is hitting you hard. Uncomfortable, forward, aggressive sound with a metallic tinge.

    Harsh - Grating, abrasive. Too much upper midrange. Peaks in the frequency response between 2 and 6 kHz. Or, excessive phase shift in a digital recorder's low pass filter.

    Headstage - The perception of the Soundstage while listening to headphones.

    Highs - The audio frequencies above about 6000 Hz.

    High Midrange (High Mids, Upper Mids) - The audio frequencies between about 2kHz and 6kHz.

    Hollow - Recessed mids.

    Honky - Like cupping your hands around your mouth. A bump in the response around 500 to 700 Hz.

    Imaging - The sense that a voice or instrument is in a particular place in the room.

    Juicy - Sound that has joie de vivre, energy and life.

    Laid-back - Recessed, distant-sounding, having exaggerated depth, usually because of a dished midrange. Compare "Forward".

    Liquid - Textureless sound.

    Low Level Detail - The quietest sounds in a recording.

    Low Midrange (Low Mids) - The audio frequencies between about 250Hz and 2000Hz.

    Lush - Very Rich/Full.

    Lush (2) - A "lush" sound has a sense of warmth and fullness. Notes are more authoritative and have a sense of life about them. It is a sound free of any sibilance or brightness. It does not mean colored, however. It is an open and inviting sound enveloping the listener into its soundstage. (source: unkown headfier)

    Mellow - Reduced high frequencies, not Edgy.

    Midrange (Mids) - The audio frequencies between about 250 Hz and 6000 Hz.

    Muddy - Not clear. Weak harmonics, smeared time response, I.M. distortion.

    Muffled - Sounds like it is covered with a blanket. Weak highs or weak upper mids.

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

    Nasal - Honky, a bump in the response around 600 Hz.

    Naturalness - Realism.

    Opaque - Unclear, lacking Transparency.

    Open - Sound which has height and "air", relates to clean upper midrange and treble.

    Pace - Often assoc. with rhythm, a strong sense of timing and beat.

    Piercing - Strident, hard on the ears, screechy. Having sharp, narrow peaks in the response around 3 to 10 kHz.

    PRaT - Pace, Rhythm and Timing

    Presence Range - The presence range between 4kHz and 6kHz is responsible for the clarity and definition of voices and instruments. Increasing this range can make the music seem closer to the listener. Reducing the 5kHz content makes the sound more distant and transparent.

    Presence - A sense that the instrument in present in the listening room. Synonyms are edge, punch, detail, closeness and clarity. Adequate or emphasized response around 5 kHz for most instruments, or around 2 to 5 kHz for kick drum and bass.

    Puffy - A bump in the response around 500 Hz.

    Punchy - Good reproduction of dynamics. Good transient response, with strong impact. Sometimes a bump around 5 kHz or 200 Hz.

    Range - The distance between the lowest and highest tones.

    Resolution (or Resolving) - See Definition
    Reverberation - is the persistence of sound in a particular space after the original sound is removed. A reverberation, or reverb, is created when a sound is produced in an enclosed space causing a large number of echoes to build up and then slowly decay as the sound is absorbed by the walls and air.

    Rich - See Full. Also, having euphonic distortion made of even order harmonics.

    Roll-off (Rolloff) - The gradual attenuation that occurs at the lower or upper frequency range of a driver, network, or system. The roll-off frequency is usually defined as the frequency where response is reduced by 3 dB.

    Round - High frequency rolloff or dip. Not edgy.

    Rhythm - The controlled movement of sounds in time.

    Saturation - The point at which a magnetic tape is fully magnetized and will accept no more magnetization.

    Seismic - Very low bass (i.e. sub-bass) that you feel rather than hear.

    Shrill - Strident, Steely.

    Sibilant (or Sibilance) - "Essy", exaggerated "s" or "sh" sounds in vocals. Sibilant sounds carry most of their energy through the 4Khz to 8Khz range, but can extend to 10kHz, depending on the individual. Sibilance is often heard on radio.

    Sizzly - See Sibilant. Also, too much highs on cymbals.

    Smeared - Lacking detail. Poor transient response, too much leakage between microphones. Poorly focused images.

    Smooth - Easy on the ears, not harsh. Flat frequency response, especially in the midrange. Lack of peaks and dips in the response.

    Snap - A system with good speed and transient response can deliver the immediacy or "snap" of live instruments.

    Soundstage - The area between two speakers that appears to the listener to be occupied by sonic images. Like a real stage, a soundstage should have width, depth, and height.
    Sound Signature - The general sound of a headphone as a result of its frequency response (e.g. bassy, treblely, neutral, etc.).

    Spacious - Conveying a sense of space, ambiance, or room around the instruments. Stereo reverb. Early reflections.

    Speed - A fast system with good pace gives the impression of being right on the money in its timing.

    Steely - Emphasized upper mids around 3 to 6 kHz. Peaky, non flat high frequency response. See Harsh, Edgy.

    Strident - See Harsh, Edgy.

    Sturdy - Solid, powerful, robust sound.

    Sub-Bass - The audio frequencies between about 20Hz and 80Hz.

    Sweet - Not strident or piercing. Delicate. Flat high frequency response, low distortion. Lack of peaks in the response. Highs are extended to 15 or 20 kHz, but they are not bumped up. Often used when referring to cymbals, percussion, strings, and sibilant sounds.

    Telephone Like - See Tinny.

    Texture - A perceptible pattern or structure in reproduced sound.

    Thick - A lack of articulation and clarity in the bass.

    Thin - Fundamentals are weak relative to harmonics. Bass light.

    Tight - Good low frequency transient response and detail.

    Timbre - The tonal character of an instrument

    Timing - A sense of precision in tempo.

    Tinny - Narrowband, weak lows, peaky mids. The music sounds like it is coming through a telephone or tin can.

    Tone - The sound of definite pitch.

    Transient - The leading edge of a percussive sound. Good transient response makes the sound as a whole more live and realistic.

    Transparent - Easy to hear into the music, detailed, clear, not muddy. Wide flat frequency response, sharp time response, very low distortion and noise. A hear through quality that is akin to clarity and reveals all aspects of detail.

    Tubby - Having low frequency resonances as if you're singing in a bathtub. See bloated.

    Upper Midrange (Upper Mids, High Mids) - The audio frequencies between 2 kHz and 6 kHz.
    V-Shaped - The description of a frequency response curve for a speaker or headphone. In layman's terms it means more prominent lows and highs with a recessed mid-range, hence the "V" shape formed from such a sound signature. Similar to a "U" shaped response curve but is generally used to describe a more dramatic difference.

    Veiled - Like a silk veil is over the speakers. Slight noise or distortion or slightly weak high frequencies. Loss of detail due to limited transparency.

    Warm - Good bass, adequate low frequencies, adequate fundamentals relative to harmonics. Not thin. Also excessive bass or mid bass. Also, pleasantly spacious, with adequate reverberation at low frequencies. Also see Rich, Round. Warm highs means sweet highs.

    Wet - A reverberant sound, something with decay. Opposite of Dry.

    Weighty - Good low frequency response below about 50 Hz. A sense of substance and underpinning produced by deep, controlled bass. Suggesting an object of great weight or power, like a diesel locomotive.

    Woolly - Loose, ill-defined bass.

    FAQ: rec.audio.* Systems 2/99 (part 2 of 13)
    Description of Sound - The Audiophile Way - SGHeadphones
    Home Theater: Glossary
    Stereophile: Sounds Like? An Audio Glossary
    Stereophile: Sounds Like? An Audio Glossary
    Magic Frequencies
    Essentials of Music - Glossary
    Recording Institute Of Detroit Audio Recording Terms Glossary

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  1. AaronR
    added this to favorites. thanks
  2. marioman94
    i just noticed "bleed" isn't on here.
  3. Triangle3
    Maybe add "Deep"?
  4. Raggor
    Apologies to op who was of course correct about decay within the context of ADSR envelope. My excuse is I got confused between that and reverb decay, however I feel this does raise the question of the value of sound envelope considerations in the context of this guide. I would suggest that acoustic rather than sound generation considerations are more valid here,and with that in mind, I would suggest the following definition instead:
    Decay (Reverb):-The period during which a reverberating sound fades to an inaudible level. Useful in describing the absorbtion characteristics of reflected sound, which at it's basic level concerns the rate of change of overall sound level but may also involve tonal, spatial and phase change characteristics. 'Reverb decay time' is the time taken for the peak level of reverberating sound (occurring shortly after the sound source is stopped) to reach 60dB down, with reference to a spectral band.
  5. Raggor
    Lot of time put in there - good work. Would like to contribute some suggestions though. First some for definitions - I'm sure my wording could be more efficient/simplistic but hopefully you get the idea and if you like can adjust as needed:
    Decay:-The fadeout of a note or sound either as a characteristic of a sound source or of reverberation (NB decay would only directly follow attack in the specific case of a percussive sound that has no sustain).
    Roll-off:-A characteristic of any component or system providing signal filtering - e.g. driver, amplifier - which defines the degree of high- or low-pass attenuation effected from a specified point on the frequency spectrum. Logarithmic and usually specified in db/octave. See also roll-off point.
    Roll-off point:-Expressed in Hz. The frequency-domain point at which an attenuating signal has dropped by (usually) 3dB. There is more to this but I cannot recall right now.
    Transient/s:-The initial spectral content of a sound. From 'transient' meaning 'short-lived'. Meaningful in relation to sounds with a fast attack, e.g. guitar as opposed to warm pad. Good transient response presents as more live and realistic.
    Secondly, I note that several definitions overlap in intention and it may help to clarify the differences between overlapping definitions. One aspect of this would be to highlight where two words describe much the same aspect but in negative or positive ways.
    (Source: Own definitions. Knowledge: Electronics degree (UK) inc. signals components + accumulated sound technician knowledge)
      DSD Roy likes this.
  6. twocommas
    great article!
  7. papaverhybridum
  8. Butler
    You may want to add fatiguing to this or the glossary of terms.
  9. grokit
  10. darthkir
    Appreciate this!