On Brightness different from Detail
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rsaavedra

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After reading some postings indicating the common confusion between Brightness and Detail in audio, I started thinking about using a video analogy to clarify the distinction. In doing so, I came across some interesting things, so decided to write about it as if thinking aloud.


In audio we usually think of "Brightness" when there is an excessive level of energy in the treble region or higher frequencies of the audio spectrum, e.g. last two octaves, or between 5KHz and 20KHz. Excessive with respect to what? Well, usually with respect to the response in the rest of the audible spectrum, or with respect to the balance between treble, mids, and lows in some neutral reference of choice, e.g. another source, or another amp, another cable, another speaker, whatever component of the same kind you are evaluating.

In video, however, brightness has a very different meaning. True meaning is "white level" as opposed to "color saturation" or "picture level", but let's not get into true subtleties of the video terminology. From the plain couch potato's perspective, and assuming colors are properly saturated and let's say fixed on the TV, if you turn up the "Brightness" of your TV, you expect the whole image on your TV to basically look brighter, e.g. shoot more light everywhere, have more luminous intensity, while keeping the same relative brightness proportion between sections of the image that had different brightness levels. So notice that this notion of video-brightness matches well the notion of audio-volume. In audio, you turn up the volume, and you proportionately increase the output intensity of the signal over the whole frequency spectrum. More or less same thing that happens to the whole color frequency spectrum of the image when you turn up the brightness of your video display. Again putting aside color saturation, let's say assuming that is fixed for simplicity.

So "video-brightness" is more or less the same notion as "audio-loudness".

But what would audio-brightness correspond to in video?

Well, mapping the definition from the audible spectrum to the visible spectrum, it would correspond to higher intensity in the "treble" of the visible spectrum, e.g. in the colors with highest frequencies, which are the blues and violets/purples. So imagine you have a TV whose images looked bluish and purplish, well that would be a change in hue. Let's say images that, strangely enough, wherever they have anything blue or purple, that part stands out as too bright. Then that would be a "Bright" TV, in the "audio sense" of the word brightness: a TV with a "loudness" bias favoring the blues and purples.

Therefore, "audio-brightness" is approximately == "loudness" of blues and purples in video.


Now, what about an analogy between detail in audio and in video?

To talk about "a component's level of detail" is a bit of a misnomer. The details are actually in the signals being played. What components have is detail resolving power. And this notion applies both in the realm of video as well as in audio.

Now, imagine you have a standard NTSC analog TV, let's say 38", you have a specific dot pitch, horiz. and vertical resolution. Given those specs, that TV has a specific detail resolving power. Now, imagine that to the right of that TV you put a high definition digital TV, same size, also 38", and same aspect ratio. But this one will have many more horizontal and vertical lines of resolution than the analog TV, and conversely, smaller dot-pitch. This TV clearly has much more detail resolving power than the former.

But keeping an eye on the goal of this thread, trying to differentiate detail resolving power from the audio notion of "brightness".

If the higher resolution digital TV has the blues and purples matching some neutral levels of reference, but the analog, NTSC TV for some reason had blues and purples stronger and "louder" than normal, then in audio terms that analog TV would be "Brighter" than the digital TV. Yet, remember the digital one has way more detail resolving power. The digital has more "detail", yet the analog one, while having less "detail", can be "brighter" in the audio sense.


So that's the video analogy to clarify the distinction, and the conclusion reached:

"Brightness" and "Detail resolving power" are completely different things.
 
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danaa

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Thanks for the post. Yep, it is easy to confuse the meanings, especially when they're misused quite frequently. Hopefully, this will help clear things up.
 
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Canman

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That actually was a pretty good analogy. I completely agree with you. Brightness is a question of tonal balance, while detail is entirely another subject --one of resolution.
 
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Yeldarb

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I like your analogy and it explains the diferences in understandable terms. Using video as your comparative analogy had me thinking about my eyesight and my golf.

I am long sighted so I need to wear lenses to see where I hit my ball (detail resolution). However the ability to see clearer has a consequence in that on bright sunny days I find it difficult to see because not only do the lenses increase the detail, but also the amount of light (brightness). But, when is comes to filling in my scorecard, I need to put on a pair of glasses so that I can read the card (detail resolution). The compromise here is that the glasses have to correct for the correction applied to my vision for distance viewing. What I am dealing with is detail resolution and brightness, and a further element of confusion can be added when I put on a pair of shades - less brightness but also loss of detail resolution.

Your explanation highlights how people not only get the meaning of the terms confused, but can also have issues with their setups in terms of system tuning. A pair of cans and an amp able to provide detailed resolution will deliver a "bright" sound at the ear when presented with a bright source, so the mistake could be made that the cans and amp are bright when they are not. Similarly the same cans and amp with a lacklustre source could be considered to be dull when they are not.

Rsaavedr, I enjoyed reading your post, and I hope it goes some way to helping people understand what is going on and be more acurate in their descriptive terms.

Brad
 
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ipodstudio

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Nice post, rsaavedr. I found that very useful, thanks!
 
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elnero

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Excellent post rsaavedr, I've never understood why there seemed to be such a confusion with brightness and detail here or why some make a correlation between the two but I've never been able to come up with such a good way of explaining the difference. This should be a sticky or in a FAQ of some sort and hopefully we can put an end to the confusion.

 
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Old Pa

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With intention of complementing your analogy, "brightness" and "detail" are way different. "Brightness" is not natural or true to the original sound because of excessive (some would say intolerable) high frequency addition/disotortion to the real sound. Actual "detail" is quite the opposite, utilizing frequency, dynamics, resolution, and PRAT to replicate the natural sound realistically. "Detail" includes sound frequencies as appropriate from across the audible spectrum.
 
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if i can add ...
brigthness is for the highs where muddness - boomness is for the bass-low frqs.

Both goes in the direction of over-volume or over-sound a specific frq. spectrum .
Both result in a fatiguing way of hearing with pleasure , while details never fatigue ( it's frqs. ringing or unbalanced rapresented volumes trough the whole frq. spectrum that's fatiguing )
 
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KR...

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Good post. How many times have we all read threads in which someone ask for a bright headphone? Or talked about a headphone being bright as if it was a good thing! This has always confuse me, since that really is like someone looking for a new TV set and asking which one has the most washed out colors.

Many people here throw around audiophile terms without really understanding what they mean. Like the terms air or airly and even sound-stage.

The best solution to this problem is for people to either educate themselves to the real meaning behind these terms or just do not use them and use normal language to describe what you want and hear.
 
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boodi

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[size=xx-small] Quote:

Originally posted by KR...

The best solution to this problem is for people to either educate themselves to the real meaning behind these terms or just do not use them and use normal language to describe what you want and hear.


someone can someone not , depending on what one can afford. making an head-fi experience it's dispendious .
[/size]
 
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rsaavedra

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Thanks very much for all the feedback and extra comments folks!
Cheers!
Raul
 
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Norbert

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Superb analogy. I think that the brightness on the TV shoots the lighter colors and whites through the roof. Too much brightness and the whites start to distractingly glow. It is the same with brightness and treble. Too bright and the treble becomes glaring. Thanks for the input.
 
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SteeleBlayde

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I'm curious as to what people think of the word "Dark." To me, its always been the same as "bright" except applying with the bass frequencies.

As for "warmth", this isnt as extreme in accentuation as the other two, but applies to a slight bump in the upper-bass to lower midrange.
 
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Permonic

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Very accurate analogy, I like it.


Raul, could you please define the opposite of the brightness?

Thanks in advance.
 
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Duncan

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I'm with Old Pa on this one...

A good analogy nonetheless, and yes, the higher up the audio food chain you get, the easier it becomes to spot the difference. Sometimes a blessing, but often a curse.
 
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