Words that describe audio

An article on Audiophile Review talks about a research project whose aim is to find the best words, or categories, with which to describe and quantify audio performance. In the end they come up with just three: “timbre”, “space” and “defects”.

At face value, it strikes me that this is two words too many. Wouldn’t it be simpler to forget “timbre” and “space” and simply list the “defects”?

The answer is that this list shows that audiophiles do not believe that there is an unambiguous correctness (or neutrality) that a system can aspire to. They think that a good audio system adds its own character to the recording and that one chooses it just as one would choose a violin, fine wine or work of art. This character, or musicality, may be specified in terms of timbre and space and is independent of any defects.

If only there was a word to describe this aspect of audio. It is analogous to anthropomorphisation i.e. the attribution of human motivation to inanimate objects and animals. In this case it is the attribution of the characteristics of musicians, music and musical instruments to electronic hardware. Something has gone seriously awry. People fully understand that a television set should be as neutral as possible in order to experience art, performance and culture through it. I think they used to understand this about hi-fi (hence the name) but not any more.


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