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Why is the term "warm" such a controversial subject?

beefkabob

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JSmith
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Geert

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Just as strange when anyone refers to vinyl having "crackling" sound or "pops" and "ticks." I have no idea what vinyl sound has to do with pork skin, sodas or parasitic insects.
Bad comparision. It's perfectly clear what cracks, pops or ticks in audio are. Grain I can only link to light distortion as a result of clipping or static noise, but that's not how it's being used. The term effectively became popular with the emerge of digital audio, but it's now used gratuitous.
 
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Slayer

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"Why is the term "warm" such a controversial subject?"​

Simple answer- Given the right setting and with a group of people, anything and everything can and will become controversial.
 

AdamG247

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200 active members at a given moment...
At most given moments we have over a “Thousand” actively engaged. 200+/- Registered Members and 800+/- Visitors. All in various States and Countries around the World. Just a little additional info for inquiring minds. :)
 

MattHooper

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I’d be more than happy to adopt and use terminology that has a defined meaning, but weasel words are counter-productive and only of use to bamboozlers.

Which indicates why this will never happen on your terms. People explain what they mean by a term, you don't like it and will just wave it away as "weasel words." It does not suggest a good-faith discussion, unfortunately.


If those who think the term has a meaning can agree on what the meaning is and give a definition then the controversy would be over. We could simply add another figurative meaning of “warm” (relating to sound) to our mental dictionaries and move on. That would be my end game.

But alas, that doesn’t seem likely now, given some of the responses (including yours).

^^^ Example right there.

I've literally explained how the term is used in my work, and in the work of other audio professionals, and given links to show those explanations.

But even my responses aren't good enough for you. And no matter how many times it's explained that "warm" can legitimately mean different things depending on the context (e.g. warmth in terms of harmonics/distortion as well), it seems you will want to use this to say "see, people use it to mean different things, which means nobody can agree on what it means!" rather than just seek to understand the meanings in context.

I don't see any use in trying to convince you of anything at this point. But I'm sure there are lurkers who are getting something out of a bunch of the replies.
 

MattHooper

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Bad comparision. It's perfectly clear what cracks, pops or ticks in audio are.

That's the point.

It's clear now because what was once seemingly arbitrary words became acceptable because people could say "what I mean by crackle, pop, tick" is THIS (points the reference, the sounds, out on a record). If people had put up the same type of fuss "I don't see any reason to use those words! Just reference measurements if you have them without gratuitous, vague words" then nobody would ever "know what they mean" now.

They are short-hand terms referencing a general type of sonic phenomena.

If someone was ignorant about what you are referring to with "pops and ticks" on a record, their ignorance isn't evidence your use of the term doesn't have some useful, specific reference.

Just like the audio reference: "warm."

And you can explain what you mean by "pops and ticks" - you could let them hear the difference between a clean record and one with lots of pops and ticks. And/or you could even point out to pops and ticks in measurements or represented in differences in the waveform. "That's what I mean." If they keep protesting that you haven't said anything useful and keep referencing "pop and tick" in entirely other contexts...what can you do? You can lead a horse to water...

Similarly, as to how someone uses the term "warmth" in audio we can explain how it's being used. For instance, play a recording of a male vocal and produce either dips or boosts around, say, 150Hz. "Hear the difference, THAT is what we call the "warmth" region for how it affects the sound of a voice." And you can point to spectral balances, tilts etc as reference.

(Or you can also point to harmonic distortion for another type of audio "warmth.")

But if someone is going to just keep rejecting any explanation of what you mean by "warmth," you are in the same position as when they reject all your explanations for "pops and ticks." Wuddyagonnado? I dunno.



Grain I can only link to light distortion as a result of clipping or static noise, but that's not how it's being used. The term effectively became popular with the emerge of digital audio, but it's now used gratuitous.

Yes, just like any audio terms of art, it can be used in a vague, unenlightening way. And in a false way. For instance, someone claiming that a fancy new AC cable made their system sound "less bright" doesn't entail the term "bright" doesn't have any actual real world references.
Same with people inappropriately ascribing "grain" to digital.

Is it, for instance, a completely foreign idea to you that a dirty record, or maybe cartridge stylus wearing out, would produce a type of distortion one might refer to as "grainy?"
 

egellings

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To me, a "pop" is a relatively wide pulse of unwanted noise, whereas a "tick" is a much narrower width of noise pulse. I have a pulse generator that can give just one pulse on demand and varying the width does produce those sound impressions when I listen to the generator's output on headphones. So "pop" and "tick" are good metaphors, to this chicken, bedawk!.
 

Geert

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It's clear now because what was once seemingly arbitrary words became acceptable because people could say "what I mean by crackle, pop, tick" is THIS
Sorry but can't agree. Pops, cracks and and ticks are no arbitrary words, they are direct descriptions of sounds. When you break a piece of wood, it cracks. From the dictionary: "a sudden sharp or explosive noise". Warmth on the other hand, is a description of temperature in the first place.

But if someone is going to just keep rejecting any explanation of what you mean by "warmth," you are in the same position as when they reject all your explanations for "pops and ticks."
I never rejected the meaning of warmth in the context of sound. I can even attest that it's commonly used by musicians and sound engineers. I only mentioned the issue I had with "grain".

Is it, for instance, a completely foreign idea to you that a dirty record, or maybe cartridge stylus wearing out, would produce a type of distortion one might refer to as "grainy?"

A dirty record is also a nice example of something that could lead to a grainy sound. But in the case you referenced they were reviewing a speaker. How can a speaker cause a grainy sound? If the speaker coil moves against the magnet? Probably not what they experienced with a new speaker.
 
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atmasphere

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In case its not been mentioned directly, 'warmth' is not a frequency response error, its caused by (since it is audible) the 2nd and/or 3rd harmonics, usually profound enough that they are able to mask the higher orders (if they were not, 'harsh' might be the descriptor instead). The ear converts all forms of distortion to tonality, which is why audiophiles developed this term. If you are not familiar with it, you might construe it as a bit of extra mid bass or the like. But IME audiophiles describe that as a 'mid bass hump' or the like, thus drawing a distinction.

All single-ended discrete circuits whether tube or solid state will generate a 2nd harmonic (which is an indication of a quadratic non-linearity; fully balanced/differential circuits tend to suppress the even orders throughout the circuit and so are better described as having a cubic non-linearity). I suspect a lot of people aren't used to the idea that distortion is often audible (where the signal isn't being clipped). Feedback is often used to suppress innate distortions such as this. The problem has been that up until about 25 years ago or so, the devices needed to design an amplifier circuit where you really could run the high amounts of feedback necessary didn't exist. Through the process of bifurcation at the feedback node (which usually has its own non-linearities) feedback would add distortions of its own (Norman Crowhurst and Peter Baxandall both wrote about this issue). This has given feedback an undeserved bad rap in high end audio.

The second and 3rd harmonics can mask higher orders, but if the former are suppressed by feedback this can result in the amp being bright and harsh instead of 'warm'. The reason is the ear uses the higher orders to sense sound pressure (this is readily demonstrated with simple test equipment) and so is keenly sensitive to their presence even in tiny amounts. This is what has kept tubes in business since being declared obsolete 60 years ago.

So for decades audiophile have had to chose their poison- warmth, or more detail and more neutral, but with harshness and brightness. Both are colorations (if we're being honest). You need a lot of gain bandwidth product to support high amounts of feedback; if the GBP is insufficient, feedback will fall off as frequency is increased (the two are very directly related, see the link below), resulting in distortion rising with frequency. That describes all tube amplifiers and most solid state amps made. Its only been recently that this problem could be overcome, but some still haven't got the memo.

Bruno Putzeys wrote a nice primer on this topic:
https://linearaudio.net/sites/linearaudio.net/files/volume1bp.pdf
 

MattHooper

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Sorry but can't agree. Pops, cracks and and ticks are no arbitrary words, they are direct descriptions of sounds. When you break a piece of wood, it cracks. From the dictionary: "a sudden sharp or explosive noise". Warmth on the other hand, is a description of temperature in the first place.

There is nothing in principle less valid or "less direct" about using the words like "warm" vs "pop" and "tick"in audio.

My point is, strictly speaking, there is no "direct reference" between any word and a sound. That's even in the very rare cases where we use Onomatopoeia. We choose words and terms to refer to things, they are symbols, and it doesn't matter what the word is - what matters is that it can be understood to refer to something specific or defined.

That's why for instance phenomena can even be named after people, e.g.

Aharonov–Bohm effect:


Or even in sound the Barkhausen effect:


That shows the "arbitrariness" of terms - we can use any words we want to refer to some definition.

If I were trying to be more difficult I'd say of your reference to "cracks" - hold on, we have cracks in our bathroom tiles, they aren't making any sounds! Clearly there is no consensus that "crack" or "crackling" means anything specifically in terms of sound!

But of course, I do know what you mean, in the context you gave.

"Warmth" also has various definitions, not just temperature. And in audio it is no "less" of a reference to some real phenomena than "ticks and pops" are references to distortions in vinyl playback.


A dirty record is also a nice example of something that could lead to a grainy sound. But in the case you referenced they were reviewing a speaker. How can a speaker cause a grainy sound? If the speaker coil moves against the magnet? Probably not what they experienced with a new speaker.

Strictly speaking speakers can produce non-linear distortion, right? So for instance maybe a driver - woofer or tweeter - pushed too hard operating outside of it's "comfort zone." (E.g. woofer operated wide band so it's also producing high frequencies that distort, possibly combining with tweeter frequencies). "Grainy" may be a reasonable term to describe such non-linear distortion. It might also apply to certain types of "room hash" in terms of a preponderance of close reflections.

As to what exactly might be responsible for an impression of "graininess" or "lack of grain" that's not always easy to pinpoint.

But for instance I did a bunch of comparing Devore speakers (which I loved and was interested in) with the Joseph speakers (I was deciding between the two brands), and with sounds - especially like cymbals, chimes, unamplified guitar high notes, etc - one thing that was consistently standing out to me was the Devores sounded a bit more "grainy" - just a slight sort of granular hash slightly obscuring the purity of the tones, somewhat similar to the slight "hashy sound" that occurs when I introduce more sidewall reflections in my room. Whereas the sound was consistently "smooth" and "clean and pure" sounding on the Joseph speakers.

It's just an attempt to put sonic impressions in to words.

If someone still throws up his hands and says "dunno what you are talking about," then that's why I will often find discussion more fruitful with those who do. (And I found that many of the subjective reviews, and owner reports, of Joseph speakers noted this same quality in the sound.
It's why I personally find exchanges of subjective impressions to still be of use. Objective measurements will always be more precise, but they don't automatically tell you the *subjective quality* of *what it sounds like* - for that we have to discuss this among ourselves. And it's how we come up with terms like "Harsh, warm, screetchy, bright, airy, dark, muddy, thin, boomy, etc").
 

Robin L

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Is it, for instance, a completely foreign idea to you that a dirty record, or maybe cartridge stylus wearing out, would produce a type of distortion one might refer to as "grainy?"
Not to mention rapid, random tape dropouts from flaking masters.
 

Geert

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There is nothing in principle less valid or "less direct" about using the words like "warm" vs "pop" and "tick"in audio.

My point is, strictly speaking, there is no "direct reference" between any word and a sound.

My point is; a tick or crack are nouns, in this case direct references to distinct sounds. The meaning can be found in any dictionary. Warm is an adjective, it describes the character of sound in our case. A warm sounding tick and a warm sounding crack are different sounds.

what matters is that it can be understood to refer to something specific or defined.

That's why I argued grainy is more controversial than warm. I never heard the term grainy being used in a professional context, except when referring to an underlying technical problem (e.g. clipping). I expect such problems to be measurable. However, I see "grainy" being used in situations where's there's no indication (incl. via measurement) of a problem.

From one of the many threads on the meaning of grainy sound on other forums: "we've discovered that "grainy" as applied to sound means very different things to different people. This is a problem".
 
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ahofer

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In case its not been mentioned directly, 'warmth' is not a frequency response error, its caused by (since it is audible) the 2nd and/or 3rd harmonics, usually profound enough that they are able to mask the higher orders (if they were not, 'harsh' might be the descriptor instead). The ear converts all forms of distortion to tonality, which is why audiophiles developed this term. If you are not familiar with it, you might construe it as a bit of extra mid bass or the like. But IME audiophiles describe that as a 'mid bass hump' or the like, thus drawing a distinction.

All single-ended discrete circuits whether tube or solid state will generate a 2nd harmonic (which is an indication of a quadratic non-linearity; fully balanced/differential circuits tend to suppress the even orders throughout the circuit and so are better described as having a cubic non-linearity). I suspect a lot of people aren't used to the idea that distortion is often audible (where the signal isn't being clipped). Feedback is often used to suppress innate distortions such as this. The problem has been that up until about 25 years ago or so, the devices needed to design an amplifier circuit where you really could run the high amounts of feedback necessary didn't exist. Through the process of bifurcation at the feedback node (which usually has its own non-linearities) feedback would add distortions of its own (Norman Crowhurst and Peter Baxandall both wrote about this issue). This has given feedback an undeserved bad rap in high end audio.

The second and 3rd harmonics can mask higher orders, but if the former are suppressed by feedback this can result in the amp being bright and harsh instead of 'warm'. The reason is the ear uses the higher orders to sense sound pressure (this is readily demonstrated with simple test equipment) and so is keenly sensitive to their presence even in tiny amounts. This is what has kept tubes in business since being declared obsolete 60 years ago.

So for decades audiophile have had to chose their poison- warmth, or more detail and more neutral, but with harshness and brightness. Both are colorations (if we're being honest). You need a lot of gain bandwidth product to support high amounts of feedback; if the GBP is insufficient, feedback will fall off as frequency is increased (the two are very directly related, see the link below), resulting in distortion rising with frequency. That describes all tube amplifiers and most solid state amps made. Its only been recently that this problem could be overcome, but some still haven't got the memo.

Bruno Putzeys wrote a nice primer on this topic:
https://linearaudio.net/sites/linearaudio.net/files/volume1bp.pdf
Very interesting

But, coming at this point in the thread, does this also demonstrate that the supposed convention as to what it means in testable terms isn’t consistently held (at least outside of engineer circles)?
 
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