• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). There are daily reviews of audio hardware and expert members to help answer your questions. Click here to have your audio equipment measured for free!

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

MattHooper

Major Contributor
Joined
Jan 27, 2019
Messages
3,071
Likes
4,949
Thanks Geert. I appreciate the perspective you are bringing, and also what you are looking to achieve.

I think there are two issues entangled here:

1. How any particular sound is perceived by a listener, the subjective impression, and then communicating that.

2. Trying to make a term more technical, by directly relating it to specific, limited, measurable phenomena.

Both are valid ways of communicating about sound. #2 would obviously be even more specific if it could be agreed upon (e.g. if there were some specific, measurable distortion we'd agree to call "grain," even if it didn't necessarily produce that impression for every listener).

As to #1:



Staying with your photography analogy; your auditory system does not has the resolution to hear sound reflections in the way your eyes can see grain on a photo. So 'cleaner' and 'more pure' yes, 'grainy' probably not. The same goes for hearing the decay of a speaker. As an analogy, this is what reflections and decay would do to a picture:

photo-1603794052293-650dbdeef72c


I would call it hazy. As a sound engineer you would emulate this effect by adding reverb, which are ... reflections.

Sure, you may call it "hazy" and since subjective impressions are imprecise we would be on the same page. Which I think is good enough.
However "hazy" does not actually capture what I perceive. "Hazy," like that picture, implies to me a sort of obscuring that leads to a softening of the image and texture. Whereas I perceive an added coarseness to the sonic texture. Just like the grain in those photographs both obscures, homogenizes the clarity, while coarsening the texture of the overall image. So "grain" still to me is the most accurate description.

But, in this realm if you listened and called the effect "hazy" then we are mostly on the same page and that's much better than nothing.

(BTW, as a sound engineer, if I were to replicate my perception of what room reflections are doing to the timbre of recorded instruments, I wouldn't just add short reflections from a reverb, I would mix in what is known as "room tone" (literally recordings of empty rooms, the "air" tone as captured by a microphone, which we use all the time). Many room tones, which amount to a very quiet low level "rush" of apparent air, have this type of "grain" I'm talking about, and slightly overlaying it on to a recording would help get at what I'm hearing.

Anyway, I'm sure we've both gone as far as we can, and want to, on this one, so thank you!
 

tuga

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Feb 5, 2020
Messages
3,233
Likes
3,250
Location
Oxford, England
Interesting piece from a musician/producer's perspective (although perhaps semantically and even technically incorrect at times):

The difference between “good” and “bad” distortion
https://splice.com/blog/difference-good-bad-distortion/

“Good” distortion​

On the other hand, a type of distortion that’s commonly thought of as desirable is harmonic distortion. Originating as a side effect of analog tape and certain circuit types, this flavor of distortion alters a signal by introducing additional overtones, or frequency content occurring in harmonic multiples of the fundamental. The result is changes in timbre that we often describe endearingly as “warmth,” “brightness,” and “saturation.”

distortion-in-post-03-1024x274.png


A sine wave with harmonic distortion applied—this could take on many different shapes and sounds depending on the intensity, the order of the harmonics (the multiple at which they occur), etc.
This is the key difference between clipping and harmonic distortion—while clipping indiscriminately hacks away at anything that exceeds an amplitude level, harmonic distortion adds frequency content in a way that’s musically meaningful.
 

Geert

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Mar 20, 2020
Messages
978
Likes
1,268
I think there are two issues entangled here:

1. How any particular sound is perceived by a listener, the subjective impression, and then communicating that.
2. Trying to make a term more technical, by directly relating it to specific, limited, measurable phenomena.

What this topic has demonstrated is that 'issue 1' is an issue in itself, the failure to communicate impressions of sound when borrowing terms associated with other senses. 'Issue 2' is just an attempt to clear the air.

if I were to replicate my perception of what room reflections are doing to the timbre of recorded instruments, I wouldn't just add short reflections from a reverb, I would mix in what is known as "room tone" (literally recordings of empty rooms,

But room tone, or ambiant sound, is semi silence. You can't apply it to a sound to simulate a rooms acoustic effect on sound. What you do is add environmental noise, and even recording equipment noise when you take it to far. That the latter can sound grainy is perfectly possible.

What I would to see you do is add quality digital room delay or reverb to a song to obtain a grainy sound, and share the result with us to see how people perceive this. I would take the initiative myself but I know I won't be able to create this effect in this way.
 

MattHooper

Major Contributor
Joined
Jan 27, 2019
Messages
3,071
Likes
4,949
Ok....

What this topic has demonstrated is that 'issue 1' is an issue in itself, the failure to communicate impressions of sound when borrowing terms associated with other senses. 'Issue 2' is just an attempt to clear the air.

That's where I believe you are wrong. I think you are conflating "imprecision" with "failure." They are not the same. Imprecise descriptions and trading of subjective impressions and terms are used all the time in real life to get things done. As I've said repeatedly, if this weren't the case, then my job would be impossible, because we are exchanging subjective impressions constantly among ourselves and with clients. Sometimes the words being used have a direct technical reference, sometimes they don't, but we can often agree on the essential issues we are hearing and describing to fix or manipulate tracks.

This is why I have claimed people sometimes seem to "reason in a bubble" about these things on this site, where the attitude can be: "If I don't find this lack of precision acceptable, then it's pointless or too imprecise to be of any worth." Where in fact these things do real-world work in communicating about sound.

(And we borrow examples from various senses all the time. When a friend and I listen to two different speakers and both find A to be "brighter" sounding than B, that's a descriptor borrowed from sight - "brighter" clearly originally came from an attempt to put sonic impressions in to words by borrowing from another sense experience. But the term is useful and helps us describe our impressions. Similarly, I have found plenty of subjective descriptions "accurately describe" to what I hear from a product. And, even in the example I gave of the Joseph speakers, virtually every subjective review I've seen zeroed in on and described numerous characteristics of the brand as I hear them as well. Scientific level of reliability? No. Still useful to some degree? IMO: Yes.).

But room tone, or ambiant sound, is semi silence. You can't apply it to a sound to simulate a rooms acoustic effect on sound.

Yes I could. It would help, at least, in terms of producing a sound I have in mind, and in this case the sound that comes from impressions of my speakers in my room when adding room reflection. I do this kind of stuff all day long. Even moments ago I took a pure bell tone sound and applied a small room reverb, played with reflection times/diffusion etc, and while it certainly did start getting at aspects I hear with my speakers interacting with my room, it missed the slight coarsening of the sound. I took a room tone, slightly enhanced the texture and overlayed it, and it got a bit closer. But I'd have to do even a bit more manipulation of the sound (coarsen it some more, e.g. vocal sibilance takes on a slighty thicker, spittier, rougher/whitened character) to get it closer to what I hear. The addition of the room reverb plug in isn't doing all of that.
(Of course, if I had a plug in that perfectly reproduced my own room effects, then in principle it would be the same sound I hear. But then, I would describe that sound as "grainy" just as I do the real sound in my room).

What you do is add environmental noise, and even recording equipment noise when you take it to far. That the latter can sound grainy is perfectly possible.

What I would to see you do is add quality digital room delay or reverb to a song to obtain a grainy sound, and share the result with us to see how people perceive this. I would take the initiative myself but I know I won't be able to create this effect in this way.

I think it would likely miss the specific sound of how my speakers are interacting with my exact room, so it wouldn't be definitive in any way as to what I am hearing.

I agree though that the idea of interrogating lots of people as to their sonic descriptions of various sound characteristics and distortions, under controlled conditions, would be illuminating.
 

Geert

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Mar 20, 2020
Messages
978
Likes
1,268
That's where I believe you are wrong. I think you are conflating "imprecision" with "failure."

I'm not conflating anything, I just didn't consider this wording would be a point of discussion for you. So I'll rectify my statement, which doesn't change anything to the point I was trying to make:

What this topic has demonstrated is that 'issue 1' is an issue in itself, the failure diffuculty to communicate impressions of sound when borrowing terms associated with other senses.


I think it would likely miss the specific sound of how my speakers are interacting with my exact room, so it wouldn't be definitive in any way as to what I am hearing.

It doesn't need to be perfect. You said you just edited some audio to include some of the effect of grain you hear in a room. If you could share something like that we would better understand what your perceiving.
 
OP
C

coonmanx

Active Member
Joined
Sep 4, 2021
Messages
247
Likes
141
Location
Colorado Springs, CO
I do want to thank everyone who participated in this thread in a civil manner. When I posted up almost the same question on another audio forum I got some pretty nasty responses. It doesn't really matter to me in the end. People can choose to describe things however they want. Does it mean that those descriptions are always spot on? Who knows...
 

tuga

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Feb 5, 2020
Messages
3,233
Likes
3,250
Location
Oxford, England
Lexicon - the vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge
 

atmasphere

Member
Manufacturer
Joined
May 26, 2021
Messages
75
Likes
179
An amplifier company insider contradicts the "mixing engineer" official definition (mid bass boost) claiming the mixing engineers and most everyone else is confused and "warm" sound is really caused by low order distortion masking higher order "harsh" distortion (so "harsh" is the opposite of "warm" not "cool" or "cold"). While other "informed" individuals say "warm" has to do with FR "tilt" (vs a "boost") at certain frequencies. Yet another explanation is that since tube amps are literally warm (temperature) they some how must have a warm sound. While there are worse audiophile adjectives than "warm" it still is a counter productive adjective because it's meaning is not defined or agreed on even by audio industry insiders much less consumers.
A mid bass boost will help add 'warmth' if the high end is bright (and caused by distortion rather than EQ). So you do have to exercise some discrimination as to how the term is being used. FWIW I've done a fair bit of mastering myself (I've run a studio over 50 years); I use the term 'dry' (which can also mean a lack of reverb in the studio) or 'lean' when bass is a little lacking. Context is important! Alternate terms for warmth caused by distortion are 'richness' and 'lushness'; 'fat' refers to a bit too much 2nd or 3rd harmonic and 'muddy' or 'bloated' is where that goes when things are out of hand.
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)?
Describing sound in terms of other senses is always going to leave interpretation a bit open; it helps a lot to be involved in the sport so to speak ;) I can certainly see engineers (who might have the benefit of an education) being a bit reticent to use such terms. As a designer who also talks to end users, I find the term really helpful. It can be quite interesting to see how people respond when they finally realize that a lot of the tonality they hear in various equipment is caused by distortion rather than FR errors! But once you realize that the ear converts distortion into tonality, you start to see how common this actually is.
Thank you for your informative post/link and I hope you won't mind me to continue considering feedback as a band-aid fix.

With your help, I've come to the conclusion that the descriptive audio-word "warm" is just a generality indicating a not-so negative subjective listening evaluation; especially in comparison to the negative remarks, such as "grainy" or even "sounds like sh*t" (SLS).:cool:
Usually if its warm its not grainy; the latter can refer to distortion of an unpleasant variety. Some might think that 'warmth' is a bad thing and if there is too much it certainly is. Analog tape machines if working properly impart a 3rd harmonic which is interpreted as warmth (another similar term is 'richness', also 'lush'); these days is often why analog is used in the studio to impart warmth to a recording that might be suffering otherwise.
 

ahofer

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jun 3, 2019
Messages
2,174
Likes
3,700
Location
New York City
Describing sound in terms of other senses is always going to leave interpretation a bit open; it helps a lot to be involved in the sport so to speak ;) I can certainly see engineers (who might have the benefit of an education) being a bit reticent to use such terms. As a designer who also talks to end users, I find the term really helpful. It can be quite interesting to see how people respond when they finally realize that a lot of the tonality they hear in various equipment is caused by distortion rather than FR errors! But once you realize that the ear converts distortion into tonality, you start to see how common this actually is.
That's why I think these terms are not useful, or stable, for consumer audio.
 

pseudoid

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Mar 23, 2021
Messages
1,671
Likes
965
Location
SoCal
“Good” distortion
On the other hand, a type of distortion that’s commonly thought of as desirable is harmonic distortion. ...The result is changes in timbre that we often describe endearingly as “warmth,” “brightness,” and “saturation.”...
distortion-in-post-03-1024x274.png

I find Hitchcock distortion more enjoyable. :facepalm:
202204_AlfredHitchcock00.jpg
 

levimax

Major Contributor
Joined
Dec 28, 2018
Messages
1,364
Likes
1,975
Location
San Diego
As a designer who also talks to end users, I find the term really helpful. It can be quite interesting to see how people respond when they finally realize that a lot of the tonality they hear in various equipment is caused by distortion rather than FR errors! But once you realize that the ear converts distortion into tonality, you start to see how common this actually is.
Do you have any documentation on this? In my experience playing around with distortion added to sine waves I can at best hear harmonics down to -55 db (0.18% THD) and with music it is 4% to 8% THD depending on the music. On the other hand I don't have any trouble hearing a 2 dB low Q frequency boost or cut to music. To me the audibility of FR variations swamps distortion audibility in all but the craziest cases such as a zero feedback SET.
 

atmasphere

Member
Manufacturer
Joined
May 26, 2021
Messages
75
Likes
179
In my experience playing around with distortion added to sine waves I can at best hear harmonics down to -55 db (0.18% THD) and with music it is 4% to 8% THD depending on the music.
FWIW it really matters what kind of distortion we're talking about. We've know for the last 85 years or so that the lower ordered harmonics are more innocuous (see Radiotron Designer's Handbook, 3rd edition, page 32).
 

levimax

Major Contributor
Joined
Dec 28, 2018
Messages
1,364
Likes
1,975
Location
San Diego
FWIW it really matters what kind of distortion we're talking about. We've know for the last 85 years or so that the lower ordered harmonics are more innocuous (see Radiotron Designer's Handbook, 3rd edition, page 32).
I don't know if you have tried it for yourself but REW will play sine waves and you can add harmonic distortion of any order and at any level and in any combination. See for yourself if you think -65 db of ANY order distortion or combination of distortion is audible to you even with sine waves. Music is a whole different thing and it is much harder to hear distortion while it is playing. In a real world amp 2nd and 3rd order distortion is always the highest level and they will tend to mask higher order distortion as well. From what I have read and experienced amplifier distortion when playing music is not an issue except in extreme cases.
 

atmasphere

Member
Manufacturer
Joined
May 26, 2021
Messages
75
Likes
179
From what I have read and experienced amplifier distortion when playing music is not an issue except in extreme cases.
I agree with most of what you wrote, but the above isn't my experience at all! When the amp gets within 6dB of full output that is when things get interesting. For example, SETs have seen a resurgence in the last 30 years. If you read about them, one thing you'll see in their reviews is something to the effect of 'this amp was surprisingly dynamic, especially considering how little power it had'.

This is because SETs are usually zero feedback and above 20-25% of full power the higher ordered harmonics start to show up- on transients. Since the ear uses the higher orders to sense sound pressure, this causes the amp to sound 'dynamic'. Put plainly, what is happening is the amp is being used on a speaker that lacks enough sensitivity; for anyone using such an amp, the speaker should be easy enough to drive that the amp is never asked to play within 6dB of its total rated power, else you'll not experience what the amp has to offer in its best light.

IME, the sign of a good system is one that does not take on the property of sounding 'loud'. If you sit near the front row at an orchestra concert you might get what I mean by this. The orchestra can hit 110 dB peaks with ease that close up, yet never sounds strained to do so. If an audio system starts sounding loud to you and the peaks are only hitting 95dB on your sound level pressure meter (apps available for any smartphone) you know you have a distortion problem.
 

MattHooper

Major Contributor
Joined
Jan 27, 2019
Messages
3,071
Likes
4,949
Might be worth asking Amirm what he means by "warm":


Subjective Speaker Listening Tests
I always observe how a speaker sounds the moment I turn it on. Here, the 906 did well! It sounded warm and nice with fair bit of detail.

:)
 

billyjoebob

Senior Member
Joined
Oct 9, 2021
Messages
307
Likes
115
Might help, might not.
You decide

 
Top Bottom