Learning Speaker Lingo

For many people, shopping for speaker systems is the most enjoyable part of the home entertainment hunt. It involves lots of listening, great music, exciting considerateness – and a language all it’s own to decipher. And because home speaker systems can cost as little as a good dinner for two – to as much as buying the entire restaurant, it’s important to be careful and particular when making your choice. Your new speakers will be with you for a very long time and can deliver many hours of incredible music, so be sure to look for the sound qualities that give you greatest joy. The following terms often get used to describe speaker performance.

Part of what makes the process so enjoyable is that it is entirely a subjective process. Your purchase is driven by your personal taste. People’s expectations for their speakers range from sublime to stupendous and they have many preferences when listening for pleasure: lower volume, higher volume, opera, country, jazz, big bands, pop, rock or whatever.

No matter what your eventual choice is, you should expect them to provide lifelike detail and you-are-there performance at a low or high volume. If you’re a Rocker, then you want powerful, clean and durable speakers. If your speaker preferences are more in the vein of quiet background music and listening to the news in the morning, then having killer bass response won’t be at the top of your list.

Other facets also affect speaker performance: room with lots of hard surfaces can make speakers sound bright, while heavily draped and carpeted rooms can make speakers sound dull. Shape, proportions and overall size of rooms play a huge part of the eventual sound quality.

As you embark on your quest for the ideal speaker system, browse through the following list of terms and descriptions so that when you hear the speaker lingo rolling off the tongue of the salesperson, you won’t feel like you’ve landed in a foreign country. These words are often used to describe speaker listening experiences. Keep these in mind when auditioning your system so you can translate what they’re saying and get their message. A great speaker system is one of the most dynamic possessions in your home. So enjoy the process, listen to a lot of music, and make a great choice.

Airy – the space and openness of the music. Spacious is a good word. Should make you think of an open air concert.

Analytical – describes sound quality with great detail in terms of the music reproduction. Can be considered dry sounding.

Balance – how well speakers reproduce low and high-frequency sounds. Instruments need to sound very realistic: human voice, instruments, drums, strings, and more. Bass, mid, and high frequencies should all be clearly audible.

Bass – the lower frequencies in music and movies. Bass is described by it’s quantity (solidity) and quality (musical details). At the bottom register of human hearing, poor quality bass can sound thick, muddy, or boomy.

Bloat is where more bass sounds are produced than what is really in the music. Sounds like an over-accented bass response.

Bright/Brightness can be evident in upper frequencies or upper mids. At first listen, it can sound appealing because it attracts your attention, but it can be unpleasant over longer time periods because it over-accentuates the highs and become annoying.

Congestion is exactly what it sounds like and happens when sounds overlap each other. This poor clarity can make music sound muddy or unclear

Crisp – another word for clear sound quality.

Dark/Darkness describes the sound when higher frequencies are not present in sufficient quantity, causing overall sound quality to sound not bright.

Decay – the time it takes for a sound/note to fade away. For example, a plucked string has a lengthy decay time.

Depth relates to the perceived depth (front to back) of the soundstage. For speakers to create a realistic spatial reproduction of the live music event, they must create a sense of great depth.

Detail describes the effect created when a speaker cleanly recreates all the sounds and notes of the live event.

Forward describes a speaker whose sound quality is bright, brash, and “out-of-the-box”. The opposite of this is laid back and relaxed.

Harsh is what happens when upper mids and highs are overly pronounced.

Highs are the upper frequencies / higher notes.

Imaging is the capability of a music system to create a realistic recreation of the performance of the instruments or vocalists themselves in the area between the speakers. The more lifelike the imaging the better.

Lush is when music sounds warm and rich. A full-sounding presentation.

Mids or Midrange are the middle audio frequencies, usually the main body of vocals and acoustic guitars, among others.

Muddy describes unclear sound presentation. The opposite of clean or clear.

Natural – sounds like real and true to life. The more lifelike and natural the better.

Openness is what it sounds like to have nothing constraining the sound. Music sounds like it floats on air.

Punch describes strong, tight, and quick sound performance in the lower frequencies. Makes an impact with the music that you can feel as much as hear.

Sibilant Sound or Sibilance is the accenting of high frequencies. When the letter “S” is overdone when spoken or sung. These high peaks are usually rather annoying.

Signature is a word that describes the sonic tendency of a speaker in exhibiting a particular sound quality. Some are bass-heavy, some are stronger in the highs, and some are very modest and unpretentious.

Soundstage is what high-quality speakers strive to generate. It’s the sense of the real musical event, in your room. The listening effect of the speakers is such that they create an acoustical image that replicates the original musical event. Usually described in 3D terms (height, width, and depth), the completeness of a speaker’s soundstage is what you want.

Timbre is the sonic essence of every sound, whether an instrument or a voice. The timbre is what is specific to that sound. The better speakers can reproduce lifelike timbre, and are thought to be more accomplished.

Transparent is much like clarity, referring to the openness and airiness of the sound.

Warm/warmth is the sense of the music where there is a richness to the vocals and brass instruments. Often the result of a increase in the mid-bass along with a clear and full midrange.

At Hoppen Home Systems, we love music – and are genuinely excited by great systems that reproduce lifelike music at home. We are pleased to share this passion with all our clients that enjoy great music. Between our good advice and your good taste, we are confident that your entertainment selections through us will yield a lifetime of great listening.

For any questions, or for specific guidance, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Visit us directly and we’ll be happy to assist.


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Learning Speaker Lingo
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