Understanding The Finer Points of Speaker Performance
Home speaker systems run the gamut from modest to marvelous, and the prices do too. So it's important to be comfortable with their performance and understand how they differ as you work your way up the price scale. You and your new speakers will be together for a long time and enjoy many types of music, so be sure to look for the characteristics that give you greatest pleasure. Here is a simple list of terms that often get used when describing speaker performance.
Judging speakers is a very subjective process - meaning it all boils down to your personal taste. Speaker systems get used in many ways and people have many preferences when listening for pleasure. You may prefer listening at lower volume levels. The best speakers for you will provide great detail and lifelike performance at a lower volume. You may love to shake the house and get into your Rock & Roll. The best speakers for you will be powerful and clean-sounding - even at higher volume levels. If your speaker needs are strictly for quiet background music and listening to the news in the morning, then having great bass response won't be on the top of your priorities.
There are many other aspects to bear in mind as well; is your room full of hard reflective surfaces (tends to make speakers sound bright), or does it have lots of drapes and carpet and overstuffed furniture (tends to make speakers sound dull). Even the shape and size of the room itself has a lot to do with the performance you are able to get out of your system.
To help you make the best decision, we've put together a list of words often used to describe loudspeaker performance quality. Bearing these in mind when shopping for your system will help you translate what others are saying and understand their message more clearly. Having a great speaker system is one of the most thrilling of all possessions in your home. So have fun, listen a lot, and choose wisely.
Airy is often used to describe the space and openness of the sound. Unconstrained is a good word. Should make you think of live music.
Analytical is a term that gets used to describe sound quality with high levels of detail in terms of the music reproduction. Often considered slightly dry sounding.
Balance relates to how well the speaker system reproduces low-frequency sounds as well as high-frequency sounds. Instruments should sound as realistic as the human voice. The bass, midrange, and high frequencies should all be audible in a well-balanced presentation.
Bass refers to the lower frequencies in music and movies. At the lower end of human hearing, bass is described in terms of its quantity (solidity) and quality (musical details). Bass that is not well-produced can sound heavy, muddy, or boomy.
Bloat is a characteristic where there are more bass sounds being produced than what is actually in the music. Sounds like an over-accented bass response.
Bright/Brightness is sometimes evident in the upper frequencies or upper midrange. Brightness sometimes sounds appealing at first listen because it attracts your attention, but it can become unpleasant over time because it can overaccentuate the high frequencies and become annoying.
Congestion sounds like what the word means and happens when sounds overlap each other. This results in poor clarity and can make music sound muddy.
Crisp is another work for clear sound quality.
Dark/Darkness is sometimes used to describe the characteristic when higher frequencies are not prominent, such that the overall sound quality is not bright.
Decay is the time it takes for a sound/note/resonance to fade away. For example, a ringing bell usually has a lengthy decay.
Depth describes how deep (front to back) the soundstage seems to be. The goal is for the speakers to create a realistic spatial reproduction of the live music event.
Detail is a word used to describe the listening effect created when the speaker cleanly recreates all the sounds and notes of the live event.
Forward is often used to describe speaker performance where the sound quality is bright, brash, and very "out-of-the-box". The opposite of this would be laid back and relaxed.
Harsh describes what happens when upper midrange and high frequencies are overly pronounced.
Highs are the upper frequencies / higher notes.
Imaging is that magical ability of a great music system when the presentation of the speakers causes the listener to clearly envision the actual instruments or performers to be in that space in front of and between the speakers. The more lifelike the imaging the better.
Lush describes the effect of the music sounding warm and rich. A full sounding presentation.
Mids/Midrange describes the middle audio frequencies, usually the main body of vocals and acoustic guitars, among other instruments.
Muddy is used to describe unclear presentation of sound. The opposite of clean/clear.
Natural means sounds like it should, real and true to life. The more natural and lifelike the better.
Openness conveys what it sounds like to have no constraints. The music sounds like it just floats in the air.
Punch is often used to describe the effect of strong, tight, and quick speaker performance in the lower frequencies. Creates an impact on the music that you can feel as much as hear.
Sibilant or sibilance is when specific high frequencies are accented. Like when the letter "S" is spoken or sung and it is overdone. These high unpleasant peaks are usually unpleasant to hear and rather annoying.
Signature is a way of describing how a speaker will tend to have a particular sound quality. Some are bass-heavy, some are stronger in the high frequencies, and some are very modest and unpretentious.
Soundstage is what most higher-quality speakers strive to create. It's the semblance of the real musical event, right there in your room. The joint production of the speakers creates an acoustical image that replicates the original musical event. Usually described in 3D terms (height, width, and depth), the extent of a speaker's soundstage is what you are after.
Timbre is something that every sound, be it an instrument or a voice, possesses that identifies itself as specific to that sound. The more realistically the speakers can reproduce the lifelike timbre, the more accomplished those speakers are thought to be.
Transparent is very similar to clarity. This refers to clean, clear, open, and detailed quality.
Warm/warmth is a way of describing the sense of the music where there is a richness to the vocals and brass instruments. This is usually a result of a "bump-up" in the mid-bass along with a clear and lush midrange.
At Audio Visual Integration, we are all passionate about our music and we want to share that passion with our clients that also enjoy great music. We want our good advice and your good taste to lead you to a mind-blowing audio experience.
If you have any questions, or you would like more guidance as to what you should be looking for regarding your new speakers, please don't hesitate to contact us. Or visit us directly and we'll be more than happy to assist.