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A Glossary Of Commonly Used Sound/Audio Terms
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RASPY: Harsh, like a rasp. Peaks in the response around 6 kHz which make vocals sound too sibilant or piercing. 

RICH: See Full. Also, having euphonic distortion made of even-order harmonics. 

ROUNDUP: High-frequency rolloff or dip. Not edgy. 

SHARP: See Crisp, Strident and Tight. 

SIBILANT: Also called “essy.” Exaggerated “s” and “sh” sounds in vocals, too much output around 5 to 10 kHz. 

SIZZLY: See Sibilant. Also, too much highs on cymbals. 

SMEARED: Lacking detail. Poor transient response. This may be a desirable effect in large-diameter mics. Also, poorly focused images. 

SMOOTH: Easy on the ears, not harsh. Flat frequency response, especially in the midrange. Lack of peaks and dips in the response. Low distortion.

SPACIOUS: Conveying a sense of space, ambience, or room around the instruments. To get this effect, mike farther back, mix in an ambience mic, add reverb, or record in stereo. Components that have opposite-polarity or out-of-phase crosstalk between channels may add false spaciousness. 

SQUASHED: Overly compressed. 

STEELY: Emphasized upper mids around 3 to 6 kHz. Peaky, non-flat high-frequency response. See Glassy, Harsh, Edgy. 

STRAINED: The component sounds like it’s working too hard. Distorted. Inadequate headroom or insufficient power. Opposite of effortless. 

STRIDENT: See Harsh and Edgy. 

SWEET: Not strident or piercing. Flat high-frequency response, low distortion. Lack of peaks in the response. Highs are extended to 15 or 20 kHz, but they are not bumped up. Often used when referring to cymbals, percussion, strings, and sibilant sounds. 

THIN: Fundamentals are weak relative to harmonics. Note that the fundamental frequencies of many instruments are not very low. For example, violin fundamentals are around 200 to 1000 Hz. So if the 300 Hz area is weak, the violin may sound thin-even if the mic’s response goes down to 40 Hz. 

TIGHT: Good low-frequency transient response. Absence of ringing or resonance when reproducing the kick drum or bass. Good low-frequency detail. Absence of leakage. 

TINNY, TELEPHONE-LIKE:  Narrowband, weak lows, peaky mids. The music sounds like it’s coming through a telephone or tin can. 

TRANSPARENT: Easy to hear into the music, detailed, clear, not muddy. Wide, flat frequency response, sharp time response, very low distortion and noise. 

TUBBY: See Bloated. Having low-frequency resonances as if you’re singing in a bathtub. 

VEILED: The music sounds like you put a silk veil over the speakers. Slight noise or distortion, or slightly weak high frequencies. 

WARM Good bass, adequate low frequencies, adequate fundamentals relative to harmonics. Not thin. Or, excessive bass or midbass. Or, pleasantly spacious, with adequate reverberation at low frequencies. Or, gentle highs, like from a tube amplifier. See Rich. 

WASHED OUT: Phase interference from multiple mics picking up the same source. Too much leakage or reverberation.

WOOLY, BLANKETED:  The music sounds like there’s a wool blanket over the loudspeakers. Weak high frequencies or boomy low frequencies. Sometimes, an emphasis around 250 to 600 Hz.

Bruce Bartlett is a microphone engineer (, recording engineer, live sound engineer, and audio journalist.

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