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A Glossary Of Commonly Used Sound/Audio Terms

Audio has a language all it's own. Here's a handy translation guide

By Bruce Bartlett September 14, 2012

This article is provided by Bartlett Microphones.


The sound of microphone techniques, effects and EQ in a recording can be hard to translate into engineering terms.

For example, what EQ should you use to get a “fat” sound or a “thin” sound?

The glossary below may help. It’s based on conversations with producers, musicians, and reviewers over 30 years.

Not everyone agrees on these definitions, but they are common.

This glossary does not suggest the cause of the sound quality or how to change it—that’s up to you to determine.

AIRY: Spacious. The instruments sound like they are surrounded by a large reflective space full of air. A pleasant amount of reverb or early reflections. High-frequency response that extends to 15 or 20 kHz. 

BALLSY OR BASSY: Emphasized low frequencies below about 200 Hz. 

BLOATED: Excessive mid-bass around 250 Hz. Poorly damped low frequencies, low-frequency resonances. 

BLOOM: Adequate low frequencies. Spacious. Good reproduction of dynamics and reverberation. Early reflections or a sense of “air” around each instrument in an orchestra. 

BOOMY: Excessive bass around 125 Hz. Poorly damped low frequencies or low-frequency resonances. 

BOXY: Having resonances as if the music were enclosed in a box. Loudspeaker cabinet diffraction or vibration. An emphasis around 250 Hz to 600 Hz. 

BREATHY: Audible breath sounds in vocals, flute, or sax. Good high-frequency response.

BRIGHT: High-frequency emphasis. Harmonics are strong relative to fundamentals.

BRITTLE: High-frequency peaks, or weak fundamentals. Slightly distorted or harsh highs. Opposite of round or mellow. See Thin. Objects that are physically thin and brittle emphasize highs over lows when you crack them.

CHESTY: A vocal signal with a bump in the low-frequency response around 125 to 250 Hz.

CLEAN: Free of noise, distortion, and leakage.

CLEAR: See Transparent.

CLINICAL: Too clean or analytical. Emphasized high-frequency response, sharp transient response. Not warm.

COLORED: Having timbres that are not true to life. Non-flat response,peaks or dips.

CLOUDY: See Wooly.

CONSTRICTED: Poor reproduction of dynamics. Dynamic compression. Distortion at high levels. Also see Pinched.

CRISP: Extended high-frequency response. Like a crispy potato chip, or crisp bacon frying. Often referring to cymbals.

CRUNCH: Pleasant guitar-amp distortion.

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About Bruce

Bruce Bartlett
Bruce Bartlett

Recording Engineer
AES and SynAudCon member Bruce Bartlett is a recording engineer, audio journalist, and microphone engineer. His latest books are “Practical Recording Techniques 5th Ed.” and “Recording Music On Location.”


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