Need definitions of: Dark; Warm; and Bright


Throughout thousands of postings, the descriptive adjectives of dark, warm, and bright are employed.  What does each of them actually mean?  Are these meanings solely subjective, or can they be seen in displays of frequency responses and distortion across an audio spectrum?
128x128jmeyers
It's a beautiful thing to be able to compose your thoughts.
You should try it.

All the best,
Nonoise
from pg 27:
Critical listening - the practice of evaluating the quality of audio equipment by careful analytical listening - is very different from listening for pleasure. The goal isn't to enjoy the musical experience, but to determine if a system or component sounds good or bad, and which specific characteristics [emphasis in original] of the sound make it good or bad. You want to critically examine what you're hearing so that you can form judgments about the reproduced sound. You can then use this information to evaluate and choose components, and to fine tune a system for greater musical enjoyment.


Just semantics but dark refers to a sound with treble and perhaps some midrange tipped down, warm to sound with an emphasis on midrange, where most music happens and bright is the opposite of dark.
I liken bright to shrill/ harsh though many may think that is an extreme comparison. To my ears that is what I hear. Warm is the sweet spot, feels good, sounds good, “right” if you will. Dark is heavy, defined but not in your face. Good lower end impact without much overtone. Being a drummer, these terms are often used as descriptors of cymbals, drums too at times, but always cymbals.
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These terms mean nothing.
This sentence is literally talking about itself and its author.

Nothing but poetic license!
This one too.

Why must ignorance declare itself so boldly? Hmmm.

It’s seemed to obvious to mention before, but clearly it’s not: experience require *words* to be communicated. Experience of music can change when we compare with others and use new words. Happens with smell, too.

The point, Roxy, is that you don't always "know them when you hear them." You often need words to know them. This is why parents teach children the words for things and qualities in their experience. So they can know them, designate them in the future, compare them, etc. Without words, we're dumb brutes.

    doogiehowser       " Imagine if you had some amazing tool, let’s call it a frequency response plot (preferably with THD), that lets you visualize these things instead of guessing at them. Alas, the technology to create these magical plots is beyond most audiophiles."
What you describe is helpful, useful, and practical for those who seek visual confirmation of what they hear but of course for many audiophiles there is no need to "translate" what they hear in to another form entirely and completely simply for the joy, amusement, and entertainment of "seeing" a sound.
+1 @hilde45

here we are on this audiophile hifi music forum

all we have are words to convey thoughts, beliefs, feelings, experiences ...
A lot of none answers.

Warm refers to too much mid bass or a peak in the 100 to 250 hz region.

Dark refers to a trough in the 2000 to 3000 hz region

Bright is a rising response from 3000 Hz and above. Dull is a falling response from 3000 hz or anywhere from above.

My personal preference is for bass rising from 125 Hz down up 3 dB at 20 Hz and a falling response from 4000 hz down 6 dB at 20 kHz. This is at a 95 dB playback volume. The "right" frequency balance changes with volume. 

The tonality of a speaker system is based purely on it's frequency response. Things like enclosure resonances will show up as blips in the frequency response curve. Imaging is much more complicated depending on multiple factors. Then there is transient response and ringing. Tonality, however is totally "adjustable."  With many room control programs (a misnomer as it is really speaker control) you can program target curves to adjust tonality any old which way. Once you have programmed several hundred different curves you learn what doing this and that, here and there does to the sound. This is a great exercise for an audiophile.

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My speakers are considered “warm” the treble is rolled off at 600hz, or mghz, or something like that.
the treble is not in your face, making your teeth grate, or pain.


I like the warm speaker, more relaxing, yes.
does it lose some of the airy sound, yes, it’s a sacrifice. 
To each their own.
@mijostyn

A lot of none answers.

None [sic] answers? Well, I gave a reference to Robert Harley’s book, with specific reference to a chapter meticulously dedicated to a variety of terms for different aspects of the qualities found in the experience of sound. Harley is an engineer, a reviewer, and an expert at listening and explaining. You have offered your own home-made terms for what these terms mean, and that is helpful, but really -- it’s not remotely in the same league as Harley. It's closer to a non-answer.
doogiehowser"Can you please explain your need to avoid use of something that would ease the ability for audiophiles to communicate with each other"

You are apparently, evidently, and obviously confused, disoriented, or unable to grasp even basic English, which is all that I can write. I never said anything "should be avoided" so I am not sure why you ask or got any contrary idea, impression, or belief.
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@doogiehowser

best not to give energy to the troll... just move on and ignore

all these folks want is to get a rise out of others with their inane negative comments they pollute the board with
Don't forget "creamy/warm/musical" when there is loss of detail from smearing and signal degradation.
Alas, the technology to create these magical plots is beyond most audiophiles.
This audio vocabulary refer to the modern creation of electronic design audio....It never exist among musician before that ....

Music is not ONLY  pure physical sound, music is an interpreted phenomenon and if a an audio system is defined mainly  by warm and bright audiophile concept, we are in very shallow waters....

Musical sound are not warm nor bright ever....Save if the audio system and the acoustical settings are uncontrolled or badly designed or the 2 at the same time...

A musical instrumental timbre is never bright or warm "per se" save if the system is not appropriately tuned...

Then defining our taste by warm and bright qualification on a "magical plot" or by ears, refer to the same ignorance about neuro-acoustic....and refer to our gear defects  not to musical perception...

Musical sounds are not physical sounds.....
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Dark means the sun has set. Warm means that Summer is coming. Bright means you stop looking for word descriptions of what you hear.
@hide45, Robert Hartley? You pick strange people to be your gods.

There are people more qualified to comment on audio matters than an english major. 

As for my answer, it certainly qualifies as more of an answer than what came before it and it was very specific. If you had a bit more knowledge and some decent equipment you could make yourself qualified to make statements on those assertions, maybe your definition of bright is different than mine. Anyone here with the capability can make these frequency adjustments and see if they agree. Maybe they will not and we can talk about it and perhaps come up with better definitions. But you? Just hot air I'm afraid.
I have a question,not to hijack the OPs thread,but how did this thread take a nose dive right in to the ground?  
@rocray,  it’s far to common here that someone asks questions that may quite often have some legitimate answers to be offered but the trolling, sniping and self aggrandizing crew can’t help themselves.  Instead of scrolling along and keeping the snide remarks to themselves they bolster their post count with short, snarky or rude comments then head to the next sandbox to kick more sand or take a verbal dump in.  Bitter folks that should find another hobby or leave the forum if they truly believe everyone else is stupid and they are unquestionably correct about their assertions. 
Dark is when there is a an overly soft treble that causes no life to the very upper treble. Warm is when the entire balance is too bass centered which causes a lack of openness to your entire midrange and treble. Bright is when the sound is centered to the mids and highs too much which causes an overly bleached and thin sound.
I enjoy what @hilde45 has to say and typically what he has to offer.  Smart guy.

In my early days of business, just out of college, I was in hi-fi retail for a few years.  In order to help communicate the sonic signature for some of our customers we would use the terms "chocolate mid-range" and "butterscotch highs".  It seemed to convey the message nicely.  Ultimately it was the customers decision as to what sound they preferred and, hopefully, to make the purchase.  But the point is that words do matter and words are indeed for communication.
Dark means the sun has set. Warm means that Summer is coming. Bright means you stop looking for word descriptions of what you hear.

Bright means there is too much glare and it's time to get the sunglasses out.

All these terms really suck and are used to justify poor design.

A flat response is the only way to enjoy a recording.
@mammothguy54 Thanks for the nice words!

As for "chocolate mid-range" and "butterscotch highs" -- I have no problem with that. There are words my family and I make up to describe various experiences -- and they are very, very precise because we make them up in circumstances we all experience and we use the terms to function in certain ways.

The only problem with these sorts of made up words and phrases is that they don't have much currency outside our little tribe. Very accurate and useful within one group but not transferable. 

The fundamental issue in this conversation seems to be "which words can be used to describe audio experiences accurately that other people can also learn?"
The descriptive term 'Dark' has the most confusions and different meanings.

Dark is when there is a an overly soft treble that causes no life to the very upper treble.

That's how I understand it. But some reviewers (not from established magazines, but online) seem to think 'Dark' means the sound comes from an overly black background.


Without words, we’re dumb brutes.
Yes, precisely.
I believe all thoughts are made in language, even if we have to invent words and meanings.

Audiophile terms, recognising them, identifying them and correctly understanding their meanings are possibly the greatest hope to convey what we are hearing to another.

Critical listening, comparing, I believe are a learned behavior. Just like almost anything where experience allows someone to differentiate, breed, qualities, or performance.
The fundamental issue in this conversation seems to be "which words can be used to describe audio experiences accurately that other people can also learn?"
It would be completely right if sounds and music experience would overlap completely but they are not...The vocabularey of sound in audio thread is not identical with  the vocabulary of music and acoustic... Then you are right we must have common words to communicate.... But some experience cannot be described by some of the words we use in audio more often... Like "bright" or "warm"....

Then the vocabulary for sounds in audio threads come from electrical design particular tasks and marketing and not from experienced musicians or musical field...

Then appreciation of a system through some kind of music differ anyway much from another kind of music particular requirements...Classical brain dont judge like rock brain....

For example "warm and bright" comes from the electronical condition particular design of the gear links but timbre interpretation and description come from some core non amplified instrumental and vocal music experience...

Psycho acoustic dont use much the audiophile "warm and bright" expression at his core .... Audio thread do....

These concepts made sense ONLY for describing our relation to sounds in a very particular way.... when our system BEGINS to be rightfully embedded in his working mechanical, electrical and acoustical dimensions these words make less and less sense, or we dont need them at all no more.... Even when the fine tuning of a system only begins they lost their importance when comes the times to describe the system translation of sounds into musical perception...

People use them 2brighter or warmer" in relation with a non tuned system out of the box in comparison with their past experience of another system or piece of gear.... For example these speakers or dac or amplifier are warmer than my last one....

But musical acoustical tuning cannot make them very useful more than in a very general almost useless way....

"Timbre", the crux concept of musical perception, is not, ONLY and MAINLY, a bunch of frequencies for the human ears.... Acoustical controls and is more important for example than the design of an amplifier most of the times , save if the design is very bad....And the vocabulary of acoustic cannot be circled with "warm and bright" concepts...

Some acoustical concepts like " imaging", "soundstage", "listener envelopment", "source width" etc keep their meaning more supported in a string of experiments....For example that make no sense at all for me now to describe my audio system with bright and/or warm words, even if i want to describe my taste... I will more easily say that piano timbre is natural the sound distributed out of the speakers distinctly and in a room filling soundstage where i feel sometimes included in the recording theater....Bright? Warm? yes when my acoustical settings are out of tune if i eliminate them the result will be one of these 2 catastophes in loosing the natural "timbre" sound of each instrument...

My best to you and all...
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. [2] And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. ... [5] And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.


Okay. Forget for the moment this is anything to do with religion. Consider only the sequence of events: formless void and darkness becomes night and day. How? By being called night and day. 

Take away words and all we have left is formless void. Audio terms like dark, warm and bright are tools we use to evaluate performance, find better components, and build a better system. Without them we are adrift in a formless void. Think about it. 



Then you are right we must have common words to communicate.... But some experience cannot be described by some of the words we use in audio more often... Like "bright" or "warm"....
The human ear/brain system converts all forms of distortion into tonality.

'Warm' has come to mean when a 2nd or 3rd harmonic is present, in enough quantity to mask higher ordered harmonic distortion.


'Bright' can be actual tilted high frequencies (possibly simply caused by a lack of bass) or it can also be caused by the unmasked presence of higher ordered harmonic distortion, which is interpreted by the ear as brightness (and also harshness).


Audiophiles have been using these terms with these meanings for decades FWIW.
Audiophiles have been using these terms with these meanings for decades




For sure these words means something , it is related to the way the relation between some higher harmonics convey the sensation...And all audiophiles can correlate these words to a meaningful sensation.... Saying the opposite would be amateurish or ignorant....

But one this is done, and when others audio factors enter in play, these words are no more enough to characterise audiophile experience in all his dimensions adequately...

Saying that tubes may be warmer and S.S. may be most of the times brighter dont push us way much along the road...When the amplifiers is in the room we must begins to embed all audio gear together in the system, in the room and in the house, taking into account the mechanical, electrical and acoustical working dimensions...

That was my point, not negating the rightful and meaningful content linked to these words use...

Then dont put in my mouth or suggest what i never say: that these words are meaningless... They have a meaning related to the electronical design market of amplifier or speakers, tubes are generally not S.S. sound quality for example ...But others factors plays in acoustic to amplify or to decrease these warm or brighter impression...

But no acoustician characterise a room to be warm or bright...A room can be dead or too much echoing...It is related to timing or reverberation time not to amplifier rendering of harmonics etc...

No musician evaluate sound musical timbre by warm and bright characterisation MAINLY....

When a piano make different timbre impression in my room, when i change the acoustical settings of the room or if i modify the vibrations controls of my gear, or if i modify the electrical noise floor, To describe the result beinng "warmer or brighter" concepts are no more very useful and dont relate well or much to the factors in play...

It is one things to describe sound by some of his aspect for example relation between harmonics envelope of a timbre perception and describing with words all the variables implicated in the perception...We need way more words that warm and bright which related mainly to the electronical design market of speakers amplifiers or dac etc...

It was my point....

To say it in a short way, people must learn many others concepts and not evaluate system with this meaningful but limiting words only... Audiophile experience is linked to many factors not only 2....

I hope it is clearer....

By the way with your experience i will not teach you anything here.... You know way much than me in audio ....But i only expressed here in these 2 posts my limited but insightful personal experience for the sake of the discussion .... I apologize sincerely if my post seems to give you lesson which i am perfectly conscious you dont need at all from me....But i spoke my mind for the discussion ....

my best to you...And my deepest respect....

Errr, Saussure 101.

As atmasphere say, there needs to be a pretty broad consensus as to what a given word refers to, for speakers of a given language to communicate with each other.  Obviously, meaning will still be fuzzy around the edges.

When words a used *metaphorically*, this adds a whole new layer of fuzziness, but people don't realize how much metaphorical usage is part of everyday speech.

Bright/dark has to do with visual perception (light, color) not sound.
Warm has to do with touch or taste.

It works the other way too: you can talk about a loud color.

BTW, this has nothing to do with synaesthesia, it's just standard metaphorical usage.

But metaphorical usage is open to a greater range of interpretation, because it's figurative, and because a given instance will have a different range of connotations (rather than denotations) for a given individual.
as ralph said

Audiophiles have been using these terms with these meanings for decades FWIW.

no point arguing... if you are new, refer to the glossaries i mentioned in an earlier post to understand these and other terms often used

folks who are here to debate ad nauseum are just wasting time... these terms are well known and understood among people who have been been in this pursuit, are commonly used to convey the sound of systems or components

about a month ago i had a good friend in my driving cohort who is fairly new to high end hifi... i had him over and demonstrated to him the sonic differences between analog and digital, the differences between a tubed dac vs a solid state one, a solid state vs a tube amp ... these words were immediately understood by him as we listened and discussed the music that was playing, swapping back and forth
Saying that tubes may be warmer and S.S. may be most of the times brighter dont push us way much along the road...
Actually it does if you understand that this phenomena is entirely the result of distortion- the tubes make the lower harmonics which the transistors do not; thus resulting in tube amps sounding warm and solid state sounding bright, even though on the bench both measure flat.

This also give the designer access to what to do about it; if a solid state amp were made with the same distortion signature as a tube amp it would also sound like one. The relative output impedances of tubes and solid state is almost irrelevant since the ear has a tipping point where it emphasizes tonality induced by distortion over tonality induced by frequency response error. That is why a tube amp potentially can sound more neutral even though it might not be as flat on a certain speaker as a solid state amp.


This is not about tubes/solid state though, its about **distortion**. We've proven that if a solid state amp has a tube-like distortion signature it will very hard to tell it from a really good tube amp. While this might appear subjective (which is what these terms are about) in the end this is the sort of thing that's easy to measure these days as well.