What the heck do these terms mean?

I read a lot about audio equipment and some descriptions come up occasionally about the components sound qualities that to me are confusing. Most of the time I regard these descriptions as by someone with little knowledge about audio equipment that are trying to sound impressive.

Most of these terms are used in describing speakers but I have also seen them used on cables, amps , electronics of all sorts etc..
So, can someone help define these common descriptive terms?

1. Treble/ bass is dry- Huh? What does this mean?
2. Treble/bass is wet.- Huh? Again, what does this mean?
3. Organic sounding- Huh, huh?
4. Musical sounding.- What? Compared to non musical sounding?

The last one can be used with just about any description of any component or speaker performance.

There may be more...


What a coincidence! Those terms describe perfectly how my cassettes sound. 
I read a lot about audio equipment and some descriptions come up occasionally about the components sound qualities that to me are confusing. Most of the time I regard these descriptions as by someone with little knowledge about audio equipment that are trying to sound impressive.

Yes. Add in other terms besides sound qualities into the mix and you just covered most of the so-called "information" out there. Add in grandstanding and clever by half dopey comments and its surprising how little is left.

Most of these terms are used in describing speakers but I have also seen them used on cables, amps , electronics of all sorts etc..

Well this for the most part actually does make sense. Sound qualities are sound qualities, regardless of where they come from. For years you would have been hard pressed to have me believe an electronic component like a phono stage could have anything resembling a boxy or woody quality. Until I got the Herron, and all of a sudden realized compared to that the ARC PH3SE was boxy and woody. Read my review, pretty sure that’s what I said. So the universality of acoustic terminology does make sense.

So, can someone help define these common descriptive terms?

For the best organized most thorough and most easily understandable description please read Robert Harley’s The Complete Guide to High End Audio. Indispensable.

1. Treble/ bass is dry- Huh? What does this mean?
2. Treble/bass is wet.- Huh? Again, what does this mean?

That’s the problem with dopey language, nobody knows what it means. Including whoever wrote it. This is what is really at the root of so much anger and argument. People write stuff they never really understood, then when challenged get all defensive instead of trying to think things through.

In fairness all these descriptors are metaphorical and imprecise. Still, most people, if you say the bass is tubby they get your drift. Whether the tub is one of those galvanized livestock tubs that makes a sound when you hit it, or a cast iron bathtub that takes the sound of your voice and emphasizes it all out of proportion, everyone gets tubby.

Wet might be related to liquid. Liquid is water- smooth and seamless and natural. Could be syrupy, could gloss over details, which is too smooth. Or could be dry, not quite grainy but not quite liquid either.

Either way these are usually used to describe midrange and treble. Hard to imagine dry bass. Lean, sure. Taut, of course. Dry? Odds-on bet they are parroting more than describing. Not quite word salad but getting there.

3. Organic sounding- Huh, huh?
4. Musical sounding.- What? Compared to non musical sounding?

Organic I can get if used in the sense of the timing and balance of attack, fundamental, harmonic overtones and timbre is organic and whole. When this happens the result is palpable presence, which is a whole lot clearer and easier to understand.

The last one can be used with just about any description of any component or speaker performance.

Exactly. Which is why regurgitating and mimicking is such a waste of time. Harley, again, indispensable.

There may be more...

Infinitely. Stay tuned. Same bat time. Same bat channel.
1. Treble/ bass is dry- Huh? What does this mean?
2. Treble/bass is wet.- Huh? Again, what does this mean?
3. Organic sounding- Huh, huh?
4. Musical sounding.- What? Compared to non musical sounding?
1) if bass, not enough, if treble, too much and mixed with distortion (higher ordered harmonics)

2) ’wet’ usually refers to reverb in the studio. Not heard it used so much in audiophile circles.

3) Organic is the quality that allows you to play the system all day long without fatigue; isn’t bright or harsh, nice seamless sound (no obvious peaks or dips, so this is often associated with full range drivers in loudspeakers or speakers with a very well done crossover); may have some 2nd or 3rd harmonic distortion although not enough to be perceived as a coloration; also refers to a palpable soundstage that is well-defined and 3D in every respect.

4) Sounds like music. Also refers to euphonic colorations such as excessive 2nd harmonic. But this can also be neutral if the traditional higher ordered harmonic distortions that cause brightness are absent. And yes, compared to non-musical sounding, for example when higher ordered harmonics are causing harshness.
It is not nearly as easy to describe sound as it is to read about it. Also, properly, the description should be of the system, not the individual component. The only exception to that might be after many systems have been used and a pattern emerges in regards to the involvement of the component under assessment, or in direct comparison to another. 

I suspect the person was attempting to use the terms "wet" and "dry" as synonyms for discussion of fullness of the bass, i.e. wet would be a richer, fuller bass, and dry would be thinner, lighter bass. It could also refer to tonal character, as in wet being warmer and dry being cooler.
I would not use those terms in that manner, but that is perhaps where they were headed in use of them.

"organic" and "musical" are wide open terms. I recently discuss in a review how, when a system is improved, even synthesized notes can take on a more organic sound to the ear, more like an acoustic instrument’s note. I typically understand organic as unvarnished and raw, not sounding processed.

"musical" is fairly a throw-away term in description of music. Entirely subjective in definition and application.
Thank you for help in trying to understand those descriptions. As they all are very subjective to wild interpretations.

When I hear, Musical and Organic terms, to me, they sound like terms trying to describe something for sale or used to impress someone... I mean, who wouldn't want the item to sound "Musical"?  Organic is still a smelly connotation to me.

I think it’s hard to convey what you hear, thats why these terms exist.

 Organic to me would be the opposite of digital sounding.  I guess it would be a fuller, richer sound with more underlying tones. Organic would be smoother and less etched or zippy.  Organic to me would be LP’s vs CD’s.  Digital playback has become so good though that the lines get blurred.

Musical to me means more warmth or pleasing colorations.  Musical, to me, would be the opposite of Cold, thin and analytical.  Musical has more “meat on the bones” in my opinion.

I suppose we could better describe what we hear if we used terms like attack, decay, compressed, headroom, noise floor, peaks, nulls, palpable, holographic...terms that are easily defined and understood.

Crack me up... I love the describers of things.. Cables descriptions get me rollin' on the floor.  I swear, sounds like someone explaining food, to me... Just yummy.... Or Betty built well's Gams. These long, lean, well structured, cables are magnificent... LOL

The biggest culprit is Six Moons reviews. They are always full of lots of words that mean very little to my understanding of how the component sounds or relates to another piece of equipment.

I find that to be the case with Sarjan but not his staff writers. He can be quite clever with this word smithing and then too clever by half where he then loses me and I find myself rereading what he wrote.

His technical explanations are a joy to read as he explains how and why certain components interact successfully or not but it's when he gets too poetic (very commendable old school techniques) is when my eyes start to glaze. 

All the best,
Think of the treble as Brylcreem vs Vitalis
@isochronism Thanks, lol. I don't think the under 60 crown (either of you) will get it.

Pomade,  Dapper Dan, and Baby oil..., predate them all. LOL

I get it..

Here is a few more I just read in Stereophile.

5. Slight dryness- maybe just a little wet?
6. Liquidity- still wet or is this wetter?
7. Color- In the late 60’s I remember some colors while playing music, but not so much these days.

Cars, wine, violins, cigars, fish, high end audio..... Flyrod.....

define crisp tactile turn in with a whisker of oversteer ?

ya, thought so

riding along ( verbally or otherwise ) will never be the same as driving....

so as humans ( maybe ) we are left with words...

what makes a Strad a Stratocaster???
There is of course the myopic, I know it only when I hear it crowd... what a small sample size to live life by....

try this experiment: look at your spice rack ( count unique ) then head out to a foodie place - just do the count.....

tough to try them all....

wonder how we will know.... what’s next ????

How is it that quality science fiction or historical fiction is able to magically come alive, this despite a more than decent chance the writer wasn't on the scene, vid-cam or notepad in hand to accurately crunch the details?  Why are aesthetics so important to us?  Why do numbers so often fail when trying to accurately document emotional responses?  Sure, getting high is great, but how is it that such an objectively miserable-tasting potion like Scotch can taste so good?

In other words, escape your objective straitjacket and embrace the subjective.  It's what makes art art.  Sure, it takes a lot of science to create quality audio gear, but in the end it's the taste of a component's creator(s) that is the straw that stirs the drink. 
God, I hope there is ice, partially melted in a nice slick in the Scotch, a Talisker would be fine....

of course, there are no words available to describe Talisker....
@edcyn come over anytime, well not actually... but you get the drift ( most drifts are organic, until they’re not )
My understanding of these terms:

1. Treble is "dry" - Analogous to being etched - the treble lacks dimensionality and warmth.  Imagine a mallet striking a cymbal - it should have richness, warmth, and a (not unpleasant) sense of reverberation.  If, by contrast, it sounds like you are hitting a steel plate with a nail, that is a dry treble.  However, I am not familiar with bass being "dry"  - maybe something like a paper cone woofer that lacks depth?  I am not sure the analogy quite fits.

2. Bass is "wet" - rich, but also somewhat slow / plodding.  However, the idea of a "wet" treble is for me the inverse of a dry bass - not sure what it means or how the analogy fits.

3. Organic - integrated and of a whole.  Nothing stands out unnaturally.   You don't notice one particular quality over others, they all just fit together.  I.e., in accord with the definition: "denoting a relation between elements of something such that they fit together harmoniously as necessary parts of a whole."

4. "Musical" - a BS term.  It means nothing.  Basically lazy writers use this to characterize equipment they like (or want readers to believe they like).

ozzy the problem is hearing is really not a relatable sense the way other senses are. Taste most people can taste sweet/bitter/sour/ etc different flavors of food are broadly recognizable. Touch same thing. Sight short of being color blind people see colors the same blue is blue etc. But hearing is both more elusive and more subjective. And there’s some standard terminology but plenty of folks, reviewers mostly, coming up with their own adjectives. In terms of the ones you mention:

Wet/dry- I usually see this in terms of overall sound not treble/bass think of it this way to use a very broad generalization wet is tubes dry is SS. Does that make sense?

Organic sounding- To me this means sounding less like a recording and more like people making music in your room.

Musical- To me this is a synonym for warmth in a system though not always. I think it can be kind of a je ne said quoi thing or like porn you know it when you "hear" it.

Hopefully that makes a bit of sense.
1. Treble/ bass is dry- Huh? What does this mean?

Lacking in a natural ambience/reverb

2. Treble/bass is wet.- Huh? Again, what does this mean?

Too much ambience/reverb

3. Organic sounding- Huh, huh?

No unnaturalness such as peaks and dips in the frequency response and not grainy

4. Musical sounding.- What? Compared to non musical sounding?

See organic
This is like Jodie Foster's character in the movie Contact. When she comes upon a celestial event and tries to describe it, she simply says, 
"They should have sent a poet."

All the best,
Poetry, perfect. Sometimes you get it and sometimes you don't. I feel that organic thing sometimes. Other times I think it is just way too pedestrian. Crazy thing it is the same recording through the same system. Sometimes my brain is in one frame of reference and sometimes it is in another. I am saying that the physical equipment is not all that goes into making something sound wet or dry or organic or musical or beautiful or cruddy or rich or poor or whatever you want to call it. Equipment and recording quality helps but there have been many times where I fell in love with an LP but came back later to say it is just ok. Nothing changed except for my mindset.
Ignore all,this nonsense!
its 10$ words to sound sophisticated, dribble

if you like the sound of your stereo, it’s great!

 These reviewers, are full of BS, AND paid by the companies to make their products sound good w fancy words.

 Air around instruments,  live in my room, celestial sound, do t be a fool bro!

 If you think it sounds great, that’s what matters, don’t believe these dipshi*es!

 Enjoy. The music!
"...what makes a Strad a Stratocaster??? "

Pickups and the player....although the traditionalists would have someone drawn and quartered, slowly...:)

Considering the 'range' of music and it's diversity of 'characteristics' (Is that a fair term to apply?) and variety..

Shouldn't equipment, and especially speakers, be able to render nearly anything that the artist and the engineer wrought?

'Fat basslines'....'crisp' drumlines with 'impact'....solo violin, played against a 'velvet' silence....all with 'clarity'.

'Fuzztones' by an guitar intro....echos that remain sharp into silence, or within a mix...

You are what you hear....and how....and where....

Enjoy it, J
Organic, to me is a great discriptive term in audio. Like when everything is performing as it should, with no hint of over-exaggeration in any part of the frequency range. The music just flows naturally.
Musical is a term I use to describe lower bass registers. They can be sluggish, muddy, slow, too crisp/tight....... To me, the opposite of these terms is musical.
The solution of to how to best describe sound in writing is simple.
Don't try.

The only way it should be done is via A/B employing your ears.

In other words, do the reviews on Youtube with audio
actually demonstrating the point a reviewer is trying to make.
Now you say the audio quality sucks on a laptop. 
You could still discern differences between wet and dry,
fat and skinny, Polite and forward. 

Using the written form to describe audible differences is 
not going to work. People will simply read the material and
then make an interpretation that seems correct.
Highly inaccurate methodology it seems to me.
Admittedly this might abbreviate most written reviews by 80%
but hey it is our time they are wasting.

Ozzy welcome to the world of audiophiles.
Thank you for showing us the Emperors New Clothes! 

Let's hope this economic shakedown brings a sobering reality
long needed back to audio.
A transistor radio can sound great if the song moves you but it won't inspire you to pen an ode to the sound. Don't be jealous of someone who can put to pen what he feels in his soul. He's just trying to relate, not impress.

All the best,
Listening to "So".... Tony Levin’s bass lines have always sounded what I refer to as "liquid".

+1 @nonoise
Without good desriptive terms, I guess we're left with ( good, great, bad?) 
Frankly, the terminology and descriptions don't put me off all that much.  It may help some when the reviewer refers to a particular artists' recording, perhaps the portion of such that tweaked a comment...

But then, one has to duplicate same if possible to determine WTH they're referring To....

At that point, go listen for yourself with Your selection(s).
That's what you live with.

"This is the best 'X' I've listened to since...."

At home, sounds like 2 cats over a clothesline.
Go figure....
OK, here are a few more terms for you guys to ponder over.

Two dimensional
Like papier-mâché

I think you guys have done a great job trying to define these various terms. 
However, sometimes the reviewer may use the same terms to describe something that sounds good and sometimes not so good.
I do wish there was a consensus as to how they use the terms.

While I am on my soapbox, why are so many reviewers using obscure recordings to describe the sound? If I have never heard the recording how can I relate?


I had speakers that were wet in the lower regions once. Some nice adult undergarments did the trick. 
ozzy the lack of reviewer consensus is why it's good to find a reviewer you like, and stick with that person. That way you get to know their biases and what they mean when they describe something.

In terms of obscure recordings not sure if you stream but these days I can often find the recording a reviewer is using on Qobuz or Tidal.
I think those terms are often used to describe differences heard with harmonics. 
I remember, from the mid-80s, "Chocolate Mid-Range and Butterscotch Highs".  It actually made sense, back then.  It's funny, now.

As long as the hi-fi system sounds good to me, I am satisfied.