Nomenclature (411) Q&A

What is a Warm sound? edit

What does it mean when someone says that sound is 'warm' sounding?
1 Answer
Michael Davis, I work here
When someone says something is warm sounding, it can be descriptive or it can be meant as derogatory.

As a description it means that the sound has a lot of harmonics (or 'color'), perhaps more than is natural (i.e. what one would hear from a real musical instrument in the real world). The sound may also have, at the same time, aesthetically pleasing note decays that may perhaps last a little longer than is natural.

As a pejorative term having a warm sound means that there is a lot of 2nd harmonic distortion. The human ear tolerates 2nd harmonic distortion more than it does other kinds of distortion, and detractors accuse others of actually preferring their sound to have a good dose of 2nd harmonic distortion over having no distortion at all.

In the real world most sounds from natural instruments, guitars and pianos and trumpets etc., have lots of harmonics and would be considered warm sounding.

Typically, those who listen to solid-state components prefer a sound that is not as warm as those who listen to tube-based gear, who prefer a warmer sound.

The opposite of a 'warm sound' is a 'lean' or 'cold' sound. Too much warmth tends towards a 'muddy' sound. A 'sweet' sound is typically a warm sound combined with a over-emphasized or highlighted midrange (either with lots of midrange resolution, pleasantly over-emphasized detail and/or separation).

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