Nomenclature (411) Q&A

What is a Bright sound edit

What do people mean when they say that something sounds 'bright'.
1 Answer
Michael Davis, I work here
For most people a bright sound is something that is unpleasant to listen to. It is also sometimes called a 'sharp' or 'edgy' or 'aggressive' sound.

A bright sounding hifi system is easily identifiable when listening to brass instruments and orchestras, or harmonicas like that of Neil Young and Bob Dylan. It is a brass, unpleasant, in-your-face sound that makes most people want to turn down the volume or listen to something else. Many bright-sounding systems were sold at dealerships in the 70s, 80s and 90s and are thought by many to be the primary reason women are not very interested in high-fidelity music reproduction.

Bright sound is thought to be the result of the notes of the music being generated with a too aggressive, too steep and sharp leading edge. This can at first listen sound just like a hyper-detailed midrange which can sound appealing i.e. in dealerships, when compared to naturally sounding hifis. This is the analog to TV showrooms turning up the color and contrast of their TVs o display [or the manufacturers making this 'bright' look the default setting] to help them appear to be more attractive to prospective buyers.

A bright sound is actually painful to listen to, although most people do get used to it. It causes the ears to 'shut down' during loud passages - the muscles around the ear stiffening up so that the sound has less of an impact. The brain also shuts down and stops listening to the sound as it is quite unrewarding to listen to.

Audiophile lore has it that older males lose enough of their hearing in the upper frequencies that they cannot hear, and therefore willingly tolerate, a bright sound.

The opposite of a bright sound, if there can be said to be one, might be a 'laid back' sound.

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