The Complete Glossary of Audiophile Terminology

If you’re a newcomer to the audiophile world, get ready for a life-changing adventure with a steep learning curve. Along the way, you’ll come toe-to-toe with new terminology that’ll make your new hobby even more exciting! It sure would help if you had some sort of audiophile or hi-fi glossary to refer to, right?

The complete glossary of audiophile terminology includes terms that are both obvious and complex. Bit rate, fidelity, crisp, in-ear-monitor, color, and muffled are some words you’ll encounter. Acronyms like FLAC, MQA, and MP3 and shorthands like amp are common among audiophiles.

However, knowing these words isn’t enough; it’s best to understand their meanings to avoid the hassle of trying to “connect the dots” each time you’re reading an audiophile blog or tossing around lingo with your new hi-fi friends. Keep reading for a comprehensive glossary of all the audiophile terms you’ll come across.

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A

Accuracy. The extent to which a component’s output signal replicates the input’s sonic qualities.

ADSR. An acronym for Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release, which individually mean:

  • Attack: The time a sound takes to reach its maximum amplitude.
  • Decay: The rate at which sound fades to silence.
  • Sustain: The steady-state of a sound at its peak amplitude.
  • Release: Decreasing the sound intensity back to zero amplitude.

Airy. Creating the impression of music reproduction in an empty, open interior space, usually characterized by high-frequency reproduction (above 15 kHz).

Ambiance. The overall mood evoked during playback, tying into an open, acoustic space (like the recording hall).

Amp. Short-form of an amplifier; an electric device that boosts audio signals, powering up your speakers and increasing the amplitude of sound signals.

Amplitude. The degree to which air particles become displaced, experienced as the loudness of sound. A higher amplitude coincides with a louder sound.

Analog (Audio). Sound recorded and stored on an analog medium, such as an audiotape or vinyl.

Analog to Digital Converter (ADC). A device that converts sound signals from analog to digital for storage purposes. See Digital to Analog Converter (DAC).

Analytical. Brings out the details and complexities of audio during playback. 

Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC). An audio compression format developed by Apple, supported by iOS and iTunes.

Attack. The buildup of sound when you blow, pluck, or strike a musical instrument; a system’s ability to reproduce attack transients.

Attenuator. A device built to reduce the volume of an audio signal (for example, the volume control on an amp).

Audiophile. A person who’s passionate about high-fidelity sound reproduction. 

B

Balance. The relationship between the relative loudness of the higher- and lower-end frequencies (“tonal balance”). The equality of signal levels between the right and left stereo channels (channel balance).

Bass. The lower end of audible frequencies, usually in the 60 – 250 Hz range; measured in terms of heaviness (quantity) and clarity (quality).

Bit Depth. How much digital audio data a component records per sample. The higher the bit depth, the higher the audio quality. 

Bit Rate. How much digital audio data (sample) a component stores per second.

Bloat.  Excessive mid-bass that produces heavy and poorly tuned sound.

Bright/Brightness. A boost in the upper-midrange and treble. Although brightness makes listening to music more enjoyable, it becomes unpleasant when the treble peaks.

Buzz. A low-frequency sound, generally characterized by a spiky character.

C

Center Stage. The part of the soundstage that’s located midway between loudspeakers. 

Characteristic. A feature of reproduced sound determining its perceived quality. Examples include frequency response, sound staging, resolution, extension, and loudness.

Clean. Free from distortion.

Coherent. A natural-sounding reproduction characterized by proper timing and good imaging.

Color. An adjustment to the original sound, frequency, or timbre; it may or may not produce pleasant output.

Comb Filtering. A hollow coloration that’s unmistakable once recognized. It results from regularly spaced alternation of frequency response peaks and dips, resulting from interference between identical signals. If the time difference between the signals is continually changed, the peaks and dips move, causing phasing, flanging, and the “jet plane” effect heard in rock music.

Congested. Characterized by noise, distortion, and poor frequency reproduction, making it difficult to hear details.

Crisp. Clear.

D

Damping. The ability of an amp to control a woofer’s motion once a signal has stopped. 

Dark. A warm, relaxed, rich quality sound that occurs when higher frequencies are dominant.

Dead. Dull or lifeless sound.

Decibel (dB).  The loudness of the sound a device produces.

Deep bass. Sounds with frequencies under 40Hz.

Definition. The degree to which a listener can distinguish between different voices and instruments in an orchestra. Also called resolution.

Delicacy. Extent to which a device reproduces the subtle details of sound, such as the sounds caused by the friction between fingertips when playing a harp or guitar.

Detail. The subtle parts of a sound that are often lost through imperfect components.

Diffuse. A sound reproduction with insufficient detail and imaging. The resulting sound is muddled or confused.

Digital (Audio). Audio data encoded in the forms of 1s and 0s for storage. 

Digital to Analog Converter (DAC). A device that converts audio signals from digital to analog. It’s necessary since speakers and headphones can only use analog signals. In general, high-quality DACs bring out the best in quality speakers.

Dirty. Spiky, fuzzy, or cruddy sound reproduction.

Distortion. Any undesirable or unpleasant change in audio signals.

Driver. The transducer element in a speaker that converts audio signals from electrical energy to sound (mechanical energy). It’s usually round; some refer to it as the speaker, although it isn’t.

Dry. Lacking reverberations or harmonics.

E

Echo. The reflection of sound by objects, causing its repetition.

EQ. Shorthand for equalization. It means adjusting the relative volumes of audio frequencies using software or hardware.

Error of Commission. The degradation of sound due to the addition of signals that weren’t present in the initial signals. Examples include distortion and coloration.

Error of Omission. The degradation of sound due to the loss of data from the original signal. Examples include smearing and treble loss.

Euphonic. Pleasant to listen to; also means exaggerated richness.

Extreme Highs. All audible frequencies beyond 10,000 Hz.

In-Ear Monitor (IEM)/ Earbud/Earphone. A stereo speaker system designed to be ear-worn. Also called an earpiece.

F

Far-Field. The range of listening distance in which you hear the sounds from both your speakers and echoes. However, the reflections are predominant.

Fidelity. The accuracy of reproducing audio data. High-fidelity (hi-fi) equipment is more accurate in sound reproduction.

Forward. A highly intense presentation of sound; the opposite of relaxed.

Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC). A lossless audio coding format with royalty-free licensing, supporting fast seeking, cover art, and metadata tagging.

Frequency Range. A range of frequencies with upper and lower limits unspecified.

Frequency Response. How accurately an audio device reproduces frequencies, usually stated as a variance within a range. A flat frequency response (variance of 0) means the output and input are identical.

Fun. A high-energy sound characterized by a dominant bass.

Fuzz. A course, blurred texturing of sound.

G

Gain. An increase in the audio signal due to amplification; usually expressed in dB. 

Glare. Unpleasant brightness due to too much treble.

Glassy. Excessively bright.

Granulation. Breaking an audio sample down into tiny segments.

Grill. The external casing of an open-back headphone, generally located outside the drivers.

H

Hangover. When reproduced sounds last longer than expected, usually at low frequencies. A hangover reduces audio detail.

Harsh. Describes too much treble, usually irritating to hear. 

Hash. A coarse texturing of sound signals, characterized by spiky roughness. Results from severe distortion and transient content.

Haze. The smearing of audio detail. 

Headphone. A pair of earphones joined by a band placed over the head.

Headroom. The ratio of the highest amount of undistorted audio signals a system can handle to the average level for which it’s designed without distortion. Distortion occurs when a system runs out of headroom.

Heavy. Extremely bassy.

High Fidelity (hi-fi). Refers to high-quality sound reproduction. Hi-fi devices produce an accurate and realistic representation of original recordings. The opposite is low fidelity (Lo-Fi).

High Frequency. Sound reproduction that sounds almost real and authentic, usually higher than 2 kHz. Also refers to high-quality audio equipment.

High-end Audio. Any sound equipment made to produce accurate and realistic sound recordings.

High-resolution Audio. Audio with a sample rate higher than 44.1 kHz and a bit depth of at least 16-bits. Also called high-definition (HD) audio.

Highs. The upper frequencies.

I

Imaging. The perceived position or placement of a sound source.

Impedance. A measure of how difficult it is to power a driver. High impedance means you need more power to get more quality sound or volume from a driver.

Impulse. An abrupt, brief burst of sound signals; a transient.

Inaudible. Too subtle to consciously perceive or non-existent.

Infrasonic. Below the audible spectrum; inaudible.

Inner Detail. The sonic subtleties in a sound, reproduced by a high-resolution system.

Interconnect Cable (IC). Twin analog connections that terminate in either RCA or XLR plugs for the left and right audio channels.

Intolerable . Unlistenable

Involvement. The level to which a sound draws the audience or triggers emotional feedback.

Isolation. Occurs when earphones are tightly sealed around the ears to prevent sound leakage.

J

Jitter. The loss of audio data samples during playback, causing noise.

Judgment. A listener’s assessment of how their perception of sound compares with their concept of perfection. The typical choices include “undecided,” “good,” and “not good.” 

K

Kraftwerk. The pioneer of electronic music.

L

Laid-Back. A soft and gentle sound reproduction with a sense of depth. Comes from a rolloff or a recessed midrange.

Layering. The separation of musical instruments in different rows so that listeners can feel the depth and distance between them.

Listening Fatigue. The discomfort from a particular sound signature after prolonged listening, causing headaches and nervous tension.

Listening-Style. Your preference when listening to music. You may prefer a warm, relaxing, or analytical sound.

Lossless. The compression of audio without data loss. Lossless formats include ALAC, FLAC, WAV, and MQA.

Lossy. The compression of music files leading to data loss. It creates smaller files than lossless methods. Examples include OGG, MP3, and AAC.

Low-Level Detail. The smallest elements of a sound, such as the surface noise of a string instrument.

Lush. A rich, warm tone.

M

Mellow. A pleasant, rich sound.

Microphonics. The friction sounds caused by the movement and rubbing of headgear cables. They may become annoying.

Midrange. Audio frequencies from 250 Hz to 6000 Hz. Also called mids.

Monophonic. A system with one speaker.

MP3. A popular lossy audio codec format. 

MQA (Master Quality Authenticated). A lossless codec; used for streaming audio.

Muddy. An unclear reproduction of a sound; weak harmonics; the opposite of crisp.

Muffled. Audio that sounds like it’s covered with an object, like a blanket.

Musical (or musicality). Having a pleasant sound.

N

Nasal. Stuffy sound, like someone speaking with their nose blocked. In a loudspeaker, it often comes from peaks in the upper midrange alternating with dips. 

Natural. Sounds realistic; true to reality.

Near Field. Any listening distance where the sounds you hear are directly from the speakers. See far field.

Neutral. Free from distortion or coloration.

Noise.  Unwanted background sounds, such as hisses, crackles, pops, and whooshes.

Noticeable. Any audible sonic quality.

Nuance. Different shades of sound; the characteristics of different notes in an audio signal.

O

Ohm. The SI unit for electrical resistance (impedance).

Opamp. Shorthand for an operational amplifier. A high-gain amplifier designed to produce an output potential that’s tremendously larger than the potential difference between input terminals, popular for its versatility.

Openness. A pleasant soundstage characterized by good width and depth in sound presentation; a smooth, high-frequency reproduction with some airiness and subtlety. It offers plenty of room among the instrumentation.

Out-of-phase. Occurs due to the polarity of channels in a two-channel system. It decreases low frequencies and results in a “phasey” sound.

Overblown Bloated. Extremely rich.

Overdamped. The effect of excessive damping.

P

Pads. The earpads/cushioning on a headphone.

Palpable. Sound reproduction that’s realistic and immersive.

Perspective. The depth of information layering conveys.

Phantom Image. The reproduction of sound so that it appears to originate from a source other than the actual source.

Phasey. Creating the sensation of pressure in the ears. It occurs when you’re listening to two loudspeakers that are out of phase with one another.

Phasing. See comb filtering.

Picket-fencing. The wavering of a stereo channel balances from right to left as you move laterally; it depends on your loudspeakers’ relative position.

Pinched. Very cold; laterally compressed.

Pinpoint Imaging. Stable, focused, and precise stereo imaging.

Pitch Resolution. The degree of clarity of the pitch of perceived bass notes. A poor pitch resolution makes it difficult to distinguish notes, while a good resolution allows you to count the cycles. 

Planar Magnetic Driver. A headphone driver with a series of magnets on both sides of a large, flexible diaphragm containing electrically charged wires.

Plastery. A pronounced reverberation characterized by an “a” (as in “bat”) coloration. Often experienced in bare, plaster-walled rooms.

Polite. A relaxed sound.

Pop. A midrange pulse with a sharp attack, usually followed by an “aw” or “o” sound. Generally results from LP blemish.

Power Range. The range of frequencies between 200 Hz and 500 Hz that affects sound reproduction by power instruments in an orchestra (brass instruments).

Preamplifier (Preamp). A switch that routes audio signals to the amplifier, reducing noise and interference. It boosts the signals and adjusts the voltage for volume control. A preamp allows you to switch between music sources.  

Precedence Effect. The tendency of the ears to identify the direction from which a sound is first heard as the source.

Presence. The level of realism and aliveness in sound reproduction.

Presence Range. The frequency range between 1000 Hz and 3000 Hz, forming the lower-treble part of the audible frequencies. It determines the level of presence in sound.

Printed Circuit Board (PCB). A board that holds electrical components in a device in place. It electrically connects those components, primarily used in electronic products.

Pristine. Clean, transparent sound reproduction.

Pulse-Code Modulation (PCM). A form of digital audio used to represent sampled analog signals in digital form. Common in computers and CDs.

Pumping. The exaggeration of sudden amplitude changes, usually due to a defective noise-reduction system; the fluctuation of background noise, especially during the playback phase; large subsonic motion of a woofer cone.

Q

Qualifier. An adjective a listener uses to describe an observed sonic imperfection, such as “muddy” or “peaky”; the magnitude of a given quality, such as “subtle” or “conspicuous.”

Quality. How a listener perceives a sound relative to their expectation of how it should sound (the degree to which it achieves the goal of perfection).

R

Range. The difference between the maximum and minimum frequencies in a sound.

RCA. A type of coaxial cable used in unbalanced analog connections. It features a center pin that transmits signals and an outer sleeve connected to the ground. 

Recessed. A decline in a frequency range in relation to others, such as a recessed midrange.

Relaxed. Gentle/ rolled off treble reproduction, resulting in a non-fatiguing but not too detailed sound.

Resistance. The property of a device or component to resist the flow of electricity; measured in Ohms.

Resolving. A device’s ability to reproduce and separate the sounds from different instruments.

Resonance. The quality of sound being deep, full, and reverberating.

Reverb. A shorthand for reverberation. A series of diminishing echoes that are so close in time that they merge into a smooth decay.

Rhapsody. A free-flowing instrumental piece accompanied by dramatic mood changes.

Rhythm. The controlled reproduction of sounds in music in time; the pattern of sound.

Rich. Euphonic; characterized by even-order harmonics.

Rolloff (Rollout). A frequency response that falls or rises gradually beyond a specified limit. By comparison, the word “cutoff” means an abrupt rise or fall, depending on the frequency limit.

Round. High-frequency rolloff or dip.

S

Seismic. Extremely low-volume bass.

Sensitivity. The loudness of sound output by a headphone, measured in decibels; measures the loudness of a headphone at a specified power level. Also called sound pressure level (SPL) or efficiency.

Sibilance. The exaggeration of “s” or “sh” in vocals. These sounds are more pronounced in the 4000 Hz to 8000 Hz range, although they can go beyond that.

Smeared. Lacks detail; excessive leakage between microphones; or poor transient response.

Smooth. Easy on your ears. The opposite of harsh.

Sonic. Relating to sound.

Sound Signature. The quality of sound a driver produces based on its frequency response.

Soundstage. The 3D sound space a driver creates. A wide soundstage makes sound more realistic. 

Source. The first device in a system that sends out analog audio signals, such as a media player.

Spacious. Offers space, room, or ambiance around instruments.

Stereo. A sound conveyed by two or more speakers where it seems to surround the listener, creating the impression that it’s coming from multiple sources; stereophonic sound.

Stereo System. An electronic system used in audio reproduction. Comprises source components (such as a CD player), an amp, and speakers,

Sturdy. Solid, powerful sound.

Sub-Bass. The audio frequencies between 20 Hz and 80Hz.

Sweet. Not piercing; having low distortion.

Synergy. How two or more audio components interact to produce a greater effect than they would separately, as in the synergy between an amp and a DAC.

T

Tempo. The speed or pace of sound, measured in beats per minute (BPM)

Texture. The perceptible pattern of reproduced sound.

Thick. Lacking articulation and clarity. Often used in reference to bass sounds.

Thin. Having weaker fundamentals relative to harmonics. Also called bass light.

Thump. Having strong bass and sub-bass.

Tight. Having good detail and low-frequency transient response.

Timbre. The ability of a component to reproduce a realistic sound.

Transient Response. An audio system’s ability to respond to rapid input, voltage, or dynamics changes.

Transparent. The ability to discern details in music, including the individual components, due to little or no distortion.

Treble. The upper part of the audible frequency spectrum, usually 5000 Hz to 20000 Hz.

Tube/Tube Amp. A vacuum tube used in audio amplification before the invention of the transistor, popular due to the pleasant harmonics and music coloration it produces.

Turntable. A circular rotating platform carrying a phonograph. Also called the gramophone or record player.

U

Ultrasonic. Having a frequency of over 20000 Hz; beyond the frequency of human hearing.

Uncolored. Free from coloration.

Underdamped. Characterized by insufficient woofer damping. See damping.

Uninvolving. The quality of evoking boredom or indifference.

Upper Bass. Frequencies ranging between 80 Hz and 160 Hz.

Upper Highs/ Upper Treble. Frequencies between 10000 Hz and 20000 Hz.

Upper Middles/ Upper Midrange. Frequencies between 650 Hz and 1300 Hz.

V

Veiled. Lacking clarity due to background noise or insufficient detail.

Voltage. The electromotive force that pushes electrons through a conductor, measured in volts.

V-Shaped. A recessed midrange. The vocals appear to be dominated by a strong bass and an energetic treble.

W

Warm. Having a pleasant bass, sufficient low frequencies, good and fundamentals relative to the harmonics; Characterized by excessive mid-bass; pleasantly spacious; having adequate low-frequency reverberations.

Watt. The mathematical product of voltage and current; the rate of energy usage by a device.

Waveform Audio File Format (WAVE/WAV). Often represented by a “.wav” file extension, used for storing audio bitstreams on PCs. Developed by Microsoft and IBM, this codec is an instance of the Resource Interchange File Format (RIFF). It mostly exists in the uncompressed linear pulse-code modulation (LPCM) standard, used widely in audio CDs.

Weighty. Having a pleasant frequency response (below 50 Hz); produces deep, controlled bass; suggesting powerful or heavy audio equipment.

Wet. Reverberating; a decaying sound. A reverberant sound, something with decay.

Width. A sense of left to right (horizontal) space in stereo reproduction. Comparable with depth, which refers to the space from the front to the back. 

Windows Media Audio Lossless (WMA). A lossless audio format created by Microsoft. Mostly used on Windows PCs.

Withdrawn. Extremely laid-back.

Woolly. Having loose bass.

X

XLR. A type of cable used in professional audio equipment, like soundboards, mixers, and amplifiers. It features a three or four-pin configuration. In the 3-pin version, one pin carries the in-phase signal, the other the out-of-phase signal, and the third connects with the ground. The 4-pin configuration is most common on headphones; it doesn’t have a ground connection.

Y

Y-Cord. A type of cable with three connectors to allow the sending of one output to two inputs. It acts as a signal splitter with spliced wires.

Z

Zippy. A moderate top-octave emphasis.

Wrap Up

The audiophile hobby is an exciting one. Just like any other, it comes with challenges and storms to weather. Acquainting yourself with some of the terms audiophiles use is the first step towards making your new journey worthwhile.

Most notably, you won’t have to search the web for the meanings of different words each time you’re reading an interesting blog or buying that high-end equipment on your bucket list. 

Armed with terms like high-fidelity, FLAC, transient response, stereo system, crisp, soundstage, and headroom, we’re certain you’re now ready to join in on some hi-fi discussions.