Recording and live reinforcement of audio is often discussed in terms of color. A technical analogy is made to the physical aspects of color and brush selection and an artistic comparison made to a painter’s use of brush techniques and color blending. Light and dark have meanings to a recording engineer that have become a near universally recognizable part of the vernacular used to discuss attributes of sound capture and processing. Even individual colors have meanings recognizable to most (though I’m personally still at bit of a loss when someone refers to a sound as green).
We are a visual species, so perhaps these comparisons and analogies are inevitable. That said, our tactile senses are not ignored, with warm and cold, wet and dry, thick and thin, among other common verbiage, routinely used to describe sound. While hardly standardized, there is a de facto consistency to the use of many of these terms. A good source for demystifying or quantifying such terminology is renowned mastering engineer Bob Katz’s must-read, myth-busting book, Mastering Audio, The Art and The Science, in which he includes an audio frequency spectrum chart that correlates many of the subjective terms mentioned above, and others like “muddy, boomy, boxy, sweet, fat, airy and edgy,” to the abundance or lack of energy in specific frequency bands.
In Pro Audio Review, our reviewers try to impart not only a technical description of the performance of a given device or chunk of code, but also give an emotional perspective, feeding that human tendency to relate what we hear to stimulus of our other senses. Part of our editorial responsibility is making sure that the phraseology used by our reviewers is recognizable and easily understood by the majority of our readers, while also being consistent so that those new to the audio arts will pick up the commonly accepted meanings of these terms over time.
Making a concerted effort to quantify the subjective in technical terms is a worthy effort for an audio engineer. Many among us are able to mentally correlate what is heard to a technical adjustment, using an EQ or compressor much as a painter might use their palette of colors and assortment of brushes. This ability is seemingly natural to some; some of the best engineers I know are “technologically challenged.” For the rest of us, honing our ears and tying our mental concept of what a production should sound like to the capabilities of the tools that can realize that concept are skills that can be learned.
In the end, audio professionals are using fairly simple physics to manipulate what the listener hears. To create great sound you don’t have to understand at a molecular level (or even a component level) how the physics work, but an investment in learning the fundamentals of sound is sure to pay dividends.