Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

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Rick Beauregard
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Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Rick Beauregard » Thu Mar 09, 2017 4:44 pm

A recent post has me wondering: in this technological day and age, where there is an app for everything, is there some digital app to analyze sound, attack, sustain, character that could finally supplant the silly subjective labels we attempt to use to describe the sonic qualities of an instrument? I realize that such an invention would be disruptive to the business of advertising for fine guitars, and render superfluous many gigs if Delcamp discussions, but think about reading a description of a guitar like a diamond: cut: Torres, clarity: 6, color: 5, brilliance 10.
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Beowulf
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Beowulf » Thu Mar 09, 2017 11:22 pm

The science of sound perception (psychoacoustics) has been attempting to identify and quantify the qualitative aspects of sound for some time. Music waveforms can be recorded and analyzed to determine which characteristics are associated with listener's perceptions. Qualities such as sustain, attack, harmonic content, etc., can easily be measured. However, even with quantified values, individual listeners will differ in auditory sensitivity to various characteristics and in the end the values will have to be compared to subjective perceptions for validation. Audiophiles have been trying to work this out for decades and J. Gordon Holt (a man with "Golden Ears") devised a comprehensive descriptive dictionary of audio qualities in an attempt to standardize the use of "silly subjective labels," and provide a clearer definition of sonic characteristics.

An example of the difficulty of assigning numbers to audio qualities: attack can be measured as the risetime of an audio waveform from the initial impulse to maximum sound level. In addition this is a characteristic which is related to the player's technique, nails, etc., and thus to develop a measurement scale those variables would have to be taken into account. Subsequently, the time for the sound waveform to decay (decrease in level) to inaudibility (which will differ for each listener) can also be measured. However, listeners differ in their perception of and preference for "attack" and "sustain". So, who sets the standard? Someone with "Golden Ears" or do we use the average of 1000 listeners? In the end, this will very likely not be in agreement with my ears.

Colour may be defined as the presence of a particular balance and intensity of various harmonics...some people like a predominance of 2nd and 3rd harmonic content (which will tend to be perceived subjectively as "warmer" and "sweeter") and others prefer a predominance of higher order harmonics (which will tend to be perceived as "sharper", "clearer" and "brighter"). It also appears that "projection" and "sustain" of a guitar's sound is greater when the fundamental tone is not accompanied by a large proportion of harmonics.

It's not that I think this is impossible to do...just that it would involve an enormous amount of research and development to create a measurement tool that could be calibrated to an individual's preferences.
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by astro64 » Thu Mar 09, 2017 11:43 pm

I think it would be easier for each of us to identify the sound we like in an instrument from a few good recordings and use that to indicate what we like and don't like. Since no one agrees on how to describe the sound, the person(s) you communicate with can then work from the same set of recordings and reach their own choice as to their "ideal sound". If I were to commission a guitar, I would likely use that to communicate with the luthier. E.g. "this is what I consider nasal", "too dark", "too bright", "good clarity", etc. Objective factors, such as sustain can be measured, but tone color and description may be better done from a set of recordings. It may not even matter that the guitar in question would sound different in real life than in the recording; all you are indicating is that the sound that you hear on that recording is what you like. The luthier may then have an idea how to get there.

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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Rick Beauregard » Fri Mar 10, 2017 12:52 am

Beowulf wrote:The science of sound perception (psychoacoustics) has been attempting to identify and quantify the qualitative aspects of sound for some time. Music waveforms can be recorded and analyzed to determine which characteristics are associated with listener's perceptions. Qualities such as sustain, attack, harmonic content, etc., can easily be measured. However, even with quantified values, individual listeners will differ in auditory sensitivity to various characteristics and in the end the values will have to be compared to subjective perceptions for validation. Audiophiles have been trying to work this out for decades and J. Gordon Holt (a man with "Golden Ears") devised a comprehensive descriptive dictionary of audio qualities in an attempt to standardize the use of "silly subjective labels," and provide a clearer definition of sonic characteristics.

An example of the difficulty of assigning numbers to audio qualities: attack can be measured as the risetime of an audio waveform from the initial impulse to maximum sound level. In addition this is a characteristic which is related to the player's technique, nails, etc., and thus to develop a measurement scale those variables would have to be taken into account. Subsequently, the time for the sound waveform to decay (decrease in level) to inaudibility (which will differ for each listener) can also be measured. However, listeners differ in their perception of and preference for "attack" and "sustain". So, who sets the standard? Someone with "Golden Ears" or do we use the average of 1000 listeners? In the end, this will very likely not be in agreement with my ears.

Colour may be defined as the presence of a particular balance and intensity of various harmonics...some people like a predominance of 2nd and 3rd harmonic content (which will tend to be perceived subjectively as "warmer" and "sweeter") and others prefer a predominance of higher order harmonics (which will tend to be perceived as "sharper", "clearer" and "brighter"). It also appears that "projection" and "sustain" of a guitar's sound is greater when the fundamental tone is not accompanied by a large proportion of harmonics.

It's not that I think this is impossible to do...just that it would involve an enormous amount of research and development to create a measurement tool that could be calibrated to an individual's preferences.
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Rick Beauregard » Fri Mar 10, 2017 12:54 am

Great answer by the way.
All this time I thought I was making music; it was making me.
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Beowulf » Fri Mar 10, 2017 1:36 am

Rick Beauregard wrote:Great answer by the way.
Thanks...now it's time to get out my Silver Doctor and go fly fishin' for same salmon. :mrgreen:
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Jeffrey Armbruster » Fri Mar 10, 2017 2:17 am

"..is there some digital app to analyze sound, attack, sustain, character that could finally supplant the silly subjective labels we attempt to use to describe the sonic qualities of an instrument?"

No. We all hear differently. At a basic physical level, we all have different amounts of 'loss' in hearing over the sound spectrum. So you could have a machine that gets consistent measurements of sound coming from a guitar. But actual humans would hear different things between them. I'm sure that there's a psychological component to this as well. For all of us, our bodies are our reality. (I overstate things to make a point.)We assume that everyone else shares in this same single reality. They don't. And since apps can't tell the difference between a dog barking and a Beethoven string quartet in terms of their analysis of sound, deferring to them doesn't really get us anywhere. Vive la difference may be the best approach. Anyway, how would an app determine the "character" of an instrument? By analogy, how would a measuring device tell the character of a glass of wine? Remember, measuring devices don't experience pleasure.
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Bill B » Fri Mar 10, 2017 2:53 am

I think Beowulf and astro64 both are spot on. Yes, you could measure the sound and quantify the tonal characteristics, but those numbers won't really mean anything to the average guitar lover. They will only be relevant when you equate a certain read out with certain guitar sounds that the listener is familiar with. I would expect it would take a tremendous amount of time and effort for a user to familiarize themselves with what a given readout translates into in the real world. It seems a lot more fun to me just to go play a bunch of guitars.
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Dustin McKinney » Fri Mar 10, 2017 3:04 am

Am I the only person who thought the title of this post was describing poop?
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Rick Beauregard » Fri Mar 10, 2017 3:25 am

I think that is the point of the question. Everyone hears differently, but an objective measure of qualities of sound is all I'm talking about. You can decide whether you prefer a 7 or a 5. But there ought to be an objective measure of a characteristic that is more relevant than "warm" Sweet or fragrant (as in poop).
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by James Lister » Fri Mar 10, 2017 10:50 am

Yes, you can measure most of the properties that make up the tonal characteristics of a guitar. As has been said, the problem lies in relating these to what people hear, but that doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile thing to do. Even if we continue to use "woolly" descriptions like "warm", "sweet", "fragrant", these can still be useful if we can find a way to demonstrate what these terms mean to most people.

I actually tried to make a start at doing this on the forum about 6 years ago here: viewtopic.php?f=11&t=52898

The idea was to try to identify what the majority of listeners meant by some of the more common terms used to describe the tone of a guitar. I started with this list:

Boomy
Boxy
Bright
Dark
Dry
Edgy
Full
Nasal
Raspy
Smooth
Sweet
Thin
Warm
Wet

..and attempted initially to reproduce what I thought these terms might mean by taking a recording of a single guitar, and playing about with a graphic equaliser (and a few simple effects).

Unfortunately not enough members responded to get any useful data together. I'd be happy to consider trying it again if there was enough interest.

James
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Beowulf » Fri Mar 10, 2017 1:32 pm

James Lister wrote:Yes, you can measure most of the properties that make up the tonal characteristics of a guitar. As has been said, the problem lies in relating these to what people hear, but that doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile thing to do. Even if we continue to use "woolly" descriptions like "warm", "sweet", "fragrant", these can still be useful if we can find a way to demonstrate what these terms mean to most people.

I actually tried to make a start at doing this on the forum about 6 years ago here: viewtopic.php?f=11&t=52898

The idea was to try to identify what the majority of listeners meant by some of the more common terms used to describe the tone of a guitar. I started with this list:

Boomy
Boxy
Bright
Dark
Dry
Edgy
Full
Nasal
Raspy
Smooth
Sweet
Thin
Warm
Wet

..and attempted initially to reproduce what I thought these terms might mean by taking a recording of a single guitar, and playing about with a graphic equaliser (and a few simple effects).

Unfortunately not enough members responded to get any useful data together. I'd be happy to consider trying it again if there was enough interest.

James
You might find this article which contains the entirety of Holt's Audio Glossary useful in clarifying the meaning and description of terms such as those you note above: http://www.stereophile.com/reference/50 ... tEepPod.97

Some terms are specific to listening to reproduced music, but many are to do with sonic characteristics of live sound.
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Rick Beauregard
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Rick Beauregard » Fri Mar 10, 2017 5:04 pm

Thanks everyone for your attempts at answering my question and clueing me into the similar threads. I am still frustrated though. I am not asking the question "how do you describe the color purple." I am asking what specific combinations of red-green-blue are in this shade of purple. This is defined quantitatively for colors of every hue. I may prefer baby blue to burnt orange, that's my personal preference. But I should be able to specifically define each color that is repeatable. Finding verbal descriptors for whether red is raspy or warm is not the point. For example, to say a guitar has balanced tone says nothing to me. To say striking this note creates multiple peaks in these frequencies and suppresses these others seems like a more precise way to describe subtle differences in sound quality.

I'm sure we have some physicists and sound engineers who can solve this and present a repeatable, if somewhat simplified model analogous to the RGB scale for color. It has probably already been done.
All this time I thought I was making music; it was making me.
2015 Steve Ganz "Solidarity"
1980 Dauphin D30
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Almost as many fly rods as guitars
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Beowulf » Fri Mar 10, 2017 5:31 pm

Rick Beauregard wrote:Thanks everyone for your attempts at answering my question and clueing me into the similar threads. I am still frustrated though. I am not asking the question "how do you describe the color purple." I am asking what specific combinations of red-green-blue are in this shade of purple. This is defined quantitatively for colors of every hue. I may prefer baby blue to burnt orange, that's my personal preference. But I should be able to specifically define each color that is repeatable. Finding verbal descriptors for whether red is raspy or warm is not the point. For example, to say a guitar has balanced tone says nothing to me. To say striking this note creates multiple peaks in these frequencies and suppresses these others seems like a more precise way to describe subtle differences in sound quality.

I'm sure we have some physicists and sound engineers who can solve this and present a repeatable, if somewhat simplified model analogous to the RGB scale for color. It has probably already been done.
Yes, it has as I noted in my post above: specifically the section referring to harmonic content as related to sound character and waveform risetime/decay as related to attack. Another example: playing without nails will produce a warmer sound with less "attack", i.e., fewer higher order harmonics and a slower risetime in the waveform...as in less percussive sound. To measure this, simply record a note and then use a computerized programme to analyze the spectral content...or use a spectrum analyzer app:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/spectru ... 78884?mt=8

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/spectru ... 62922?mt=8
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Re: Sweet, warm, balanced, dark?

Post by Rick Beauregard » Fri Mar 10, 2017 8:28 pm

Beowulf wrote:
Rick Beauregard wrote:Great answer by the way.
Thanks...now it's time to get out my Silver Doctor and go fly fishin' for same salmon. :mrgreen:
Something you and me and Christopher Parkening have in common! That's where the comparisons end for me.
All this time I thought I was making music; it was making me.
2015 Steve Ganz "Solidarity"
1980 Dauphin D30
1962 Fender pre-CBS P-Bass
National Triolian Uke ca.1930
Almost as many fly rods as guitars
_/) _/)
_/)

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