Hi Fi mumbo jumbo

The HiFi press are full of it, it’s common language on here, but what does it all mean.

Phrases like it’s “(very) revealing” how does this compare with something that is not revealing? Does revealing mean it is very low distortion, and with a flat frequency response? Surely that is what we want. Or does it mean something else, or does it mean different things to different people.

Then “it sounds very digital/ analytical” or conversely “very analogue”. What’s all that about.

And then it sounds “very airy”…I need some help to speak HiFi with this one. :grinning:


Have to agree and have posted on this topic before here and elsewhere.
Pretentious hifi critics…
Inky blackness…what?
Lowered the noise floor…eh?
HiFi + is probably the worst, although What hifi is catching up. The recent review of Chords wonder fluid did it for me, utter waffle.
How a cable or a mains fuse all of a sudden can reveal the watch ticking of the third violinist in Mahlers 2nd is beyond me… .I accept that sound can be improved by better equipment and room treatments etc, but not to the degree this lot spout on about.


Well, it’s always going to be a bit ‘dancing about architecture’, isn’t it? I’m not sure I blame the journos much for having a series of (admittedly rather cliched) shorthand descriptions.

I sense a serious response probably wasn’t required by the OP but, to me, this is how they approximately translate:

  • Revealing: you can immediately tell the difference between a good and bad recording
  • Sounds digital: a bit mechanical, cold, inhuman. (analogue the opposite)
  • Sounds airy: all the instruments/sounds are spread apart nicely, as opposed to ‘congested’ or ‘muddled’.
  • Inky blackness/low noise floor: as sounds die away, no other sound is left behind.

I’m not sure it does much harm. They’re employed to write enjoyable and informative prose, not an electronics textbook.



What about “forward”, which when I asked for clarification of meaning the was offered “in your face”? My guess, but I could be totally wrong, is an emphasised midrange. Is that right? (And if so why not say emphasise midrange, which is more meaningful?!) And if not, what do these terms mean?

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Digital = Bad
Analogue = good
Revealing = depends on context can be used positively or negatively.
Airy = good, cannot have too much air in good hifi.
Lower noise floor = a moveable feast, no one seems to know how low one can go and every upgrade seems to find another floor beneath Nirvana.

Too digital = very bad
Too analogue = not so good
Too revealing = very bad
Too airy = less than desirable
Noise floor too low = impossible.

Go figure.



Hi IB, I’ve always understood ‘forward’ to be a positive attribute; it means soloists & leading players are forward & clearly distinct in a true 3D soundstage as apposed to indistinct & mixed in (muddled) with a flat 2D soundstage.
I’ve noted some posters recently appear to use the word in a negative context & to me that is wrong & it’s misapplied.

I find the dancing about architecture snapshot to be as lazy as the critiques of these terms. In fact there are multiple dances specifically about architecture and if writing about music were that difficult then none of us would be here!

Malcolm Steward and Hifi Review.

A golden age… :wink:

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It is mumbo jumbo. But it is also better than the alternative.

Ultimately, people are attempting to describe in words an aural sensation that doesn’t fit nicely into commonly understood lexicons.

Most of the concepts like noise floor can be mapped to measurable phenomena like S/N ratio but, let’s assume they all could, would 99% of hifi consumers understand the measurements and graphs and ratios presented to them? Not a chance. So in comes the mumbo jumbo. But what it often is, is a collection of similes and metaphors for more complex phenomena. “inky blackness” is absolutely total nonsense, but it probably conveys more meaning to people that graphs showing SN ratio over frequency and amplitude sweeps.

So from that perspective, I’m quite comfortable accepting that the language used is an imperfect tool to describe the complex to people who can’t understand the full gamut of technical specs and measurements (myself included for a variety of topics outside of my comfort zone). And in turn described by those who have a good set of ears, a lot of experience with a lot of gear but who possibly also do not fully understand how to interpret every measurement that could be taken.

The problem comes when, as demonstrated, people don’t have the same shared understanding of metaphors. “Forward” being seen as positive to one person and negative to another. In most cases though, most people have a similar understanding. No one thinks “forward” means their speakers are going to try and get them drunk and into bed. Most people understand “bright” means an exaggerated higher frequency band and not “intelligent” or “shiny”.

We make due with the language we have I’m afraid and fall back on demonstration if possible to clarify our understanding.


The better writers put forward a few examples of the music enjoyed - rather than test tracks, to add context to what was found positive.
Even better writers put forward a few examples of music to add context to what they thought highlighted a weakness.
I agree that the lexicon is a bit limited. Reading a new review is much like reading any old review.
It takes a brave individual to come up with new ones.
Bass like it was hewn from solid granite.
Velvety fluidity.


Funny how we all might have slightly different understandings of what these things mean. I always thought “forward” was kind of “in your face“, like as if you were standing in the first two rows on the floor at a concert. On the other end, “laid back” means you are standing several rows back at a concert, so easier to listen to as a whole.

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Don’t knock it, just accept it. There are worse industries promoting their products.

Cosmetics and toiletries. Anybody here understand their ads vocabulary? I haven’t got the slightest clue what they’re talking about - and I consider myself intelligent.

So be thankful that we have journos that are prepared to attempt to explain using descriptions that we understand. Mostly.

HiFi isn’t alone with the flowery phrases attempting to describe the indescribable. This is the tasting note for a bottle of single cask 27 year old Glenlossie, yours for £165.90 plus a membership fee for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (£65 PA last time I paid one).

“An immediately beautiful aroma of dried wildflowers, Turkish delight, lemon scented wax candles, lanolin, wintergreens, gorse, earthy potting sheds, chamomile and fir liqueur. A little water unveils cinnamon powder, mead, olive oil, grass, baking parchment, old ink wells, star fruit, plum pudding, vanilla custard and background notes of dried heather bundles, wax jackets and watermelon. The mouth opens with a beautifully honeyed texture and notes of rancio, linseed oil, menthol, mineral oils, natural tar, medical tinctures, fruit salad syrups, green tea, dried mango slices and apple rings. With water it moves towards clotted cream, tarragon, a floral rancio and hints of hawthorne, preserved lemon, liquorice, herbal liqueurs and cocktail bitters.”


Blimey. A small glass of that will give you more than your 5 a day.


Whoever described that had very obviously consumed several bottles of it in a very short space of time.
In fact thyme is evidently missing from that list. Glenlossie, nah, wouldn’t touch it. I prefer my single malts to taste like whisky.

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As with most it varies on the listener and what you are focussing on. A forward sound tends to accentuate vocals and usually means there is no attenuation in the 2kHz to 4kHz range.
So for some it’s a positive attribute, but I guess an equal number may find less desirable.

Forward could be confused with ‘shouty’. This is a forward sound in the same or slightly higher frequency range that lacks definition and may be congested… I can’t think anyone would find that preferable, other than it may enhance some sparse recordings… to me shouty is to me avoided.

It’s funny, with some there is a mis trust of measurements, because they ‘can’t possibly reflect what we are listening to’ … and the other end of the spectrum is prose/language ( albeit admittedly there are many cliches) to attribute to the listening experience that some describe as mumbo jumbo… it appears one can’t win…


This was the recent topic of discussion out side of this forum. Funny thing is, whilst everyone had a example of a word or an expression that are used to describe the characteristics of HiFi which they felt to be ambiguous or just nonsense, no one could be persuaded to consider a series of unambiguous expressions.
A universal language of understandable expressions should reduce miss understanding and make people more accountable for what they say or type.

Having said that my impression generally in the Hi-Fi audio community there is an effective understanding of many descriptive terms… sure it will never be completely rigidly defined, but that is the nature of most descriptive language.

It might be more appropriate to list the words where there is a wide range of understandings and therefore mis understandings.

In my experience the two that spring to mind are
‘Digital’ and ‘analogue’

Digital can range from cold, sharp and clinical, to dull, insipid and lifeless… from clinically pure to artificially sounding.

Analogue can range from vibrant and free flowing, to noisy and unclean/distorted

IB, i don’t understand that you need more clarifications for « forward ». The sound can be localized between the speakers, all around, and also in front of you.
Sometimes the sound is a bit projected towards you , so forward, and sometimes it’s more away of you, between the speakers, but with a distance between you and the soundstage.

If a review says: it sounds as good as 3 times more expensive gear, my system has never sound so good, you can hear the fingers on the guitar, Norah Jones is in front of me, it’s like being in a concert… you are just loosing your time in reading it.
Unfortunately the majority of hifi reviews are like that, apart some exceptions : Stereophile, Hificritic, 6 moons audio, Hifi advice and some others.