An Audiophile Lexicon

August 29, 2010

Still ruminating over Jonathan Valin’s recent “martini: vs. “Jack and coke” review of the Audio Research Ref 5 preamplifier, and having run across a dandy little audiophile cliche generator over at AudioAficionado, I thought that what the world needed was an authoritative lexicon for the audiophile press to use when describing audio components so we would have a least a shot at figuring what the hell they are talking about when we read their reviews. It’s hardly a novel idea; J. Gordon Holt already put one together for us. You can find it on Stereophile’s website here. A few of my favorite descriptors are:

“auronihilist” (pronounced “auro-nigh-illist”): A person who believes that all components that measure the same, sound the same. A meter man.

“autohype”: Suggestive self-deception; hearing something that isn’t there, because you expect it to be. A rich source of audio mythology.

“circularity”: The paradox of subjectivity: “You can’t judge a recording without reproducing it, and you can’t judge a reproducer without listening to a recording.”

“cocktail-party effect”: The auditory system’s controllable ability to separate-out, on the basis of direction alone, one sound source from many coming from different directions. It allows you to follow one voice among the others at a noisy cocktail party.

“dramatic”: Describing a perceived difference between components: Very noticeable, unmistakable. A term misused by audio reviewers to demonstrate how incredibly sensitive they are to barely audible differences. See “audibility.”

“gestalt response”: The evocation of a complete memory recognition by an incomplete set of sensory cues. A gestalt response to the few things an audio system does outstandingly well can make imperfect reproduction seem more realistic than it actually is.

“Holt’s Laws”: 1) “The better the recording, the worse the performance, and vice versa.” 2) “The shriller the advertisement, the worse the product.” 3) “Every component is imperfect, and every imperfection is audible.”

“judgment”: A listener’s assessment of how well his perception of a sonic element measures up to his concept of perfection. The basic choices are “good,” “not good,” or “undecided.”

“mystic” An audiophile who attributes all currently unmeasurable sonic differences to forces beyond human understanding.

“obvious”: You’d have to be deaf not to hear it. See “audibility.”

“realism”: A subjective assessment of the degree to which the sound from an audio system approaches that of live music. This has meaning only when the recording purports to reproduce an acoustical event taking place in a real acoustical space. See “quality.”

“unctuous”: Overripe, super-rich, pleasantly blah.

I couldn’t find a definition of “air around the instruments”.

What’s your favorite?