Request for audio-smart people to discuss timbre

Discussion in 'General Audio Gear Discussion' started by Stuff Jones, Mar 17, 2017.

  1. Stuff Jones

    Stuff Jones Friend

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    To me timbre is the most underrated aspect of sound quality. Without it, instruments don't sound real no matter how well the gear performs across all other audiophile criteria. However it's often omitted from reviews, perhaps because it is more subjective than many other criteria.

    So with this thread I would like to suss out what precisely is meant when we talk about timbre (and differentiate it from tone and texture). I would also like to learn whether or not it can be measured objectively and what differences in gear manufacture are responsible for these differences (e.g. does the wood in wood headphones really lead to better timbre with wood instruments?). Finally, people could recommend timbre HoF gear and gear combinations here.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2017
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  2. k.e.

    k.e. Almost "Made"

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    Realistic timbre needs an accurate balance of over and undertones. Or how musicians call it, fundamentals and harmonics. It mostly depends on the frequency response, especially if you compare IEMs with another. Multi-BA CIEMs even more so.

    Since no headphone is perfectly transparent, some headphones will perform better with some instruments (or recordings) than others. That's where subjectivity comes to play.

    Now, say you have a headphone with smooth frequency response. No apparent boost or something. If you turn down the bass, it will sound lighter, like on an open air stage. If you add bass instead, it will sound like it was recorded in a small underground chamber. Which one has the better timbre now? Still, very subjective. Maybe that's why the term is losing popularity? I remember when every damn review on Head-Fi wrote "the timbre is so realistic", no matter how colored the headphone was.
     
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  3. Serious

    Serious Friend

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    Paging @MrButchi

    Obviously FR is very important here. I think it's equally important to have a smooth FR without bigger resonances/phase shifts as it is to have a linear/neutral response. On the other hand there's the whole topic of inherent driver colorations, all of which influence the timbre. STAX, no matter how much you EQ them, will never sound like an HD800. The HD800 won't sound like a THX00, etc.
    I also think some of it can be explained by harmonic distortion. Do we have lots of higher order distortion (BA IEMs)? Is 2nd or 3rd order dominant? How much distortion?

    Here's something that I found interesting: http://www.mother-of-tone.com/mother.htm
    I don't really agree with everything on there, but I do like paper drivers and multibit DACs.
     
  4. Stuff Jones

    Stuff Jones Friend

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    The Andromeda have a very balanced frequency response but I find the timbre on my JVC FW01's significantly more realistic despite them not being as balanced (moar bass). The Andros were my only BAs, but there seems to be something fundamentally different about BA presentation that makes them inferior in terms of timbre to DDs . There's less texture and grit, for lack of a better word. The sound sounds squirted out rather than generated by vibrations in a large surface, like instruments. To my amateur ears at least.
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2017
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  5. Ash1412

    Ash1412 Friend

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    I think we could also put some discussion about driver material and their timbres here as well, since the Be driver of the Utopias has not received totally positive remarks from everyone at SBAF as far as I know. How about we do a (very generalized) comparison between current dynamic driver materials? I know off the top of my head plastic, bio-cellulose, Be, aluminum and diamond. And then we have cup material... o_O. The Eikon vs Atticus thing is also pretty cool, with most of the difference being the driver (they have different membrane shapes though). Being the cheapskate that I am, I'm all for plastic, Senn plastic to be exact. Nothing like that precision German-engineered plastic :punk:
     
  6. Stuff Jones

    Stuff Jones Friend

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    Please. I guess I'm a timbre slut so bring it on.
     
  7. GoodEnoughGear

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  8. Stapsy

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    I thought the definition provided by the google was pretty accurate.

    Timbre - the character or quality of a musical sound or voice as distinct from its pitch and intensity.

    To me, timbre is composed of things like tone and texture. For example, the vibration of a reed and the shape of the bell are what give a saxophone its characteristic sound. As K.E already mentioned, this is most likely due to harmonic overtones and undertones or perhaps the slight changes of frequency over the couse of a note (call this the human element). You could have a completely flat tonal response, but you won't have accurate timbre unless you have the resolution that is required to pick up the subtle characteristics of each instrument.

    I always find piano is an excellent litmus test. It is a very complex instrument that generates sound in a unique way compared to most instruments. A key is pressed which causes a hammer to hit a tuned string. You have multiple percussive and resonant elements coming together to make up the sound of a piano key. To create accurate timbre you need to reproduce the percussive strike of the hammer and the resonant decay of the string. Without being able to hear those elements I wouldn't be able to determine if it is a piano or a blender that is creating that sound frequency.

    I don't think adding in resonance from a wood cup will improve the timbre. All you are really doing is adding another layer of sound that wasn't on the original recording. It isn't necesarily a bad thing, but it will be applied consistently to the music that is being played as opposed to helping us define the character of each individual instrument.
     
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  9. Stuff Jones

    Stuff Jones Friend

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    For piano I think you also need to move enough air to create the feeling a key being struck. That feeling of physical impact. Is that also timbre? Or is that dynamics?
     
  10. Priidik

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    Yeah, I think the dynamo part got skipped in the timbre discussion once more.
    No acoustic instrument sounds even close to realistic through compressed equipment. I guess it's ok to call timber flawed in this case.
    Except maybe flutes and other similar close to pure tone limited dr instruments.
     
  11. Stuff Jones

    Stuff Jones Friend

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    It's true, even with a guitar string you need to feel the physical snap of the string to make it sound realistic.
     
  12. Stapsy

    Stapsy Friend

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    I would classify physical impact as dynamics and not relating to timbre. The exception to that are the low level microdynamic swings that define how an instrument generates a sound.

    There is no doubt that dynamics are important to accurate and convincing sound reproduction, but I would argue that it is seperate from timbre. The definition that I pulled above indicates that timbre does not include intensity (dynamics). Macrodynamics/intensity is related to how the music is played and microdynamics are related to the structure of the note itself. A very loud crescendo is an example of a macrodynamics, but each note that is played during the crescendo will have microdynamic qualities generated by the actual act of creating sound. These sounds are characteristic to each instrument and how I would define timbre.

    Another example to better illustrate timbre is adding a mute to a trumpet. Even though a trumpet with a mute is playing the same notes, as long as we correct for volume differences the mute itself has altered the timbre of the trumpet. The change that is caused by the mute is a change in timbre, since we have held pitch and intensity as constant.
     

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