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What is a "warm" sound?
audioapprentice
post Jul 27 2009, 03:02
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I hear alot the term "warm" applied to sound yet I have no idea what is meant. I listen to both digital (CD, files) and analog (vinyl, cassette) music and often hear the term "warm" applied to analog (and "cold" applied to digital). To my ears neither sound "warm" nor "cold".

Can anyone explain what is meant by "warm" and hopefully post or refer to an example.
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tfarney
post Jul 27 2009, 03:44
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It is illusion or distortion.

Tim
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Ed Seedhouse
post Jul 27 2009, 04:46
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QUOTE (audioapprentice @ Jul 26 2009, 19:02) *
I hear alot the term "warm" applied to sound yet I have no idea what is meant. I listen to both digital (CD, files) and analog (vinyl, cassette) music and often hear the term "warm" applied to analog (and "cold" applied to digital). To my ears neither sound "warm" nor "cold".

Can anyone explain what is meant by "warm" and hopefully post or refer to an example.


Well, a "warm" sound will I presume have a rolled off treble and a prominent mid-bass with a slow decline toward the high frequencies.

As "red" is a "warm" color and is also the longest wavelenght visual color, then by analogy a speaker or other device that emphases the long wavelenths may be said to be "warm".

I would highty doubt that any CD player or other digital device or any other electronic device would have a "warm" sound to any audible extent unless it was incompetantly designed or given a deliberate equalization in that direction.


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Axon
post Jul 27 2009, 04:56
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Warmness is also ascribed to recordings with more reverberance or echo to them - in comparison to a raw recording in an acoustically damped environment, which may sound unnaturally silent (especially on headphones).

It has also been used to describe low-order harmonic distortion.
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carpman
post Jul 27 2009, 05:10
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Here's 3 lossyFLAC files in a zip.
The track in question is Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers (and they've all been through WavGain - 89dB).

The 1st file is the CD version, the 2nd is the vinyl and the third is the vinyl version processed with a plugin called CLAS by Refined Audiometrics.

I find the CD release too harsh and thin ("cold") and the vinyl too muddy ("warm"? - as per what Ed Seedhouse and tfarney said). The 3rd version lies somewhere between the two and that's where I'd have preferred the CD version to have been mastered. I'd say with the CD version they've castrated it for the sake of "digital clarity" i.e. high-end boost and sucked out too much low-mid - IMO it's just a poor mastering choice and obviously nothing to do with the format.

C.



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greynol
post Jul 27 2009, 07:01
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QUOTE (Axon @ Jul 26 2009, 20:56) *
Warmness is also ascribed to recordings with more reverberance or echo to them - in comparison to a raw recording in an acoustically damped environment, which may sound unnaturally silent (especially on headphones).

I normally hear the terms wet and dry to describe this phenomenon.


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andy o
post Jul 27 2009, 08:37
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QUOTE (audioapprentice @ Jul 26 2009, 19:02) *
I hear alot the term "warm" applied to sound yet I have no idea what is meant. I listen to both digital (CD, files) and analog (vinyl, cassette) music and often hear the term "warm" applied to analog (and "cold" applied to digital).

QUOTE (greynol @ Jul 26 2009, 23:01) *
I normally hear the terms wet and dry to describe this phenomenon.

Well I think this proves that audiophiles are synaesthetes after all doesn't it? laugh.gif
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pawelq
post Jul 27 2009, 16:38
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QUOTE (greynol @ Jul 27 2009, 02:01) *
I normally hear the terms wet and dry to describe this phenomenon.


Wet/dry is a standard studio term which applies to signal with any processing applied vs. raw signal. Thus, in addition to being clearly defined, it is orthogonal to warm/cold. I mean, if processing is a boost in high frequencies and a cut in low frequencies, then wet will be likely described as cold, and dry as warm(er).


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DVDdoug
post Jul 27 2009, 19:08
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QUOTE
Well, a "warm" sound will I presume have a rolled off treble and a prominent mid-bass with a slow decline toward the high frequencies.
I agree... If I ever use the term "warm", that's what I mean, and I'll usually give a little explanation. If the high frequencies are rolled-off, I call that "dull", and if the high frequencies are strong, I call that "bright". Usually, I'll try to make the meaning clear by saying something like, "The highs are a little dull".

QUOTE
I hear alot the term "warm" applied to sound yet I have no idea what is meant. I listen to both digital (CD, files) and analog (vinyl, cassette) music and often hear the term "warm" applied to analog (and "cold" applied to digital).
It depends on who is using the terminology, what they mean, and how much you trust them... Most "audiophile terminology" is difficult (or impossible) to define scientifically. And, most of these vague sound characteristics can't be measured or quantified. Depending on where you read it, it might be useless nonsense! When I read these terms, I like to see some more description, measurements, or perhaps a frequency response curve. If a reviewer says that a microphone has a "warm" sound, and the frequency response curve confirms my understanding of that word, I'm OK with it. If a reviewer says that a vacuum tube amplifier has a warm sound, and I don't see anything unusual in the measurements or specs, I'm skeptical. (Here on Hydrogenaudio, specs & measurements are not enough... You might have to prove you can hear the difference with a double blind listening test.)

In my opinion, a good vinyl record on a good system should sound identical to the CD. If a turntable/cartridge makes your records sound "warm", I'd say there's something wrong with the set-up! (If a particular record sounds warm, I can accept that... But I'd like to know what the particular author means by warm...)

My 30-year old records don't sound as good as my CDs! Many of these older records are a bit "dull" (weak high end), and most have plenty of "snap", "crackle", and "pop". (Apparently, some audiophiles are not bothered by a small amount of vinyl noise and preamp noise... Perhaps this adds to the "warmth"?)

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carpman
post Jul 27 2009, 19:11
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I think it wet/dry is one of those unfortunate terms that's actually both what Greynol and pawelq say it is. i.e. it's a descriptive term like too much reverb makes the mix splashy (which makes sense because the reverberations of a hit note are like ripples and the note can "drown" in its own overly stressed "environment" i.e. get lost in its echoes, but also it's a term for the degree of processing.

It's confusing because looking at my plugin library the term WET / DRY is almost always used for reverb / echo plugins and it's not always used for other effects plugins like EQ, compression, panning etc ..

Though to back up what pawelq said:



C.

This post has been edited by carpman: Jul 27 2009, 19:12


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greynol
post Jul 27 2009, 19:17
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I see no problem in wet/dry being used to talk about the presence of an effect so long as the terms are well defined and agreed upon (which very much happens to be the case with wet/dry). In the case of modulation effects I think the terms are quite fitting.

I also see no reason why such criticism should not also extend to the terms warm and cold. wink.gif


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carpman
post Jul 27 2009, 19:51
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Just trying to pull things together.
It seems that many agree with Ed Seedhouse's EQ definition (I certainly do):
  • EQ: "a rolled off treble and a prominent mid-bass with a slow decline toward the high frequencies"
But do we agree on the following as "warming" elements?:
  • Vinyl noise and preamp noise
  • Turntable rumble (is that included in the above?)
  • Distortion (incl. tape saturation) - all kinds? - probably not. Even order harmonic distortion?
  • What about: DR compression?
I have a feeling that on its own it's not something that adds warmth, but in conjuntion with other effects can be used to simulate a warm effect, see below:

QUOTE
PSP VintageWarmer 2 (VST) is a high-quality digital simulation of an analog-style, a single- or multi-band compressor/limiter. It combines rich, warm analog processing [...] The plug-in processor [...] can be used for softknee compression [...] PSP Vintage Warmer's overload characteristics with the processor being capable of generating saturation effects typical of analog tape recorders.

[The above quote has been heavily edited by me]

C.

EDIT: added bullet point

This post has been edited by carpman: Jul 27 2009, 19:53


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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Jul 27 2009, 20:21
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QUOTE (carpman @ Jul 27 2009, 14:51) *
What about: DR compression?
I have a feeling that on its own it's not something that adds warmth.


Sepends on how the thresholds and compression/expansion parameters are set

QUOTE
QUOTE
PSP VintageWarmer 2 (VST) is a high-quality digital simulation of an analog-style, a single- or multi-band compressor/limiter. It combines rich, warm analog processing [...] The plug-in processor [...] can be used for softknee compression [...] PSP Vintage Warmer's overload characteristics with the processor being capable of generating saturation effects typical of analog tape recorders.

[The above quote has been heavily edited by me]


Multiband dynamic range compression provides an opportunity to roll-off the highs and boost the lows as the levels vary. If you set it up right, you can even provide flat frequency response at the reference level, but provide audible coloration at other levels.

A compay called "Cranesong" marketed a product they called "Analog dither", which was ironically supplied on a CD. I analyzed some of it and found that it was composed of a noise signal with the expected spectral weighting and some 60 Hz hum along with, if memory serves, some 120 Hz second harmonic of the hum.

Basically, the sort of noise you might find coming out of a cheap tubed RIAA preamp. (the more expensive preamps had DC on the tube's filaments, and therefore no hum.)
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DVDdoug
post Jul 27 2009, 21:14
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QUOTE
But do we agree on the following as "warming" elements?:
  • Vinyl noise and preamp noise
  • Turntable rumble (is that included in the above?)
  • Distortion (incl. tape saturation) - all kinds? - probably not. Even order harmonic distortion?
  • What about: DR compression?
I have a feeling that on its own it's not something that adds warmth, but in conjuntion with other effects can be used to simulate a warm effect, see below:

QUOTE
PSP VintageWarmer 2 (VST) is a high-quality digital simulation of an analog-style, a single- or multi-band compressor/limiter. It combines rich, warm analog processing [...] The plug-in processor [...] can be used for softknee compression [...] PSP Vintage Warmer's overload characteristics with the processor being capable of generating saturation effects typical of analog tape recorders.
Good point! I don't generally use those definitions, but some people do. And, that's fine with me as long as it's clearly defined. If someone told me to "make it sound warmer", I'd add some mid-bass boost, but I wouldn't think about adding nose & distortion. If you also say "vintage", "tape", or "tube", then I might start thinking about soft clipping.

I guess "warmth" has different meanings to different people in different contexts.

I doubt that vinyl/analog fans would agree (or admit) that they prefer noise & distortion, or even frequency response variations. I think to an audiophile, warmth is something subtle and magical/mystical. (I could be wrong... I don't have an "audiophile dictionary".)

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carpman
post Jul 27 2009, 21:26
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QUOTE (DVDdoug @ Jul 27 2009, 21:14) *
I doubt that vinyl/analog fans would agree (or admit) that they prefer noise & distortion, or even frequency response variations. I think to an audiophile, warmth is something subtle and magical/mystical. (I could be wrong... I don't have an "audiophile dictionary".)

Agree. I think it's useful to define these terms (it's hard to communicate ideas of sound with words). An HA glossary/dictionary perhaps?

Then as you say, you can leave the "audiophiles" to their ephemeral weirdness.

C.


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Ed Seedhouse
post Jul 27 2009, 21:32
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QUOTE (carpman @ Jul 27 2009, 13:26) *
Agree. I think it's useful to define these terms (it's hard to communicate ideas of sound with words). An HA glossary/dictionary perhaps?


Well, I suppose a proper blind or double blind study could be done where people rate various snippets of music on a scale of, say 1-10 with "warmth" the scored paramater, followen by measurements to see which elements correspond to a high score on "warmth".

But of course it would be costly to do right, and it's hard to know in advance if it would give us any actually valuable knowlege.

As used by the common "audophile" that posts on other forums that this, I suppose the right definition would be that it doesn't actually mean much of anything.



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Greg F.
post Jul 27 2009, 22:12
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audiophile here. ok, I would prefer Hifi enthusiast as some of you here have made "audiophile" into a dirty word. When I think of "warm" I think of a sound that has subtle attributes. Not warm, would imply "sterile" to me. But that's just me. To me there is just something special about a single ended triode amplifier. There are positive attributes to a solid state amp, primarily razor sharp definition. But my standard of reference is live music and I don't hear razor sharp definition in live music. I don't hear soundstage, either, but that is another can of worms we won't go into here. When I hear a woman's voice played back over a warm system it sounds like a person, a female person. A system that is not warm doesn't sound like a person. It sounds like a recording. Another analogy; a warm system is like Grand Marnier in your tummy and a non warm system is like an ice cold Mountain Dew.
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Cavaille
post Jul 27 2009, 22:28
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Itīs fascinating to see how we all seek for words to describe the "warmth" we hear as such without sound examples. If this isnīt a reason for hydrogenaudio.org to exist, I donīt know...

Personally, I think "warm" sound can have a lot of meaning:

1. First and foremost, it depends on the music. With rock you have a different warmth compared to classic.

2. I disagree on the high frequency rolloff. When you start a high frequency rolloff at letīs say 10 kHz, youīll lose what is commonly described as "air".

3. Mastering engineers tell that one canīt add "warmth" to a recording. There I also disagree. But to that later...

4. If you boost the upper bass youīll most certainly will get muddy or boomy bass. Not my cup of tea.

5. For me, turntable noise / vinyl clicks & crackles are not "warm". They are - plainly said - distortions & errors.

6. Adding distortions via tube plug-ins or real tubes I also doubt as a mean to add warmth. Why should I add distortions when I have an undistorted source in the first place?

7. I agree on the reverb. It is important. However, I personally prefer to avoid too much reverb.

My recipe for a "warm" sound with the help of a good EQ would be: Leave the bass alone (unless it sound horrible). Attentuate frequencies around 2.000 to 3.500 Hz for around -0.5 to -2 dB. Consider doing the same to the frequency area from 5.000 to 9.000 Hz (depends on the material). If there is less "air" consider boosting frequencies around 11.000 to 14.000 Hz. For a bit of "bigger" or more "mellow" (how imprecise words are) sound consider boosting the lower mids at 350 to 600 Hz. Finally, apply a low pass filter starting at 1.000 Hz which reaches -0.5 to -2.0 dB at 20.000 Hz (however, this "flattens" out the material). As always with processing, less is more. Thatīs what Iīd describe as "warmth" or, in my opinion, "charming" rolleyes.gif

This is of course no guideline. It canīt be applied to every piece of music. Iīd say, that warmth is a combination of many effects.... impossible to describe.


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carpman
post Jul 28 2009, 00:34
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QUOTE (Greg F. @ Jul 27 2009, 22:12) *
When I think of "warm" I think of a sound that has subtle attributes. Not warm, would imply "sterile" to me. But that's just me. To me there is just something special about a single ended triode amplifier. There are positive attributes to a solid state amp, primarily razor sharp definition. But my standard of reference is live music and I don't hear razor sharp definition in live music. I don't hear soundstage, either, but that is another can of worms we won't go into here. When I hear a woman's voice played back over a warm system it sounds like a person, a female person. A system that is not warm doesn't sound like a person. It sounds like a recording. Another analogy; a warm system is like Grand Marnier in your tummy and a non warm system is like an ice cold Mountain Dew.

Well that's really, really unhelpful. I don't have grand marnier DSP, and if I did I wouldn't have a clue what it did. To me, all this language is good for is sounding like a connoiseur, it has no practical value whatsoever.

C.


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audioapprentice
post Jul 28 2009, 23:35
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Ah, now I understand.

Ed's explanation is very helpful as is Carpman's synopsis and I'll be using them as definitions.

I have heard my Grado Black described as "Warm" and my AT92E as "cold". To me they sound "dull" and "bright" (in comparison to each other; in isolation they both sound normal).

My digital stuff sounds "bright" and "clear" and elements of the mix sound "distinct" and "separate" in comparison to my vinyl and cassettes. The elements of the mix of my vinyl and cassettes sound "smeared" or "muddy" or "smoothed" in comparison (but again normal in isolation).

Carpman's great examples were very instructive. At last I understand "warm" and can define it quite easily: dull, and smeared! laugh.gif
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Ed Seedhouse
post Jul 29 2009, 00:03
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QUOTE (Greg F. @ Jul 27 2009, 14:12) *
When I think of "warm" I think of a sound that has subtle attributes. Not warm, would imply "sterile" to me. But that's just me. To me there is just something special about a single ended triode amplifier. There are positive attributes to a solid state amp, primarily razor sharp definition. But my standard of reference is live music and I don't hear razor sharp definition in live music. I don't hear soundstage, either, but that is another can of worms we won't go into here. When I hear a woman's voice played back over a warm system it sounds like a person, a female person. A system that is not warm doesn't sound like a person. It sounds like a recording. Another analogy; a warm system is like Grand Marnier in your tummy and a non warm system is like an ice cold Mountain Dew.


Well, all I can say in response is that, having read it a couple of times, I still have no real idea of what you mean by "warm". And that it is all too typical, to me, of the kind of things people say in "high end" magazines.


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tfarney
post Jul 29 2009, 18:39
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QUOTE (Greg F. @ Jul 27 2009, 17:12) *
audiophile here. ok, I would prefer Hifi enthusiast as some of you here have made "audiophile" into a dirty word. When I think of "warm" I think of a sound that has subtle attributes. Not warm, would imply "sterile" to me. But that's just me. To me there is just something special about a single ended triode amplifier. There are positive attributes to a solid state amp, primarily razor sharp definition. But my standard of reference is live music and I don't hear razor sharp definition in live music. I don't hear soundstage, either, but that is another can of worms we won't go into here. When I hear a woman's voice played back over a warm system it sounds like a person, a female person. A system that is not warm doesn't sound like a person. It sounds like a recording. Another analogy; a warm system is like Grand Marnier in your tummy and a non warm system is like an ice cold Mountain Dew.


Not to pile on, but....say what?

Seriously, there are real terms to describe what can and cannot be heard in audio reproduction. We don't need PRaT; we have slew rate and transient response. We don't need warmth; we can speak specifically of the variations from flat in a component's frequency response. And there is certainly no need to bring Mountain Dew into it, but if we must, the "magic" I've run into most often in single-ended triode amplifiers was the result of their typically startling lack of headroom; it's called clipping and it sounds, to torture the beverage analogy a bit more, like NASCAR champagne -- Mountain Dew & Southern Comfort.

Oh, and by the way, "audiophile" simply means "lover of sound," and I expect that everyone here qualifies.

Tim

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honestguv
post Aug 27 2009, 08:15
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QUOTE (tfarney @ Jul 29 2009, 19:39) *
Oh, and by the way, "audiophile" simply means "lover of sound,".

Only to some. Audiophile is a recent term with a widely varying meaning/associations depending on who is using it (even more so than warm). This is particularly true among those old enough to have observed after the 60/70s stereo boom the appearance and growth in the mainstream of products labelled audiophile in order to distinguish them from other hi-fi/mid-fi/whatever home audio products. To a significant number of people audiophile is associated with these marketing-lead products and the scientifically invalid beliefs held by the consumers of these products.
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disfrontman
post Sep 6 2009, 10:46
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Interesting that the ad copy from PSP Audioware's Vintage Warmer 2 plug-in was cited on this thread. I own that plug-in and absolutely love it.

I'm not sure my input will help the discussion much, but as a project studio recording artist the concept of "warmth" comes up a lot.

When I use that term I think of it as an overall impression of the program material as it relates to both equalization and compression. The analog 70's sound a lot of people seem to like involves taming transients (and thereby allowing for overall level increases) with the use of multiband compression by using either real analog gear or imitative software fakery--to not only compress the peaks but also to introduce some odd but somehow pleasing coloration to the sound. That coloration might include "tape saturation". The rock musician is not holding up absolute sonic clarity or realism as his/her highest virtues. We want perceived sonic power and vibe, and if pushing things to distort in certain ways provides that, we're all for it. It's not just about rolling off the highs and boosting the low-mids.

I don't know anyone who would want turntable rumble or hisses and pops in their mix. But a bit of tape coloration and even-series harmonic distortion, if used conscientiously and sparingly, can impart a vintage vibe to a mix that most would find pleasant.

Keep in mind that a lot of this is a perception problem with early CDs. "Cold" and "brittle" were adjectives tossed around that made some musicians highly suspicious of digital recording vs. analog. I don't know whether or not some of the early CDs capitalized on the wide dynamic range of CDs as compared to typical sound source media and mastered albums with less compression or exaggerated highs--but damage was done to the reputation of digital recording as a result.

Thankfully, a site like Hydrogen Audio pretty much destroys any of the criticism of the CD medium itself. For all of Neil Young's protestations, he would fail an ABX test the same way anyone else would.

Still, there are many of us out there that LIKE a sound that's "pushed" a little. That's why outboard analog gear is still in high demand in studios, and software emulations of analog gear are selling like hotcakes. Essentially, some artists want a thicker sound that does not really take advantage of the wide dynamic range and low noise floor of a CD. They want something that sounds "big, fat, and warm"--heavily compressed without losing the character of each instrument, a bit "edgy", and NOT "brittle" sounding. Like an LP or cassette tape with less self noise--that will never wear out!

In summary, I think most pop/rock music engineers, when they refer to "warmth", are discussing a perception of a combination of well-applied multiband compression, slight even-series analog distortion, and a slight attenuation of highs with a slight boost of low-mids. At least that's what I would mean by that term.

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SubV
post Sep 6 2009, 14:37
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In my opinion, both "warm" and "cold" are pure commercial terms that were invented to push prices of high end audio equipment up to the limit.
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