Sounds Like? An Audio Glossary from A to Z

The language of subjectivity has been around since before Edison. Musicians have long been familiar with terms like “mellow,” “strident,” “rich,” and “euphonic,” but the advent of reproduced music introduced new kinds of sonic qualities for which new descriptive terms were needed. The 1953 Radiotron Designer’s Handbook—for its time, the “bible” of electronics design—listed more than 70 terms, most of which are still in use today.

Different subjective terms often have the same meaning, and some have more than one meaning. Don’t be put off by this. Subjective terminology can never be as precise as the language of physics. But imprecise or not, it’s still a much more meaningful way of describing reproduced sound than just saying, “It sounds fine.”

Now that this glossary is available [1993], there’s no longer any excuse for an audio reviewer saying, “I can hear a difference, but there’s no way of describing it.” Now, there is a way.


airy Pertaining to treble which sounds light, delicate, open, and seemingly unrestricted in upper extension. A quality of reproducing systems having very smooth and very extended HF response.


Head-Fi has published something somewhat similar. I’ve never done a comparison of the two.


This is great! Thank you both! :+1:


Head-Fi’s glossary is partly based on Stereophile’s.

Stereophile’s is based on: J. Gordon Holt’s complete Audio Glossary, containing definitions of almost 2000 audio and audio-related terms, is available from Old Colony Books, P.O. Box 24, Peterborough, NH 03458.

As far as I can find, this book is no longer available.

Amazon has a Music Tech Dictionary: A Glossary of Audio-Related Terms and Technologies by Mitch Gallagher.


I remember Old Colony Books with great fondness.