September 14, 2008

Clarity - Warm... or just Hot and Even?

If you've ever read a review for a piece of audio equipment you've probably come across the word 'warm'. You've also probably tried to find out what it means, and come up with a different answer for every person you asked.

What does 'WARM' even mean?

Well... I wish I could say I had the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, but I don't. The closest thing I've got is a collection of ideas about what warm means; hopefully I can bring a little clarity to the topic.

Despite the occasional likening of warmth in audio to the taste of vodka, the majority of answers I found revolve around 3 main ideas...

Warm means:
So... basically any result of analog gear. Specifically tube gear and tape saturation.

Tube Gear

Before we go on, lets look at the history of digital for a short bit. When digital recording first came out, engineers were enamored with the newly found high frequency response that their analog gear had been lacking. Pete Brunelli shared some wisdom about the advent of digital recording on talkbass.com
To me, that short period [at the advent of digital recording] created this analog/digital division, and the fascination with "warm". Warm really does exist. And a lot of the early digital recordings were anti-warm. IMO, digital got tagged with a "cold" or "sterile" tag because the technology was in its infancy and engineers weren't trying to make digital sound like tape. In an A/B situation I don't think that engineers were willing to knock back the highs on thdigital stuff at all. Also, a lot of digital "remasters" were, and continue to be, hack jobs that ruin the feel of the original recording. That didn't help the image of digital either.

So either digital gear isn't as cold/harsh/lifeless as we think and it's just an effect of engineers hyping the music in a certain way, OR what warm really means is 'sounds like analog.' If that's true... the only way for digital to accomplish 'warm' tone is to emulate analog gear... right?

Well, that's definitely has been a trend in plug-in development. Just to name a few:
Here's my take on it: If it sounds good in the room, and you've got decent gear... that's all the warmth you need... but don't just take my word for it experiment and find what works for you!


© 2008 Jim Robert