Describing Sound in Terms of Frequencies

Warm, bright, muddy, fizzy, harsh, airy, roomy, hollow… you are bound to come across the use of such adjectives to describe sounds. I’ve heard people describe sound using colors. You’ll even hear someone say something is tunog digital or other seemingly ridiculous descriptions. Even I may also be prone to using them every now and then. The problem with these descriptions is that they can mean differently from one person to another. For example, one man’s warm can be another man’s muddy. One woman’s bright can be a man’s harsh. Some people can’t even describe anything at all. It goes on to say how difficult it is for many of us to describe a sound.

For the sake of consistency, let us try to make things a little bit more quantifiable.

If you do a bit of research, you will find out that frequencies, particularly those which humans can discern (typically from 20Hz to 20KHz, give or take), are divided into a number of groups:

  • Bass/Lows = 20-140Hz
  • Mid-bass/Lower midrange = 140-400Hz
  • Midrange = 400Hz- 2.6KHz
  • Upper midrange = 2.6KHz – 5.2KHz
  • Treble/Highs = 5.2KHz – 20KHz

We can describe sounds with reference to these ranges and practice it from this point on. You must learn how to articulate sound quality with these ranges.

There are what we call the infrasonic frequencies (below 20Hz) and ultrasonic frequencies (above 20KHz). These frequencies are important in studying fields such as geology, ecology, medicine and even military technology. Many animals have a wider audible range. Dolphins and bats, for example, are known to communicate and navigate through ultrasonic frequencies.

However, these will not be primary concerns beyond this point in the course. Our focus is on what we human beings can hear.

References:

Frequency range. (n.d.). Bass, treble, hertz ? Which Hz is which range. http://www.decibelcar.com/articles/43-theory-and-physics/141-treble-hertz.html.

Nave, C. (2016). HyperPhysics. Retrieved from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/hframe.html.

Richardson, J. (n.d.) Learn the language of good sound: better understand the difference a hi-fi system can make. Retrieved January 11, 2016 from http://www.crutchfield.com/S-TwGXvjbxRTR/learn/homeaudio/introguideexcerpt.html.