What is Timbre? That’s a great question that gets glossed over quite a bit in the music world. I came across the term listening to a review of the Sennheiser HD 600’s, and thought it would make an interesting article! This will be a relatively short article, but before we get started..
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What is Timbre?
Examples of headphones that display this concept
What is Timbre?
(Rhymes with “amber”)
Put simply, Timbre is a a general term for the distinguishable characteristics of a particular tone. It allows your ear to discern sounds that have the same pitch and loudness. Called tone color or tone quality, it’s used to differentiate musical instruments, string instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments. Think of it as the difference between a guitar and piano playing the same note at the same volume. It’s determined primarily by three things:
Attack/decay envelope of a sound
Harmonic Content of a sound
Defined as “periodic changes in the pitch of a tone”. Vibrato is considered pleasing to the ear in music, as long as it’s not overdone. It can be used for expression and adds a richness to the voice. Generally speaking, the more clarity there is to a sound, the more easily our ears can differentiate pitch and differences in timbre.
A good example is when you pluck a guitar string. The resulting sound looks like a peak on a graph/illustration, followed by a long and gradual minimizing of the waveform (if you will). A peak amplitude and then a long and gradual decay.
Amplitude is the height or volume of a sound wave.
This is basically how rich the sound or note is when played by a musical instrument. So, the fundamental frequency (the overall character of a sound, or the note we first identify with) + The harmonics (the other frequencies in the wave) = Timbre. So timbre stripped down is simply, the unique sound of an instrument.
Is mayonnaise an instrument? No Patrick, Mayonnaise is not an instrument. Lol.
Harmonic content is also the number and relative intensity of the upper harmonics present in the sound.
In general, the higher the quality of headphone, the more likely you will be able to really hear the unique sounds that Timbre provides. As we’ve learned, each note from a musical instrument is a complex tone containing more than one frequency. With headphones, this concept is most effectively demonstrated by those of a higher caliber, such as the Sennheiser HD 600.
In truth, the 600 has been said to lack some air and harmonic content in the treble range, contributing to the whole “veiled” theory. What is the Sennheiser veil? A lot of people call it a myth, because of the fact that a lot of earlier model headphones placed such a heavy emphasis on treble, that they became overly bright and harsh. The HD 600 is by contrast very smooth and detailed.
Keep in mind, the quality of the sound, or Timbre, is also greatly affected by the quality of the source material. Low quality mp3 files won’t really deliver you optimal sound, while Lossless and .Wav files are generally more sought after.
I hope that answered your question on What is Timbre? I know this wasn’t one of my typically longer posts, but the question rarely gets asked and I wanted to clarify it for myself and for you!
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Stu is determined to provide the truth about all things audio, and strives to deliver excellent content to you the reader! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel, but it can be both a blessing and a hindrance at times.