What does it mean for a sound to be warm? What does a sound need to have to be "warmer" than other?

We often hear this associated with analog systems. "analog warmth", "the warmth of vinyl". What is it? Is it something that can be measured and analyzed? Is it something people say when they don't know how to describe what they hear? Is it something else?


1 Answer 1


Most widely applicably,

  • A warm sound - whether a note, voice, song OR a warm-sounding hi-fi system - has plenty of lower frequencies, compared to the amount of high frequencies (but not all lows - that would sound more 'muffled' or 'muddy').

  • when talking about individual sounds (like individual notes), more harmonic partials (like a piano or guitar), fewer inharmonic partials (as found in a bell). This might be seen as less relevant to the warmth people find in systems, but it's possible that some sound reproduction systems that add some subtle harmonic distortion are seen subjectively as warm; certainly a sound recording/reproduction system that was adding aliasing artefacts (which would not be integrally related to fundamental frequencies of notes) might sound more 'brittle' or 'harsh'.

slightly more subjectively,

  • a sound that is somwehat complex and has a 'natural', shifting frequency spectrum - think a string section, as opposed to a single cycle repeating buzz or bleep sound.

  • we tend to find warmth in sounds that are steady in volume and other characteristics. Think of a late night radio presenter's gentle, compressed voice.

  • Would you say that "warmth" and "analogue warmth" concepts are similar in that sense? Also, could you dive into the more controversial aspects too? That'd be very interesting, even as a side note.
    – NPN328
    Mar 1, 2015 at 19:18
  • @JCPedroza do you mean analogue like a moog, or like a record player? or either?
    – user16
    Mar 1, 2015 at 19:33
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    Vinyl / Cassette : again, often less aggressive high end than a digital system; some distortions that may occur with turntables and tape systems will tend to produce extra frequencies that are harmonically-related to the music.
    – user16
    Mar 1, 2015 at 19:56
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    So yes, in both cases I think it's relevant. I'm sure there's plenty of placebo affect going on too - a preference for "real" analogue over "virtual" digital. I will have a think what I meant by 'controversial' - maybe it wasn't the right word!
    – user16
    Mar 1, 2015 at 19:58
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    @JCPedroza I think some of our comment messages above were cris-crossing. Anyway I think 'warm' is used in a lot of different contexts to describe a bunch of different things by different people who may not be perceiving the same thing anyway... so I have tried to stay in the centre of the topic.
    – user16
    Mar 2, 2015 at 7:18

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