Clearing the cruft

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I was answering a New Zealand Hi-Fi Family member’s question recently. Without warning, a question popped into my head. If he lives in New Zealand, where’s the Old Zealand?

The origins to our own New England, New Haven and New York were fairly obvious given our British roots, but New Zealand? I don’t know of any city called Zealand. Wikipedia to the rescue.

“The name “New Zealand” comes from “Zeeland” (which translates to “Sealand”) in Dutch, after it was sighted by Dutch Explorer Abel Tasman. Zeeland is a province of the Netherlands.”

Unraveling this small piece of knowledge gives me a very different view of this island nation. No longer is it just a name to think about where Hobbits are from. Understanding the origins of its wordmark deepens my understanding of the place.

It’s the same for audio terms as well.

It’s easy to bandy about often-used words and terms to describe what we hear in our systems, like transparency, depth, and tonal correctness, but are we spending enough time really understanding their deeper meaning?

Take the term transparency for example. What exactly do we mean by transparency? Are we expecting to see through the sound? If a singer is belting out a loud note is that sound blocking my mental image of her?

For me, “transparency” refers to the lowering of cruft (anything that is left over, redundant and getting in the way). Sometimes I hear musical presentations I think of as sticky—all the instruments and voices are seemingly stuck together in a mish-mash. If I make a change towards greater transparency, the stickiness is washed away and in its place is transparent space between the players.

While a common language helps communication, it isn’t a requisite.

What’s important is to have a clear understanding of what terms mean to you.