Sharpness vs. clarity

June 20, 2020
 by Paul McGowan

When reader Kyle Teal asked me to explain the difference between sharpness and clarity, I lit up. What a great question. Thank you, Kyle.

Sharpness is characterized by its edges, while clarity suggests a lack of haze. I’ll expand on those two thoughts.

A knife is sharp because of its edge, just like images in a photograph. If you’re familiar with the program Photoshop, you’ll know that when using its sharpness tool, object edges gain definition through increased contrast which, to our eyes, makes them stand out more. The same can be true for an instrument in reproduced music. A trumpet’s blare becomes sharper with increased transient attack—its edges have greater contrast.

When we increase clarity we’re removing the classic veil blurring the entire image rather than just its edges. I like to think of increased clarity as what happens when we clean a dirty window. Our ability to see into the image or sound becomes clearer.

An overly sharpened sound can cause one to grit their teeth and grate on the nerves. From a circuit standpoint, we might see some unwanted overshoot on square waves and impulses, or, we may want to move from bipolars to FETs.

Removing veils from electronics is even more complicated because their causes can be more varied.

Like everything in audio, a fine balance that results in naturally sharpened instruments and voices sounding like themselves without the cloaking veil of audio haze is the ultimate goal.

Achieving those goals in a circuit takes a bit of skill.

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