"The language of subjectivity has been around since before Edison. Musicians have long been familiar with terms like "mellow," "strident," "rich," and "euphonic," but the advent of reproduced music introduced new kinds of sonic qualities for which new descriptive terms were needed. The 1953 Radiotron Designer's Handbook---for its time, the "bible" of electronics design---listed more than 70 terms, most of which are still in use today.
Stereophile magazine, launched in 1962, was the first to review audio products on the basis of their sound rather than their measurements. Stereophile and other like-minded magazines have expanded subjectivity's working 70-word vocabulary to to over 300 terms, all of which are listed and defined in this series of articles."
The 1954 RDL pp 604-606 is readily available online. It includes the following subjective terms:
Frequency Range Notation:
Extreme Lows Below 100 cis
Lows 100- 300 cis
Lower Middles 300- 800 cis
Upper Middles 800-1500 cis
Lower Highs 1500-4000 cis
Highs 4000-8000 cis
Extreme Highs Above 8000 cis
Subjective terms for distortion:
General: Dirty, non-linear distortion.
Overload: Hash-up, mush-up.
Thump (sudden rectification when signal hits bottom).
Sound often becomes strident if harmonic energy peaks in the lower highs.
Records: Fuzz or lace. Inability of stylUS to track at high groove curvatures.
Crackle: Same as fuzz, but occurring principally on high-amplitude peaks.
Rattles or buzz, rub or wheeze.
Swish-scratch periodic with rotation of record.
Carbon Microphones: Frying; popping, sizzle.
Sub-harmonics: Breakup, birdies, tweets.
Intermodulation: Harsh, rough.
Cross-over distortion: Marbles, garble.
Transient distortion: Hang-over.
Attack-good or slurred.
Intermodulation with peak in the high-frequency region :
Violins sound wiry.
Male voices have kazoo.
Brass instruments show jamming in upper octaves
(c) General Terms
Position presence : Localization, mass of sound; advance, come forward,
stand out; distant, dead, recede, lost.
Intimacy presence : Intimate, rapport.
Detail presence: Transparent, translucent, clear, opaque, acoustic fog, veiled,
Source size :
Live; broad, volume, floods out, big tones, well-focused
tones; dead and fiat, compressed, from a hole in the wall,
out of a barrel.
Presence, natural, life-like, pleasing; canned music.
Realistic, perfect, adequate.
Grunt Sock Tinkly* Harsh
Solid Brassy Hard
or thick Metallic
Boom Flat- Masculine Bright
Body Baritone Brilliant
Mellow Crisp Brittle Brittle
Defici- Lean Warm Soft Soft