What is Great Tonality?

Tonality is about a mix of aspects:

  1. Tonal Balance is the balance of bass and treble. Too much bass makes things sound leaden and lacking sparkle. Too much treble on the other hand is “bright” and can sound harsh. A good tonal balance is essential for a system to sound natural.
    However as we will see later, it is also essential in creating the depth (front to back) placement of instruments  of a holographic 3 dimensional sound stage.
  2. Tonality is also a word used to describe the correct pitch/timbre of notes in relationship to one another throughout the audible frequency range. Theoretically pitch should not change, but resonance, harmonics, inter-modular distortion and other aspects all affect perception of pitch.
  3. Well produced harmonics give each instrument it’s distinctive timbre and sonic character.
  4. Eliminating coloration and added artifacts in the music makes it much more real.
  5. The correct timing of notes in relationship to one another also subtly affects  perceived pitch/timbre due to inter-modulation effects ( how sound waves of different frequencies interact together).

This is not a complete list.

Words commonly associated with good tonality are: Natural, Realistic, Tuneful, Lyrical, Organic, Fluid, Musical, Swing

These all communicate the way music should flow easily from one note to the next without changing relative pitch accuracy. Poor reproduction tends to make notes sound disjointed, there are jars and peaks where there should not be etc.

Bass: Full, rich, weighty, tuneful, textured, warm, goes deep, expansive.

Not: Cold, Thin, Lightweight, dry, clinical, sterile, Lean, lacking body, one note.

Rhythm:  The overall swing in music, organic, smooth. Not: Discordant, tonally jarring or peaky .

Timbre: Texture and harmonic cohesion are defined.

Freedom From: Coloration, artifacts, grain, fragility, nervousness, breakup, distortion.

Treble: A good treble can be emotionally uplifting. It promotes attention, creates sparkle, insight and alertness. Too much treble on the other hand creates fatigue and unease. Getting this balance right is important for long term listening pleasure. 

Treble should be sweet, beguiling, highly defined, airy and dynamic. 

Treble should not be: Bright, brash, harsh, sibilant, fatiguing, edgy, hard, aggressive, or soft.

Even, neutral tonal balance: The balance of bass / treble volume is critical for many listeners. The problem is that manufacturers often sacrifice tonal balance in the pursuit of clarity. The reasons for this are explained below.

Bass: Deep, fast, dynamic bass is usually present in live music – however this area is by far the most difficult to control in music reproduction systems. Poorly controlled, resonant bass masks midrange and treble quality. In an effort to obtain clarity, some systems deliberately reduce bass output slightly. 

Good bass performance is fundamental to music reproduction as it adds a sense of power, authority, ease and confidence – too much bass however sounds heavy, flat and oppressive.. Without great bass a system can have clarity but ultimately sounds thin, wearing and lacking.

Good Technical measurement?

You can have 2 products with an identical measured output but one may sound bright and the other dull. Some reasons for this are:

  • The way harmonics are reproduced
  • Resonance, Coloration and Artifacts from the equipment
  • Transient dynamics (e.g a dynamic tweeter will sound brighter than one with poor dynamics).