It seams like there is one magical word in post production, sound design and music production that describes everything from compressing and distorting signals to expanding and filtering signals:


There are so many conflicting descriptions and it seems like warmth is used as a stable to advertise Soft- and Hardware. What is warmth, what is warm audio, what does warming up audio mean?


  • Hey guys sorry for commenting about all the technical stuff. The reason I am doing this is, because I want to create a compendium of words used to describe attributes of sound. There I want to have a short 1 sentence definition, a technical down to the earth description and a short history/explanation where needed. The compendium will then be published for free as soon as I collected enough content as a blog where people can discuss and evolve those terms. Ofc i will quote you/socialsounddesign where I use your information. Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 7:45

7 Answers 7


I'm fond of how these conflicting yet overlapping answers point to literal language's flaws as abstractions — like a map, they point to the destination that is sound. They try to describe that sensory experience, yet utterly fail over and over... but we persist with using terms like "warm", for they are the "best" we have.

Not to dodge the question, but we are to talk about specific frequency ranges that one could alter to be "warmer", then mmm... a gentle slope @ 300 Hz would often be considered warm. Too much, then it becomes "muddy" or "cardboardy".

Or, simply using a low-pass filter to roll off the high-end makes it sound warmer. For when people equate digital to "cold" and "sterile", it is often pointed at piercing frequencies that didn't exist in prehistoric/earlier human eras.

And there is much to be said about the subtle nuances of warmth once attains by injecting your music with actual air and electricity, those chaotic forces all around us that do not live "in the box", no, they are beasts that can be bottled, if only as an echo, if only for a little while.

Further still...

One of the most effective tools for experimenting with various "warmth" processes would have to be Audio Ease Speakerphone. It can do the crackle defects (but an asset if warmth if the answer) and pitch instability of vinyl. It can make any sound seem like it came from an old answering machine (a curious warmth in its own right) or a vintage microphone by way of teleportation, um, impulse responses. There are at least 500 flavors of warm in that plugin, all waiting to be tasted like flavors of ice cream, and I wax not poetic, for ultimately...

perhaps warm is like Eskimo words for snow.

  • So basically you say that warm means natural - like a 1on1 translation from reality to recorded/synthesized sound. So by preventing unnatural frequency areas in a recording and applying room/gear simulations we can give cold, clinical, transparent, unnatural sounds a more natural/real feel. And by this they will get warm. Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 7:49
  • Approximately, yes. I thought about this for several days more. Perhaps more "imperfect" than "natural" (because an electric guitar can sound very warm despite being an unnatural piece of technology) where a signal is interfered with/altered between input and output... but like I said, words are limited.
    – TORLEY
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 4:04

In general, it is marketing gibberish, but the most common definition I can think of is that it has kind of an analog sound. Digital processing, especially early digital processing, was extremely precise and sounded "cold" as in "cold and calculated". Earlier tube processing was less precise and the bleed caused a warmer, softer feel.

Later digital processing has incorporated modeling of the bleed that occurred in analog circuits to allow for them to have a softer, less precise and more blended sound than the cold, harsh, calculated and exact form of a pure mathematical transformation.

  • So technical speaking you mean that warmth is a loss of transients caused by the remanence of magnetic and electronic devices that then leads to less harsh frequency content (that usually dominates in the transients)? Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 7:41
  • @TobiasSchmidt - I'm unsure, I think the description you gave on user16230's answer is more along the lines of what I'm saying.
    – AJ Henderson
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 13:39
  • Yeah you are right! I realy like the word remanence ... :) ... which is imho a great way to explain analogue sound Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 20:26

For me "warm" has always described that all analog sound, that sound that when you spin up a record you almost feel it as much as you hear it. You could even compare it to "smooth" in some senses.

As for where it came from my guess (and long time assumption) is that it stems from the tube days when you had to wait for things to physically warm up. There was once a time when warm equipment sounded different than cold equipment.

I have always felt that it is really hard to get a true "warm" sound out of digital equipment for a few reasons,

1) distortion vs clipping: If a an input to an A/D is to much to handle it will simply clip in a generally unpleasant way. Where as if you over load an analog preamp or tape deck you will get some nice distortion before you clip it out. This distortion is often sought after acoustically speaking.

2) Pure analog vs sampled: I hate to open up this can of worms but I just cant buy into the plugin world many mix in today. I am not saying they are not more convenient or cost effective but I have some great analog gear that no matter how hard they try the plugins just are not the same.

  • So what you mean is that warm means natural shaping of transients caused by the remanence of analogue gear like tubes? Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 7:51
  • Thats one way to put it I guess. There is some almost indescribable quality that an all analog signal path has, something that is a bit tough to put into words.
    – Dave
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 14:00
  • Yeah its realy complex but i am trying to find the essence. Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 20:28

I would say that warm generally describes a sound with a lot of low mid(but not too much that it becomes muddy) This is a sound that a lot of analogue gear has naturally hence the analogue warmth. For example if you record a VO with an LDC mic like U87 it will sound warm due to the mic's ability to pic up a lot of low mid.


This book has a great list of words to describe the attributes of sound, well worth a look!

  • Great I could use this book as a source/reference for my words thanks Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 10:37

For me warm is not many hard transients, a lot of energy somewhere in the 100-500hz range or maybe a lack of energy in the 2-8k range. "Warm" can go really easily to "muddy" or "dull"



a more of a smooth polished "curve" that allowed "buzzing", "overtone"...... overdrive, if you will. a Distortion that does not kill the "Fundamental's" pure band frequency's, yet allows the "other Orders" to peak out and say hello to you.

in digital you can play with it at "Pre Fader" (safe place) with a gain stage. at "post fader" you have to tame it stronger so that you don't kill your overall headroom. Resonant Filter before Distortion is the easiest trick. on a Buss or in Parallel is your safest route.

  • So basically you say that thickening up the frequency spectrum by asymmetrical sounds leads to a smoother, fuller sound where single peaking frequencies are less dominating and thus everything is sounding warmerß Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 7:53

I personally hate the word warm in relation to audio as it had been proven above can have many connotations. To me it's sort of all of them. The advent of digital audio lead to much greater clarity in the upper frequencies of sound and so to be "warmer" seems to be reducing the clarity of those frequencies perhaps with some tape emulation adding saturation for thickness.

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