For definition, the timbre (i.e. the sound we perceive within our mind) is the spectrum on the signal (and its playing envelope over the time).

Thus, a bunch of partials (harmonics and overtones) which different levels each.

The fact is: when we reproduce a recordings, any chain of reproduction will alter these "levels" (by speakers, frequency response or snr; or just different air pressure from source to ear, reflections within a room, and so on), but I can perceive in fact the same timbre impress in my mind, even if levels of these partials will change during the reproductions (and some will also be added, adding "color" to the thole process; but this is another discussion which doesn't matter right now).

So the question is: why, if the spectrum change, I can perceive the same sound (or at least, a major part of it)? Is there any factor that I'm missing? Because, theoretically, the sound I heard should be different every time.


enter image description here

And in fact, there are cases often that I can't hear the same timbre, because this (for the reason above) will be altered.

Is there a sort of "timbre resolution levels" for each person's earing? Of course this task is subjective.

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    I'm afraid you have quite a few bad assumptions here. It would probably be best to get started with a basic of audio physics book, and so i'm voting to close this question as "Too Broad". – user9881 Jan 13 '17 at 9:32
  • That being said, the ability to accurately reproduce the sounds we record is at the very heart of sound design. – user9881 Jan 13 '17 at 9:33
  • audio physics book such as? any suggestions? – markzzz Jan 13 '17 at 12:51
  • also: which are my worst bad assumptions? just curious... – markzzz Jan 13 '17 at 12:51
  • Anyway @DoritoStyle: looks at the image I've uploaded in the question. That's a "sound" defined by a synth which will play a sine (foundamental) + that bunch of partials, each with different level. One I've made the recordings and I'll reproduce this sound on different environments, the levels of each partials with changes, right? Most of the time, I can hear (printed in my mind) the same sound. How can it would be possible if the "spectrum" change? Which are the limits of timbre change till I can feel a different sound? – markzzz Jan 13 '17 at 13:21

This is simply the way that the brain processes sound information. It's exactly the same as listening to a violin in a dry anechoic environment and then listening to the violin in a concert hall. You still know it's a violin because the brain is able to separate the fundamental sound from the additional reflections in the room. It's the same with distortion and other harmonic influences.

The mind is very - very - good at pattern recognition - particularly with visual and aural data. We know what a violin sounds like and can process data quickly enough that we are able to determine this sound in many different environments.

Strictly speaking, the sound will be 'different' when it is placed in different environments, but this is the amazing thing about our pattern matching ability - we can perceive familiar patterns even when they are mixed in with other sounds and harmonics.

The Human Brain is probably the most powerful DSP device in existence.

  • Yes, but here I'm not talking about "color" added by other sources (such as reflections, which are able to identify, having experienced ears of course). But why we can "catch" the same sound if the spectrum (partials level) will change every time. Is it that partial level doesn't count so much in defining the sound? i.e. why with different waveform (changing some overtones, using a synth for example) I can hear the same sound? – markzzz Jan 12 '17 at 11:08
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    When you are talking about "spectrum/partials" this is exactly the colour that we are referring to. This is exactly how the brain works. We are able to detect fundamental sound patterns within myriad additional spectral components. Why the brain is able to do this so effectively, is anybody's guess. – Mark Jan 12 '17 at 11:45
  • Thats what I cant catch. How it is able to catch foundamental when it doesnt know the "artist" idea behind it. Probably I guess thats enforced by the experience... Damn Pretty fascinating... – markzzz Jan 12 '17 at 13:02
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    We are getting into neuropsychology here - you should try your luck on a medical SE. Good question though. – Mark Jan 12 '17 at 13:04
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    There's a similarity in how we can immediately recognise someone we know, when they answer the phone, simply from them saying "Hello" - even though that sound is really tortured beyond all recognition compared to hearing them in the same room. – Tetsujin Jan 12 '17 at 13:23

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