What Is Timbre?
This elusive concept has confused many audio enthusiasts over the years. Timbre is not something you can figure out on paper and there is no spec or graph that will describe it. First of all, the word itself is a bit of a conundrum – “timbre” is pronounced TAM-ber. So right off the bat there is an instant misconception.
Timbre is often described as a “tone color” which is a pretty vague, yet accurate synonym. A perfect example of timbre variation would be playing a “middle C” note on different instruments. The exact same note on a piano and a violin will sound completely different. This is why orchestration is so important, because it’s the art of blending all those timbres to create unique sonic textures. But even within the same instrument, you can have timbre differences. Try singing a note and then sing the same note holding your nose. That’s a timbre difference!
Timbre In Speakers
When applied to speakers, timbre becomes a little more subtle but still very important. While an instrument’s purpose is sound production, a speaker’s purpose is sound reproduction. Accurately conveying the original source as truthfully as possible is the bane of the speaker engineer. Although the entire composition of a speaker affects its timbre, arguably the biggest contributors are the driver materials and the crossover network.
The tweeter is probably the easiest to notice a timbre difference because of our sensitivity to higher frequencies. There are countless substances that you can make a tweeter out of – silk, aluminum, titanium, beryllium, paper and a number of other materials. Each one has it's own sound with benefits and drawbacks. The crossover is configured to take advantage of the material's good qualities and attenuate the unpleasantries through filtering.
Do All Of My Speakers Need To Match?
People often talk about the importance of having at least your front three speakers timbre matched, if not your whole system. This is because when sound is moving across the sound stage, you want the connection between speakers to be as seamless as possible. The best way to achieve this is using speakers in the same “family.” These will use the same tweeter, woofer cone material and have matched crossover voicing.
Theoretically, an ideal system would have identical speakers in every position. But in the world of today’s home theater this is not necessary. Most systems are comprised of a collection of specialized components that are sonically matched. The role of each speaker has become more focused and tuned for that purpose.
The center channel for example, has undergone the largest evolution. What was once a bookshelf on its side has grown to into more mature and complex design, such as the Verus II Grand Center. A specially designed speaker, the Grand Center uses a vertical array driver orientation and 3-way crossover to act as the main hub of sound for a home theater. Even though the construction is radically different, it blends perfectly with the Grand Tower or Grand Bookshelf in that family.
Having mismatched speakers can cause one of them to stand out making it obvious that the sound is moving from one speaker to the next, rather than sounding like a continuous movement around you. This can pull you out of the immersive experience where you're noticing your speakers instead of the action.
What About Timbre In Subwoofers?
By the time you get to the bottom of our hearing range, timbre plays less and less of a role. Out of all the speakers in your system, this is the least important when concerned with timbre matching. You can pretty much use any subwoofer with any speaker system (as long as it’s good!) without worrying about the timbre. Just make sure it plays low, accurate and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up!