what does the term "sterile" mean?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by bassoptimus, Oct 19, 2004.

  1. alright so ive got this SWR 4004 head and i personally think it sounds horrible and annoying and i wish to get a new one, perhaps an ampeg or something. when people ask me why i hate my head, i find myself frustrated because i dont know how to explain it to them. i see/hear people say that SWR amps are very sterile sounding and i wonder to myself what that means all the time.... what does it mean for an amp to sound sterile????
  2. DubDubs


    Aug 23, 2004
    Los Angeles
    I define it as a thin and flat sound with too much treble.
  3. I beleive in the sound industry, it the reproduction of any sound without any colouring from an amp.

    As in, ampeg=dirty vintage tone

    EA and other things=that of the output of the bass
  4. alexclaber

    alexclaber Commercial User

    Jun 19, 2001
    Brighton, UK
    Director - Barefaced Ltd
    It's the derogatory synonym for neutral in audio terms, a fine piece of weaponry for vintage tone aficionados! ;)

  5. Yeah...sterile is not an endearing term. You generally don't find EA fans going around saying..."Woo, I sure love that sterile tone I get out of that Iamp!" - Truth be told, one man's color is another man's....(what's the word they like to use???)...oh yeah, transparency. That's always good for a chuckle or two.
  6. For me, sterile is synonimous for "dull".

    A sterile amp can't have babies...
    :bag: I know I know, but someone had to say it...:D
  7. Hollow Man

    Hollow Man Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2003
    Springfield, VA
    I tend to think of 'sterile' as meaning lifeless and dull tone. You can hear the notes, but there's no punch or definition to those notes. It's less of a clear-cut definition and more of a way of describing a sound that's just not that tonally impressive.
  8. jobu3

    jobu3 Artist formerly known as Big Joe

    Feb 17, 2002
    Mountain Top, PA
    Sterile, by definition, means lifeless.
    If a scalpel is sterile, there are no microbes living on it.
    If a woman is sterile, she cannot bring forth life.

    One man's clean is another man's sterile.
    One man's sterile is another man's hi-fi, clean, goodness.
    Both can be handy in different applications, IMO.
  9. inazone


    Apr 20, 2003
    Im glad you said "hi-fi". I was thinking the difference between hi-fi and sterile depends on what side of the fence your on.
  10. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    The basic theme of the replies here is right on, one man's trash is another man's treasure. A lot depends on your bass and cabinets too. Some benifit from the transparent/sterile tone, while others do better with a dirty/warm tone. This debate is about as old as it gets. One thing I've found, no matter what i use, it always sounds like me. :cool:
  11. I kind of disagree with the sterile/hi-fi comment though. I do find hi-fi to be sterile, but I've heard hi-fi sounding amps that still had life to them. I have no problem calling an amp hi-fi, but it just isn't my thing. But when I call an amp sterile, it's because it really sounded dead. I played a workingman combo that was sterile. Hi-fi, I tend to associate to a bit of extra treble, while sterile is very blocky and dull sounding. The WM I tried had no highs.
  12. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    When i think of sterile/transparent i tend to think of a tone that has nothing added nor anything taken away from it. The output from pickups is not particularly bass heavy or "warm". The unchanged pickup signal doesn't have hyped up treble either, but it's not especially "dead" sounding. The sterile tone can lack amp induced character but it is accurate. No one would call AJ's tone dull or lifeless, but his equipment is certainly designed to give a sterile and accurate representation of what he and his bass sound like. The players who don't care for the sterile/transparent tone want their rig to alter the tone somewhat by adding or subtracting from it. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just taste. If a particular amp sounds dull and lifeless i wouldnt call it sterile or transparent. I would definitely say it had an altered/colored tone.
  13. Basspolizei

    Basspolizei Pseudo bass player/collector Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 23, 2004
    Buy basses and lots of guns before it's too late! You have been warned.
    "Vasectomy" comes to mind when describing a bass tone as sterile. Want one? I didn't think so. So, why play a sterile bass amp unless you have a perfect, high end bass. Most of us do not, so an amp with character (color) would be a welcome addition to your sound. I play Ampeg and love it's ability to get down and dirty. Tone is severely subjective and when you find yours, you will be considered a fortunate, content player. Enjoy the hunt for your tone and when you find it, don't forget to smile! :cool:
  14. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    I'll have to disagree here. One of the reasons SWR was so popular when it first came out was how it didnt further color the sound of vintage axes. Later on a lot of buyers of "high end" basses found that they wanted the extended frequency response of their basses tamed a bit by more "colored" preamps. Kinda funny actually, 2 guys, one with a fender j and a fender p, the other with a modulus and a smith, both wanting to sound more like the other guy. ;)
  15. DougP


    Sep 4, 2001
    i always wondered what sterile was also until... i put my ampeg preamp into the effects loop of my SWR combo. now i can turn the effects mix knob from either full SWR to Full Ampeg, and there is a huge difference.

    from what i hear, sterile is the opposite of warm.
  16. McHack


    Jul 29, 2003
    Central Ohio!
  17. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    To me "transparent" and "sterile" have very different connotations. I.e. transparent is good, sterile is bad.

    I really HATE the word sterile used to describe amps because it really doesn't describe what bad amps sound like to ME.

    Usually they have some oddball tonal coloration in the midrange that makes the sound ugly and no amount of EQ seems to really fix it.
  18. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    My feeling is that the term sterile, as commonly used in the bass community, doesn't mean anything usable and consistent. If so many people define the term differently, and they obviously do (from the evidence of this post and many others on this site), you really can't use it effectively to describe anything, because you can't be sure anybody reading what you say will understand the word in the sense you're meaning it. Which kinda ruins the point of attempting to communicate.

    I'm not saying you can't use words to talk about tone. You can, though words will never convey tone with the sophistication with which your ears are capable of hearing it. I'm saying that I think some words are ineffective tools for describing tone, and IMO "sterile" is one of them. "Hi-fi" is another in my book: it's supposed to mean "high fidelity"--that is, a sound that as much as possible is faithful to the original signal--but it's often used in this site and others to describe a sort of scooped, "modern" sound--which, precisely because it is scooped, is by definition an UNfaithful, inaccurate, colored sound. In other words, inherently NOT hi-fi. Which doesn't make it bad! It's just that it's hard to know what someone means anymore when they use the term hi-fi unless you know the poster somewhat or the poster has gone to some pains to explain what they mean.

    And no, I'm also not trying to be the word police and tell people what words to use. I'm just saying that if you tell me an amp sounds sterile, to me the term is so fuzzy and has so many possible interpretations that I'm just not gonna know what you mean. It's not gonna help me.

    But possibly that's just my problem!;)
  19. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    I think I have to disagree. I'm old enough to remember when SWRs started getting big, and IME most bassists I've encountered have felt that SWRs do in fact color the sound (that's what all that EQ and the magic Enhance knob are all about). It's just that they colored it in a way that was pleasant, and kinda new, and different from the coloration the more old-school amps provided.
  20. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Supporting Member

    Yes, sterile usually does have a negative connotation. Tube lovers often refer to clean solid state rack rigs as sterile... same is true for tweetered bass cabinets. Those who prefer the tone of passive Fender basses often refer to modern active basses (particularly those with graphite necks or neck-through construction) as sterile. Tube amps and passive basses are often lovingly referred to by their aficionados as "warm".

    As noted, the positive term for sterile is "transparent". Those who prefer transparency often refer to "warm" tones as "muddy".

    This sort of mudslinging is always worse in an election year. :D