Reviewers of audio equipment must, as a matter of necessity, talk about somewhat abstract concepts like “dynamic range.” These terms aren’t often very well defined, but are important nonetheless. Dynamic range, which in principle simply defines the difference between the background noise level of a product and the loudest sound the product can reproduce, is a particularly significant case example. Music, of course, consists of sounds, but these sounds differ not only in pitch and combination and timing, but also in level, or what we commonly call “volume”. The ability of a piece of audio equipment to reveal the sounds at all sorts of different levels is of paramount importance to accurate music reproduction, just as the ability of audio equipment to present correct pitches and tone colors is important.
Now an important point here is that dynamic range isn’t mainly about the ability of audio gear to produce loud sounds. One reason for that is that, at most frequencies, producing loud sounds is actually fairly easy. But even if we view producing musical peaks as difficult, we still have problems at the quiet end of the volume spectrum. The problem is that music requires the ability to go from soft to loud and back again. The contrast between loud and soft is part of what gives music its dynamism. The difficulty is that we can’t simply create dynamic contrast by cranking the peaks up to super loud levels. That’s because very loud sounds are unpleasant (and ultimately cause hearing damage). So, to create dynamic contrast, we need the ability to play loud and soft. In addition, the ability to play soft sounds is key because two other essential music elements lie at the soft end of the spectrum: overtones and spatial reflections.