What is Sibilance in Audio? (Answered)

What is Sibilance in Audio

This is a term many might not know but yet have often experienced the irritation of sibilance. When listening to any audio, music, the spoken word, or a movie soundtrack, have you ever noticed an exaggerated S sound? It is sometimes also noticeable on the T and Z sounds. This distortion or over-emphasis is called sibilance. 

It is somewhat ironic that sibilance starts with an S! 

Some frequencies are more susceptible to this problem. For example, two people might speak on the same track but due to the frequency range, only one presents sibilance. Often it is a problem with the audio equipment or the settings although in some instances it can be a problem with the original recording. 

It can also be heard in some instruments. This happens with those that produce a high pitch or frequency such as high-hat cymbals. 

This is not what you want. Audio clarity and detail are essential for your enjoyment. Any sound that is not crisp and clear will take away from the experience. The S sound, and others, should be crisp and clear. Hissing and distortion of the sound are caused by sibilance. This is unpleasant and ruins the audio. 

What causes sibilance 

There are several reasons you might experience the problem of sibilance. The first thing to check is that the cause is not the original recording. When listening to the audio, remember that some people speak or sing with a natural sibilance and this can not be changed. 

Some music or audio tracks, particularly older ones or bootlegs, might have some sibilance. Even recent downloads that are poorly captured can have this problem. You will need to test the source audio on other equipment. If this is the case there is not much that you can do about it. 

Some people prefer raw original recordings, often on vinyl. If they have minor sibilance you will have to try to accept it if you want to enjoy the original recording. Otherwise, switch to a remastered version that has been engineered to remove this problem and enhance the music. 

Digital music can also present a problem and this could be as a result of the format. You might need a higher spec format for your digital files if you are finding that what you stream or download presents with sibilance. Compressed files often lead to poor quality and can increase the sibilance. 

If you are a vinyl fan, take a look at the 10 Best All In One Stereo Systems With a Turntable.

Often, even the best recordings present a certain amount of sibilance with a harsh S sound. The cause is often the speakers. Unfortunately, speakers do not last forever

How to fix sibilance

The first thing you need to try to do is to determine the cause or source of the problem. As discussed above, it could be a number of things. If you are finding it on most music or audio, there must be a problem. 

Next, check your speakers. If possible, try other speakers on your system or test the same speakers on another system. Be sure to use the same or similar audio so that you can make a clear comparison. The same applies to headphones. 

Speaker placement is also important and is a potential reason for sibilance. You will have to test this through trial and error. Try to reposition the speakers in multiple locations to see if this has any impact. 

You will also want to check the settings on your audio system. If you are using an AVR or home theater system, try turning the EQ off. Often this function is automatic and can cause sibilance. 

Also, experiment with the treble control or equalizer if you have one. While bass is not normally a cause of sibilance, check that setting too to ensure that it is correct for optimal enjoyment. 

Volume is another factor so simply turning this down could reduce or eliminate sibilance. The high frequencies can distort at higher volumes. 

The amplifier itself might be the issue. If this is the case there is not much that can be done. It will be best to invest in a better model. 

Conclusion

Sibilance can ruin an otherwise excellent soundtrack or music. It is important to reduce or eliminate it for greater enjoyment. The problem ranges from mild to severe and can be a source of great irritation. Often, the source of the audio is at fault. If not, there are several things to check to address the problem. We have given you a few ideas to try to save you from the stress of sibilance. 

This article was last updated on November 12, 2021 .

By Charl Jooste

Writing full time from home, Charl enjoys modern technology and advanced gadgets but still has a soft spot for quality reliable appliances. He is passionate about durability and quality going to great lengths to find the very best ideas and leading products to share with readers.