"Reference" Products

I have often seen products with "Reference" in the name, such as "Professional Reference Speakers." Exactly what does that mean? Is it a standard or just hype to sell a product.

Terry Bavousett

The word "reference" is not a standard at all—in fact, I'd say it's more hype than anything else. Many consumer-electronics manufacturers use this word in the name of their flagship product or product line to indicate that all other similar products should be judged according to how close they come to the performance of the "reference" product, but the moniker is pretty meaningless in my view.

This terminology has a bit more meaning in the professional world. For example, a "reference" monitor is generally a video display or speaker that reproduces the input signal accurately, distorting it as little as possible. Such a video display reproduces a well-defined grayscale and set of colors, while a reference speaker exhibits a flat frequency response across the entire range of human hearing. This allows content creators to evaluate their material with minimal distortion from the playback equipment.

On the other hand, the little Auratone speaker, seen here with Quincy Jones in an old print ad, has long been a "reference" speaker of sorts that engineers use to see how their mix will sound on a low-fidelity system, and it's far from flat across the sonic spectrum. So the word can actually have somewhat different meanings depending on the context.

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