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Both modifications make a sound softer. It seems to me that engines, for example are never "muted" but commonly "muffled" while it's the opposite for brass horns. What usage guidance might apply to distinguish between these two in other settings?

For some examples (feel free to supplement), which would I use for:

  1. a machine that is quieter because it's only heard at a distance through a window.
  2. a shocked person whose voice is very quiet as a result
  3. a falling tree/limb cushioned by soft leaves
  4. a crowded atrium once sound absorption panels have been installed
  5. a car engine designed to sound quieter to people around it
  6. a firearm with a noise suppression device
  7. anything I hear with ineffective earplugs
  • Throw a blanket over a drum and then beat on it. That's muffled. Use a plumber's friend (plunger) on the horn of a trumpet. That's muted. – Hot Licks Oct 24 '16 at 21:20
  • @HotLicks Are the musical references related to your user name being Hot Licks, or does your user name have something to do with dogs' tongues? – Richard Kayser Oct 25 '16 at 3:58
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There is definition overlap, but as you've described, I think it relates to devices used to achieve the effect.

According to one dictionary definition for muted:

"provided with or produced or modified by the use of a mute"

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/muted

Compare with muffled:

"to wrap or pad with something to dull the sound"

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/muffled

Thus, the mute is one device and the muffle is another.

  • 1
    A muffled sound will be featureless, with only the low frequencies making it through. A muted sound will lack the highest frequencies, and the sounds you can hear will seem to be a bit jumbled together. A muted sound is somewhat like talking while holding your nose, whereas a muffled sound is talking while holding your winter jacket over your face. – Hot Licks Oct 24 '16 at 21:31

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