Tech Tip:Glossary: Fundamental Recording Terms


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Amplitude
The loudness (a.k.a. peak-to-peak voltage, or simply the electrical energy) carried by a waveform. It's the voltage measurement of the waveform's variation above and below a reference, usually called "ground" or "zero Volts.". When you see the trace of a sound file on a DAW, the amplitude is the height of a signal in the track.

 

Cochlea
A part of the inner ear which separates sound into frequency bands and converts these into neuro-electrical impulses.

 

D/A Converters
Devices that convert analog, electronic waveforms into a digital information description of the waveform, and vice versa.

 

dB
Short for decibel. The smallest sound most humans can hear has a pressure of 20 micro-Pascals (a linear measurement of air pressure); painfully loud sounds occur at around 100 Pascals, which is 5 million times as much pressure! The way that we perceive loudness is more or less logarithmic, so that a tenfold increase in pressure is only perceived as a doubling in sound volume. The decibel range was configured to measure acoustical and electrical energies in a "humanized" and more manageable way, so that in the dB scale our range of hearing is on the order of 120 dB - much easier to deal with than a linear scale of 0 to 5 million.

 

Fader
A linear control; a slider, such as those on a mixer, which typically control volume or output.

 

Frequency
Measurement of the pitch and/or timbre of sounds (typically, in Hertz). Low frequencies correspond to low, or bass pitches and high frequencies correspond to high or treble pitches.

 

Gain
Any increase in the level of a signal, particularly electrical signals.

 

LED (or L.E.D.)
Short for Light Emitting Diode. LEDs are the small red, orange, yellow, green, or blue lights on equipment panels that indicate something is on, engaged, peaking, or getting signal. The physical mechanism isn't important; they're really the same as light bulbs, but smaller, more efficient, and more reliable.

 

Low-Bit Distortion
Describes the lack of resolution for quiet sounds in digital sound conversions. This is one of the great drawbacks in digital sound and becomes most notable in multitracking situations, where this distortion builds up track by track, leading to lack of transparency, harshness in the very high frequencies and masking of layered tracks. Partial remedies are recording in at least 24-bit and keeping record levels as hot as possible.

 

Multitrack
noun. Any recording device that has more than 2 tracks. verb. To record more than 2 tracks.

 

Signal Path
Description of the flow of electronic signal through the studio, such as from from microphone to mixer to compressor and so on.

 

Transient
A sudden loud sound with a short decay, like a drum hit or a door slam.

 

Transmitter
In radio, a device that converts electrical signals into very high-frequency electro-magnetic impulses and sends them to a broadcast antenna.

 

VU Meter
Short for Volume Unit meter, which consists of a 200mA D'Arsonval meter movement buffered by a CuO2 rectifier. 0 VU is referenced to 1milliWatt of power into a 600 ohm load In plain English, a VU meter displays some average value of a waveform's amplitude. You won't see the peaks in level that might be wreaking havoc with your recorder, but the display does approximate the way your ear averages your perception of level changes, and also relates well to recording on analog tape (where it is acceptable to record peaks that are far higher than the maximum recommended record level). The VU meter doesn't really notice the peaks unless there are lots of them in quick succession, so you often get an LED peak indicator with the VU meter, giving you the best of both worlds.

 

Widget
A generic term for any device or thingamajig.