Home Recording Studio Glossary of Terms

As a site that talks about recording audio we can’t help but refer to technical terms that may be unfamiliar to the novice.  So we created this page to help you when you come across terms you don’t understand.

This page will get continued updates as time allows.

A

  • A/D Converter – Analog to Digital converter.  As pertains to a recording studio, this is a circuit that samples audio and digitizes it into a digital format.  Another way to say it is the amplitude of the signal gets converted to a binary number.  An A/D converter is often a multi-channel outboard box which is between the instrument and the computer.
  • Amplifier – This is typically a device that increases the size of an analog signal.  A common device in the recording studio would be a guitar amp or a power amp to drive speakers.
  • Amplitude – The size (or voltage) of a analog signal.
  • Analog – An analog signal refers to one that is not digital.  It is not ones and zeroes, rather it is a varying signal.  An examples of analog signals are a sine wave, triangle wave, sawtooth wave etc.

B

  • Bandwidth – The range of frequencies included.  For example an amplifier might have a 20HZ – 20KHz bandwidth.
  • Bounce Tracks – This is where you take several tracks and mix them together and record them on an unused track.  This is done sometimes to recover tracks when tracks are limited or sometimes to all them to all go through some effect together etc.
  • Bus – A bus is a signal path used to route signals around.  It is similar to a channel however the use is different.  For example, a 16 channel mixdown console might have an effect send bus to send a mix of audio signals to an effects rack.  The signal coming back would be the effects return bus.

C

  • Carbon Microphone – This is a very old style of microphone that is made up of carbon granules in a capsule between two metal plates.   A voltage is supplied across the plates and the sound waves create a variable resistance to the signal path.  They are typically noisy and not used today except to reproduce old time radio or telephone sounds.
  • Channel – A channel is a signal path similar in concept to a bus.  Examples might be: Channels can be used in a guitar amp for example such as “clean” or “distorted”.  A channel can be 1 of 32 channels on a mixer where 1 channel might be assigned to a microphone and 2 more channels might be assigned one for left and one for right of a stereo keyboard output.
  • Condenser microphone –  A high efficiency type of microphone.  It is sometimes called a capacitor microphone.  The word “condenser” comes from the fact that a capacitor used to be called a condenser years ago.  This type of microphone Cord or Cablerequires power to run it since it needs an electrical charge across the element.  The power can be supplied with a battery or with phantom power (externally supplied power see glossary definition).  You can learn more here.
  • Cord (Cable) – Not to be confused with a chord like a guitar chord.  A chord is almost a slang term for hook up cable.

D

  • Decibel – dB – Since our ears respond logarithmically the standard linear scales were not appropriate for audio.  The unit bel is the logarithm of the ratio of two powers.  The decibel is 1/10th of a bel.  It turns out that if a signal is down 3dB (-3dB) from another signal it is down by half power.
  • Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) – This is a system designed for recording and playing back digital audio signals.  It typically replaces a tape recorder at minimum.  It can also replace an audio mixer and outboard effects of all types.
  • Dynamic MicrophoneDynamic microphone – The dynamic microphone is the workhorse of microphones.  It works much like a speaker in reverse.  There is a diaphragm that sound waves impact.  That diaphragm has a voice coil on it that moves in a magnetic field.  As the coil moves through the magnetic field it creates an electrical signal which can be amplified or recorded.
  • Dynamic Range – Audio systems are limited by noise at the low volumes and overload at high levels.  The range between those two limits is called the dynamic range and is expressed in dB.

E

  • Effects Loop (Send & Return) – This is the part of the system where the signal gets routed out (send) to an effects box such as a reverb and then back (return) to the mixer.  This can happen in hardware or virtually in software.
  • EQ – Equalization comes in many forms.  It can affect the treble, the bass, the mids etc.  EQ refers to a broad category of circuits or virtual circuits that affect tone.  A 10 band graphic equalizer is an EQ.  A treble control on a guitar amp is an EQ.
  • Equalizer – This is a circuit, box or virtual effect that performs equalization control.  (See EQ above.)

F

  • Feedback – Feedback is a positive re-enforcement of the signal such that it gets larger.  That means in the case of a microphone for example, that it might pick up the amplified output of the mic through the PA system.  You then get the characteristic squeal while every ducks for cover and starts pulling gain controls down.
  • Filter – This can be a circuit, box, or virtual effect that controls what frequencies may pass through it.  Some types are listed below:
    • Bandpass – Allows a range (or band) of frequencies to pass through it.
    • Highpass – Allows frequencies above a cutoff point to pass through it.
    • Lowpass – Allows frequencies below a cutoff point to pass through it.
    • Notch – Sometimes called a band reject filter.  Has a range of frequencies NOT allowed to pass through.  The inverse of a bandpass filter.
    • Parametric – A filter that can move the frequency effected, the Q of the filter and usually if it passes or rejects frequencies.

G

  • Ground Loop – This problem is caused by the difference in potential between grounds when equipment is hooked together.  It might occur when an amp is plugged in on one side of a room and another amp is plugged in on another side of the room.  If both those get hooked to a mixer that is plugged in somewhere else you can get a lot of hum from bad grounding.  Trying to get all your grounds at the same spot can help eliminate this.

H

  • Closed Back HeadphonesHeadphones – An essential piece of equipment in the home studio.  I recommend a closed back style of headphone that blocks outside noise.  I DON’T recommend noise cancelling headphones.  But in a home studio in particular you may play in the room you record in.  Headphones can isolate the live sound from the recorded sound.  They also get great frequency response at low prices.
  • Hertz – Abbreviated Hz is the cycles per second of a signal.

I

  • Impedance – Impedance is a number usually represented in the units of ohms in the audio world.  It is a complex number in actuality that can be thought of as the resistance at a frequency.  Speakers may be represented as being “8 ohms” but are actually a load that varies with frequency.  But in general terms you can think of it as interchangeable with resistance.  So an 8 ohm speaker has twice the impedance as a 4 ohm speaker.  That means that a 4 ohm speaker represents a bigger load than an 8 ohm speaker.

J

K

  • Keyboard – Multiple definitions are used in the recording studio.  It usually refers to a broad category of electronic musical instruments that may replace a piano, organ or music synthesizer, however it could refer to a standard computer keyboard for data entry on a computer.

L

  • LED – Light Emitting Diode.  This is now a very common type of light that can be used as an indicator light on a console, effects box or to backlight an entire display.  Very popular and cost effective.
  • Line in/out – This indicates that the path is line level inputs or outputs.  Guitars for example put out very small signal compared to line level signals.  Line level signals may be up around 1V RMS.
  • Logarithm – An exponent of 10.  For example 10 exp 2 = 100.  The log of 10 = 1, log of 100 = 2 and log of 1000 = 3.

M

  • Microphone – Microphones are audio transducers that convert sound to electrical signals.  They come in an amazing variety each having it’s own advantages and disadvantages.  Some of the more popular styles are:
    • Carbon
    • Condenser
    • Dynamic
    • Ribbon
  • MIDI – MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface.  It is a control signal rather than a musical signal.  In other words it contains no audio directly but does contain signals that control audio devices.  The number of uses of MIDI has gone totally out of control.  Things are being controlled with MIDI that was never intended.  The versatility and performance of this interface that uses specific connectors is time tested and proven.  It is used on keyboards, drum machines, mixers, audio interfaces and more.  You can write a book (and many have) on this one topic alone.

 

Audio Mixer

  • Mixer – A device that can “mix” signals from several sources into different
    channels…usually less channels.  For example you might have a 16 channel mixer than can mix the signals and put them on any one or all of 2 output channels (stereo).  You might have 16 input channels and 8 output channels.  Sources might be any type of musical instrument with an electrical output, a microphone, keyboard etc.
  • Monitor – This usually refers to a loudspeaker used in the control room of a recording studio.  It can also just mean to listen to a signal when pertaining to a mixer for example.

N

  • Noise – Now HERE is a broad category.  It simply refers to any unwanted or unintended sound.  It could be caused by buzzing from the 60 HZ power line, hiss, a ground loop or other things.

O

  • Overdubbing – This term comes from the tape deck days but essentially means to record a track while listening to another track.  This lets you play a lead over the top of a rhythm track for example.  This is done with ease using a digital audio system.

P

  • PAD – Another term for an attenuator.  This cuts the amplitude of the signal.
  • Parametric Equalizer – This is a device that features sweepable frequency, gain and Q factor.

Q

  • Q factor – This stands for the Quality Factor or the sharpness (steepness) of the filter response.  It is defined by the center frequency divided by the 3dB bandwidth.  A 1000 HZ centered filter that is 100 HZ wide 3dB down has a Q of 10.

R

  • Reverberation – Usually we mean an effect box or virtual effect that causes a decaying sound over time that  imitate room reflections.  Another way to say it is that the reverb box was designed to imitate natural room acoustics.
  • Ribbon Microphone – In general this is still a type of dynamic microphone that has a moving coil in a magnetic field.  The diaphragm is replaced by a thin foil ribbon which is open on both sides to sound.  Ribbon mikes can be very fragile due to this foil but have other advantages in good treble frequency response and the pattern of pickup is typically a figure 8.  This gives high rejection to unwanted sounds on the sides and good front and rear coverage.  Typically ribbon mics don’t require phantom power but some do because of onboard preamps.

S

  • Sibilance – Sibilance is the emphasis of the “S” sound and the “SH” sounds.  When this is too hot in the mix it can be very distracting and annoying.  Often a de-esser is used to eliminate or reduce the sibilance from a recording.  Since often a compressor is also used with vocals it is a good idea to put the compressor in line after the de-esser.
  • Signal to Noise Ratio – Abbreviated SNR or S/N- is measured in dB.  This is a measure of the ratio of the power of signal divided by the power of the noise.  You would like this to be as large as possible.  So a S/N of 110 dB would be very good.

T

  • Tweeter – A speaker dedicated to handling the high frequency range.

U

  • Unidirectional Microphones – A unidirectional microphone is most sensitive to sounds from one direction (front).  It also rejects sound from the rear.  These are extremely handy in live sound situations so as to reject feedback from the PA speakers for example.

V

  • Voice Coil – The wire windings in a loudspeaker.  This is typically wound around a small diameter fiber tube that is glued on the back of the speaker diaphragm and inserted into a magnet structure.
  • Volume – How loud something is.
  • VU – Usually in reference to a VU Meter.  VU stands for volume units.

W

  • Woofer – The loudspeaker that handles the low frequency ranges.

X

  • XLR Connectors – This is a type of connector that is round and has typically 3 pins on it.  It is what is called a “balanced” signal.  Balanced lines have 2 signal lines and 1 ground.  A single ended line like a guitar cord has a single signal wire and a ground.  The advantage is that balanced lines are much less susceptible to noise and as low impedance lines can run very long distances with very little degradation.

Y

Z

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