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Audio Terminology

This page lists some common audio terms and their meanings. For more audio terminology, see our glossary or search this site.

Amplifier: A device which increases the amplitude of a signal. More info: Amplifiers
Ambient Audio: The background noise present in a scene or recording location. More info: Ambient Audio, Matching Ambient Sound, Wild Sound, Room Tone, Buzz Track
Attenuator: A device which reduces the amplitude of a signal. More info: Attenuators
Audio: The range of sound frequencies which can be heard by humans.
Balanced Audio: A type of audio signal which uses two inverted voltages as a way to prevent unwanted noise being picked up by cables. More info: Balanced Audio
Bus: The pathway along which an electrical signal flows. For example, the output of a sound mixer is referred to as the master stereo bus. More info: Buses
Channel: Similar to a bus, a pathway through an audio device. For example, sound mixers have multiple input channels. More info: Sound Mixer Channels
Compression (1): A method of reducing the size of a digital file.
Compression (2): A method of "evening out" the dynamic range of a signal. More info: Using an audio compressor
DAT: Digital Audio Tape.
Decibel (dB): Logarithmic measurement of signal strength. 1/10 of a Bel.
Equalization: The process of adjusting various audio frequencies to correct or enhance the sound. More info: Audio Equalisation
Fade: A transition to or from silence. More info:
Frequency Response: The sensitivity of an audio device to various frequencies, i.e. the amount each frequency is boosted, attenuated or reproduced. More info: Microphone Frequency Response
Gain: The amplification level of an audio signal.
Hertz: Unit of frequency, cycles per second.
Headroom: In a cable or audio device, the difference between the maximum level of the signal being carried and the maximum level the device is capable of carrying without distortion. Headroom is safety room.
Impedance: The amount of opposition a device has to an audio signal. In technical terms, the combined effect of capacitance, inductance, and resistance on a signal. More info: Microphone Impedance
MIDI: Musical Instrument Digital Interface. A standard of communication between musical instruments, controllers and computers.
Mixer: A device which accepts two or more audio inputs and provides one or more audio outputs. More info: Audio mixers
PCM: Pulse Code Modulation, a digital audio format.
Peak: The highest level of strength of an audio signal. Often refers to an unacceptably high level, where the signal begins distorting. More info: Distortion
Phantom Power: A DC current which is sent through audio cables to provide power for devices such as microphones. More info: Phantom power
PPM: Peak Program Meter, an audio level meter. More info: PPM Meters
RCA: A common type of audio (and video) connector, often used in home entertainment systems. More info: RCA Connectors
Reverb: Reverberation, the effect of sound waves bouncing off walls and other objects. More info: Audio Reverb
Sample: In digital audio recording, thousands of individual "samples" are recorded every second. Added together these make up the digital audio signal.
Stereo: Audio which is made up of two channels — left and right.
Tone: An audio test signal used to adjust levels, test signal quality, identify signal pathways, etc. More info: Audio Tone
Transducer: Any device which coverts energy from one form into another. Microphones and loudspeakers are both transducers. More info: Microphones
Ultrasonic: Audio frequencies which are too high to be heard by humans (above approximately 20,000 kHz).
Vocal: Pertaining to the human voice.
VU: Volume Unit, a unit used to measure the volume of an audio signal. More info: VU Meters
Wavelength: The length of a wave, measured from any point on a wave to the corresponding point on the next phase of the wave. More info: Sound Waves
XLR: A lockable connector, available with various numbers of pins. The most common XLR in audio work is the 3-pin XLR. More info: Audio connectors