Audio signal

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An audio signal is a representation of sound, typically using either a changing level of electrical voltage for analog signals, or a series of binary numbers for digital signals. Audio signals have frequencies in the audio frequency range of roughly 20 to 20,000 Hz, which corresponds to the lower and upper limits of human hearing. Audio signals may be synthesized directly, or may originate at a transducer such as a microphone, musical instrument pickup, phonograph cartridge, or tape head. Loudspeakers or headphones convert an electrical audio signal back into sound.


Digital audio systems represent audio signals in a variety of digital formats. [1]

An audio channel or audio track is an audio signal communications channel in a storage device or mixing console, used in operations such as multi-track recording and sound reinforcement.

Signal flow

Signal flow is the path an audio signal will take from source to the speaker or recording device. Signal flow may be short and simple as in a home audio system or long and convoluted in a recording studio and larger sound reinforcement system as the signal may pass through many sections of a large mixing console, external audio equipment, and even different rooms.


Audio signals may be characterized by parameters such as their bandwidth, nominal level, power level in decibels (dB), and voltage level. The relationship between power and voltage is determined by the impedance of the signal path. Signal paths may be single-ended or balanced.

Audio signals have somewhat standardized levels depending on the application. Outputs of professional mixing consoles are most commonly at line level. Consumer audio equipment will also output at a lower line level. Microphones generally output at an even lower level, commonly referred to as mic level.

Digital equivalent

The digital form of an audio signal is used in audio plug-ins and digital audio workstation (DAW) software. The digital information passing through the DAW (i.e. from an audio track through a plug-in and out a hardware output) is an audio signal.

A digital audio signal can be sent over optical fiber, coaxial and twisted pair cable. A line code and potentially a communication protocol is applied render a digital signal for a transmission medium. Digital audio transports include ADAT, TDIF, TOSLINK, S/PDIF, AES3, MADI, audio over Ethernet and audio over IP.

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An analog signal is any continuous signal for which the time-varying feature of the signal is a representation of some other time-varying quantity, i.e., analogous to another time-varying signal. For example, in an analog audio signal, the instantaneous voltage of the signal varies continuously with the pressure of the sound waves.

Microphone Device that converts sound into an electrical signal

A microphone, colloquially called a mic or mike, is a device – a transducer – that converts sound into an electrical signal. Microphones are used in many applications such as telephones, hearing aids, public address systems for concert halls and public events, motion picture production, live and recorded audio engineering, sound recording, two-way radios, megaphones, radio and television broadcasting. They are also used in computers for recording voice, speech recognition, VoIP, and for non-acoustic purposes such as ultrasonic sensors or knock sensors.

Mixing console Device used for audio mixing for recording or performance

In sound recording and reproduction, and sound reinforcement systems, a mixing console is an electronic device for combining sounds of many different audio signals. Inputs to the console include microphones being used by singers and for picking up acoustic instruments, signals from electric or electronic instruments, or recorded music. Depending on the type, a mixer is able to control analog or digital signals. The modified signals are summed to produce the combined output signals, which can then be broadcast, amplified through a sound reinforcement system or recorded.

Recording studio

A recording studio is a specialized facility for sound recording, mixing, and audio production of instrumental or vocal musical performances, spoken words, and other sounds. They range in size from a small in-home project studio large enough to record a single singer-guitarist, to a large building with space for a full orchestra of 100 or more musicians. Ideally, both the recording and monitoring spaces are specially designed by an acoustician or audio engineer to achieve optimum acoustic properties.

Phone connector (audio) Family of connector typically used for analog signals

A phone connector, also known as phone jack, audio jack, headphone jack or jack plug, is a family of electrical connectors typically used for analog audio signals. The standard is that a plug will connect with a jack.

Phantom power DC power through microphone cables

Phantom power, in the context of professional audio equipment, is DC electric power transmitted through microphone cables to operate microphones that contain active electronic circuitry. It is best known as a convenient power source for condenser microphones, though many active direct boxes also use it. The technique is also used in other applications where power supply and signal communication take place over the same wires.


A preamplifier, also known as a preamp, is an electronic amplifier that converts a weak electrical signal into an output signal strong enough to be noise-tolerant and strong enough for further processing, or for sending to a power amplifier and a loudspeaker. Without this, the final signal would be noisy or distorted. They are typically used to amplify signals from analog sensors such as microphones and pickups. Because of this, the preamplifier is often placed close to the sensor to reduce the effects of noise and interference.

DI unit

A DI unit is an electronic device typically used in recording studios and in sound reinforcement systems to connect a high-output impedance, line level, unbalanced output signal to a low-impedance, microphone level, balanced input, usually via an XLR connector and XLR cable. DIs are frequently used to connect an electric guitar or electric bass to a mixing console's microphone input jack. The DI performs level matching, balancing, and either active buffering or passive impedance matching/impedance bridging to minimize unwanted noise, distortion, and ground loops. DI units are typically metal boxes with input and output jacks and, for more expensive units, “ground lift” and attenuator switches.

Digital audio workstation computer workstation or software application used for editing and creating music and audio

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is an electronic device or application software used for recording, editing and producing audio files. DAWs come in a wide variety of configurations from a single software program on a laptop, to an integrated stand-alone unit, all the way to a highly complex configuration of numerous components controlled by a central computer. Regardless of configuration, modern DAWs have a central interface that allows the user to alter and mix multiple recordings and tracks into a final produced piece.

Sound reinforcement system

A sound reinforcement system is the combination of microphones, signal processors, amplifiers, and loudspeakers in enclosures all controlled by a mixing console that makes live or pre-recorded sounds louder and may also distribute those sounds to a larger or more distant audience. In many situations, a sound reinforcement system is also used to enhance or alter the sound of the sources on the stage, typically by using electronic effects, such as reverb, as opposed to simply amplifying the sources unaltered.

Line level is the specified strength of an audio signal used to transmit analog sound between audio components such as CD and DVD players, television sets, audio amplifiers, and mixing consoles.

Mains hum, electric hum, cycle hum, or power line hum is a sound associated with alternating current which is twice the frequency of the mains electricity. The fundamental frequency of this sound is usually double that of fundamental 50/60 Hz, i.e. 100/120 Hz, depending on the local power-line frequency. The sound often has heavy harmonic content above 50/60 Hz. Because of the presence of mains current in mains-powered audio equipment as well as ubiquitous AC electromagnetic fields from nearby appliances and wiring, 50/60 Hz electrical noise can get into audio systems, and is heard as mains hum from their speakers. Mains hum may also be heard coming from powerful electric power grid equipment such as utility transformers, caused by mechanical vibrations induced by magnetostriction in magnetic core. Onboard aircraft the frequency heard is often higher pitched, due to the use of 400 Hz AC power in these settings because 400 Hz transformers are much smaller and lighter.

DJ mixer

A DJ mixer is a type of audio mixing console used by disc jockeys (DJs) to control and manipulate multiple audio signals. Some DJs use the mixer to make seamless transitions from one song to another when they are playing records at a dance club. Hip hop DJs and turntablists use the DJ mixer to play record players like a musical instrument and create new sounds. DJs in the disco, house music, electronic dance music and other dance-oriented genres use the mixer to make smooth transitions between different sound recordings as they are playing. The sources are typically record turntables, compact cassettes, CDJs, or DJ software on a laptop. DJ mixers allow the DJ to use headphones to preview the next song before playing it to the audience. Most low- to mid-priced DJ mixers can only accommodate two turntables or CD players, but some mixers can accommodate up to four turntables or CD players. DJs and turntablists in hip hop music and nu metal use DJ mixers to create beats, loops and "scratching" sound effects.

In audio processing and sound reinforcement, an insert is an access point built into the mixing console, allowing the audio engineer to add external line level devices into the signal flow between the microphone preamplifier and the mix bus.

Digital mixing console

In professional audio, a digital mixing console (DMC) is an electronic device used to combine, route, and change the dynamics, equalization and other properties of multiple audio input signals, using digital signal processing rather than analog circuitry. The digital audio samples, which is the internal representation of the analog inputs, are summed to what is known as a master channel to produce a combined output. A professional digital mixing console is a dedicated desk or control surface produced exclusively for the task and is typically more robust in terms of user control, processing power and quality of audio effects. However, a computer can also perform the same function since it can mimic its interface, input and output.

Audio signal flow is the path an audio signal takes from source to output. The concept of audio signal flow is closely related to the concept of audio gain staging; each component in the signal flow can be thought of as a gain stage.

Audio engineer Engineer involved in the recording, reproduction, or reinforcement of sound

An audio engineer helps to produce a recording or a live performance, balancing and adjusting sound sources using equalization, dynamics processing and audio effects, mixing, reproduction, and reinforcement of sound. Audio engineers work on the "technical aspect of recording—the placing of microphones, pre-amp knobs, the setting of levels. The physical recording of any project is done by an engineer ... the nuts and bolts."

Audio mixing (recorded music)

In sound recording and reproduction, audio mixing is the process of optimizing and combining multitrack recordings into a final mono, stereo or surround sound product. In the process of combining the separate tracks, their relative levels are adjusted and balanced and various processes such as equalization and compression are commonly applied to individual tracks, groups of tracks, and the overall mix. In stereo and surround sound mixing, the placement of the tracks within the stereo field are adjusted and balanced. Audio mixing techniques and approaches vary widely and have a significant influence on the final product.

Matrix mixer

A matrix mixer is an audio electronics device that routes multiple input audio signals to multiple outputs. It usually employs level controls such as potentiometers to determine how much of each input is going to each output, and it can incorporate simple on/off assignment buttons. The number of individual controls is at least the number of inputs multiplied by the number of outputs.

Professional audio store

A professional audio store is a retail business that sells, and in many cases rents, sound reinforcement system equipment and PA system components used in music concerts, live shows, dance parties and speaking events. This equipment typically includes microphones, power amplifiers, electronic effects units, speaker enclosures, monitor speakers, subwoofers and audio consoles (mixers). Some professional audio stores also sell sound recording equipment, DJ equipment, lighting equipment used in nightclubs and concerts and video equipment used in events, such as video projectors and screens. Some professional audio stores rent "backline" equipment used in rock and pop shows, such as stage pianos and bass amplifiers. While professional audio stores typically focus on selling new merchandise, some stores also sell used equipment, which is often the equipment that the company has previously rented out for shows and events.


  1. Hodgson, Jay (2010). Understanding Records, p.1. ISBN   978-1-4411-5607-5.