An audio signal is a representation of sound, typically using a level of electrical voltage for analog signals, and 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.
In physics, sound is a vibration that typically propagates as an audible wave of pressure, through a transmission medium such as a gas, liquid or solid.
Voltage, electric potential difference, electric pressure or electric tension is the difference in electric potential between two points. The difference in electric potential between two points in a static electric field is defined as the work needed per unit of charge to move a test charge between the two points. In the International System of Units, the derived unit for voltage is named volt. In SI units, work per unit charge is expressed as joules per coulomb, where 1 volt = 1 joule per 1 coulomb. The official SI definition for volt uses power and current, where 1 volt = 1 watt per 1 ampere. This definition is equivalent to the more commonly used 'joules per coulomb'. Voltage or electric potential difference is denoted symbolically by ∆V, but more often simply as V, for instance in the context of Ohm's or Kirchhoff's circuit laws.
An analog signal is any continuous signal for which the time-varying feature (variable) 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. It differs from a digital signal, in which the continuous quantity is a representation of a sequence of discrete values which can only take on one of a finite number of values. The term analog signal usually refers to electrical signals; however, mechanical, pneumatic, hydraulic, human speech, and other systems may also convey or be considered analog signals.
Digital audio systems represent audio signals in a variety of digital formats.
Digital audio is sound that has been recorded in, or converted into, digital form. In digital audio, the sound wave of the audio signal is encoded as numerical samples in continuous sequence. For example, in CD audio, samples are taken 44100 times per second each with 16 bit sample depth. Digital audio is also the name for the entire technology of sound recording and reproduction using audio signals that have been encoded in digital form. Following significant advances in digital audio technology during the 1970s, it gradually replaced analog audio technology in many areas of audio engineering and telecommunications in the 1990s and 2000s.
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.
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.
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 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.
Home audio systems are audio electronics intended for home entertainment use, such as shelf stereos and surround sound receivers. Home audio generally does not include standard equipment such as built-in television speakers, but rather accessory equipment, which may be intended to enhance or replace standard equipment, such as standard TV speakers. Since surround sound receivers, which are primarily intended to enhance the reproduction of a movie, are the most popular home audio device, the primary field of home audio is home cinema.
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.
Audio signals may be characterized by parameters such as their bandwidth, nominal level, power level in decibels (dB), and voltage level. The relation between power and voltage is determined by the impedance of the signal path, which may be single-ended or balanced.
Bandwidth is the difference between the upper and lower frequencies in a continuous band of frequencies. It is typically measured in hertz, and depending on context, may specifically refer to passband bandwidth or baseband bandwidth. Passband bandwidth is the difference between the upper and lower cutoff frequencies of, for example, a band-pass filter, a communication channel, or a signal spectrum. Baseband bandwidth applies to a low-pass filter or baseband signal; the bandwidth is equal to its upper cutoff frequency.
Nominal level is the operating level at which an electronic signal processing device is designed to operate. The electronic circuits that make up such equipment are limited in the maximum signal they can handle and the low-level internally generated electronic noise they add to the signal. The difference between the internal noise and the maximum level is the device's dynamic range. The nominal level is the level that these devices were designed to operate at, for best dynamic range and adequate headroom. When a signal is chained with improper gain staging through many devices, the dynamic range of the signal is reduced.
Electric power is the rate, per unit time, at which electrical energy is transferred by an electric circuit. The SI unit of power is the watt, one joule per second.
Audio signals have somewhat standardized levels depending on 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 a mic level.
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.
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 being sent through wire can use several formats including optical (ADAT, TDIF), coaxial (S/PDIF), XLR (AES/EBU), and Ethernet.
A microphone, colloquially nicknamed mic or mike, is a transducer that converts sound into an electrical signal.
Balanced audio is a method of interconnecting audio equipment using balanced lines. This type of connection is very important in sound recording and production because it allows the use of long cables while reducing susceptibility to external noise caused by electromagnetic interference.
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 XLR connector is a style of electrical connector, primarily found on professional audio, video, and stage lighting equipment. The connectors are circular in design and have between three and seven pins. They are most commonly associated with balanced audio interconnection, including AES3 digital audio, but are also used for lighting control, low-voltage power supplies, and other applications. XLR connectors are available from a number of manufacturers and are covered by an international standard for dimensions, IEC 61076-2-103. They are superficially similar to the smaller DIN connector range, but are not physically compatible with them.
A preamplifier 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.
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.
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.
An audio multicore cable is a thick cable which contains from four to 64 individual audio cables inside a common, sturdy outer jacket. Audio multicore cables are widely used whenever multiple audio signals, for example from a number of microphones, need to be conveyed between common locations. Typical professional audio applications include audio recording, sound reinforcement, PA systems and broadcasting. The "snake" is typically used to make it easier to route many signals from the microphones or other input transducers, to the audio console or sound equipment.
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.
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.
Re-amping is a process often used in multitrack recording in which a recorded signal is routed back out of the editing environment and run through external processing using effects units and then into a guitar amplifier and a guitar speaker cabinet or a reverb chamber. Originally, the technique was used mostly for electric guitars: it facilitates a separation of guitar playing from guitar amplifier processing—a previously recorded audio program is played back and re-recorded at a later time for the purpose of adding effects, ambiance such as reverb or echo, and the tone shaping imbued by certain amps and cabinets. The technique has since evolved over the 2000s to include many other applications. Re-amping can also be applied to other instruments and program, such as recorded drums, synthesizers, and virtual instruments.
An audio engineer helps to produce a recording or a live performance, balancing and adjusting sound sources using equalization 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." It's a creative hobby and profession where musical instruments and technology are used to produce sound for film, radio, television, music, and video games. Audio engineers also set up, sound check and do live sound mixing using a mixing console and a sound reinforcement system for music concerts, theatre, sports games and corporate events.
In sound recording and reproduction, audio mixing is the process of 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.
Audio connectors and video connectors are electrical or optical connectors for carrying audio and video signals. Audio interfaces and video interfaces define physical parameters and interpretation of signals. For digital audio and digital video, this can be thought of as defining the physical layer, data link layer, and most or all of the application layer. For analog audio and analog video these functions are all represented in a single signal specification like NTSC or the direct speaker-driving signal of analog audio. Physical characteristics of the electrical or optical equipment includes the types and numbers of wires required, voltages, frequencies, optical intensity, and the physical design of the connectors. Any data link layer details define how application data is encapsulated. Application layer details define the actual audio or video format being transmitted, often incorporating a codecs not specific to the interface, such as PCM, MPEG-2, or the DTS Coherent Acoustics codec. In some cases, the application layer is left open; for example, HDMI contains an Ethernet channel for general data transmission.
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.