A layman’s dictionary for audio engineering and music production.

Amplification
The act of increasing the strength of an audio signal.
Amplitude
The highest and lowest readings in a wave form. These points are the highest and lowest volumes.
Analog
A electronic signal that varies continuously and is not quantized over time. There exists infinite signal levels.
Attack
The initial phase in an audio signal’s cycle that accelerates quickly to hit its maximum level before falling.
Attenuation
The act of reducing the strength of an audio signal.
Compressor
Also known as dynamic range compression (DRC). A device that limits the dynamic range of an audio signal.

There are two types of audio compression that can reduce the dynamic range of a signal:

  1. Upwards compression – increases the volume of sound below a threshold (gain reduction)
  2. Downwards compression – decreases the volume of sound above a certain level (gain increase)

To control the dynamic range, a compressor has these properties:

  • Threshold – The decibel level where the compressor kicks in
  • Ratio – The gain reduction ratio after passing over the threshold
  • Attack – The time it takes for a signal to decrease gain to the Ratio
  • Release – The time it takes for a signal to increase gain to the Ratio
  • Make up – The gain to add back for loss in gain reduction
Decibel
A measure of the loudness/volume of sound.
Delay
Also known as echo. The noise a sound makes as it bounces off a surface repeatedly.
Digital
An electronic signal that is fixed to discrete quantized values over time.
Dry
The original audio signal prior to effects applied to it.
Effect
An operation to modify an audio signal.
Envelope
The characteristic of a sound through four time phases:

  1. Attack
  2. Decay
  3. Sustain
  4. Release

An envelope in a digital audio workstation refers to a configuration parameter that modifies a sound. For example, an envelope can be a parameter to increase or decrease sound, to pan sound, etc.

Frequency

The number of cycles of an audio waveform in a second of time. The faster the frequency, the higher the pitch. The slower the frequency, the lower the pitch.
Gain
The level of strength in an audio signal.
Gate
A device that acts as a gatekeeper of an audio signal. If a signal is below a threshold, it is not allowed to go through – the gate is closed. Only signals that are above the threshold are allowed to pass through (the gate is opened).
Glissando
An interconnected change in pitch from one note to another. Also known as a slide or bend.

Depends on the instrument and its discrete nature in producing notes. For example, a piano produces discrete sound as it involves keys. Notes between keys do not exist as they are fixed. A trombone and violin on the other hand are not discrete in sound as they can produce “in-between” sounds.

Harmonic
One or more whole number multiple frequencies based off a fundamental frequency. For example, if there are three audio waves of 2x, 3x, and 4x multiple of the base fundamental they together as a group are harmonic.
High Pass Filter
Limits a signals level below a certain value.
Limiter
A compressor that has an infinite Ratio. This high ratio effectively takes any signal above the threshold and outputs at the threshold level.
Low Pass Filter
Limits a signals level above a certain value.
Oscillator
An electronic device that creates periodic waves. Typically these audio waves are square, saw, triangle, and sine.

Each audio wave has a different frequency shape and tone.

Portamento
A change in pitch from one note to another. Normally for string instruments and singing.
Release
The final phase of an audio signal’s cycle that results in silence.
Synthesizer
One or more electronic device that generates sound synthetically through electronic signals. A modular synthesizer consists of several modules arranged in a rack with signals being routed through patch cables. In an all in one synthesizer like a keyboard synthesizer, every component is packed into one unit.

Synths can be software or hardware devices. A hardware synth can be digital or analog form.

Threshold
An audio level where the signal will change in gain.
Transpose
To change the pitch of a note.
In a chromatic scale, this is done by changing of semitones.
In a scalar scale, this is done by changing relative to a scale and scale steps.
Unity Gain
That of being the same strength (gain) between the input and output of a signal.
Wet
An audio signal that has effects applied to it

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