Yamaha | Sound Editor ver. 2.10 | Specifications | Yamaha Sound Editor ver. 2.10 Specifications

Chapter 1 Getting Ready .................................................................. 2
1.1 Sounds Like Fun! ....................................................................... 2
1.2 How This Book is Organized ........................................................ 2
1.3 A Brief History of Digital Sound ................................................... 2
1.4 Basic Terminology ..................................................................... 4
1.4.1 Analog vs. Digital ................................................................. 4
1.4.2 Digital Audio vs. MIDI........................................................... 4
1.5 Setting up Your Work Environment .............................................. 5
1.5.1 Overview ............................................................................ 5
1.5.2 Hardware for Digital Audio and MIDI Processing ...................... 7 Computer System Requirements ...................................... 7 Digital Audio Interface .................................................. 10 Drivers ........................................................................ 11 MIDI Keyboard ............................................................. 11 Recording Devices ........................................................ 12 Microphones ................................................................ 14 Direct Input Devices ..................................................... 22 Monitor Loudspeakers ................................................... 24 Studio Headphones....................................................... 25 Cables and Connectors ................................................. 25 Dedicated Hardware Processors ..................................... 37 Mixers ........................................................................ 38 Loudspeakers .............................................................. 40 Analysis Hardware ....................................................... 41
1.5.3 Software for Digital Audio and MIDI Processing...................... 42 The Basics ................................................................... 42 Logic .......................................................................... 44 Cakewalk Sonar and Music Creator ................................. 45 Adobe Audition ............................................................ 46 Audacity ...................................................................... 46 Reason ....................................................................... 47 Software Plug-Ins ......................................................... 48 Music Composing and Notation Software ......................... 49 Working in the Linux Environment .................................. 49
1.5.4 Software for Live Performances ........................................... 51
1.6 Learning Supplements ............................................................. 52
1.6.1 Practical Exercises ............................................................. 52
1.6.2 Flash Tutorials ................................................................... 53
1.6.3 Max and Pure Data (PD) ..................................................... 53
1.6.4 MATLAB and Octave ........................................................... 55
1.6.5 C++ and Java Programming Exercises .................................. 56
1.7 Where to Go from Here ............................................................ 57
1.8 References ............................................................................. 57
This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under CCLI Grant DUE 0717743,
Jennifer Burg PI, Jason Romney, Co-PI.
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1 Chapter 1 Getting Ready
1.1 Sounds Like Fun!
We walk through this world wrapped in the vibrations of sound. Sounds are all around us all of
the time, whether we pay attention to them or not. Most people love music. Its melodies,
harmonies, rhythms, consonances, dissonances, reverberations, tonalities, and atonalities find
resonance in our souls and echo in our minds. Those of us with an artistic calling may love the
form, structure, beauty, and endless possibilities for creativity in music and sound. Those of us
with a scientific bent may be fascinated by the intellectual intricacy of sound and music,
endlessly moldable by mathematics, algorithms, and computers. Sounds can be maddeningly
impossible to ignore, or surprisingly difficult to notice. If your neighbor decides to begin his
deck construction project early on a Saturday morning, it's likely that you won't be able to tune
out the pounding and sawing. But when your heart starts racing at a bullet-riddled chase scene in
an action movie, you probably won't even notice how the movie's background score is
manipulating your emotions. Music gets attached to events in our lives so that when we hear the
same music again, the memories come wafting back into our thoughts. In short, sounds are a
significant part of our experience of life.
So that's why we're here – we musicians, theatre and film sound designers, audio
engineers, computer scientists, self-taught audiophiles, and generally curious folks. We're here
to learn about what sound and music are, how they interact with the digital world, and what we
can do with them when we apply our creativity, intellect, and computer-based tools. Let's get
1.2 How This Book is Organized
What follows is a series of chapters and learning supplements that explore the science of digital
sound with a concerted effort to link the scientific principles to “real life” practice. Each chapter
is organized into three sections. The first section covers the basic principles being taught. The
second section provides examples of where these principles are found in the professional practice
of digital sound. The third section explores these principles further and allows for deeper
experimentation with programming and computational tools. As you progress through each
chapter, you‟ll come across demonstrations, exercises, and projects at varying levels of
abstraction. Starting at the highest level of abstraction, you might begin with an off-the-shelf
software tool like Logic Pro or Cakewalk Sonar, descend through tools like Max and MATLAB,
and end with a low abstraction level in the form of C programming exercises. This book is
intended to be useful to readers from different backgrounds – musicians, computer scientists,
film sound designers, theater sound designers, audio engineers, or anyone interested in sound.
The book‟s structure should allow readers to explore the relationships among fundamental
concepts, professional practice, and underlying science in the realm of digital sound, delving
down to the level of abstraction that best fits their interests and needs.
1.3 A Brief History of Digital Sound
It‟s difficult to measure the enormous impact that digital technology has had on sound design,
engineering, and related arts. It was not that long ago that the ideas of sound designers and
composers were severely limited by the capabilities of their tools. Magnetic tape, in its various
forms, was king. Sound editing involved razor blades and bloody fingertips. Electronic music
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production required a wall full of equipment interconnected with scores of patch cables, all
working together to play a single instrument's sound, live, one note at a time.
The concept of using digital technology to create sound has been around for a long time.
The first documented instance of the idea was in 1842 when Ada Lovelace wrote about the
analytical engine invented by Charles Babbage. Babbage was essentially making a digital
calculator. Before the device was even built, Lovelace saw its potential applications beyond mere
number crunching. She speculated that anything that could be expressed through and adapted to
“the abstract science of operations” – for example, music – could then be placed under the
creative influence of machine computation with amazing results. In Ada Lovelace‟s words:
Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the
science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such
expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific
pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.
It took 140 years, however, before we began to see this idea realized in any practical
format. In 1983, Yamaha released its DX-series keyboard synthesizers. The most popular of
these was the DX7. What made these synthesizers significant from a historical perspective is that
they employed digital circuits to make the instrument sounds and used an early version of the
Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), later ratified in 1984, to handle the communication
of the keyboard performance data, in and out of the synthesizer.
The year 1982 saw the release of the digital audio compact disc (CD). Researchers from
various electronics companies had been experimenting with the idea of recorded digital audio
since the mid-1960s, but it took many years before all the technology came together that allowed
an analog audio signal to be stored digitally at an acceptable resolution and then written onto an
optical disc. The first commercially available compact disc was pressed on August 17, 1982, in
Hannover, Germany. The disc contained a recording of Richard Strauss‟s Eine Alpensinfonie,
played by the Berlin Philharmonic and conducted by Herbert von Karajan.
Today, digital sound and music are flourishing, and tools are available at a price that
almost any aspiring sound artist can afford. This evolution in available tools has changed the way
we approach sound. While current digital technology still has limitations, this isn‟t really what
gets in the way when musicians, sound designers, and sound engineers set out to bring their ideas
to life. It‟s the sound artists‟ mastery of their technical tools that is more often a bar to their
creativity. Harnessing this technology in real practice often requires a deeper understanding of
the underlying science being employed, a subject that artists traditionally avoid. However, the
links that sound provides between science, art, and practice are now making interdisciplinary
work more alluring and encouraging musicians, sound designers, and audio engineers to cross
these traditional boundaries. This book is aimed at a broad spectrum of readers who approach
sound from various directions. Our hope is to help reinforce the interdisciplinary connections
and to enable our readers to explore sound from the perspective and at the depth they choose.
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1.4 Basic Terminology
1.4.1 Analog vs. Digital
With the evolution of computer technology in the past 50 years, sound processing has become
largely digital. Understanding the difference between analog and digital processes and
phenomena is fundamental to working with sound.
The difference between analog and digital processes runs parallel to the difference
between continuous and discrete number systems. The set of real numbers constitutes a
continuous system, which can be thought of abstractly as an infinite line of continuously
increasing numbers in one direction and decreasing numbers in the other. For any two points on
the line (i.e., real numbers), an infinite number of points exist between them. This is not the case
with discrete number systems, like the set of integers. No integers exist between 1 and 2.
Consecutive integers are completely separate and distinct, which is the basic meaning of
Analog processes and phenomena are similar to continuous number systems. In a timebased analog phenomenon, one moment of the phenomenon is perceived or measured as moving
continuously into the next. Physical devices can be engineered to behave in a continuous, analog
manner. For example, a volume dial on a radio can be turned left or right continuously. The
diaphragm inside a microphone can move continuously in response to changing air pressure, and
the voltage sent down a wire can change continuously as it records the sound level. However,
communicating continuous data to a computer is a problem. Computers “speak digital,” not
analog. The word digital refers to things that are represented as discrete levels. In the case of
computers, there are exactly two levels – like 0 and 1, or off and on. A two-level system is a
binary system, encodable in a base 2 number system. In contrast to analog processes, digital
processes measure a phenomenon as a sequence of
discrete events encoded in binary.
 Aside: One might think, intuitively,
It could be argued that sound is an inherently
that all physical phenomena are
analog phenomenon, the result of waves of changing
inherently continuous and thus analog.
air pressure that continuously reach our ears.
But the question of whether the
However, to be communicated to a computer, the
universe is essentially analog or digital
is actually quite controversial among
changes in air pressure must be captured as discrete
physicists and philosophers, a debate
events and communicated digitally. When sound
stimulated by the development of
has been encoded in the language that computers
quantum mechanics. Many now view
understand, powerful computer-based processing
the universe as operating under a
wave-particle duality and Heisenberg’s
can be brought to bear on the sound for manipulation
Uncertainty Principle. Related to this
of frequency, dynamic range, phase, and every
debate is the field of “string theory,”
imaginable audio property. Thus, we have the
which the reader may find interesting.
advent of digital signal processing (DSP).
1.4.2 Digital Audio vs. MIDI
This book covers both sampled digital audio and MIDI. Sampled digital audio (or simply
digital audio) consists of streams of audio data that represent the amplitude of sound waves at
discrete moments in time. In the digital recording process, a microphone detects the amplitude
of a sound, thousands of times a second, and sends this information to an audio interface or
sound card in a computer. Each amplitude value is called a sample. The rate at which the
amplitude measurements are recorded by the sound card is called the sampling rate, measured
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in Hertz (samples/second). The sound being detected by the microphone is typically a
combination of sound frequencies. The frequency of a sound is related to the pitch that we hear
– the higher the frequency, the higher the pitch.
MIDI (musical instrument digital interface), on the other hand, doesn‟t contain any
data on actual sound waves, but rather consists of symbolic messages (according to a widely
accepted industry standard) that represent instruments, notes, and velocity information, similar to
the way music is notated on a score, encoded for computers. In other words, digital audio holds
information corresponding to a physical sound, while MIDI data holds information
corresponding to a musical performance.
In Chapter 5 we‟ll define these terms in greater depth. For now, a simple understanding of
their different purposes should be enough to help you gather the audio hardware and software
you need.
1.5 Setting up Your Work Environment
1.5.1 Overview
There are three things you may want to set up in order to work with this book. It's possible that
you'll need only one of the first two, depending on your focus. Everyone will probably need the
third to work with the suggested exercises in this book.
 A digital audio workstation
 A live sound reinforcement system
 Software on your computer to do hands-on exercises
First, we assume most readers will want their own digital audio workstation (DAW), consisting
of a computer and the associated hardware and software for an at-home or professional sound
production (Figure 1.1). Suggestions for particular components or component types are given in
Section 1.5.2.
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Figure 1.1 Basic setup and signal flow of a digital audio workstation
Secondly, it‟s possible that you‟ll also be using equipment for live performances. A live
performance setup is pictured in Figure 1.2. Much of the equipment and connectivity is the same
as or similar to equipment in a DAW.
Figure 1.2 A simple live sound reinforcement system
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Thirdly, to use this book most effectively you‟ll need to gather some additional software
so that you can view the book‟s learning supplements, complete some of the exercises, and even
do your own experiments. The learning supplements include:
Flash interactive tutorials, accessible at our website and viewable within a standard web
browser with the Flash plug-in installed (generally included and enabled by default).
Max demo patchers, which can be viewed with the Max run-time environment, freely
downloadable from the Cycling '74 website. (If you wish to do the Max programming
exercises you'll need to purchase Max, or use the free alternative, Pure Data.)
MATLAB exercises (with Octave as a freeware alternative).
Audio and MIDI processing worksheets that can be done in Logic, Cakewalk Sonar,
Reason, Audition, Audacity, or some other digital audio or MIDI processing program.
C and Java programs, for which you'll need C and/or Java compilers and IDEs if you
wish to complete these assignments.
We don‟t expect that you‟ll want to go through all the learning supplements or do all the
exercises. You should choose the types of learning supplements that are useful to you and gather
the necessary software accordingly. We give more information about the software for the
learning supplements in 1.5.3.
In the sections that follow, we use a number of technical terms with only brief, if any,
definitions, assuming that you have a basic computer vocabulary with regard to RAM, hard
drives, sound cards, and so forth. Even if you don‟t fully understand all the terminology, when
you‟re buying hardware and software to equip your DAW, you can refer your sales rep to this
information to help you with your purchases. All terminology will be defined more completely
as the book progresses.
1.5.2 Hardware for Digital Audio and MIDI Processing
Computer System Requirements
Table 1.1 gives our recommendations for the components of an affordable DAW as well as
equipment such as loudspeakers needed for live performances. Of course technology changes
very quickly, so make sure to do your own research on the particular models of the components
when you're ready to buy. The components listed in the table are a good starting point. Each
category of components is explained in the sections that follow. We've omitted optional devices
from the table but include them in the discussion below.
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Desktop or laptop with a fast processor, Mac or
Windows operating system.
RAM – at least 2 GB.
Hard drive – a fast hard drive (separate and in addition
to the operating system hard drive) dedicated to audio
storage, at least 7200 RPM.
Audio interface (i.e., sound card)
External audio interface with XLR connections. The
audio interface may also serve as a MIDI interface.
Dynamic microphone with XLR connection.
Possibly a condenser microphone as well.
Cables and connectors
XLR cables for microphones, others as needed for
peripheral devices.
MIDI controller
A MIDI piano keyboard, may or may not include
additional buttons and knobs. May have USB
connectivity or require a MIDI interface. Possible allin-one devices include both a keyboard and basic audio
Monitoring loudspeakers
Monitors with flat frequency response (so you hear an
unaltered representation of the audio).
Studio headphones
Closed-back headphones (for better isolation).
Mixing Console
Analog or digital mixer, as needed.
Loudspeakers with amplifiers and directional/frequency
responses appropriate for the listening space.
Table 1.1 Basic hardware components for a DAW and live performance setups
A desktop or even a laptop computer with a fast processor is sufficient as the starting
point for your DAW. Audio and MIDI processing make heavy demands on your computer‟s
RAM (random-access memory) – the dynamic memory of a computer that holds data and
programs while they're running. When you edit or play digital audio, a part of RAM called a
buffer is set aside to hold the portion of audio data that you‟re going to need next. If your
computer had to go all the way to the hard disk drive each time it needed to get the data, it
wouldn‟t be able to play the audio in real-time. Buffering is a process of pulling data off
permanent storage – the hard drive – and holding them in RAM so that they are immediately
available to be played or processed. Audio is divided into streams, and often multiple audio
streams are active at once, which implies that your computer has to set aside multiple buffers.
MIDI instruments and samplers make heavy demands on RAM as well. MIDI creates the sound
of any given musical instrument by means of instrument audio samples that are stored on the
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computer. All of these instrument samples have to be loaded into RAM so they can be instantly
accessible to the MIDI keyboard. For these reasons, you'll probably need to upgrade the RAM
capacity on your computer. A good place to begin is with 2 GB of RAM. RAM is easily
upgradeable and can be increased later on if needed. You can check the system requirements of
your audio software for the specific RAM requirements of each application program.
You also need memory for permanent storage of your audio data – a large capacity hard
disk drive. Most hard drives found in the standard configuration for desktop and laptop
computers are not fast enough to keep up with
real-time processing of digital audio. Your
 Aside: Early digital audio workstations
RAM buffers the audio playback streams to
utilized SCSI hard drives. These drives
maintain the flow of data to your sound card,
could be chained together in a combination
of internal and external drives. Each hard
but your hard drive also needs to be fast
drive could only hold enough data to
enough to keep that buffer full of data. Digital
accommodate a few tracks of audio, so the
audio processing requires at least a 7200-RPM
multitrack audio software at the time
would perform a round-robin strategy of
hard drive hard that is dedicated to holding
assigning audio data from different tracks
your audio files. That is, the hard drive needs
to different SCSI hard drives in the chain.
to be a secondary one, in addition to your
These SCSI hard drives, while small in
system hard drive. If you have a desktop
size, provided impressive speed and
performance and to this day, no external
computer, you might be able to install this
hard drive system can completely match
second hard drive internally, but if you have a
the speed, performance, and reliability of
laptop or would simply like the ability to take
external SCSI hard drives when used in
your data with you, you‟ll need an external
digital audio.
hard drive. The capacity of this hard drive
should be as large as you can afford. At CD
quality, digital audio files consume around ten megabytes per minute of sound. One minute of
sound can easily consume one gigabyte of space on your hard drive. This is because you often
work simultaneously with multiple tracks – sometimes even ten or more. In addition to these
tracks, there are backup copies of the audio that are automatically created as you work.
New technologies are emerging that have the potential for eliminating the hard drive
bottleneck. Mac computers now offer the Thunderbolt interface with bi-directional data transfer
and a data rate of up to 10 Gb/s. Solid state hard drives (SSDs) – distinguished by the fact that
they have no moving parts – are fast and reliable. As these become more affordable, they may
be the disk drives of choice for audio.
Before the advent of Thunderbolt and SSDs, the choice of external hard drives was
between FireWire (IEEE 1394), USB interfaces, and eSATA. FireWire that has proven reliable
for real-time digital audio on the Mac operating system. The advantage of FireWire over USB
hard drives is that FireWire is not host-based. A host-based system like a USB drive does not
get its own hardware address in the computer system. This means that the CPU has to manage
how the data move around on the USB bus. The data being transferred must first go through the
CPU, which slows down the CPU by taking its attention away from its other tasks. FireWire
devices, on the other hand, can transmit without running the data through the CPU first.
FireWire also provides true bi-directional data transfers -- simultaneously sending and receiving
data. USB devices must alternate between sending and receiving. For Mac computers, FireWire
drives are preferable to USB for simultaneous real-time recording and playback of multiple
digital audio streams. FireWire speeds of 400 or 800 are fine. These numbers refer to
approximate Mb/s half-duplex maximum data transfer rates. However, keep in mind that mixing
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400 and 800 devices on the same bus is not a good idea and may confuse your computer or
hardware. Just pick one of the two speeds and make sure all your FireWire devices run at that
The most important factor in choosing an external FireWire hard drive is the FireWire
bridge chipset. This is the circuit that interfaces the IDE or SATA hard drive sitting in the box to
the FireWire bus. There are a few chipsets out there, but the only chipsets that are reliable for
digital audio are the Oxford FireWire chipsets. Make sure to confirm that the external FireWire
hard drive you want to purchase uses an Oxford chipset.
Unfortunately, recent Windows operating systems have proven somewhat buggy for
FireWire, so many Windows-based DAWs use USB interfaces, despite their shortcomings.
Alternatively, Windows computers could use eSATA hard drives, which perform just like
internal SATA drives.
Digital Audio Interface
In order to work with digital sound, you need a device that can convert physical sound waves
captured by microphones or other inputs into digital data for processing, and then convert the
digital data back into analog form for your loudspeakers to reproduce as audible sound. Audio
interfaces (or sound cards) provide this functionality.
Your computer probably came with a simple built-in sound card. This is suitable for basic
playback or audio output, but to do recording with a high level of quality and control you need a
more sophisticated, dedicated audio interface. There are many solutions out there. Leading
manufacturers include AVID, M-Audio, MOTU, and Presonus. Things to look for when
choosing an interface include how the box interfaces with the computer (USB, FireWire, PCI)
and the number of inputs and outputs. You should have at least one low-impedance microphone
input that uses an XLR connector. Some interfaces also come with instrument inputs that allow
you to connect the output of an electric guitar directly into your computer. Figure 1.3 and Figure
1.4 show examples of appropriate audio interfaces.
Figure 1.3 M-Audio FastTrack Pro USB audio interface
Figure 1.4 MOTU UltraLite mk3 FireWire audio interface
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A driver is a program that allows a peripheral device such as a printer or sound interface to
communicate with your computer. When you attach an external sound interface to your
computer, you have to be sure that the appropriate driver is installed. Generally you're given a
driver installation disk with the sound interface, but it's better to go to the manufacturer's website
and download the latest version of the driver. Be sure to download the version appropriate for
your operating system. Drivers are pretty easy to install. You can look for instructions at the
manufacturer's website and follow the steps in the windows that pop up as you do the
installation. Remember that if you upgrade to a new operating system, you'll probably need to
upgrade your driver as well. Some interfaces come with additional interface related software
that allows access to internal settings, controls, and DSP provided by the interface. This extra
software may be packaged with the driver or it may be optional, but either way it is usually quite
handy to install as well.
MIDI Keyboard
A MIDI keyboard is required to input MIDI performance data into your computer. A MIDI
keyboard itself makes no instrument sounds. It simply sends the MIDI data to the computer
communicating the keys pressed and other performance data collected, and the software handles
the playback of instruments and sounds. There exist MIDI keyboards that are a combination
MIDI input device and audio interface. These are called audio interface keyboards.
Consolidating the MIDI keyboard and the audio interface into one component is convenient
because it‟s easier to transport. The downside is that features and functionality may be more
limited, and all the functionality is tied into one device, so if that one device breaks or becomes
outdated, you lose both tools. Standalone MIDI controller keyboards connect either to your
computer directly using USB, or to the MIDI input and output of a separate external audio
interface. MIDI keyboards come in several sizes. Your choice of size depends on how many keys
you think you need. Figure 1.5 and Figure 1.6 show examples of USB MIDI keyboard
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Figure 1.5 M-Audio Oxygen8 25-key MIDI keyboard controller
Figure 1.6 Edirol PCR-M50 49-key MIDI keyboard controller
Recording Devices
Recording is, of course, one of the fundamental activities in working with sound. So what type
of recording devices do you need? One possibility is to connect a microphone to your computer
and use software on your computer as the recording interface. A computer based digital audio
workstation offers multiple channels of recording along with editing, mixing, and processing all
in the same system. However, these workstations are not very portable or rugged, so they're
often found in fixed recording studio setups.
Sometimes you may need to get out into the world to do your recording. Small portable
recorders like the one shown in Figure 1.7 are available for field recordings. A disadvantage of
such a device is that the number of inputs is usually limited to two to four channels. They often
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have one or two built-in microphones with the added option of connecting external microphones
as well.
Dedicated multitrack hardware recorders as shown in Figure 1.8 and Figure 1.9 are
available for situations where portability and high channel counts are desirable. These recorders
are generally very reliable but offer little opportunity for editing, mixing, and processing the
recording. The recording needs to be transferred to another system afterwards for those tasks.
Figure 1.7 Small portable audio recorders with built-in microphones
Figure 1.8 A dedicated 12-channel multitrack recorder
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Figure 1.9 A dedicated 48-channel multitrack recorder
Your computer may have come with a microphone suitable for gaming, voice recognition, or
audio/video conferencing. However, that‟s not a suitable recording microphone. You need
something that gives better quality and a wider frequency response. The audio interfaces we
recommend in Section include professional microphone inputs, and you need a
professional microphone that's compatible with these inputs. Let's look at the basic types of
microphones that you have to choose from.
The technology used inside a microphone has an impact on the quality of the sound it can
capture. One common microphone technology uses a coil that moves inside a magnet, which
happens to also be the reverse of how a loudspeaker works. These are called dynamic
microphones. The coil is attached to a diaphragm that responds to the changing air pressure of a
sound wave, and as the coil moves inside the magnet, an alternating current is generated on the
microphone cable that is an electrical representation of the sound. Dynamic microphones are
very durable and can be used reliably in any situation since they are passive devices (A passive
device is one that requires no external power source.) Most dynamic microphones tend to come
in a handheld size and are fairly inexpensive. In addition to being durable, they're not as sensitive
as other types of microphones. This lower sensitivity can be very effective in noisy
environments when you're trying to capture isolated sounds. However, dynamic microphones
may not pick up transient sounds as well – quick loud bursts like drum hits. They also may not
pick up high frequencies as well as capacitance microphones do, which may compromise the
clarity of certain kinds of sounds you‟ll want to record. In general, a dynamic microphone may
come in handy during a high-energy live performance situation, yet it may not provide the same
quality and fidelity as other types of microphones when used in a quiet, controlled recording
Another type of microphone is a capacitance or condenser microphone. This type of
microphone uses an electronic component called a capacitor as the transducer. The capacitor is
made of two parallel conductive plates, physically separated by an air space. One of the plates
requires a polarizing electrical charge, so condenser microphones require an external power
supply. This is typically from a 48-volt DC power source called phantom power, but can
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sometimes be provided by a battery. The conductive plates are very thin, and when sound waves
push against them, the distance between the plates changes, varying the charge accordingly and
creating an electrical representation of the sound. Condenser microphones are much more
sensitive than dynamic microphones. Consequently, they seem to pick up much more detail in
the sound, and even barely perceptible background sounds may end up being quite audible in the
recording. This extra sensitivity results in a much better transient response and a much more
uniform frequency response reaching into very high frequencies. Because the transducers in
condenser microphones are simple capacitors and don‟t require a weighty magnet, condenser
microphones can be made quite large without becoming too heavy, or can be made quite small,
allowing them to be easily mounted to small instruments or concealed when visual aesthetics are
a concern. The smaller size also allows them to pick up high frequencies coming from various
angles in a more uniform manner. A disadvantage of the capacitor microphone is that it requires
external power, although this is often easily handled by most interfaces and mixing consoles.
Also, capacitor elements can be quite delicate, and are much more easily damaged by excessive
force or moisture. The features of a condenser microphone often result in a much higher quality
signal, but this comes at a higher price. Top of the line condenser microphones can cost
thousands of dollars.
Electret condenser microphones are a type of condenser microphone in which the back
plate of the capacitor is permanently charged at the factory. This means the microphone does not
require a power supply to function, but it often requires an extra powered preamplifier to boost
the signal to a sufficient voltage. Easy to manufacture and often miniature in size, electret
condenser microphones are used for the vast majority of built-in microphones in phone,
computer, and portable device technologies. While easy and economical to produce, electret
microphones aren‟t necessarily of lower quality. In the field of professional audio they can be
found in lavaliere microphones attached to clothing or concealed for live performance. In these
cases, the small microphones are typically connected to a wireless transmitter with a battery that
powers the preamplifier as well as the RF transmitter circuitry.
Generally speaking, you want to get the microphone as close as possible to the sound
source you want to capture. This improves your signal-to-noise ratio. When getting the
microphone close to the source is not practical – such as when you're recording a large choir,
performing group, or conference meeting – a type of microphone called a pressure zone
microphone (PZM) can be useful. A PZM, also called a boundary microphone, is usually
made of a small electret condenser microphone attached to a metal plate with the microphone
pointed at the plate rather than the source itself. These microphones work best when attached to a
large reflective surface such as a hard stage floor or large conference table. The operating
principle of the pressure zone is that as a sound wave encounters a large reflective surface, the
pressure at the surface is much higher because it's a combination of the direct and reflected
energy. Essentially this extra pressure results in a captured amplitude boost, a benefit normally
available only by getting the microphone much closer to the sound source. With a PZM, you can
capture a sound at a sufficiently high volume even from a significant distance. This can be quite
useful for video teleconferencing when a large group of people must be at a greater distance to
the microphone, as well as in live performance where microphones are placed at the edge of the
stage. The downside to a PZM is that the physical coupling to the boundary surface means that
other sounds such as foot noise, paper movement, and table bumps are picked up just as well as
the sound you're trying to capture. As a result, signal-to-noise ratio tends to be fairly low. In a
live sound reinforcement situation you can also have acoustic gain problems if you aren‟t careful
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about the physical relationship between the microphone and the loudspeaker. Since the
microphone is capturing the performer from a great distance, the loudspeakers directly over the
stage could easily be the same distance or less distance from the microphone as the performer,
resulting in the sound from the loudspeaker arriving at the PZM at the same level or higher than
the sound from the performer, a perfect recipe for feedback. Acoustic gain is covered in more
detail in Chapter 4.
As part of a newer trend in this digital age, the prevalence of USB digital microphones
is on the rise. Many manufacturers are offering a USB version of their popular microphones,
both condenser and dynamic. These microphones output a digital audio stream and are intended
for direct recording into a computer software program, without the need for any additional
preamplifier or audio interface equipment. You could even think of them as microphoneinterface hybrids, essentially performing the duties of both. The benefits of these new digital
microphones are of course simplicity, portability, and perhaps even cost if you consider not
having to purchase the additional equipment and digital audio interface. However, while these
USB microphones may be studio quality, there are some limitations that may influence your
choice. Where traditional XLR cables can easily run over a hundred feet, USB cables have a
maximum operable length of only 10 to 15 feet, which means you‟re pretty tied down to your
computer workstation. Additionally, having only a USB connection means you won‟t be able to
use the microphone in a live situation, or plug it into an analog mixing console, portable
recorder, or any other piece of audio gear. Finally, a dedicated audio interface allows you plug
in multiple microphones and instruments, provides a multitude of output connections, and also
provides onboard DSP and mixing tools to help you get the most out of your audio setup and
workflow. Since you‟ll probably want to have a dedicated audio interface for these reasons
anyway, you may be better off with a traditional microphone that interfaces with it, and is more
flexible overall. That being said, a USB microphone could certainly be a handy addition to your
everyday audio setup, particularly for situations when you‟re travelling and need a selfcontained, portable solution.
If you buy only one microphone, it should be a dynamic one. The most popular
professional dynamic microphone is the Shure SM58. Everyone working with sound should have
at least one of these microphones. They sound good, they‟re inexpensive, and they‟re virtually
indestructible. Figure 1.10 is a photo of an SM58. If you want to purchase a good-quality studio
condenser microphone and you have a recording environment where you can control the noise
floor, consider one like the AKG C414 microphone. This is a classic microphone with an
impressive sound quality. However, it has a tendency to pick up more than you want it to, so you
need to use it in a controlled recording room where it isn‟t going to pick up fan sounds, the hum
from fluorescent lights, and the mosquitoes in the corner flapping their wings. Figure 1.11 is a
photo of a C-414 microphone.
Digital Sound & Music: Concepts, Applications, & Science, Chapter 1, last updated 7/29/2013
Figure 1.10 Shure SM58 dynamic microphone
Figure 1.11 AKG C-414 condenser microphone
Another way to classify microphones is by their directionality. The directionality of a
microphone is its sensitivity to the range of audible frequencies coming from various angles,
which can be depicted in a polar plot (also called a polar pattern). The three main categories
of microphone directionality are directional, bidirectional, and omnidirectional.
You can think of the polar pattern essentially as a top-down view of the microphone.
Around the edge circle are numbers in degrees, representing the direction at which sound is
approaching the microphone. 0 degrees at the top of the circle is where the front of the
microphone is pointing – often referred to as on-axis – and 180 degrees at the bottom of the
circle is directly behind the microphone. The concentric rings with decreasing numbers are the
sound levels in decibels, abbreviated dB, with the outer ring representing 0 dB, or no loss in
level. The blue line shows the decibel level at various angles.
We don't explain decibels in detail until Chapter 4, but for now it's sufficient to know that
the more negative the dB value (closer to the center), the less the sound is picked up by the
microphone at that angle. This may seem a bit counterintuitive, but remember the polar plot has
nothing to with distance, so getting closer to the center doesn‟t mean getting closer to the
microphone itself. The polar pattern for an omnidirectional microphone is given in Figure 1.12.
As its name suggests, an omnidirectional microphone picks up sound equally from all directions.
You can see that reflected in the polar pattern, where the sound level remains at 0 dB as you
move around the circle regardless of the angle, as indicated by the blue boldface outline.
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Figure 1.12 Polar plot for an omnidirectional microphone
A bidirectional microphone is often referred to as a figure-eight microphone. It picks up sound
with equal sensitivity at its front and back, but not at the sides. You can see this in Figure 1.13,
where the sound level decreases as you move around the microphone away from the front (0) or
rear (180), and at either side (90 and 270) the sound picked up by the microphone is
essentially none.
Figure 1.13 Polar plot for a bidirectional microphone
Directional microphones can have a cardioid (Figure 1.14) a supercardioid (Figure
1.15), or a hypercardioid (Figure 1.16) pattern. You can see why they‟re called directional, as
the cardioid microphone picks up sound in front but not behind the microphone. The super and
hypercardiod microphones behave similarly, offering a tighter frontal response with extra sound
rejection at the sides (the lobe of extra sound pickup at the rear of these patterns is simply an
unintended side-effect of their focused design, but usually isn‟t a big issue in practical
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Figure 1.14 Polar plot for a cardioid microphone
Figure 1.15 Polar plot for a supercardioid microphone
Figure 1.16 Polar plot for a hypercardioid microphone
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A special category of microphone called a shotgun microphone can be even more
directional, depending on the length and design of the microphone (Figure 1.17). Shotgun
microphones can be very useful in trying to pick up a specific sound from a noisy environment,
often at a greater than typical distance away from the source, without picking up the surrounding
Figure 1.17 Polar plot for a shotgun microphone
Some microphones offer the option of multiple, selectable polar patterns. This is true of
the condenser microphone shown back in Figure 1.11. You can see five symbols on the front of
the microphone representing the polar patterns from which you can choose, depending on the
needs of what you're recording.
Polar plots can be even more detailed than the ones above, showing different patterns
depending on the frequency. This is because microphones don't pick up all frequencies equally
from all directions. The plots in Figure 1.18 show the pickup patterns of a particular cardioid
microphone for individual frequencies from 125 Hz up to 16000 Hz. You‟ll notice the polar
pattern isn‟t as clean as consistent as you might expect. Even for a directional microphone,
lower frequencies may often exhibit a more omnidirectional pattern, where higher frequencies
can become even more directional.
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Figure 1.18 Polar plot of a dynamic cardioid microphone,
showing pickup patterns for various frequencies
The sensitivity that a microphone has to sounds at
 Aside: Shure hosts an interactive
different frequencies is called its frequency response (a
tool on their website called the Shure
term also used to describe the behavior of filters in later
Microphone Listening Lab where you can
chapters). If a microphone picks up all frequencies equally, audition all the various microphones in
their catalog. You can try it out yourself at
it has a flat frequency response. However, a perfectly flat
http://www.shure.com/americas/buyersfrequency response is not always desirable. The Shure
SM58 microphone's popularity, for example, can be
attributed in part to increased sensitivity at higher
frequencies, which can make the human voice more clear and intelligible. Of course, you could
achieve this same frequency response using an EQ (i.e., an equalization process that adjusts
frequencies), but if you can get a microphone that naturally sounds good for the sound you're
trying to capture, it can save you time, effort, and money.
50 100
3 4 5 6 7 89
3 4 5 6 7 89
10000 20000
Figure 1.19 On-axis frequency response of the Shure SM58 microphone
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Some microphones may have a very flat frequency response on-axis but due to the
directional characteristics, that frequency response can become very uneven when off-axis. This
is important to keep in mind when choosing a microphone. If the sound you're trying to record is
stationary and you can get the microphone pointed directly at the sound, then a directional
microphone can be very effective at capturing the sound you want without capturing the sounds
you don‟t want. If the sound moves around or if you can‟t get the microphone pointed directly
on-axis with the sound, you may need to use an omnidirectional microphone in order to keep the
frequency response consistent. However, an omnidirectional microphone is very ineffective at
rejecting other sounds in the environment. Of course, that‟s not always a bad thing, as with
measuring and analyzing sounds in a room when you want to make sure you‟re picking up
everything that‟s happening in the environment, and as accurately and transparently as possible.
In that case, an omnidirectional microphone with a flat frequency response is ideal.
Figure 1.20 A small-diaphragm omnidirectional microphone specialized for measurement use
Directional microphones can also vary in their frequency response depending on their
distance away from the source. When a directional microphone is very close to the source, such
as a handheld microphone held right against the singer‟s mouth, the microphone tends to boost
the low frequencies. This is known as the proximity effect. In some cases, this is desirable.
Most radio DJ‟s use the proximity effect as a tool to make their voice sound deeper. Getting the
microphone closer to the source can also greatly improve acoustic gain in a live sound scenario.
However in some situations the extra low frequency from the proximity effect can muddy the
sound and result in lower intelligibility. In that scenario, switching to an omnidirectional
microphone may improve the intelligibility. Unfortunately, that switch can take also away some
of your acoustic gain, negating the benefits of the closer microphone.
If all of the examples in this section illustrate one thing about microphones, it‟s that there
is often no perfect microphone solution, and in most cases you‟re simply choosing which
compromises are more acceptable. You can also start to see why there are so many different
types of microphones available to choose from, and why many sound engineers have closets full
of them to tackle any number of unique situations. When choosing which microphones to get
when you‟re starting out, consider what scenarios you‟ll be dealing with most. Will you be
working on more live gigs, or controlled studio recording? Will you be primarily measuring and
analyzing sound, capturing the sounds of nature and the outdoors, conducting interviews,
producing podcasts, or engineering your band‟s debut album? The answer to these questions
will help you decide which types of microphones are best suited for your needs.
Direct Input Devices
Surprisingly, not all recording or performance situations require a separate microphone. In many
cases, modern musical instruments have small microphones or magnetic pickups preinstalled
inside of them. This allows you to plug the instrument directly into an instrument amplifier with
a built-in loudspeaker to produce a louder sound than the instrument itself is capable of
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achieving. In a recording situation, you can often find great success connecting these instruments
directly to your recording system. Since these instrument audio outputs usually have high output
impedance, you need to run the signal through a transformer in order to convert the audio signal
to a format that works with a professional microphone input. These transformers can be found
inside devices called direct injection (DI) boxes like the one shown in Figure 1.21. A DI box
has a ¼" TS input jack that accepts the signal from an instrument and feeds it into the
transformer. It also has a ¼" TS output that allows you to connect the high impedance instrument
signal to an instrument amplifier if desired. Coming out of the transformer is a low impedance,
balanced microphone-level signal with an XLR connector. This can then be connected to a
microphone input on your recording system. Some audio interfaces for a computer have
instrument level inputs with the transformer included inside the interface. In that case, you can
connect the instrument directly to the audio interface as long as you use a cable shorter than 15
feet. A longer cable results in too much loss in level due to the high output impedance of the
instrument, as well as increase potential noise and interference picked up along the way by the
unbalanced cable.
Figure 1.21 A direct injection box
Using these direct instrument connections often offers complete sonic isolation between
instruments and a fairly high signal-to-noise ratio. The downside is that you lose any sense of the
instrument existing inside an acoustic space. For instruments like electric guitars, you may also
lose some of the effects introduced on the instrument sound by the amplifier. If you have enough
inputs on your recording system, you can always put a real microphone on the instrument or the
amplifier in addition to the direct connection, and mix between the two signals later. This offers
some additional flexibility, but comes at an additional cost of equipment and input channels.
Alternatively, there are many microphone or amplifier simulation plug-ins that, when added to
the direct instrument signal in your digital audio software, may be able to provide a more
authentic live sound without the need for a physical amplifier and microphone.
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Monitor Loudspeakers
Just like you use a video monitor on your computer to see the graphical elements you‟re working
with, you need audio monitors to hear the sound you‟re working with on the computer. There are
two main types of audio monitors, and you really need both. Headphones allow you to isolate
your sound from the rest of the room, help to hone in on details, and ensure you don‟t disturb
others if that‟s a concern, but sometimes you really need to hear the sound travel through the air.
In this case, professional reference monitor loudspeakers are needed.
Most inexpensive computer loudspeakers, or even high-end stereo systems, are not
suitable sound monitors. This is because they're tuned for specific listening situations. The builtin loudspeaker on your computer is optimized to deliver system alerts and speech audio, and
external computer loudspeakers or high-end stereo systems are optimized for consumer use to
deliver finished music and soundtracks. This often involves a manipulation of the frequency
response – that is, the way the loudspeakers selectively change the amplitudes of different
frequencies, like boosting bass or treble to color the sound a certain way. When producing your
own sound, you don‟t want your monitors to alter the frequency response because it takes the
control out of your hands, and it can give you the impression that you‟re hearing something that
isn‟t really there.
Professional reference monitor loudspeakers (which we call simply monitors) are
tuned to deliver a flat frequency response at close proximity. That is, the frequencies are not
artificially boosted or reduced, so you can trust what you hear from them. Reference monitors
are typically larger than standard computer loudspeakers, and you need to mount these up at the
level of your ears in order to get the specified performance. You can purchase stands for them or
just put them on top of a stack of books. Either way, the goal is to get them pointed on-axis to
and equidistant from your ears. These monitors should be connected to the output of your audio
interface. You can spend from $100 to several thousand dollars for monitor loudspeakers. Just
get the best ones you can afford. Figure 1.22 shows some inexpensive monitors from Edirol and
Figure 1.23 shows a mid-range monitor from Mackie.
Figure 1.22 Edirol MA-15D reference monitor loudspeakers
Figure 1.23 Mackie MR8 reference monitor
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Studio Headphones
Good-quality reference monitor loudspeakers are wonderful to work with, but if you‟re working
in an environment where noise control is a concern you‟ll want to pick up some studio
headphones as well. If you‟re recording yourself or others, you‟ll also want to make sure you
have headphones for monitoring when performing together or with accompanying audio, while
also preventing extraneous sound from bleeding back into the microphone. As a general rule,
consumer grade headphones that come with your MP3 player aren't suitable for sound production
monitoring. You want something that isolates you from surrounding sounds and gives you a
relatively flat frequency response. Of course, a danger with using any headphones lies in
working with them for extended periods of time at an excessively high level, which can damage
your hearing. Good headphone isolation (not to mention a quiet working environment) can
minimize that risk. A set of closed-back studio headphones provides adequate isolation between
your ears and the outside world and delivers a flat and accurate frequency response. This allows
you to listen to your sound at safe levels, and trust what you‟re hearing. However, in any final
evaluation of your work, you should be sure to take off the headphones and listen to the sound
through your monitor loudspeakers before sending it off as a finished mix. Things sound quite
different when they travel through the air and in a room compared to when they're pumped
straight into your ears.
Figure 1.24 shows some inexpensive studio headphones that cost less than $50. Figure
1.25 shows some more expensive studio headphones that cost over $200. You can compare the
features of various headphones like these and get something that you can afford.
Figure 1.24 AKG K77 closed back studio headphones
Figure 1.25 Sony MDR 7509HD closed back studio
headphones Cables and Connectors
In any audio system you'll have a wide assortment of cables using many different connectors.
Some cables and connectors offer better signal transmission than others, and it's important to
become familiar with the various options. When problems arise in an audio system, they're often
the result of a bad connection or cable. Consequently, successful audio professionals purchase
high-quality cables or often make the cables themselves to ensure quality. Don‟t allow yourself
to be distracted by fancy marketing hype that tries to sell you an average quality cable for triple
the price. Quality cables have more to do with the type of termination on the connector and
appropriate shielding, jacketing, wire gauge, and conductive materials. Things like gold-plated
contacts, de-oxygenated wire, and fancy packaging are less important.
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The XLR connector shown in Figure 1.26 is widely used in professional audio systems. It
is a typically round connector that has three pins. Pin 1 is for the audio signal ground, Pin 2
carries the positive polarity version of the signal, and Pin 3 carries the inverted polarity version
of the signal. The inverted polarity signal is the negative of the original. Informally, this means
that a single-frequency sine wave that goes “up and down” is inverted by turning it into a sine
wave of the same frequency and amplitude going “down and up,” as shown in Figure 1.27.
XLR female 3-pin cable
XLR male 3-pin cable
XLR Female 3-pin panel
XLR male 3-pin panel
Figure 1.26 XLR connectors
Sending both the original signal and the inverted original in the XLR connection results
in what is called a balanced or differential signal. The idea is that any interference that is
collected on the cable is introduced equally to both signal lines. Thus, it's possible to get rid of
the interference at the receiving end of the cable, by subtracting the inverted signal from the
original one (both now containing the interference as well). Let's call S the original signal and
call I the interference collected when the signal is transmitted. Then
is the received signal plus interference
is the received inverted signal plus interference
If –S + I is subtracted from S + I at the receiving end, we get
That is, we erase the interference at the receiving end and end up with double the amplitude of
the original signal, which is the same as giving the signal 6 dB boost (explained in Chapter 4).
This is illustrated in Figure 1.27. For the reasons just described, balanced audio signals run on
two-conductor cables with XLR connectors tend to be higher voltage and lower noise than
unbalanced signals run on single-conductor or coaxial cables.
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The inverted signal containing interference is subtracted from
the original signal containing interference.
Figure 1.27 Interference removed on balance signal
Another important feature of the XLR connector is that it locks in place to prevent
accidentally getting unplugged during your perfect take in the recording. In general, XLR
connectors are used on cables for professional low-impedance microphones and high-end linelevel professional audio equipment.
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The ¼" phone plug and its corresponding jack (Figure 1.28) are also widely used. The
¼" plug comes in two basic configurations. The first is a Tip/Sleeve (TS) configuration. This
would be used for unbalanced signals with the tip carrying the audio signal and the sleeve
connecting to the shield of the cable. The TS version is used on musical instruments such as
electric guitars that have electronic signal pick-ups. This is an unbalanced high-impedance
signal. Consequently, you should not try to run this kind of signal on a cable that is longer than
fifteen feet or you risk picking up lots of noise along the way and get a significant reduction in
signal amplitude. The second configuration is Tip/Ring/Sleeve (TRS). This allows the connector
to work with balanced audio signals using two-conductor cables. In that situation, the tip carries
the positive polarity version of the signal, the ring carries the negative polarity version, and the
sleeve connects to the signal ground via the cable shield. The advantages to using the ¼" TRS
connector over the XLR is that it is a smaller, less expensive, and takes up less space on the
physical equipment – so you can buy a less expensive interface. However, the trade-off here is
that you lose the locking ability that you get with the XLR connector, making this connection
more susceptible to accidental disconnection. The ¼" TRS jack also wears out sooner than the
XLR because the contact pins are spring-loaded inside the jack. There's also the possibility for a
bit more noise to enter into the signal because, unlike the XLR connector, the ¼" TRS connector
doesn't keep the signal pins perfectly parallel throughout the entire connection. Thus it's possible
that an interference signal could be introduced at the connection point that would not be equally
distributed across both signal lines.
1/4" Tip/Sleeve plug
1/4" Tip/Sleeve jack
1/4" Tip/Ring/Sleeve
1/4" Tip/Ring/Sleeve
Figure 1.28 TS and TRS connectors
The Neutrik connector company makes a XLR and ¼" jack hybrid panel connector that
accepts a male XLR connector or a ¼" TRS plug, as shown in Figure 1.29. Depending on the
equipment, the XLR connector could feed into a microphone preamplifier and the ¼" jack would
be configured to accept a high-impedance instrument signal. Other equipment may just feed both
connector types into the same signal line, allowing flexibility in the connector type you use.
Figure 1.29 Neutrix XLR and 1/4" combination connector
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The ⁄ " or 3.5 mm phone plug shown in Figure 1.30 is very similar to the ¼" plug, but it's
used for different signals. Since it's so small, it can be easily used in portable audio devices and
any other audio equipment that's too compact to accommodate a larger connector. It has all the
same strengths and weaknesses of the ¼" plug and is even more susceptible to damage and
accidental disconnection. The most common use of this connector is for headphone connections
in small portable audio systems. The weaknesses of this connector far outweigh the strengths.
Consequently, this connector is not widely used in professional applications but is quite common
in consumer grade equipment where reliability requirements are not as strict. Because of the
proliferation of portable audio devices, even high-quality professional headphones now come
with an ⁄ " connector and an adapter that converts the connection to ⁄ ". This allows you to
connect the headphones to consumer grade and professional grade equipment.
Figure 1.30 3.5 mm or
" plug
The RCA connector type shown in Figure 1.31 is used for unbalanced signals in
consumer grade equipment. It's commonly found in consumer CD and DVD players, home
stereo receivers, televisions, and similar equipment for audio and video signals. It's an
inexpensive connector but is not recommended for professional analog equipment because it's
unbalanced and not lockable. The RCA connector can be used for digital signals with acceptable
reliability because digital signals are not susceptible to the same kind of interference problems as
analog signals. Consequently, the RCA connector is used for S/PDIF digital audio, Dolby
Digital, and other digital signals in many different kinds of equipment including professional
grade devices. When used for digital signals, the connector needs to use a 75 Ohm coaxial type
of cable.
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RCA cable connector
RCA panel mount connector
Figure 1.31 RCA connectors
The DIN connector comes in many different configurations and is used for a variety of
applications. In the digital audio environment, the DIN connector is used in a 5-pin 180 degree
arrangement for MIDI connections, as shown in Figure 1.32. In this configuration, only three of
the pins are used so a five-conductor cable is not required. In fact, MIDI signals can use the same
kind of cable as balanced microphones. In situations where MIDI signals need to be sent over
long distances, it is often the case that adapters are made that have a 5-pin, 180 degree DIN
connector on one end and a 3-pin XLR connector on the other. This allows MIDI to be
transmitted on existing microphone lines that are run throughout most venues using professional
audio systems.
DIN 5-pin 180 degree male cable connector
DIN 5-pin 180 degree female panel connector
Figure 1.32 DIN connectors
The BNC connector type shown in Figure 1.33 is commonly used in video systems but
can be quite effective when used for digital audio signals. Most professional digital audio
devices have a dedicated word clock connection that uses a BNC connector. (The word clock
synchronizes data transfers between digital devices.) The BNC connector is able to
accommodate a fairly low gauge (75 Ohm) coaxial cable such as RG59 or RG6. The advantage
of using this connector over other options is that it locks in place while still being able to be
disconnected quickly. Also, the center pin is typically crimped to the copper conductor in the
cable using crimping tools that are manufactured to very tight tolerances. This makes for a very
stable connection that allows for high-bandwidth digital signals traveling on low-impedance
cable to be transferred between equipment with minimal signal loss. BNC connectors can also
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be found on antenna cables in wireless microphone systems, and in other professional digital
audio streams such as with MADI (Multichannel Audio Digital Interface).
BNC male cable connector
BNC female panel connector
Figure 1.33 BNC connectors
The D-subminiature connector is used for many different connections in computer
equipment but is also used for audio systems when space is a premium (Figure 1.34). D-sub
connections come in almost unlimited configurations. The D is often followed by a letter (A – E)
indicating the size of the pins in the connector followed by a number indicating the number of
pins. It has become common practice to use a DB-25 connector on interface cards that would
normally call for XLR or ¼" connectors. A single DB-25 connector can carry eight balanced
analog audio signals and can be converted to XLR using a fan-out cable. In other cases you
might see a DE-9 connector used to collapse a combination of MIDI, S/PDIF, and word clock
connections into a single connector on an audio interface. The interface would come with a
special fan-out cable that would deliver the common connections for these signals.
DB-25 male connector
DB-25 female connector
Figure 1.34 DBN connectors
The banana connector (Figure 1.35) is used for output connections on some power
amplifiers that connect to loudspeakers. The advantage of this connector is that it is inexpensive
and widely available. Most banana connectors also have a nesting feature that allows you to plug
one banana connector into the back of another. This is a quick and easy way to make parallel
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connections from a power amplifier to more than one loudspeaker. The downside is that you
have exposed pins on cables with fairly high-voltage signals, which is a safety concern. Usually,
the safety issues can be avoided by making connections only when the system is powered off.
The other potential problem with the banana connector is that it's very easy to insert the plug into
the jack backwards. In fact, a backwards connection looks identical to the correct connection.
Some banana connectors have a little notch on one side to help you tell the positive pin from the
negative pin, but the more reliable way for verifying the connection is to pay attention to the
colors of the wires. You‟re not going to break anything if you connect the cable backwards.
You‟ll just have a loudspeaker generating the sound with an inverted polarity. If that‟s the only
loudspeaker in your system, you probably won't hear any difference. But if that loudspeaker
delivers sound to the same listening area as another loudspeaker, you'll hear some destructive
interaction between the two sound waves that are working against each other. The banana
connector is also used with electronics measurement equipment such as a digital multi-meter.
Figure 1.35 Banana plug connector
The speakon connector was designed by the Neutrik connector company to attempt to
connector. This all but eliminates the potential for shorting the pins on a high-voltage signal. The
solve all the problems with the other types of loudspeaker connections. The connector is round,
and the panel-mount version fits in the same size hole as a panel-mount XLR connector. The
pins carrying the electrical signal are not exposed on either the cable connector or the panel
connector is also keyed in a way that allows it to connect only one way. This prevents the
polarity inversion problem as long as the connector is wired up correctly. The connector also
locks in place, preventing accidental disconnection. Making the connection is a little tricky if
you‟ve never done it before. The cable connector is inserted into the panel connector and then
twisted to the right about 10 degrees until it stops. Then, depending on the style of connector, a
locking tab automatically engages, or you need to turn the outer ring clockwise to engage the
lock. This connector is good in the way it solves the common problems with loudspeaker
connections, but it is certainly more expensive than the other options. Within the speakon family
of connectors there are three varieties. The NL2 has only two signal pins, allowing it to carry a
single audio signal. The NL4 has four signal pins, allowing it to carry two audio signals. This
way you can carry the signal for the full-range loudspeaker and the signal for the subwoofer on a
single cable, or you can use a single cable for a loudspeaker that does not use an internal passive
crossover. In the latter case, the audio signal would be split into the high and low frequency
bands at an earlier stage in the signal chain by an active crossover. Those two signals are then
fed into two separate power amplifiers before coming together on a four-conductor cable with
NL4 connectors. When the NL4 connector is put in place on the loudspeaker, the two signals are
separated and routed to the appropriate loudspeaker drivers. The NL4 and the NL2 are the same
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size and shape but are keyed slightly different. An NL2 cable connector can plug into an NL4
panel connector and line up to the 1+/1 pins of the NL4. But the NL4 cable connector cannot
connect to the NL2 panel connector. This helps you avoid a situation where you have two signals
running on the cable with an NL4 connector where the second signal would not be used with the
NL2 panel connector. The third type of speakon connector is the NL8, which has eight pins
allowing four audio signals. The NL8 allows for even more flexible active-crossover solutions.
Since it needs to accommodate eight conductors, the NL8 connector is significantly larger than
the NL2 and NL4. Because of these three different configurations, the term “speakon” is rarely
used in conversations with audio professionals because the word could be describing any one of
three very different connector configurations. Instead most people prefer to use the NL2, NL4,
and NL8 model number when discussing the connections.
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Speakon NL2 cable connector
Speakon NL2 panel connector
Speakon NL4 cable connector
Speakon NL4 panel connector
Speakon NL8 cable connector
Speakon NL8 panel connector
Figure 1.36 Speakon family of connectors
The RJ45 connector is typically used with Category 5e (CAT5e) ethernet cable (Figure
1.37). It has a locking tab that helps keep it in place when connected to a piece of equipment.
This plastic locking tab breaks off very easily in an environment where the cable is being moved
and connected several times. Once the tab breaks off, you can no longer rely on the connector to
stay connected. The Neutrik connector company has designed a connector shell for the RJ45
called Ethercon. This connector is the same size and shape as an XLR connector and therefore
inherits the same locking mechanism, converting the RJ45 to a very reliable and road-worthy
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connector. CAT5e cable is used for computer networking, but it is increasingly being used for
digital audio signals on digital mixing consoles and processing devices.
RJ45 cable connector with Ethercon housing
RJ45 Ethercon panel connector
Figure 1.37 RJ45 connectors
The Toslink connector (Figure 1.38) differs from all the other connectors in this section
in that it is used to transmit optical signals. There are many different fiber optic connection
systems used in digital sound, but the Toslink series is by far the most common. Toslink was
originally developed by Toshiba as a digital interconnect for their CD players. Now it is used for
three main kinds of digital audio signals. One use is for transmitting two channels of digital
audio using the Sony/Phillips Digital Interconnect Format (S/PDIF). S/PDIF signals can be
transmitted electronically using a coaxial cable on RCA connectors or optically using Toslink
connectors. Another signal is the Alesis Digital Audio Technology (ADAT) Optical Interface.
Originally developed by Alesis for their 8-track digital tape recorders as a way of transferring
signals between two machines, ADAT is now widely used for transmitting up to eight channels
of digital audio between various types of audio equipment. You also see the Toslink connector
used in consumer audio home theatre systems to transmit digital audio in the Dolby Digital or
DTS formats for surround sound systems. The standard Toslink connector is square-shaped with
the round optical cable in the middle. There is also a miniature Toslink connector that is the same
size as a 3.5 mm or ⁄ " phone plug. This allows the connection system to take up less space on
the equipment but also allows for some audio systems – mainly built-in sound cards on
computers – to create a hybrid 3.5 mm jack that can accept both analog electrical connectors and
digital optical miniature Toslink connectors.
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Male Toslink connector
Female Toslink connector
Figure 1.38 Toslink connectors
The IEC connector (Figure 1.39) is used for a universal power connection on computers
and most professional audio equipment. There are many different connector designs that
technically fall under the IEC specification, but the one that we are referring to is the C13/C14
pair of connectors. Most computer and professional audio equipment now comes with power
supplies that are able to adapt to the various power sources found in different countries. This
helps the manufacturers because they no longer have to manufacture a different version of their
product for each country. Instead, they put an IEC C14 inlet connector on their power supply and
then ship the equipment with a few different power cables that have an IEC C13 connector on
one end and the common power connector for each country on the other end. The only
significant problem is that this connector has no locking mechanism, which makes it very easy
for the power cable to be accidentally disconnected. Some power supplies come with a simple
wire bracket that goes down over the IEC connecter and attaches just behind the strain relief to
keep the connector from falling out.
IEC C13 cable connector
IEC C14 panel connector
Figure 1.39 IEC connectors
Neutrik decided to take what they learned from designing the speakon connector and
apply it to the problems of the IEC connector. The powercon connector (Figure 1.40) looks very
similar to the speakon. The biggest difference is that it has three pins. Some professional audio
equipment such as self-powered loudspeakers and power amplifiers have powercon connectors
instead of IEC. The advantage is that you get a locking connector with no exposed contacts. You
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can also create powercon patch cables that allow you to daisy chain a power connection between
several devices such as a stack of self-powered loudspeakers. Powercon connectors are colorcoded. A blue connector is used for a power input connection to a device. A white connector is
used for a power output connection from a device.
Powercon power input cable connector.
Powercon power input panel connector
Powercon power output cable connector
Powercon power output panel connector
Figure 1.40 Powercon connectors
. Dedicated Hardware Processors
While the software and hardware tools available for working with digital audio on a modern
personal computer have become quite powerful and sophisticated, they are still susceptible to all
the weaknesses of crashes, bugs, and other unreliable behavior. In a well-tuned system, these
problems are rare enough that the systems are reliable to use in most professional and home
recording studios. In those cases when problems happen during a session, it's possible to reboot
and get another take of the recording. In a live performance, however, the tolerance for failure is
very low. You only get one chance to get it right and for many, the so-called “virtual sound
systems” that can be operated on a personal computer are simply not reliable enough to be
trusted on a multi-million dollar live event.
These productions tend to rely more on dedicated hardware solutions. In most cases these
are still digital systems that essentially run on computers under the hood, but each device in the
system is designed and optimized for only a single dedicated task – mixing the signals together,
applying equalization, or playing a sound file, for example. When a computer based digital audio
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workstation experiences a glitch, it's usually due to some other task the computer is trying to
perform at the same time, such as checking for a software update, running a virus scan, or
refreshing a Facebook page. Dedicated hardware solutions like the one shown in Figure 1.41
have only one task, and they can perform that task very reliably.
Figure 1.41 A dedicated digital signal processor
Other hardware devices you might include with your system would be an analog or
digital mixing console or dedicated hardware processing units such as equalizers, compressors,
and reverberation processors. These dedicated processing units can be helpful in situations where
you're working with live sound reinforcement and can‟t afford the latency that comes with
completely software-based solutions. Some people simply prefer the sound of a particular analog
processing unit and use it in place of more convenient software plug-ins. There may also be
dedicated processing units that are calibrated in a way that's difficult to emulate in a software
plug-in. One example of this is the Dolby LM100 loudness meter shown in Figure 1.42. Many
television stations require programming that complies with certain loudness levels corresponding
to this specific hardware device. Though some attempts have been made to emulate the functions
of this device in a software plug-in, many audio engineers working in broadcasting still use this
dedicated hardware device to ensure their programming is in compliance with regulations.
Figure 1.42 Dolby LM100 loudness meter. Mixers
Mixers are an important part of any sound arsenal. Audio mixing is the process of combining
multiple sounds, adjusting their levels and balance individually, dividing the sounds into one or
more output channels, and either saving a permanent copy of the resulting sound or playing the
sound live through loudspeakers. From this definition you can see that mixing can be done live,
"on the fly," as sound is being produced, or it can be done off-line, as a post-production step
applied to recorded sound or music.
Mixers can analog or digital. Digital mixers can be hardware or software. Picture first a
live sound engineer working at an analog mixer like the one shown in Figure 1.43. His job is to
use the vertical sliders (called faders) to adjust the amplitudes of the input channels, possibly
turn other knobs to apply EQ, and send the resulting audio to the chosen output channels. He
may also add dynamics processing and special effects by means of an external processor inserted
in the processing chain. A digital mixer is used in essentially the same way. In fact, the physical
layout often looks remarkably similar as well. The controls of digital mixers tend to be modeled
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after analog mixers to make it easier for sound engineers to make the transition between devices.
More detailed information on mixing consoles can be found in Chapter 8.
Figure 1.43 Analog mixing console
Music producers and sound designers for film and video do mixing as well. In the postproduction phase, mixing is applied off-line to all of the recorded instrument, voice, or sound
effects tracks captured during filming, foley, or tracking sessions. Some studios utilize large
hardware mixing consoles for this mixing process as well, or the mixer may be part of a software
program like Logic, ProTools, or Sonar. The graphical user interfaces of software mixers are
often also made to look similar to hardware components. The purpose of the mixing process in
post-production is, likewise, to make amplitude adjustments, add EQ, dynamics processing, and
special effects to each track individually or in groups. Then the mixed-down sound is routed into
a reduced number of channels for output, be it stereo, surround sound, or individual groups
(often called “stems”) in case they need to be edited or mixed further down the road.
If you‟re just starting out, you probably won‟t need a massive mixing console in your
setup, many of which can cost thousands if not tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. If
you‟re doing live gigs, particularly where computer latency can be an issue, a small to mid-size
mixing console may be necessary, such as a 16-channel board. In all other situations, current
DAW software does a great job providing all the mixing power you‟ll need for just about any
size project. For those who prefer hands on mixing over a mouse and keyboard, mixer-like
control surfaces are readily available that communicate directly with your software DAW. These
control surfaces work much like MIDI keyboards, not ever touching any actual audio signals, but
instead remotely controlling your software‟s parameters in a traditional mixer-like fashion, while
your computer does all the real work. These days, you can even do your mix on a touch capable
device like an iPad, communicating wirelessly with your DAW.
Figure 1.44 DAW hardware control surface
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Figure 1.45 Touch device control surface app Loudspeakers
If you plan to work in sound for the theatre, then you'll also need some knowledge of
loudspeakers. While the monitors we described in Section are appropriate for studio
work where you are often sitting very close, these aren't appropriate for distributing sound over
long distances in a controlled way. For that you need loudspeakers which are specifically
designed to maintain a controlled dispersion pattern and frequency response when radiating
over long distances. These can include constant directivity horns and rugged cabinets with
integrated rigging points for overhead suspension. Figure 1.46 shows an example of a popular
loudspeaker for live performance.
These loudspeakers also require large power amplifiers. Most loudspeakers are specified
with a sensitivity that defines how many dBSPL the loudspeaker can generate one meter away
with only one watt of power. Using this specification along with the specification for the
maximum power handling of the loudspeaker, you can figure out what kind of power amplifiers
are needed to drive the loudspeakers, and how loud the loudspeakers can get. The process for
aiming and calculating performance for loudspeakers is described in Chapters 4 and 8.
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Figure 1.46 Meyer UPA-1P loudspeaker Analysis Hardware
When setting up sound systems for live sound, you need to make some acoustic measurements to
help you configure the system for optimal use. There are dedicated hardware solutions available,
but when you‟re just starting out, you can use software on your personal computer to analyze the
measurements if you have the appropriate hardware interfaces for your computer. The audio
interface you have for recording is sufficient as long as it can provide phantom power to the
microphone inputs. The only other piece of hardware you need is at least one good analysis
microphone. This is typically an omnidirectional condenser microphone with a very flat
frequency response. High-quality analysis microphones such as the Earthworks M30 (shown
previously in Figure 1.20) come with a calibration sheet showing the exact frequency response
and sensitivity for that microphone. Though the microphones are all manufactured together to the
same specifications, there are still slight variations in each microphone even with the same
model number. The calibration data can be very helpful when making measurements to account
for any anomalies. In some cases, you can even get a digital calibration file for your microphone
to load into your analysis software so it can make adjustments based on the imperfections in your
microphone. When looking for an analysis microphone, make sure it's an omnidirectional
condenser microphone with a very small diaphragm like the one shown in Figure 1.47. The
small diaphragm allows it to stay omnidirectional at high frequencies.
Figure 1.47 An inexpensive analysis microphone from Audix
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1.5.3 Software for Digital Audio and MIDI Processing
The Basics
Although the concepts in this book are general and basic, they are often illustrated in the context
of specific application programs. The following sections include descriptions of the various
programs that our examples and demonstrations use. The software shown can be used through
two types of user interfaces: sample editors and multitrack editors.
A sample editor, as the name implies, allows you to edit down to the level of individual
samples, as shown in Figure 1.48. Sample editors are based on the concept of destructive editing
where you are making changes directly to a single audio file – for example, normalizing an audio
file, converting the sampling rate or bit depth, adding meta-data such as loop markers or root
pitches, or performing any process that needs to directly and permanently alter the actual sample
data in the audio file. Many sample editors also have batch processing capability, which allows
you to perform a series of operations on several audio files at one time. For example, you could
create a batch process in a sample editor that converts the sampling rate to 44.1 kHz, normalizes
the amplitude values, and saves a copy of the file in AIFF format, applying these processes to an
entire folder of 50 audio files. These kinds of operations would be impractical or impossible to
accomplish with a multitrack editor.
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Figure 1.48 A sample editor window zoomed down to the level of the individual samples. The dots in the
waveform indicate each sample.
Multitrack editors divide the interface into tracks. A track is an editable area on your
audio arranging interface that corresponds to an individual input channel, which will eventually
be mixed with others. One track might hold a singer‟s voice while another holds a guitar
accompaniment, for example. Tracks can be of different types. For example, one might be an
audio track and one a MIDI track. Each track has its own settings and routing capability,
allowing for flexible, individual control. Within the tracks, the audio is represented by visual
blocks, called regions, which are associated to specific locations in memory where the audio data
corresponding to that region is stored. In other words, the regions are like little “windows” onto
your hard disk where the audio data resides. When you move, extend, or delete a region, you‟re
simply altering the reference “window” to the audio file. This type of interaction is known as
non-destructive editing, where you can manipulate the behavior of the audio without physically
altering the audio file itself, and is one of the most powerful aspects of multitrack editors.
Multitrack editors are well-suited for music and post-production because they allow you to
record sounds, voices, and multiple instruments separately, edit and manipulate them
individually, layer them together, and eventually mix them down into a single file.
The software packages listed below handle digital audio, MIDI, or a combination of the
two. Cakewalk, Logic, and Audition include both sample editors and multitrack editors, though
are primarily suited for one or the other. The list of software is not comprehensive, and versions
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of software change all the time, so you should compare our list with similar software that is
currently available. There are many software options out there ranging from freeware to
commercial applications that cost thousands of dollars. You generally get what you pay for with
these programs, but everyone has to work within the constraints of a reasonable budget. This
book shows you the power of working with professional quality commercial software, but we
also do our best to provide examples using software that is affordable for most students and
educational institutions. Many of these software tools are available for academic licensing with
reduced prices, so you may want to investigate that option as well. Keep in mind that some of
these programs run on only one operating system, so be sure to buy something that runs on your
preferred system.
Logic is developed by Apple and runs on the Mac operating system. This is a very
comprehensive and powerful program that includes audio recording, editing, multitrack mixing,
score notation, and a MIDI sequencer – a software interface for recording and editing MIDI.
There are two versions of Logic: Logic Studio and Logic Express. Logic Studio is actually a
suite of software that includes Logic Pro, Wave Burner, Soundtrack Pro, and a large library of
music loops and software instruments. Logic Express is the core Logic program without all the
extras, but it still comes with an impressive collection of audio and software instrument content.
There is a significant price difference between the two, so if you‟re just starting out, try Logic
Express. It‟s very affordable, especially when you consider all the features that are included.
Figure 1.49 is a screenshot from the Logic Pro workspace.
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Figure 1.49 Logic Pro workspace
Cakewalk Sonar and Music Creator
Cakewalk is a class of digital audio workstation software made by Roland. It features audio
recording, editing, multitrack mixing, and MIDI sequencing. Cakewalk comes in different
versions, all of which run only on the Windows operating system. Cakewalk Sonar is the highend version with the highest price tag. Cakewalk Music Creator is a scaled-back version of the
software at a significantly lower price. Most beginners find the features that come with Music
Creator to be more than adequate. Figure 1.50 is a screenshot of the Cakewalk Sonar workspace.
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Figure 1.50 Cakewalk Sonar workspace, multitrack view
Adobe Audition
Audition is DAW software made by Adobe. It was originally developed independently under the
name “Cool Edit Pro” but was later purchased by Adobe and is now included in several of their
software suites. The advantage to Audition is that you might already have it depending on which
Adobe software suite you own. Audition runs on Windows or Mac operating systems and
features audio recording, editing, and multitrack mixing. Traditionally, Audition hasn‟t included
MIDI sequencing support. The latest version has begun to implement more advanced MIDI
sequencing and software instrument support, but Audition‟s real power lies in its sample editing
and audio manipulation tools.
Audacity is a free, open-source audio editing program. It features audio recording, editing, and
basic multitrack mixing. Audacity has no MIDI sequencing features. It‟s not nearly as powerful
as programs like Logic, Cakewalk, and Audition. If you really want to do serious work with
sound, it‟s worth the money to purchase a more advanced tool, but since it‟s free, Audacity is
worth taking a look at if you‟re just starting out. Audacity runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux
operating systems. Figure 1.51 is a screenshot of the Audacity workspace.
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Figure 1.51 Audacity audio editing software
Reason, a software synthesis program made by Propellerhead, is designed to emulate electronic
musical instruments. The number of instruments you can load in the program is limited only by
the speed and capacity of your computer. Reason comes with an impressive instrument library
and includes a simple MIDI sequencer. Its real power lies is its ability to be integrated with other
programs like Logic and Cakewalk, giving those programs access to great sounding software
instruments. Recent versions of Reason have added audio recording or editing features. Reason
runs on both Mac and Windows operating systems. Figure 1.52 is a screenshot of the Reason
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Figure 1.52 Reason software instrument rack
Software Plug-Ins
Multitrack editors include the ability to use real-time software plug-ins to process the audio on
specific tracks. The term plug-in likely grew out of the days of analog mixing consoles when you
would physically plug in an external processing device to the signal chain on a specific channel
of an analog mixing console. Most analog mixing consoles have specific connections labeled
“Insert” on each channel of the mixing console to allow these external processors to be
connected. In the world of digital multitrack editing software, a plug-in refers to an extra
processing program that gets inserted to the signal chain of a channel in the software multitrack
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editor. For example, you might want to change the frequency response of the audio signal on
Track 1 of your project. To do this, you'd insert an equalizer plug-in on Track 1 that performs
this kind of processing in real time as you play back the audio. Most DAW applications come
with a variety of included plug-ins. Additionally, because plug-ins are treated as individual bits
of software, it is possible to add third-party plug-ins to your computer that expand the processing
options available for use in your projects, regardless of your specific DAW.
Music Composing and Notation Software
Musicians working with digital audio and MIDI often have need of software to help them
compose and notate music. Examples of such software include Finale, Sibelius, and the free
MuseScore. This software allows you to input notes via the mouse, keyboard, or external MIDI
device. Some can also read and convert scanned sheet music or import various file types such as
MIDI or MusicXML. Figure 1.53 shows a screen capture of Finale.
Figure 1.53 Finale, a music composing and notation software environment
Working in the Linux Environment
If you want to work with audio in the Linux environment, you can do so at different levels of
Ardour is free digital audio processing software that operates on the Linux and OS X
operating systems. Ardour has extensive features for audio processing, but it doesn't support
MIDI sequencing. A screen capture of the Ardour environment is in Figure 1.54. Ardour allows
you to work at the same high level of abstraction as Logic or Music Creator.
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Figure 1.54 Ardour, free digital audio processing software for the Linux or OS X operating systems
Ardour works in conjunction with Jack, an audio connection kit, and the GUI for Jack,
qjackctl. A screenshot of the Jack interface is in Figure 1.55. On the Linux platform, Jack can
talk to the sound card through ALSA, which stands for Advanced Linux Sound Architecture.
Figure 1.55 Jack Audio Connection Kit
If you want to work at a lower level of abstraction, you can also use functions of one of
the Linux basic sound libraries. Two libraries in use at the time of the writing of this chapter are
ALSA and OSS, both illustrated in Chapter 2 examples.
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1.5.4 Software for Live Performances
There are software packages that are used specifically in live sound. The first category is analysis
software. This is software that you can run on your computer to analyze acoustic measurements
taken through an analysis microphone connected to the audio interface. Current popular software
solutions include Smaart from Rational Acoustics (Mac/Win), FuzzMeasure Pro (Mac), and
EASERA (Win). Most of the impulse, frequency, and phase response figures you see in this
book were created using FuzzMeasure Pro, shown in Figure 1.56. More information on these
systems can be found in Chapter 2 and Chapter 8.
Figure 1.56 FuzzMeasure Pro analysis software
Another category of software used in live sound is sound playback software. Though it's
possible to play sound cues from your DAW, the interface is really designed for recording and
editing. A dedicated playback software application is much more reliable and easy to use for
sound playback on a live show. Popular playback solutions include QLab (Mac) from Figure 53
and SFX (Win) from Stage Research, shown in Figure 1.57. These systems allow you to create
lists of cues that play and route the sound to multiple outputs on your audio interface. You can
also automate the cues to fade in and out, layer sounds together, and even remotely trigger other
systems such as lighting and projections.
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Figure 1.57 SFX playback software from Stage Research
1.6 Learning Supplements
1.6.1 Practical Exercises
Setting Up
Your DAW
Figure 1.58 - Icon for a practical exercise
Throughout the book you'll see icons in the margins indicating learning supplements that are
available for that section. If you're reading the book in PDF format, you can click on these links
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in the PDF file and go directly to the learning supplement on our website. If you're reading a
printed version of the book, the learning supplements can be found by visiting our website and
looking in the applicable section. The icon shown in Figure 1.58 indicates there is a supplement
available in the form of a practical exercise. This could be a project you complete using the highlevel sound production software described in earlier sections, a worksheet with practice math
problems, or a hands-on exercise using tools in the world around you. This brings us to our first
practical exercise. As shown in the margin next to this paragraph, we have a learning
supplement that walks you through setting up your digital audio workstation. Use this exercise to
help you get all your new equipment and software up and running.
1.6.2 Flash Tutorials
Figure 1.59 Icon for a Flash Tutorial
Figure 1.60 Icon for a video tutorial
The icons shown in Figure 1.59 and Figure 1.60 indicate that supplements are available that
require the Flash player web browser plug-in. The Flash tutorials are dynamic and interactive,
helping to clarify concepts like longitudinal waves, musical notation, the playing of scales on a
keyboard, EQ, and so forth. Questions at the ends of the Flash tutorials check your learning.
The video tutorials use the Flash player to show a live action video demonstration of a concept.
To play the tutorials, you need the Flash player plug-in to your web browser, which is standard
and likely already installed. At most, you‟ll need to do an occasional upgrade of your Flash
player, which on most computers is handled with automatic reminders of new versions and easy
download and installation.
In addition to the software you need for actual audio recording and editing as described in
the previous sections, you also may want some software for experimentation. The application
programs listed below allow you to manipulate sound at descending levels of abstraction so that
you can understand the operations in more depth. You can decide which of these software
environments are useful to you as you learn more about digital audio.
1.6.3 Max and Pure Data (PD)
Figure 1.61 Icon for Max demo or programming exercise
The icon shown in Figure 1.61 indicates there are supplements available that use the Max
software. Max (formerly called Max/MSP/Jitter) is a real-time graphical programming
environment for music, audio, and other media developed by Cycling „74. The core program,
Max, provides the user interface, MIDI objects, timing for event-driven programming, and inter53
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object communications. This functionality is extended with the MSP and Jitter modules. MSP
supports real-time audio synthesis and digital signal processing. Jitter adds the ability to work
with video. Max programs, called patchers, can be easily distributed and run by anyone who
downloads the free Max runtime program. The runtime allows you to open the patchers and
interact with them. If you want to be able to make your own patchers or make changes to
existing ones, you need to purchase the full version. Max can also compile patchers into
executable applications. In this book, Max demos are finished patchers that demonstrate a
concept. Max programming exercises are projects that ask you to create or modify your own
patcher from a given set of requirements. We provide example solutions for Max programming
exercises in the solutions section of our website.
Max is powerful enough to be useful in real-world theatre, performance, music, and even
video gaming productions, allowing sound designers to create sound systems and functionality
not available in off-the-shelf software. On the Cycling ‟74 web page, you can find a list of
interesting and creative applications.
Our Max demos require at least the Max runtime system, which can be downloaded free
at the Cycling ‟74 website. Purchasing the full program is recommended for those who want to
experiment with the demos more deeply or who want to complete the programming exercises.
Figure 1.62 shows a series of Max patcher windows.
Figure 1.62 Max graphical programming environment
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If you can‟t afford Max, you might consider a free alternative, Pure Data, created by one
of the originators of Max. Pure Data is open source software similar to Max in functionality and
interface. However, the included documentation is not nearly as comprehensive. For the Max
programming exercises that involve audio programming, you might be able to use Pure Data and
save yourself some money.
1.6.4 MATLAB and Octave
Figure 1.63 Icon for a MATLAB exercise
The icon shown in Figure 1.63 indicates there is a MATLAB exercise available for that section
of the book. MATLAB (Figure 1.64) is a commercial mathematical modeling tool that allows
you to experiment with digital sound at a low level of abstraction. MATLAB, which stands for
“matrix lab,” is adept at manipulating matrices and arrays of data. Essentially, matrices are tables
of information, and arrays are lists. Digital audio data related to a sound or piece of music is
nothing more than an array of audio samples. The audio samples are generated in one of two
basic ways in MATLAB. Sound can be recorded in an audio processing program like Adobe
Audition, saved as an uncompressed PCM or a WAV file, and then input into MATLAB.
Alternatively, it can be generated directly in MATLAB through the execution of sine functions.
A sine function is given a frequency and amplitude related to the pitch and loudness of the
desired sound. Executing a sine function at evenly spaced points produces numbers that
constitute the audio data. Sine functions also can be added to each other to create complex
sounds, the sound data can be plotted on a graph, and the sounds can be played in MATLAB.
Operations on sine functions lay bare the mathematics of audio processing to give you a deeper
understanding of filters, special effects, quantization error, dithering, and the like. Although
such operations are embedded at a high level of abstraction in tools like Logic and Audition,
MATLAB allows you to create them “by hand” so that you really understand how they work.
MATLAB also has extra toolkits that provide higher-level functions. For example, the
signal processing toolkit gives you access to functions such as specialized waveform generators,
transforms, frequency responses, impulse responses, FIR filters, IIR filters, and zero-pole
diagram manipulations. The associated graphs help you to visualize how sound is changed when
mathematical operations alter the properties of sound, amplitude, and phase.
Digital Sound & Music: Concepts, Applications, & Science, Chapter 1, last updated 7/29/2013
Figure 1.64 MATLAB mathematical modeling environment
GNU Octave is an open source alternative to MATLAB that runs under the Linux, Unix,
Mac OS X, or Windows operating systems. Like MATLAB, its specialty is array operations.
Octave has most of the basic functionality of MATLAB, including the ability to read in or
generate audio data, plot the data, perform basic array-based operations like adding or
multiplying sine functions, and handle complex numbers. Octave doesn‟t have the extensive
signal processing toolbox that MATLAB offers. However, third-party extensions to Octave are
freely downloadable on the web, and at least one third-party signal processing toolkit has been
developed with filtering, windowing, and display functions.
1.6.5 C++ and Java Programming Exercises
Figure 1.65 - Icon for programming exercises
Digital Sound & Music: Concepts, Applications, & Science, Chapter 1, last updated 7/29/2013
This book is intended to be useful not only to
musicians, digital sound designers, and sound
 Aside: Because the audio processing
engineers, but also to computer scientists
implemented in these exercises is done at a
fairly low level of abstraction, the solutions
specializing in digital sound. Thus we
we provide for the C++ programming
include examples of sound processing done at
exercises are written primarily in C, without
a low level of abstraction, through C++
emphasis on the object-oriented features of
programs (Figure 1.65). The C++ programs
C++. For convenience, we use a few C++
constructs like dynamic memory allocation
that we use as examples are done on the
with new and variable declarations anywhere
Linux operating system. Linux is a good
in the program.
platform for audio programming because it is
open-source, allowing you to have direct
access to the sound card and operating system. Windows, in contrast, is much more of a black
box. Thus, low-level sound programming is harder to do in this environment.
If you have access to a computer running under Linux, you probably already have a C++
compiler installed. If not, you can download and install a GNU compiler. You can also try our
examples under Unix, a relative of Linux. Your computer and operating system dictate what
header files need to be included in your programs, so you may need to check the documentation
on this.
Some Java programming exercises are also included with this book. Java allows you to
handle sound at a higher level of abstraction with packages such as java.sound.sampled and
java.sound.midi. You'll need a Java compiler and run-time to work with these programs.
1.7 Where to Go from Here
We‟ve included lot of information in this section. Don‟t worry if you don‟t completely
understand everything yet. As you go through each chapter, you'll have the opportunity to
experiment with all of these tools until you become confident with them. For now, start building
up your workstation with the tools we‟ve suggested, and enjoy the ride.
1.8 References
Franz, David. Recording and Producing in the Home Studio: A Complete Guide. Boston, MA:
Berklee Press, 2004.
Kirn, Peter. Digital Audio: Industrial-Strength Production Techniques. Berkeley, CA:
Peachpit Press, 2006.
Pohlmann, Ken C. The Compact Disc Handbook. Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, Inc., 1992.
Toole, Betty A. Ada, The Enchantress of Numbers. Mill Valley, CA: Strawberry Press, 1992.
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