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Recording Handbook
Chapter 1: Sonic Fundamentals

 1. Sonic Fundamentals

a. Loud vs. Soft

Sound is moving air. Our ears are designed to be sensitive to these vibrations and interpret them. In music, the term, "Dynamics" refers to whether a sound is "soft" or "loud". The ability of a recording medium to reproduce the difference between soft and loud is called its "Dynamic Range". Vinyl records and cassette tapes have a limited dynamic range of 20 db or so while modern CD's and Digital Audio Tape (DAT) are capable of full dynamic range; that's 100 db! The limiting factor of how much of that range you get to actually hear is determined by the speakers, and amplifiers and the room you're listening in. Read on...

b. Highs vs. Lows

We've all heard terms like "bright", "dull", "deep" and "thin" used to describe music. Two major factors complicate this affair. The first is that we all hear the same thing differently; one person's "bright" is another person's "dull". The second is the accuracy or lack thereof, of our sound source, i.e. the speakers and amplifiers. Technically, the audible frequency range for human hearing is 20 Hertz(Hz) on the low end and 20 Kilohertz(Khz) on the high end. Most people's hearing range falls between 40Hz and 16 Khz and in fact, the specified frequency range of FM radio is 50Hz to 15Khz.

A typical car radio, boom box or home stereo has two EQ knobs on it. The "Low" and "High" knobs are usually centered at 100 Hz and 10 Khz respectively with a broad "fixed Q". "Q" refers to the range of frequencies affected by the boost or cut and is expressed in octaves. Their effect is not subtle but for consumer applications this is simple, convenient and usually sufficient. The loudness button is simply a low frequency boost that compensates for the apparent lack of low frequencies at low listening levels.

c. Speakers and Amplifiers and Rooms

This is the last step before your ears get to do their thing. Any problems here affect the sound reproduced, and thusly, your ability to interpret what you hear. The amp, speakers, and the room they are in, all make up the listening environment. When your mix sounds great in the studio and terrible everywhere else, you know something is wrong.

"Flat" is a term used to describe a system that reproduces all frequencies, equally, more or less. Some people spend thousands trying to achieve a "flat" room. As for me, it's great on paper, but it's not always great for music! As long as I know what the speakers and room are doing, I can deal with it. I like to mix on near-field systems at moderate SPL levels. This tends to decrease the affects the room may have. My current favorites are the Genelec 1031 A's, a compact 2-way self-powered monitor. They don't lie to me. Alesis and the Event 20/20 are recent entries into the more inexpensive 2-way self-powered monitor sweepstakes.

Listening level is a very subjective matter, but the ear does respond to frequencies differently at different volumes. Constant loud levels tend to dull the high end response of the ear, while at low levels the low frequencies are not as apparent. As with other things in life, drugs and alcohol also affect the ears, and usually not in a good way.



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