A Glossary Of Mixing Terms – Part 2

Last week we covered Part 1 of the glossary of mixing terms. This week is part 2. Both come from the latest 5th edition of my Mixing Engineer’s Handbook.

Mixing Glossary Part 2 on Bobby Owsinski's Music Production Blog

I/O. The input/output of a device.

immersive audio. Multi-dimensional sound that completely envelops the listener because of speakers placed around the listening environment as well as overhead. 

input pad. An electronic circuit that attenuates the signal, usually 10 or 20dB. See also attenuation pad.

in the box. Mixing with the software console inside a DAW application on a computer instead of using a hardware console.

iso booth. Isolation booth. An isolated section of the studio designed to eliminate outside sound from coming into the booth or sound leaking out.

intonation. The accuracy of tuning anywhere along the neck of a stringed instrument like a guitar or bass. Also applies to brass, woodwinds, and piano.

knee. The speed at which a compressor will turn on once it reaches threshold. A soft knee turns on gradually and is less audible than a hard knee.

kHz. One kHz equals 1,000 hertz (example: 4kHz = 4,000 Hz).

lacquer. The vinyl master, which is a single-sided 14″ disc made of aluminum substrate covered with a soft cellulose nitrate. A separate lacquer is required for each side of a vinyl record. Since the lacquer can never be played, a ref or acetate is made to check the disc. 

latency. Latency is a measure of the time it takes (in milliseconds) for your audio signal to pass through your system during the recording process. This delay is caused by the time it takes for your computer to receive, understand, process, and send the signal back to your outputs.

leakage. Sound from a distant instrument “bleeding” into a mic pointed at another instrument. Acoustic spill from a sound source other than the one intended for pickup.

Leslie. A speaker cabinet that features rotating speakers primarily used with organs.

LFE. Low-frequency effects channel. This is a special channel of 30Hz to 120Hz information primarily intended for special effects, such as explosions in movies. The LFE has an additional 10dB of headroom to accommodate the required sound pressure level of the low frequencies.

limiter. A signal-processing device used to constrict or reduce audio dynamics, reducing the loudest peaks in volume.

look-ahead. In a digital processor, look-ahead delays the audio signal a small amount (about two milliseconds) so that the processor can anticipate the transients in such a way that it catches the peak before it gets by.

loop. A small audio file, usually only four or eight beats (or measures) long that’s edited in a way so that it can seamlessly repeat.

low-pass filter (LPF). A electronic frequency filter that allows only the low frequencies to pass while attenuating the high frequencies. The frequency point where it cuts off is usually either switchable or variable. Sometimes called “high cut.”

low end. The lower end of the audio spectrum, or bass frequencies usually below 200Hz.

make-up gain. A control on a compressor/limiter that applies additional gain to the signal. This is helpful because the signal is automatically decreased when the compressor is working. Make-up gain “makes up” the gain and brings it back to where it was prior to being compressed and beyond.

master. A final version of a recording that is destined for distribution.

mastering. The process of turning a collection of songs into a record by making them sound like they belong together in tone, volume, and timing (spacing between songs on an album). A more modern definition is that mastering is the process of fine-tuning the level, frequency balance, and metadata of a track in preparation for distribution.

metadata. Data that describes the primary data. For instance, metadata can be data about an audio file that indicates the date recorded, sample rate, resolution, artist, record label, publisher, and so on. 

midrange. Middle frequencies starting from around 250Hz and going up to 4,000Hz. 

mix buss. The audio signal path network that mixes all of the individual channels together for your final mix.

modeling. A software algorithm that is an electronic representation of the sound of a hardware audio device down to its smallest behaviors and nuances.

modulation. Using a second signal to modify the first. For example, a chorus uses a very low-frequency signal to modulate the audio signal and produce the effect.

mono. Short for monaural, or single audio playback channel.

monaural. A mix that’s bussed to a single channel and usually comes from only one speaker.

MP3. A data-compression format used to make audio files smaller in size.  

muddy. Non-distinct because of excessive low or low-mid frequencies.

mult. A section of an analog patchbay that enables patching to multiple inputs or outputs.

multi-band compression. A compressor that is able to individually compress different frequency bands as a means of providing more control over the compression process.

mute. An on/off switch. To mute something means to turn it off.

outboard gear. Hardware devices such as compressors, reverbs, and effects boxes that are not built into a console and usually reside in an equipment rack in the control room.

outro. The section of a song after the last chorus until the end of the song.

overs. Digital overs occur when the level is so high that it attempts to go beyond 0dB Full Scale on a typical digital level meter found in just about all digital equipment. A red Overload indicator usually will light, accompanied by the crunchy, distorted sound of waveform clipping.

overdub. To record a new track while listening to previously recorded tracks.

overtone. The harmonic part of a sound that gives it its character and uniqueness.

out of phase. The polarity of two channels (it could be the left and right channels of a stereo program) are reversed, thereby causing the center of the program (such as the vocal) to diminish in level. Electronically, when one cable is wired backwards from all the others.

pan. Short for panorama. Indicates the position of an instrument within the stereo soundfield.

panning. Moving a sound across the stereo soundfield.

parametric equalizer. A tone control where the gain, frequency, and frequency bandwidth are all variable.

peaks. A portion of an audio signal that’s temporarily much higher in level than the rest of the signal.

phase. The position of a sound wave in time. For a periodic waveform, the phase tells you the point along its shape where the wave’s pattern begins.

phantom image. In a stereo system, if the left and right channels have an equally loud audio signal, the resultant sound appears to come from in between them.  

phase shift. The process during which some frequencies are slowed down ever so slightly as they pass through a device. This is usually exaggerated by excessive use of equalization and may be undesirable.

phase meter. A dedicated meter that displays the relative phase of a stereo signal.

plate (reverb). A method used to create artificial reverberation using a large steel plate with a speaker and several transducers connected to it.

playlist. In radio, a list of the music that station will broadcast. In streaming music, a curated list of suggested songs.

plug-in. An add-on to a computer application that adds functionality to it. EQ, compression, modulation, and reverb are examples of DAW plug-ins.

point. The frequencies between 2k and 5kHz that cause a sound to be more distinct.

power chords. Long, sustaining, distorted guitar chords. 

power trio. A three-piece band consisting of guitar, bass and drums that generally play rock or metal.

pre-chorus. See B-section.

predelay. A variable length of time before the onset of reverberation. Predelay is often used to separate the source from the reverberation so the source can be heard more clearly.

preroll. A short length of time before recording begins or a song section arrives.

presence. Accentuated high frequencies (anywhere from 5k to 10kHz).

producer. The equivalent of a movie director, the producer has the ability to craft the songs of an artist or band technically, sonically, and musically.

proximity effect. The inherent low-frequency boost that occurs with a directional microphone as it gets closer to the signal source.

Pultec. A tube-based analog equalizer made during the 1950s and 60s by Western Electric that is highly prized today for its smooth sound.

pumping. When the level of a mix increases and then decreases noticeably. Pumping is caused by the improper setting of the attack and release times on a compressor.

punchy. A description for a quality of sound that infers good reproduction of dynamics with a strong impact. The term sometimes means emphasis in the 200Hz and 5kHz areas. 

Q. The frequency bandwidth of a filter or equalizer that may be fixed or variable. Q stands for filter “quality.”

range. On a gate or expander, a control that adjusts the amount of attenuation that will occur to the signal when the gate is closed.

ratio. A control on a compressor/limiter that determines how much compression or limiting will occur when the signal exceeds the threshold.

recall. A system that memorizes the position of all pots and switches on a console. On older analog consoles, the engineer must still physically reset the pots and switches back to their previous positions as indicated on a video monitor.

record. A generic term for the distribution format of a recording. Regardless of whether it’s a CD, vinyl, or a digital file, it is still known as a record.

release. The last part of a sound. On a compressor/limiter, a control that affects how that device will respond to the release of a sound. Also, making a record available for distribution.

resonance. See resonant frequency.

resonant frequency. A particular frequency or band of frequencies that is accentuated, usually due to some extraneous acoustic, electronic, or mechanical factor.

return. An input on a recording console especially dedicated for effects devices, such as reverbs and delays. The return inputs are usually not as sophisticated as normal channel inputs on a console. In most DAWs, the returns are called Aux channels.

reverb. A type of signal processor that reproduces the spatial sound of an environment (such as the sound of a closet or locker room or inside an oil tanker).

rhythm section. The instruments in a band that give the song its pulse, usually the bass and drums.

RMS meter. A meter that reads the average level of a signal.

roll off. To attenuate either end of the frequency spectrum.

scratch vocal. A temporary vocal recorded during basic tracking with the intention of replacing it with a more suitable one later.

shelving curve. A type of equalizer circuit used to boost or cut a signal above or below a specified frequency; looks flat like a shelf when graphed. Usually the high- and low-band equalizers built into many mixing boards are the shelving type.

sibilance. A short burst of high frequencies centering anywhere in a vocal’s 3kHz to 10kHz range, resulting in the “S” sounds being overemphasized.

sidechain. A separate signal path to and from the control element of a dynamics device.

signal path. The electronic or digital pathway through circuitry and processors that the audio signal must pass through.

song form. The multiple sections that make up a song. Most songs have a combination of intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge and outro.

soundfield. The listening area containing mostly direct sound from the monitor speakers.

source. An original master that is not a copy or a clone.

spectrum. The complete audible range of audio signals.

SPL. Sound-pressure level. The volume level of a sound to the human ear.

stage. In an analog console, a block of circuitry that performs a console function, such as EQ or panning. In a digital or software console, a digital block that performs a console function.

standing waves. An acoustic property of a room where certain frequencies reflect off the walls, floor, or ceiling that will either boost the signal or attenuate it, depending upon where in the room you’re standing.

stem. An instrument group of tracks that make up a full mix. Stems are typically divided into drum stems, bass stem, vocal stem and instruments stem, although they may get further defined, such as background vocal stem, keyboards stem, etc. Each stem contains all of the processing and effects added during the mix.

sympathetic vibration. Vibrations, buzzes, and rattles or notes that occur in areas of an instrument or instruments other than the one that was struck.

subgroup. A separate submixer that sums the assigned channels together and then sends that mix to the master mix buss. 

sub. Short for subwoofer.

subwoofer. A low-frequency speaker with a frequency response from about 30Hz to as high as 120Hz.

synchronization. When two devices—usually storage devices, such as tape machines, DAWs, or sequencers—are locked together with respect to time.

tape slap. A method to create a delay effect using a tape machine. A slap is usually 100 to 200ms.

tempo. The rate of speed at which a song is played.

tension and release. Building a listener’s expectations and then relaxing them, such as dissonance to harmony or loud to quiet.

threshold. The point at which an effect takes place. On a compressor/limiter, for instance, the threshold control adjusts the signal level at which compression will take place.

track sharing. When a single track shares more than one instrument. For instance, when a percussion part is recorded on a guitar solo track in places that the guitar has not been recorded.

timed delay. A delay where the repeats are timed to pulse along with the pulse of the song.

top-end. See high-end.

track. A term sometimes used to mean a song. In recording, a separate musical performance that is recorded to a separate piece of the DAW timeline.

transient. A very short-duration signal.

TV mix. A mix without the lead vocals so the artist can sing live to the backing tracks during a television appearance.

vamp. To repeat a short passage of music.

You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

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