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Return To Zero (Part 1)

A major new series, beginning this month, that helps readers take their first steps into the world of recording. First off is a comprehensive glossary of recording terms.

In response to the needs of a growing number of novice recordists, this month we begin a new series which deals with the fundamentals of recording. Return To Zero will look at all aspects of the recording process in a simple and accessible way, serving as an introduction for those readers on the first rung of the ladder. This month we start off with an extensive glossary of recording jargon just to get you all clued up for the articles to follow.


A/B Test Comparison of two signals. 'A' being the source signal and 'B' the signal recorded on tape.

Absorption The damping of a sound wave by passing through an object. Loss of acoustic energy.

Acoustic Treatment The application of specified materials that will alter the sound of an environment.

ADC Analogue to Digital Converter.

ADT Automatic Double Tracking - usually produced by analogue or digital delay units.

Alignment Precision adjustment of the electronics and tape head for optimum performance.

Ambient Sound A noise forming the background sound to the principal sound source.

Amplifier A device which accepts an input signal and produces an output of the same signal with increased power.

Analogue An electrical signal whose frequency and level vary in direct relationship to the original acoustical sound waves.

Anechoic Without echo (non-reverberant); a chamber used for the testing of sound generating devices.

Assignment. See Routing.

Atmosphere (Ambient) Microphone A microphone placed some distance away from a sound source to pick up the residual or background sounds in an environment.

Attenuation Reduction of a signal level.

Auto-Locate Tape recorder facility that automatically returns the tape to a chosen position determined by the operator.

Audio Those frequencies that occupy the normal range of human hearing, 20Hz to 20kHz.

Auto Pan A device that automatically moves a sound within the stereo image at a chosen speed.

Aural Exciter Tradename of Aphex (USA). A signal processing device which psycho-acoustically enhances a sound.

Auxiliary Input A line level found on mixers, amplifiers and tape recorders. Like a spare input channel but with fewer facilities.

Azimuth The angle between a tape head gap and the longitude of the tape; usually 90 degrees.


Backing-track Previously recorded music to which a soloist listens while recording a new track ie. vocals.

Baffle A wall or board that deliberately impedes the sound path.

Balance The achievement of the correct relationship in sound levels between many individual sound sources.

Balance Engineer. See Engineer.

Balanced Line A cable with two signal wires and one earth (screen). Helps to reduce hum and enables use of long cable runs.

Bandwidth The interval between the cut-off points of a frequency response, usually expressed in Hertz ie. 20kHz.

Bel A scale unit used to express the ratio of two powers. One Bel equals 10 decibels (dB).

Bias A steady-state field superimposed upon the normal programme material magnetic field to achieve better sound recording quality.

Bi-directional A type of microphone which picks up sound on two sides rather than only from the front. Sometimes referred to as a 'figure of eight' pattern.

Binaural Normal human hearing; sound arriving at both ears.

Bounce Transferring of tape track(s) to another track, either on the same multitrack tape or from one machine to another.

Break Jack A jack plug arranged to break the normal circuit when inserted. Used on mixer insert sockets.

Bulk Eraser Electro-magnet used to erase a reel of tape in a few seconds.

Bus A signal path to which many signals may be connected.

Bus Bar A common wire for all 'earths' or particular signals.


Cans Studio jargon for headphones.

Capacitor Microphone A working principle where the diaphragm forms the moving part of two charged plates. Sometimes known as Condenser or Electret. Usually requires either battery or phantom powering.

Capstan The rotating shaft that drives the tape along in contact with the pinch wheel.

Cardioid Heart-shaped directivity pick-up pattern of a microphone.

CCJR French standards organisation.

Channel Found on mixers. 6 into 2 means six input channels and two output channels (groups).

Chorus A signal processor which gives an audible illusion of there being a multiple of the original input. Often used on vocals.

Coincident Pair An arrangement of two microphones (for stereo) so that the diaphragms are at an angle to each other.

Compander Electronic circuit which compresses the sound for recording on tape and then expands it again on playback.

Clipping A type of distortion caused by overdriving a stage of amplification.

Compressor A device which reduces the variation in a fluctuating signal level.

Crosstalk Interference caused by break-through of a signal from one circuit or tape track to another.

Crossfade Fading level of one channel down as another one is being faded up.

Cue See Foldback.


DAC Digital to Analogue Converter.

dbx A commercial noise reduction system employing 2:1 companding techniques.

Dead Studio A studio with very little reverberation in it.

Decibel (dB) See Bel.

DIN German standards organisation.

Direction Injection Process of recording an electronic musical instrument by direct connection to a mixer or tape recorder without using a microphone.

Diaphragm That part of a microphone that responds to sound pressure waves.

Digital Sound A process of recording sound so that the waveform is converted into numerical zeros and ones to form a binary code that can be stored in a computer or recorded on tape.

Dolby Noise reduction system named after its inventor, Ray Dolby. Dolby A professional system, Dolby B and C semi-pro systems.

Double Tracking (Doubling). Playing along with the same instrument previously recorded. Similar to ADT.

Drop-In A process of inserting a sound on tape at a particular point by entering the record mode.

Drop-Out Momentary loss of signal on tape.

Dry A track or sound without reverb or echo.

Dubbing The combining of two or more tracks into a composite recording.

Dummy Head System of stereo recording using two microphones, one placed in each ear of a dummy's head.

Dynamic Range The range within which the signal level fluctuates. Normally expressed in dB ie. 90dB.


Earth Same as Ground or Screen.

Echo The same sound repeated a number of times and reducing in level on each repeat.

Echo Chamber A reverberant room containing a loudspeaker which feeds sound into the room and a microphone to pick up the reflected sound. When combined with the original sound a reverb/echo effect is produced.

Editing The process of cutting and re-arranging a selection of recorded sounds.

Engineer Person whose job it is to record sound.

Equalisation (EQ) The process of modifying tonal characteristics of a sound by means of level changes at particular frequency points.

Erase Head The first head the tape passes on a tape recorder. Used to remove the sound from a designated track prior to making a recording on that same track.

Expander A means of increasing the variation in signal level.

Fader General term for a straight slider volume control normally found on mixing desks.

Feedback Returning a part of the signal output back to the input. Can be used to vary the number of repeats in an analogue or digital delay.

Filter An electronic circuit for removing a specified part of a sound eg. low pass only allows low frequencies through, therefore removing high frequencies.

Flanger A signal process which passes a sound through a sweeping filter arrangement to produce constant cyclic tonal variations.

Flutter and Wow A type of undesired modulation of sound. Flutter refers to a fluctuation at a frequency above 10 Hz and Wow the fluctuation at frequencies below 10 Hz.

Flutter Echo A rapid, short repeat echo often encountered between two closely spaced parallel surfaces.

Flux Density A measurement of the concentration of magnetic field. Often measured in nanoWebers per metre (nWb/m).

Frequency Rate of repetition of a waveform cycle, measured in cycles per second and given the name Hertz after the physicist.

Foldback A mix of the sound which is fed to the musicians over headphones as a cue whilst recording.

Gain A ratio for input power to output power increase ie. 60dB gain figure for an amplifier.

Gate An electronic circuit which has a zero output level unless the input signal exceeds a chosen level (threshold).

Graphic Equaliser Selective narrow band filters having slider controls which visually (ie. graphically) indicate the approximate frequency response of the sound.

Group Output channel of a mixer fed by several input channels via a bus.


Harmonizer Type of pitch changer (Trade-name of Eventide).

Haas Effect The relationship between sound volume, decay time and directionality. The effect that determines the apparent direction of a sound source.

Head Gap A minute gap between the ends of a horseshoe type magnet found in record and playback heads of a tape recorder.

Headroom The level available above the normal operating point, regarded as the safety margin in which an amplifier or signal will not distort.

Helmholtz Resonator A box structure which comprises a cavity airspace and a narrow opening. Can be tuned to absorb particular frequencies. Named after the physicist.

Hertz A unit of frequency measurement; 1 Hz = 1 cycle per second. Named after the famous physicist.

Hum Low frequency sound at mains frequency. 50Hz in UK, 60Hz in USA.

Hyper-Cardioid A microphone pick-up pattern similar to the heart-shaped cardioid pattern but with a much narrower area of response.


IEC The International Electrotechnical Commission - a standards organisation.

Impedance The degree to which a circuit restricts the flow of AC signals. Normally measured in ohms, the higher the figure the greater the impedance.

ISO International Organisation for Standardisation.


KiloHertz (kHz) 1000 Hertz.

Line Level Standard studio signal operating level, normally 0dBm = 775mV.

Leader Uncoated tape in various colours normally placed at the end, start and in between recorded sections of a reel of tape.

Limiter Device that automatically limits the level to prevent signal clipping.

Loudness The subjective strength of a sound.


Maintenance Engineer Person responsible for ensuring that all studio equipment remains fully operational and meets manufacturers operating specifications.

Magnetic Flux See Flux.

Magnetic Tape Plastic tape coated with an oxide particle layer. Used for recording to store electrical signals by magnetisation. Available in a variety of widths in cassette form or open spool.

Master The final recording from which a record is cut or further tape copies are taken.

Matching Transformer A device inserted between two circuits of different impedance that improves the transfer of signal level.

Matt-Backed Tape with a dull back surface to facilitate even winding of the tape onto spools.

Microphone An electro-acoustical transducer which converts acoustic energy (pressure waves) into electrical energy.

Mixer Apparatus which accepts a number of signal inputs and allows the relative levels of each to be adjusted so producing a final output combination of the signals.

Monitor A studio loudspeaker.

Monophonic (Mono) One signal.

Multitrack A tape containing several tracks used for recording many individual sound sources eg. 16 track, usually mixed down to a master tape.


NAB National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters. An American standards organisation.

Noise An undesired sound or signal.

Noise Gate See Gate.

Noise Reduction A system of gain control that improves the signal-to-noise figure of a tape recorder.

Normalled Jack A socket on a jack patchbay which is permanently wired to equipment.

Notch Filter Device for removing a very narrow band of frequencies.


Ohm A unit for the measurement of resistance or impedance, named after the physicist.

Omnidirectional Microphone with an equal pick-up pattern in all directions.

Oscillator Circuit which produces a sustained sound at a defined frequency eg. 1kHz. Used for lining up equipment.

Overdub Recording a track whilst listening to a previously recorded track on the same tape.

Overload Asking a device to supply more power than it is designed to do - can result in distorted sound.

Out-takes Sections of songs removed from a tape.


Pad A network of electrical components designed to produce a known loss of signal level eg. -10dB pad.

Pan (Panorama). The movement of a sound between several fixed sources ie. left and right loudspeakers.

Pan-pot The control for panning the sound around.

Parametric EQ A form of tone control (filter) where the frequency, level and the bandwidth of the filters operational characteristics can be modified.

Playback The listening of a recorded sound.

Playback Head Found on tape recorders; the listening head.

Pot (Potentiometer). A rotary or slider control used for the adjustment of a parameter such as tone or volume.

Patch Means of joining two or more circuits with a connecting cord ie. patch lead.

Peak Programme Meter (PPM) A fast-acting meter for the measurement of sound level peaks.

Phantom Power Means of sending a DC voltage down a capacitor microphone cable. Usually 24 or 48 volts.

Phaser A signal processor which splits the input into two parts. One of these parts is constantly swept in and out of phase with the other part, thereby causing certain frequencies to cancel and change the tone of the sound.

Phase Sound waves are said to be 'in-phase' when their cyclic positions coincide.

Pitch Changer (Shifter) A device which alters the pitch of any sound by a chosen musical interval. Can be used to create automatic harmony.

Ping-Pong Process of mixing several recorded tracks together on a multitrack recorder and transferring them in sync to another clean track.

Post-echo The same sound repeated after the initial hearing. See Echo.

Pre-echo A sound heard before it is supposed to be. Linked to print-through problems on tape.

Prefade Listen (PFL) Listening to the sound in a mixer channel before it is faded up into the main recording mix.

Pressure Gradient Method of operation in microphones where sound waves have access to both sides of the microphone diaphragm.

Print-through The transfer of sound from one layer of tape to another which occurs in varying amounts on all magnetic tapes.

Producer Person who is involved in the artistic and commercial realisation of an artist's material.

Proximity Effect Increase in the low frequency (bass) response of a pressure gradient type microphone when used closer than about 1 metre to the sound source.

Punch-in See Drop-in.


Record Producer See Producer.

Record Head Found on all tape recorders and used for the recording of one or more sound tracks, either individually or simultaneously.

Record/Playback Head A single head used for the combined recording and playback of sound, usually found in budget cassette machines.

Reduction Mixing the tracks of a multitrack tape down to a master tape.

Remix See Reduction.

Resonance Frequency The frequency at which an electronic filter or mass of air resonates.

Reverberation The persistence of a sound due to repeated reflection within an enclosed space.

Reverberation Time The period of time required for the sound level to decay to one millionth (-60dB) of its initial level. Often referred to as RT 60.

Ribbon Microphone A type of microphone which uses a metal ribbon suspended in a magnetic field.

Routing A switching function on a mixer which directs a signal to a particular bus or output. Can also be applied to pan-pot controls.


Sel-Sync (Selected Synchronisation). The adding of a live sound to previously recorded selected tracks on tape.

Session Tape A reel of original multitrack tape containing master material and out-takes.

Signal-To-Noise Ratio (S/N) The ratio of signal level to the inherent noise level. Normally expressed in decibels ie. 70dB.

Slate A term used for the recording of spoken words onto the tape ie. for count-in purposes. Slate button on mixers allows you to speak directly to tape via a talkback microphone.

Splicing Tape A special adhesive tape used to join magnetic tape together when editing. Sound pressure Level (SPL) Normally measured in dB; a logarithmic scale to express the level of a sound.

Sync One sound synchronised to another ie. on the beat.

Stereophonic (Stereo) An illusion of spatial sound distribution by the use of two or more loudspeakers.

Sub-mix Mixing various recorded tracks together, such as drum tracks, onto fewer tracks in order to free-up tracks for the recording of further instruments.

Sub-group A means of mixing various individual sounds together to allow all of them to be controlled by one fader.


Talkback A facility found on studio mixers that allows the engineer to talk directly to musicians wearing headphones or talk to tape by selecting slate.

Take The recording of a piece of music.

Tape Operator (Tape-Op) Person involved in the operation of the studio tape recorders.

Test Tape A tape containing precise frequencies used in the calibration of a tape recorder.

Test Tone A defined oscillator frequency used for the calibration of tape recorders. Usually 1kHz and 10kHz tones.

Track Each tape track represents a physical space for recording sound. Various numbers of tracks available on tape recorders ie. 2,4,8, 16 and 24 track machines.

Transfer Copying from one tape to another.

Unbalanced A cable using one wire for the signal and one for the screen.

Unidirectional From one direction. See Cardioid.


Volume Intensity of sound expressed in dB. Volume Unit Meter (VU) A meter which indicates the average level of programme sound.


Watt Unit of electrical power eg. when referring to amplifier and loudspeaker output rating.

Weber Unit of magnetic flux.

Weighted Noise A noise measurement system using a sound source with a specified frequency Characteristic.

Wet Sound to which reverb or echo has been added.

Wow See Flutter.


Zero Level Standard of reference. When zero level (0dB) is one milliwatt, it corresponds to 775mV RMS across a 600 ohms line. Zero level is also sometimes taken to be -10dB (semi-pro) or +4dB (pro).

Series - "Return To Zero"

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Part 1 (Viewing) | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

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Using Microphones

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Akai MG1212

Home & Studio Recording - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Home & Studio Recording - Feb 1985

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman




Return To Zero

Part 1 (Viewing) | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8


Previous article in this issue:

> Using Microphones

Next article in this issue:

> Akai MG1212

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