As you get started with audio music recording, you will start coming across a lot of technical terms that may not be familiar. This is especially true as you start selecting the recording hardware you will be using to capture your sound.
But fear not! This guide will introduce you to the most common technical terms found in music recording. With this information in hand, you can get started recording with your laptop computer in no time!
Analog and Digital Music Recording
Let's start with "analog" and "digital". You have probably heard these terms used before in a lot of other circumstances. For the most part, digital is associated with cool, new, techie, where analog is usually "old school." Technically speaking, this isn't too far off. When audio recording was first invented, all of the technology was analog, meaning that it captured the exact sound that was being made. Nowadays, we use digital techniques to sample the sound - capturing slices of the sound over time, then reconstructing it later. Digital technology is generally more reliable than analog. Analog music gets worse with each additional copy, whereas digital music is exactly the same for every copy.
Frequency Ranges for Sound Recording
Next, let's talk about frequency range. Frequency is a way of describing how low or high a sound is. It is measured in Hertz (Hz) or kilohertz (kHz, or thousands of Hertz). 20 Hz is the lowest sound you can hear - below that, it sounds like someone thumping rhythmically on a wall. The highest sound the average person can hear is 22 kHz. So, when a piece of equipment says it works in the range of 20-22,000 Hz, it means that it works well over the normal range of human hearing. This may seem strange, but older equipment used to clip off higher frequency sounds, making it sound muffled. You want something that covers the full range!
Speaking of the full range, often equipment also mentions distortion over that range. Distortion means the difference in loudness if you compare two sounds at two different frequencies. Most recording equipment is designed to be relatively flat over the range of audio frequencies, meaning that each sound is as loud as the next. This difference is measured in decibels (dB), and a reasonable range is usually 3-6 dB for recording on your laptop computer.
Sound Quality for Recording Music on Your Computer
You may also see a piece of audio recording equipment have a specification for SNR (Signal-to-noise ratio) or noise floor. This number indicates how loud any background noise will be relative to the music. You want a large number here. Poor audio equipment may have an SNR of 33dB - you will hear a clear hiss in the background. Most studio music equipment has an SNR of 100dB or more. Recent consumer music recording equipment can reach 108 dB. Most people can't hear this low - your music will sound clear as a bell!
If a piece of digital recording equipment for your laptop computer specifies a number of bits, it is referencing the overall quality of the sound. The number of bits is kind of like the number of shades in a painting. The more shades you have, the more variations of colors you can have, and the more life-like the painting looks. 8-bit recordings sound like music from the original Nintendo. 16-bit recordings sound true to life, but high end audio equipment today can go up to 24-bits. The more bits in your recording, the larger the final file, so watch out!
What Is A Channel In Technical Recording Terms?
The final term is "channel". Channel, in audio recording terms, simply means the number of different musical sounds being combined at once. It's like lanes on a highway. A small back country road may have two lanes (or channels), whereas a freeway may have eight lanes (channels) or more. Generally, more channels means more texture to your music. It can also refer to the number of speakers in your sound system. For instance, 2.1 has two channels (plus a bass/subwoofer channel), 5.1 has five channels/speakers (plus a bass/subwoofer channel), and so on.
And there you have it! In an upcoming article, I will discuss some of the essential audio recording equipment you will need to make music on your laptop computer. Armed with these terms, you will now be ready to discuss computer audio with the best of them!