First notes from learning audio engineering

February 5, 2017 – 6:10 pm

It’s kind of fun to visually learn about audio engineering (at a very, very basic level). Thanks to David, I started learning about various connectors, transducers, and polar patterns this afternoon, got a load of vocabulary, and started feeling my way around asking questions about microphones. There’s a whole world of fun out there.

Neither of us is fluent in ASL, but between a hearing audio engineer and a deaf electrical engineer, it turns out that you can get pretty far. We ended up with him explaining things to me in mostly sign-supported English with some diagrams, and then me attempting to render it back to him more spatially to see if I had understood the concepts correctly. This quickly flagged several places where I really need to upgrade my classifier usage (my rendering of ribbon, condenser, and dynamic transducers would be better if I had a third hand) and but also some places where I realized that maybe I’m not as bad at this as I thought (using European vs. modern-US vs. old-US house wiring setups to explain what “hot” and “neutral” and “floating” meant).

Unsurprisingly, neither of us is aware of (or could find) ASL vocabulary for some audio engineering concepts… which doesn’t mean they’re not out there already. I’ll have to ask around. Right now, we’re signing (for instance) “translator” for “transducer” (I mean, it does translate between electrical and mechanical signals…) and attempting “stereo” as something akin to “sound that comes from both directions.”

Vocab so far, for future reference and in case anyone knows signs. There was a lot more there that these rough notes don’t cover, and it was great watching someone who really knows their stuff just look at various microphones and go “oh, this is that sort of thing… this has this setup… this is what’s going on in there.”

  1. Balanced vs. unbalanced setups (neutral/ground/earth/zero as a central point, as opposed to “floating” above neutral)
  2. What it means for a signal to be “hot” — basically, it means it’s not zero.
  3. Transducer setups: ribbon, condenser, and dynamic (in decreasing order of sensitivity/cost; you usually use dynamic mics for everything except studio recording because you can drop dynamic mics without killing them)
  4. A3F (audio 3-wire female) and A3M (same, but male) connectors
  5. TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) connectors , also known as phone or 1/4″ connectors (also the mini-phone variant, which is 1/8″). The tip carries audio 1 hot, the ring carries audio 2 hot, and the sleeve is ground/earth.
  6. Connectors related to TRS — TS (no ring, otherwise same as above — which means it’s unbalanced audio); also the variant that has two rings, where the second ring is “transmit” (for headsets, where that second ring carries headset microphone data in the opposite direction; my earbuds with speakers work this way)
  7. “midside stereophony,” the mic arrangement of the Zoom H5 (two microphones set at right angles to each other).
  8. Beating, when two signals don’t cancel each other out perfectly and you get distortion.
  9. Polar patterns: bi-directional, omni-directional, shotgun, and cardioid (this is so easy to explain with classifiers).
  10. Capsule and body (parts of the mic). Transducer is in the capsule; all transducer types can be all polar pattern types, and vice versa.
  11. Throw distance (for shotgun mics) – the distance between the mic and the speaker that doesn’t get recorded; this was super-cool, and learning that the shotgun mic capsule was in the back and that the large front part was all the body was a nice “aha” moment that threw a number of concepts into relief for me.
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