Hi-tech jargon-buster

0dB: The point at which an audio signal's level peaks - anything over it will result
in clipping. See Clipping.

Amplitude: Volume.

ADSR: Attack, decay, sustain, release. A simple envelope with four parameters, used to modulate a sound's amplitude. See Modulate, Amplitude, Envelope.

ASIO: Audio Stream Input Output. See Audio Driver.

Audio: Sound. When sound is recorded into a computer it becomes audio data. See Sample, Sample Editor.

Audio Driver: A specialised driver required by audio software. Varieties include ASIO, MME, Direct X, WDM and CoreAudio. See Driver.

Audio Interface: A hardware device with audio inputs and outputs for sending and receiving audio from your computer. Connects via FireWire or USB. See FireWire, USB.

AU: A plug-in format for instruments and effects created by Apple. Logic and Live amongst others are sequencers capable of hosting AU plug-ins. See Host, Sequencer, Plug-in.

Automation: Plug-in or sequencer parameter adjustments that can be recorded and played back with the rest of the track. See Plug-in, Sequencer.

Bus: Another name for a group channel or send effect. See Group channel, Send Effect.

Channel: Generally refers to a mixer channel in a sequencer. Usually features a fader to control the overall volume level, EQ controls, and the ability to add insert effects. See EQ, Insert Effects.

Clipping: Distortion that occurs when an audio input is overloaded.

Compressor: An effect that raises the overall volume of a channel by making the loud parts quieter, then boosting the entire signal. See Effect, Dynamics.

Condenser: A condenser mic is more sensitive than a dynamic mic. Condenser mics require external power and are excellent for recording detailed sounds and capturing high frequency detail. Prices vary from £60 to £6000!

Controller Keyboard: See MIDI Controller.

CoreAudio: Apple's OS X audio driver used by Mac computers.

Cutoff: The frequency at which a filter starts filtering. See Filter.

DAW: Digital Audio Workstation. A computer with the hardware and software to facilitate music productions.

De-esser: An effect used to reduce unwanted 'S' sounds (known as sibilance or hiss) in vocals. See Effect.

Delay: An effect that simulates echoes by repeating the sound. See Effect, Plug-in.

DI Box: Device used to plug guitars and basses into mixers or audio interfaces, negating the need for a separate amp.

DirectX: See Audio Driver.

Driver: A piece of software that tells your operating system how to communicate with your hardware. Audio software usually requires a specialised audio driver to work with a soundcard or audio interface. See Soundcard, Audio Interface, Audio Driver.

Dynamics: The variation between loud and quiet parts of music. Effects that can be used to adjust a piece's dynamics include compressors, limiters, and gates. See Effects, Compressor, Limiter, Gate.

Effect: A plug-in that alters the sound of an audio or instrument channel, for instance a reverb or delay effect. See Reverb, Delay, Filter.

Envelope: A modulation source that varies over time. A common form of envelope would be an ADSR envelope. See Modulation, ADSR.

EQ: Equalisation. Audio processing that affects the frequency content of a sound. Can boost or reduce the volume of a sound at various frequencies.

Filter: An effect or part of an instrument that removes certain frequencies from the sound in order to change its tonal quality. See Effect, Plug-in.

FireWire: Interface found on Macs and PCs designed for high-speed data transfer. See Audio interface.

Gate: An effect that silences audio below a certain volume, used to remove noise from poor quality recordings.

Group Channel: A channel that can receive input from multiple other channels so that they can be processed together.

Headroom: The amount of volume you can add without distortion occurring.

Host: Any software capable of running an instrument or effect plug-in. Most sequencers are also plug-in hosts. See Plug-in, Sequencer.

Insert Effect: An effect added in series to an audio or instrument channel, that as such can only be used by a single channel. See Send Effect.

Instrument: A plug-in that makes its own sounds, for example, a synth or ROMpler. See Plug-in, Synthesizer, ROMpler, Sampler.

Jog Wheel: A real or virtual wheel used to move the play position backwards and forwards in your sequencer.

Latency: The time it takes your audio driver to process audio. This is the gap you hear between hitting a MIDI note or playing a real instrument and hearing the result.

LFO: Low Frequency Oscillator. A slow oscillator that serves as a modulation source. See Modulation, Oscillator.

Limiter: An effect that stops a track's volume from exceeding a certain level. See Effects, Dynamics.

Matrix: See Modulation Matrix.

MIDI: Musical Instrument Digital Interface - a method of sending information between music hardware and software.

MIDI Controller: Any device that sends out MIDI data, for example, a controller keyboard.

MIDI Data: MIDI data comes in many forms, including sequences of notes (see MIDI Sequence) and MIDI continuous controller data (for instance, to control the parameters on a synth).

MIDI Interface: A hardware device featuring MIDI inputs and outputs for sending and receiving data from your computer. Some audio interfaces also act as MIDI interfaces. Connects via FireWire or USB. See FireWire, USB, Audio Interface.

MIDI Port: MIDI input or output. See MIDI Interface.

MIDI Sequence: A series of note data in MIDI format.

MME: See Audio Driver.

Modulation: A change of value in a plug-in parameter. See Plug-in, Modulation Matrix.

Modulation Matrix: A part of an instrument or effect that enables the user to modulate parameters with modulation sources such as LFOs and Envelopes. See Instrument, Effect, Modulation, LFO, Envelope.

Multitrack: A program capable of recording multiple audio parts on separate tracks.

Oscillator: A waveform that generates audio, or in the case on an LFO, acts as a modulation source.

Plug-ins: Software instruments and effects that can be used with (ie, plugged into) a host program, usually a sequencer. Plug-ins come in various formats including VST and AU. See VST, AU, Host.

Pan: The position of a sound between the speakers.

Pop Shield: A device for vocal recording that reduces popping and hissing.

Preamp: Device for amplifying a mic, guitar or record player before it's plugged into a mixer or audio interface.

Quantisation: The process of correcting timing errors in audio or MIDI recordings. See Audio, MIDI.

Release: See ADSR.

Reverb: Short for reverberation, an effect that simulates multiple echoes as heard in real spaces. See Effect, Plug-in.

ROMpler: An instrument that makes sounds mainly using pre-prepared sampled audio data. See Instrument, Plug-in, Sample.

Sample: Any snippet of recorded audio data. See Audio, Sample Editor.

Sample Editor: A program that records, processes and exports audio data. See Audio, Sample.

Sampler: An instrument that plays back and processes samples. See Instrument, Plug-in, Sample.

Send Effect: A channel-independent effect that can be used by multiple sources at once. See Insert effect.

Sequencing: Using a sequencer to arrange a piece of music.

Sequencer: Any software that records MIDI data, and usually audio data too. Cubase, Live, Reason, Logic and CMusic are all sequencers.

Signal: An audio data stream. See Audio.

Skin: Some programs have customisable graphics. New sets of graphics are known as skins.

Soundcard: An internal audio interface. See Audio Interface.

Step Sequencer: A simple sequencer, usually featuring 16 steps that can hold note and/or volume values.

Sustain: See ADSR.

Synthesizer: An instrument that makes new sounds by processing simple waveforms or samples. See Instrument, Plug-in, Sample, Waveform.

Track: Either an entire piece of music, or an individual 'lane' of audio or MIDI data. See Audio, MIDI.

Transport Controls: Play, Record, Stop, Fast Forward, Rewind, and any other controls used for track playback in your audio editor or sequencer. See Audio Editor, Sequencer.

USB: Interface designed for high-speed data transfer. USB 2 is the more recent version, and has faster transfer rates than USB 1. See Audio Interface.

VST: A plug-in format for instruments and effects created by Steinberg. Cubase, Sonar and Live amongst others are sequencers capable of hosting VST plug-ins. See Host, Sequencer, Plug-in.

Waveform: Either a short, single cycle sample as used in synthesizers, or the visual representation of a piece of audio data. See Audio, Sample, Synthesizer.

WDM: See Audio Driver.

X/Y Control Pad: A square or rectangular control surface that sends out two values depending on the position of your finger or mouse pointer.

Zero Crossing: The vertical line through a waveform that represents 0dB amplitude.


MusicRadar is the number one website for music-makers of all kinds, be they guitarists, drummers, keyboard players, DJs or producers...

  • GEAR: We help musicians find the best gear with top-ranking gear round-ups and high-quality, authoritative reviews by a wide team of highly experienced experts.
  • TIPS: We also provide tuition, from bite-sized tips to advanced work-outs and guidance from recognised musicians and stars.
  • STARS: We talk to musicians and stars about their creative processes, and the nuts and bolts of their gear and technique. We give fans an insight into the craft of music-making that no other music website can.