Audio Video, Home Theater and Computer Networks on Cape Cod


 A-B Test:
A test between two components. For example, a test between two different pre-amplifiers. For the test to be scientifically valid the levels should be matched.

See Dolby Digital

The acoustic characteristics of a space with regard to reverberation. A room with a lot of reverb is said to be "live"; one without much reverb is "dead."


Amplifier (Amp):
A device which increases signal level. Many types of amplifiers are used in audio systems. Amplifiers typically increase voltage, current or both.

Before digital, the way all sound was reproduced.


Referring to wiring: Audio signals require two wires. In an unbalanced line the shield is one of those wires. In a balanced line, there are two wires plus the shield. For the system to be balanced requires balanced electronics and usually employs XLR connectors. Balanced lines are less apt to pick up external noise. This is usually not a factor in home audio, but is a factor in professional audio requiring hundreds or even thousands of feet of cabling. Many higher quality home audio cables terminated with RCA jacks are balanced designs using two conductors and a shield instead of one conductor plus shield.


The total frequency range of any system. Usually specified as something like: 20-20,000Hz plus or minus 3 db.


Bass Reflex:
A type of loudspeaker that uses a port or duct to augment the low-frequency response. Opinions vary widely over the "best" type of bass cabinet, but much has to do with how well a given design, such as a bass reflex is implemented.


BBE 1 & 2 Processing:
A signal processing circuit that provides improvements in imaging and spatial realism by altering the frequency and phase characteristics of portions of the input signal.


The use of two amplifiers, one for the lows, one for the highs in a speaker system. Could be built into the speaker design or accomplished with the use of external amplifiers and electronic crossovers.


The use of two pairs of speaker wire from the same amplifier to separate bass and treble inputs on the speaker.

Refers to a type of distortion that occurs when an amplifier is driven into an overload condition. Usually the "clipped" waveform contains an excess of high-frequency energy. The sound becomes hard and edgy. Hard clipping is the most frequent cause of "burned out" tweeters. Even a low-powered amplifier or receiver driven into clipping can damage tweeters which would otherwise last virtually forever.

A speaker type that utilizes a tweeter mounted at the center of a woofer cone. The idea being to have the sound source through the full frequency range become "coincident".


A frequency divider. Crossovers are used in speakers to route the various frequency ranges to the appropriate drivers. Additionally, many crossovers contain various filters to stabilize the impedance load of the speaker and or shape the frequency response. Some crossovers contain levels controls to attenuate various parts of the signal. A passive crossover uses capacitors, coils and resistors, usually at speaker level. A passive crossover is load dependent (the transition may not be very smooth or accurate if a different speaker is substituted for the one the crossover was designed for). An active crossover is based on integrated circuits (ICs), discreet transistors or tubes. An active crossover is impedance buffered and gives a consistent and accurate transition regardless of load.


Crossover Slope:
High and low pass filters used for speakers do not cut-off frequencies like brick walls. The rolloff occurs over a number of octaves. Common filter slopes for speakers are 1st through 4th order corresponding to 6db/oct to 24db/oct. For example, a 1st. order, 6db/oct high pass filter at 100hz will pass 6db less energy at 50Hz and 12db less energy at 25Hz. Within the common 1st through 4th filters there is an endless variety of types including Butterworth, Linkwitz-Riley, Bessel, Chebychev, etc. Salesmen and product literature will sometimes make claims of clear superiority for the filter used in the product they are trying to sell. Since the subject fills books, suffice it to say that there is no one best filter, it depends on application and intended outcome. Good designers use the filters required to get the optimum performance from the system.


Unwanted breakthrough of one channel into another. Also refers to the distortion that occurs when some signal from a music source that you are not listening to leaks into the circuit of the source that you are listening to.

Damping (Damping factor, etc.):
Refers to the ability of an audio component to "stop" after the signal ends. For example, if a drum is struck with a mallet, the sound will reach a peak level and then decay in a certain amount of time to no sound. An audio component that allows the decay to drag on too long has poor damping, and less definition than it should. An audio component that is overdamped does not allow the initial energy to reach the full peak and cuts the decay short. "Boomy" or "muddy" sound is often the result of underdamped systems. "Dry" or "lifeless" sound may be the result of an overdamped system.


Joe D'Appolito is credited with popularizing the MTM (Midrange-Tweeter-Midrange) type of speaker.


Decibel (dB):
Named after Alexander Graham Bell. We perceive differences in volume level in a logarithmic manner. Our ears become less sensitive to sound as its intensity increases. Decibels are a logarithmic scale of relative loudness. A difference of approx. 1 dB is the minimum perceptible change in volume, 3 dB is a moderate change in volume, and about 10 dB is an apparent doubling of volume

  • 0 dB is the threshold of hearing, 130 dB is the threshold of pain.

  • Whisper: 15-25 dB

  • Quiet background: about 35 dB

  • Normal home or office background: 40-60 dB

  • Normal speaking voice: 65-70 dB

  • Orchestral climax: 105 dB

  • Live Rock music: 120 dB+

  • Jet aircraft: 140-180 dB


An open-back speaker that radiates sound equally front and rear. The front and rear waves are out of phase and cancellation will occur when the wavelengths are long enough to "wrap around". The answer is a large, wide baffle or to enclose the driver creating a monopole .


Anything that alters the musical signal. There are many forms of distortion, some of which are more audible than others. Distortion specs are often given for electronic equipment which are quite meaningless. As in all specifications, unless you have a thorough understanding of the whole situation, you will not be able to make conclusions about the sonic consequences.

Dolby Digital:
Is a five-channel system consisting of left, center, right and left rear, right rear channels. All processing is done in the digital domain. Unlike Dolby Prologic in which the rear effects channels are frequency limited to approx. 100-7000Hz, Dolby Digital rear channels are specified to contain the full 20-20Khz frequency content. The AC3 standard also has a separate subwoofer channel for the lowest frequencies.


Dolby Prologic:
Is a four-channel system consisting of left, center, right and rear channel, (the single rear channel is usually played through two speakers).


Digital Theater System. A multi-channel encoding/decoding system. Used in some movie theaters. Also now included in some home-theater processors. A competitor to Dolby Digital.


Digital Signal Processing. DSP can be used to create equalization, compression, etc. of a digital signal.


Digital Video Disc or Digital Versatile Disc. Standard that seeks to combine better-than-laser-disc quality video with better-than-CD quality audio in a disc the size of a CD. Requires special players. Seems to be a viable candidate to replace both Laser Discs and CDs, but the jury is still out.


Dynamic range:
The range between the loudest and the softest sounds that are in a piece of music, or that can be reproduced by a piece of audio equipment without distortion (a ratio expressed in decibels). In speech, the range rarely exceeds 40 dB; in music, it is greatest in orchestral works, where the range may be as much as 75 dB.


Electrostatic Speaker:
A speaker that radiates sound from a large diaphragm that is suspended between high-voltage grids.


Also called overtones, these are vibrations at frequencies that are multiples of the fundamental. Harmonics extend without limit beyond the audible range. They are characterized as even-order and odd-order harmonics. A second-order harmonic is two times the frequency of the fundamental; a third order is three times the fundamental; a fourth order is four times the fundamental; and so forth. Each even-order harmonic:
second, fourth, sixth, etc.-is one octave or multiples of one octave higher than the fundamental; these even-order overtones are therefore musically related to the fundamental. Odd-order harmonics, on the other hand:
third, fifth, seventh, and up-create a series of notes that are not related to any octave overtones and therefore may have an unpleasant sound. Audio systems that emphasize odd-order harmonics tend to have a harsh, hard quality.


High-Definition Compact Disc. A proprietary system by Pacific Microsonics that requires special encoding during the recording process. Some observers report HDCD discs as having better sound. To gain the benefits requires having special HDCD in your CD player.


(Hz): A unit of measurement denoting frequency, originally measured as C ycles P er S econd, (CPS):
20 Hz = 20 CPS. Kilohertz (kHz) are hertz measured in multiples of 1,000.


High-Pass Filter:
A circuit that allows high frequencies to pass but rolls off the low frequencies. When adding a subwoofer it is often desirable to roll-off the low frequencies to the main amplifiers and speakers. This will allow the main speakers to play louder with less distortion. High-pass filters used at speaker level are usually not very effective unless properly designed for a specific main speaker (see impedance below).


Listening term. A good stereo system can provide a stereo image that has width, depth and height. The best imaging systems will define a nearly holographic re-creation of the original sound


Impedance is a measure of electrical resistance specified in ohms. Speakers are commonly listed as 4 or 8 ohms but speakers are reactive devices and a nominal 8 ohm speaker might measure from below 4 ohms to 60 or more ohms over its frequency range. This varying impedance curve is different for each speaker model and makes it impossible to design a really effective "generic" speaker level high-pass filter. Active devices like amplifiers typically have an input impedance between about 10,000-100,000 ohms and the impedance is the same regardless of frequency.

Low-Pass Filter:
A circuit that allows low frequencies to pass but rolls off the high frequencies. Most subwoofers have low-pass filters built in and many surround sound decoders have subwoofer outputs that have been low-pass filtered.


Perceived volume. Loudness can be deceiving. For example, adding distortion will make a given volume level seem louder than it actually is.
Magnetic-Planar Speakers:
A type of speaker that uses a flat diaphragm with a voice coil etched or bonded to it to radiate sound. If the magnets are both in front of and behind the diaphragm, it becomes a push-pull magnetic-planar.


A speaker, (driver),  used to reproduce the middle range of frequencies.  A midrange is combined with a woofer for low frequencies and a tweeter for high frequencies to form a complete, full-range system.


Any speaker that encloses the backwave of the speaker device even though part of this backwave may be released via. a port or duct. The primary radiation at most frequencies will be from the driver front. If the driver is not enclosed it becomes a dipole.

Pulse Code Modulation. A means of digital encoding.


A speaker, for example, has a positive and a negative input terminal. Connecting a battery directly to the speaker will result in the diaphragm moving outward. If you reverse the battery leads, the diaphragm will move inward. Caution:
Too high of a voltage battery will also burn out the speaker!


Or Pre-amp is a device that takes a source signal, such as from a turntable, tape-deck or CD player, and passes this signal on to a power-amplifier(s). The pre-amp may have a number of controls such as source selector switches, balance, volume and possibly tone-controls.

Radio-frequency interference (RFI):
Radio-frequency sound waves can be caused by many sources including; shortwave radio equipment, household electrical line, computers and many other electronic devices. RFI sometimes interferes with audio signals, causing noise and other distortions.

An audio component that combines a pre-amplifier, amplifier(s) and tuner in one chassis. A Dolby Prologic Receiver also contains a Dolby Prologic decoder for surround sound.


Resonant frequency:
Any system has a resonance at some particular frequency. At that frequency, even a slight amount of energy can cause the system to vibrate. A stretched piano string, when plucked, will vibrate for a while at a certain fundamental frequency. Plucked again, it will again vibrate at that same frequency. This is its natural or resonant frequency. While this is the basis of musical instruments, it is undesirable in music-reproducing instruments like audio equipment.


Ribbon Speaker:
A type of speaker that uses a pleated conductor suspended between magnets. Most true ribbons are tweeters only. Sometimes confused with mmagnetic-planar speakers.


A measurement of how much power is required for a loudspeaker to achieve a certain output level. The general standard used is on-axis SPL(Sound Pressure Level) at 1 watt input, 1 meter distance.

Signal-to-noise (SN) Ratio:
The range or distance between the noise floor (the noise level of the equipment itself) and the music signal.

Sound Pressure Level (Spl):
Given in decibels (DB) is an expression of loudness or volume. A 10db increase in SPL represents a doubling in volume. Live orchestral music reaches brief peaks in the 105db range and live rock easily goes over 120db.


Sound Waves:
Sound waves can be thought of like the waves in water. Frequency determines the length of the waves; amplitude or volume determines the height of the waves. At 20Hz, the wavelength is 56 feet long! These long waves give bass its penetrating ability, (why you can hear car boomers blocks away).


From the Greek meaning solid. The purpose of stereo is not to give you separate right and left channels, but to provide the illusion of a three-dimensional, holographic image between the speakers.


A speaker designed exclusively for low-frequency reproduction. A true subwoofer should be able to at least reach into the bottom octave (20-40Hz). There are many "subwoofers" on the market that would be more accurately termed "woofers".


Refers to a series of specifications for surround sound systems. Professional THX is used in commercial movie theaters. Home THX specifications are not published and manufacturers must sign non-disclosure waivers before submitting their products for THX certification. Manufacturers that receive certification for their products must pay a royalty on units sold.


Total harmonic distortion (THD):
Refers to a device adding harmonics that were not in the original signal. For example:
a device that is fed a 20Hz sine wave that is also putting out 40Hz, 80Hz etc. Not usually a factor in most modern electronics, but still a significant design problem in loudspeakers.

The use of three  pairs of speaker wire from the same amplifier to separate bass, midrange and treble inputs on the speakers.

A speaker,  (driver), used to reproduce the higher range of frequencies. To form a full-range system, a tweeter needs to be combined with a woofer, (2-way system), or a woofer and midrange, (3-way system).


Is the unit of power used to rate the output of audio amplifiers. For a wattage number to have meaning the distortion level and impedance must also be specified.


The distance the sound wave travels to complete one cycle.  The distance between one peak or crest of a sine wave and the next corresponding peak or crest. The wavelength of any frequency may be found by dividing the speed of sound by the frequency. (Speed of sound at sea level is 331.4 meters/second or 1087.42 feet/second).


A speaker, (driver), used for low-frequency reproduction.  Usually larger and heavier than a midrange or tweeter.


The Audio Glossary