Make sure you use this in conjunction with our complete guide to studio monitors for home recording.
1/4″ jack — Also known as phone plug. Unbalanced connection using a phone-patching cord connector. The most basic connection in audio.
2.1 — A monitoring setup with two main monitors and a separate subwoofer for handling bass frequencies.
5.1 surround sound — see surround sound.
7.1 surround sound — see surround sound.
Bass — Refers to the low frequency portion of an audio signal usually from 20Hz up to about 150Hz. Also generically refers to notes with a low pitch.
Balanced — An audio circuit with two shielded conductors running at reverse polarity and equal at ground. Balanced wiring provides noise-free transfer of audio in areas susceptible to electrical interference, like recording studios and live sound venues. Requires balanced I/O and balanced cables.
Biamplification or Biamped — The practice of using separate power amplifiers and a crossover network to drive separate elements in a loudspeaker cabinet. Often combined with active amplification, where the amplifiers are built into the cabinet of the speaker.
Cabinet — Also cab or speaker cabinet. Cabinet commonly refers to the enclosure a driver is mounted in. The enclosure serves several purposes besides simply housing the driver and its circuitry. It prevents negative phase sound waves from the rear of the driver causing phase cancellation with the positive phase sound waves from the front of the driver and also improves the efficiency and frequency response of the drivers.
Decoupling — Or decouple. The process of isolating monitors from their supporting structure to prevent undesired transmission of sound and vibration. Specially designed pads and stands serve this function.
Diffraction — The bending of a sound wave that occurs when it is deflected from its path by an object.
Driver — Refers to the raw speaker mounted in the cabinet or enclosure. It is the active part of the speaker system that actually creates the soundwaves.
Ear fatigue — Condition which occurs after many hours of listening and working with audio, usually while mixing. Seems to happen especially often when monitoring audio at high volumes or when listening to audio with exaggerated frequencies, e.g. too much treble or midrange.
Flat sound — Also flat response. A speaker or other piece of audio equipment with flat response won’t naturally boost or cut any frequency when an audio signal is played through it. Theoretically, a flat input signal will emerge just as flat as it went in although this is practically impossible with current monitor technology. The term originates from frequency response graphs where flat response is represented as a flat line devoid of peaks or valleys.
Frequency — Refers to specific sounds and certain segments of audio defined by its pitch, e.g. treble frequencies, midrange frequencies, bass frequencies, etc. The standard definition for frequency is the number of times an event occurs within a unit of time. The frequency of sound vibrations related to their wavelength results in the pitch of the notes we hear in music. The open low E string on a bass guitar generates a fundamental frequency of 41.5Hz. The high open E string on a standard guitar generates a fundamental frequency of 1.3kHz.
Frequency range — The range of frequencies a piece of audio gear can transmit or reproduce. Usually specified in form such as 20Hz-20kHz. When combined with THD it gives you some idea of the accuracy of the component. The wider the frequency range, the more frequencies you will hear clearly.
Frequency response — The result of frequency range versus amplitude. The spec (20Hz-20kHz ±3dB) means that for a given input signal the listed range of frequencies (20Hz-20khz) will be reproduced within the specified range of levels (±3dB) compared to the original signal. Any frequencies outside this range may or may not be within the range of levels. For example: a piece of equipment with a flat frequency response will give you a more accurate impression of how your audio really sounds.
Hertz — Abbreviated Hz. Hertz is the unit used to measure frequencies and one Hertz is equal to one cycle per second, e.g. a 60Hz sine wave completes 60 cycles per second. Kilohertz—abbreviated kHz—is often used once the cycles per second pass one thousand. The Hertz is named for Heinrich Hertz, a 19th-century German physicist who was one of the first scientists to study radio waves.
I/O — Short for input/output. Generally refers to the connections on audio gear.
Mastering — A process in which the final recording of an audio performance is prepared and processed for its intended distribution media. This usually involves using limiting, compression, EQ, normalization, stereo imaging, and editing to achieve a professional and consistent sound aimed for modern radio and quality playback equipment.
Midrange — Refers to the middle-frequency portion of an audio signal usually from 150Hz up to about 2.5kHz. Also generically refers to notes with a medium pitch.
Midrange driver — The driver in a multi-driver speaker designated to reproduce the midrange frequencies.
Mixing — The process of using a mixer, either hardware or software, to adjust and balance levels and frequency content of an audio performance or recorded audio in an effort to pleasingly enhance the audio.
Monitor — Also studio monitor or reference monitor. A speaker system specifically designed for high-fidelity playback of audio material for critical listening during the recording and mixing process. Varieties include near-field, surround, active, and passive. Near-field monitors are designed to be used in very close proximity to the listener to reduce interference from the room acoustics. Active monitors have built-in power amps that eliminate the need for an external amplifier. Passive monitors are require an external power amplifier.
Near-field monitor — A monitor designed to be placed closer to you—or more specifically, your ears—than anything that might interfere with the sound waves coming from the speaker, such as a wall, ceiling, furniture etc. See sweet spot for placement suggestions.
Phase — A measurement in degrees that specifies how far along in its cycle a sound wave is, with a complete cycle being 360 degrees. If two waves are out of phase it results in cancellation of parts of both waves. Two identical waves exactly 180 degrees out of phase will completely cancel each other out.
RCA — More correctly called a phono plug, this connection was developed and popularized by Radio Corporation of America (RCA) for use with their audio equipment. Most often used in stereo pairs.
Reference monitor — Also soffit-mounted monitor. A large, traditional monitor used in specialized installations with an infinite baffle in professional music studios. These expensive monitor setups reside eight to 10 feet or more away from the listening position.
S/PDIF — Abbreviation of Sony Philips Digital Interface Format. Interface for digital audio that uses either optical or coaxial cables for transmission. S/PDIF is based on the AES/EBU standard and can provide two channels of 24-bit/96kHz audio in one direction. Only use 70ohm S/PDIF cable to make a S/PDIF connection. Some monitors have S/PIDF connectors.
SPL — Sound Pressure Level. The measurement of the volume, or amplitude, of a sound wave. SPLs are measured in decibels (dB).
Sound wave — A series of compressions in the air that transmit sound. Sound waves are represented visually by a wavy, horizontal line with the upper part of the wave indicating compression and the lower part indicating rarefaction.
Subwoofer — A driver used to reproduce very low frequencies and sometimes housed in a separate enclosure from the woofer, midrange driver, and tweeter.
Surround sound — Multi-channel audio system that creates a 3D sound stage. Developed by Dolby Labs, surround sound typically includes 5.1 channels, meaning a center channel; l/r front channels; l/r rear channels; and a subwoofer. A second configuration, 7.1 adds two surround speakers at the sides for a more encompassing audio field.
Sweet spot — The optimal listening position for studio reference monitors. Provides the listener with the right blend of tonal balance, stereo separation, detail, and overall sound image. In general, the sweet spot for a pair of near-field monitors is three to five feet in front of and midway between the pair, with the listener’s ears about the same level as the top of the woofer and bottom of the tweeter. Your head and the two monitors should form an imaginary equilateral triangle. Some monitors have a wide sweet spot that is easy to find, while others require more experimentation with placement.
THD — Total Harmonic Distortion. Nearly all electronic components distort the audio signal that passes through their circuitry to a greater or lesser degree. The measurement of this distortion is usually represented as a decimal percentage of the signal; i.e. — <0.03%. The closer the percentage is to zero the less distortion and the more transparent the sound. Typically the specification for THD actually refers to THD+N, which is THD plus Noise.
Transient response — often used to mean slew rate, which is the ability of the speaker to accurately track fast changes in amplitude, which results in clear, clean, accurate sound. Since a low slew rate can result in poor transient response, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably in reference to speakers. A speaker with a high slew rate has better transient response and therefore sounds more accurate. Transients are critical bits of high-frequency sound our ears and brains use to recognize sounds.
Treble — Refers to the high-frequency portion of an audio signal usually from 3kHz up to about 20kHz. Also generically refers to notes with a high pitch.
TRS — Stands for Tip, Ring, Sleeve. TRS is a balanced circuit that uses a phone plug-style connection with three conductors (the tip, the ring, and the sleeve) instead of just two (the tip and the sleeve).
Tweeter — The high-frequency driver in a multi-driver speaker.
Unbalanced — An audio circuit whose two conductors are unequal at ground, usually because one conductor operates as a ground. An unbalanced audio circuit is more susceptible to noise problems than balanced circuits. Noise can be combated by keeping cables as short as possible.
Woofer — The low-frequency driver in a multi-driver speaker. Woofers are designed to accurately reproduce low frequencies which require more excursion of the driver than high frequencies. Woofers used in very low-frequency applications are called subwoofers.
XLR — Balanced, circular three-pin connector typically used for microphone and line-level signals. Each pin is a separate channel, but pin 1 is always ground. The connection was developed by Cannon and is sometimes called a Cannon connector.
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