Home Recording Jargon Buster
Don't know your sample rate from your phantom power??
One thing that can be quite baffling about getting into recording and deciding what things to buy is the jargon used, so in this lesson I want to explain all the terms you'll need to know to make wise decisions!
Digital Audio Workstation describes your computer and audio interface, a combination of hardware and software. It's often used to to describe the software you are using, so you'll see things are 'compatible with most DAWs' or that something will work only with Pro Tools or Logic or other.
The Sample Rate is how many times a second the audio is sampled and turned into digital audio, measured in kHz, usually shortened to k. CDs have a Sample Rate of 44.1k, that's 41,000 times per second. Most recordings I do are at 48k but most modern audio interfaces offer the rate of 96k and very high end pro audio converters will run up to 192k. Remember that the higher the sample rate the bigger the audio files are (so you'll need bigger hard drives) and most DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) will have a limited track count (how many tracks of audio you can play back at one time) for high sample rates, which is why most people I know work in 48k. I would recommend getting an interface that will operate at 96k, though you might not use it.
Bit rate is how many bits of information is recorded each sample. CDs are 16 bit, but much more common for recording is 24 bit (which is what I use most of the time). You'll usually see audio interfaces having something like 24/96 or 24 bit / 96kHz which means that the audio going in will be converted to digital audio files with 24 bits of information at 96,000 times a second.
In and Out or I/O
This describes the amount of audio tracks you have coming in and out of the audio interface. Most times if you are just getting into recording you won't need more than 2 I/O, maybe even just one input, but if you wish to record drums with multiple microphones you will need more, probably 8. You need 2 out for a Stereo mix, which is almost certainly what you want.
There are Analog to Digital and Digital to Analog converters which are a very important element in getting a good sound. It's where your money goes when you buy more expensive units, personally I really love the Universal Audio and Apogee converters but this is a subject to much debate and you'll see many different opinions and it really is just personal choice. If you are just getting into it them it's probably not a major concern.
Effects and Plug-Ins
Once the audio is in your DAW you will almost certainly want to use some effects like Reverb, Echo, Compression, EQ to make your recordings sound great! Usually in your DAW you will use Plug-Ins which come in a variety of formats and costs. RTAS (Real Time Audio Suite) and AAX Avid Audio eXtension) are used by Pro Tools, AU (Audio Units) are used by in Logic (only for Apple computers), VST are used by many different DAWs. Some DAWs come with a huge range of built in Plug-Ins, some come with just a few. You can buy and install them separately and they range in price a lot. UAD2 is another system that require Universal Audio hardware and are more expensive, but generally considered better than other forms as they don't use the computer processing. Personally I tend to use a combination of UAD2, Waves, Sound Toys and others that will discussed later.
Phantom Power (+48v)
Some microphones (condenser type) need power to be sent from the Audio Interface, Pre-amp or mixing desk. It's something you want on your Audio Interface for sure or you'll be very limited as to what microphones you can use.
Latency is the delay between what you play and the sound going through the computers and back out the speakers or headphones. Most systems these days use a kind of "direct monitoring" so the sound you are recording goes right to the headphones, but some don't, and that can make a problem. So when looking for your audio interface that is something you should consider. Really you want as close to zero as you can. You can sometimes fiddle with a "buffer" in your software to decrease it but direct monitoring is really where it's at!
We'll cover the terms used in recording like Gain, Pan, Phase and that kind of thing as we get to recording, this is mainly to help you buy your gear!!
I missed something?? Let me know on the forum or facebook and I'll add it in!