My motivation for writing a dictionary was that I was entering my third score of life and it was time for a career change; I do this every twenty years whether I need to or not. A dictionary appealed as it’s one thing to peruse the technical journals, but another to actually understand them.

Having done the go-learn-everything-about-the-new-career-so-I-don’t-look-like-a-total-idiot thing before, I knew that the hardest thing to do is explain something you don’t really understand to someone else.

This dictionary was my imaginary audio friend (in the wilds of Scotland, company is hard to come by.) As with my other successes in life, such that they are, next to my aunts I owe the greatest debt of thanks to Len.

Monica Anderson was my first (real) audio friend, although she and I have been friends for years. Monica helped me put together my first very own project studio and has graciously accepted, if not actually read, drafts of this dictionary.

If I had known about Godrick Wilkie’s book, I probably wouldn’t have gone through this exercise, but it’s better that I didn’t and I did because he’s English and it’s very true about two cultures separated by a common language.

The most awe-inspiring treatise in audio I’ve come across is the book by Glenn D. White; it’s a good complement to the Wilkie book because the first is too simple, and the latter quite rigorous. I have tried to tread midway between the two. Tell me if I’ve strayed from the path.

I also owe thanks to my favorite musicians: Karen Bentley, Dimitry Cogan, Dennis James, Viviana Guzman, and Jonathan Salzedo et al. for letting me record them and get a practical understanding of what this all means. I found audio engineering to be just like programming; it’s great to read all the books, but it really doesn’t make any sense until you get your hands dirty and, in this case, trip over the mic cables.

A few notes on the structure of the dictionary: In alphabetizing the words, I have ignored symbols in the middle of words, for example “deemphasis.” This is because of the utter lack of standardization in spelling technical words, i.e., optional hyphens, spaces, or other non-alphanumeric characters. If you don’t see it, be creative and look around. If you still can’t find it, send me mail.

Also, whether a term is listed completely spelled out or under its acronym is pretty arbitrary. In general, I listed it the way I most often see it used, e.g., DAT is listed under DAT, not digital audio tape. Again, look around. If that doesn’t work, complain.

I have chosen to italicize words used in definitions which appear elsewhere in the dictionary. Italics seemed less obtrusive than bold or SMALL CAPS. However, I haven’t italicized every word that is defined (frequency, for example, occurs in about every other sentence), but only the first instance in a definition, and then only when useful for understanding the current context. Occasionally, italics are used to just set off a term, such as “This is called the quadratic residue sequence” or, “those wires are called legs.” distinctly from the rest of the text. This only happens about six places in the dictionary; I did it because it seemed distracting to put the terms in quotes, like they weren’t really words. You’ll know you’ve found one of these when you go to look it up and it’s not defined. (If really need to know all about the quadratic residue sequence, (1) you probably already know, and (2) w.l.o.g., you will be happier with the White book; and (3) legs are, well, legs.) At the end of many of the definitions, there will be a “See” or “See also.” These additional terms are not listed in any particular order; the dictionary has been an evolutionary process and I just add the new terms as I find them and have never gone back to reorder them alphabetically, by relevancy to the current word, or by any other heuristic. I’ve tried to make sure that all related terms are included where necessary for context or completeness; please let me know if I’m missed some. Reading a dictionary, even one’s own, can get a little tedious. I’ve read this one completely seven times now. It used to take exactly the same length of time the train took from London to Edinburgh. I’d probably have to go to Istanbul now to do it in one train ride. From Virginia.

Sometimes the definition of one term is so inexplicably intertwined with another that it didn’t make sense to separate them, even if the alphabet did, so I didn’t. When this happened, I would just cross-reference one term, arbitrarily, and make a combined definition in one place. An example of this is direct sound(1).

Sometimes things seem obvious, e.g., opposite of passive is active. But then the opposite of outboard isn’t inboard, it’s onboard, complete with hyphen; the opposite of boost isn’t squash, it’s cut. So, if a few things seem to have the “duh syndrome,” I tried to err on the side of completeness.

Sometimes the choice of main definition is pretty arbitrary, usually where there are two or more terms in common use, such as production sound and location sound.

Sometimes the reason for the choice is completely non-obvious as in rolloff frequency vs. cutoff frequency. In this case, I have deliberately chosen a term which may not be the most commonly used. I picked the former as there is almost never a slope parameter that is actually a cutoff, only in the case of a limiter. The slope almost always is, in fact, a rolloff and it seemed better to use that term as it more closely matched what is actually happening, rather than subscribing mindlessly to “Better Tomes and Jargon.” There are actually four terms in common use that describe filter slope: the two mentioned above, besides critical frequency and corner frequency. They are all reasonable; pick the one you like–I did. And, the use of any term varies among practitioners, by specific field within audio or by location.

I realized early on that there was no way to please all of the noise nerds all of the time…And, being me, I left out most of the computer terms. I assumed that this dictionary would be (uniquely) useful to those of the digital persuasion, i.e., those of us with weak musical and/or MIDI backgrounds, but who are very strong on acronyms. I hope I didn’t get too EE-bound. In my short tenure as a recordist/mixing engineer, I appreciate how important it is to actually understand about balanced lines and ground loops, especially when it becomes appallingly clear that the well-meaning volunteer who cut the ground wire at the service panel to eliminate the hum from the church PA system did not have my $8,000, 24-bit A/D in mind.

Again, complain, but gently.

For the more musical, I would appreciate input on what I’ve left out musically, but also what I’ve neglected to define in the technical forest that has made things more difficult for you in trying to use the dictionary.

One really finds out who one’s friends really are when one asks them to read draft copies of one’s dictionary. I’m not exactly friendless, but it’s getting very close. In keeping with my anarchistic view of the universe, there is also no particular rule for inclusion of detailed data other than what would be useful in the field. I did not include all MIDI notes and commands as one is likely to be somewhere quiet with a bookshelf when one needs that, and, I know that everyone, but everyone, takes the manuals for their synths and samplers along to every gig, right? The charts on dB, information on AC, pin-outs, etc. I thought might be needed in the field (read this: I’ve needed it), and it would be handy to have this information in one, portable source. Again, comments welcome.

Finally, in response to almost universal feedback that DD should be published (which is probably more the issue that not everyone wants to sit in the wilds of Scotland, writing dictionaries): I don’t want to spend any more time on this dictionary; it’s accomplished its purpose, i.e., I can now read the trade press. And, as I said, I’m running out of friends. I welcome comments on alternate definitions, things I forgot, things which are unclear.

Be kind: this nanoscopic contribution to better global karma has had a gestation of over two years of my life.

Sandy Lerner,
Sono Luminus
1997, 1999