WARNING: Not for Newbies
By Ethan Winer
This month The Audio Expert publishes by the always colorful, widely followed Ethan Winer. Ethan has, at various times, worked as a studio musician, computer programmer, circuit designer, recording engineer, composer/arranger, technical writer, and college instructor. He’s had nearly 100 feature articles published in audio and computer magazines including Mix, PC Magazine, Electronic Musician, EQ Magazine, Audio Media, Sound on Sound, Keyboard, Pro Sound News, and Recording.
Ethan is the audio industry’s very own myth buster and in his new book, he has a lot to say. But before the book even hits the warehouse and the web, he wants to makes sure it very clear as to whom this book is written for…
Hundreds of books about audio have been published over the years, so you might well ask why we need another book on the topic. I’ll start with what this book is not. This book will not explain the features of some currently popular audio software or describe how to get the most out of a specific model hard disk recorder. It will not tell you which home theater receiver or loudspeakers to buy or how to download songs to your MP3 player. This book assumes you already know the difference between a woofer and a tweeter, and line versus loudspeaker signal levels. But it doesn’t go as deep as semiconductor physics or coding digital signal processing algorithms in assembly language. Those are highly specialized topics that are of little use to most recording engineers and audio enthusiasts. However, this book is definitely not for beginners!
The intended audience is intermediate- to advanced-level recording engineers—both practicing and aspiring—as well as audiophiles, home theater owners, and people who sell and install audio equipment. This book will teach you advanced audio concepts in a way that can be applied to all past, current, and future technology. In short, this book explains how audio really “works.” It not only tells you what, but why. It delves into some of the deepest aspects of audio theory using plain English and mechanical analogies, with minimal math. It explains signal flow, digital audio theory, room acoustics, product testing methods, recording and mixing techniques, musical instruments, electronic components and circuits, and much more. Therefore, this book is for everyone who wants to truly understand audio but prefers practical rather than theoretical explanations. Using short chapter sections that are easy to digest, every subject is described in depth using the clearest language possible, without jargon. All that’s required of you is a genuine interest and the desire to learn.
Equally important are dispelling the many myths that are so prevalent in audio and explaining what really matters and what doesn’t about audio fidelity. Even professional recording engineers, who should know better, sometimes fall prey to illogical beliefs that defy what science knows about audio. Most aspects of audio have been understood fully for 50 years or more, with only a little added in recent years. Yet people still argue about the value of cables made from silver or oxygen-free copper or believe that ultra-high digital sample rates are necessary even though nobody can hear or be influenced by ultrasonic frequencies.
In this Internet age, anyone can run a blog site or post in web forums and claim to be an “expert.” Audio magazines print endless interviews with well-intentioned but clueless pop stars who lecture on aspects of audio and recording they don’t understand. The amount of public misinformation about audio science is truly staggering. This book, therefore, includes healthy doses of skepticism and consumerism, which, to me, are intimately related. There’s a lot of magic and pseudo-science associated with audio products, and often price has surprisingly little to do with quality.
Hopefully you’ll find this book much more valuable than an “audio cookbook” or buyer’s guide because it gives you the knowledge to separate fact from fiction and teaches you how to discern real science from marketing hype. Once you truly understand how audio works, you’ll be able to recognize the latest fads and sales pitches for what they are. So while I won’t tell you what model power amplifier to buy, I explain in great detail what defines a good amplifier so you can choose a first-rate model wisely without overpaying.
Finally, this book includes audio and video examples for many of the explanations offered in the text. If you’ve never used professional recording software, you’ll get to see compressors and equalizers and other common audio processing devices in action and hear what they do. When the text describes mechanical and electrical resonance, you can play the demo video to better appreciate why resonance is such an important concept in audio. Although I’ll use software I’m familiar with for my examples, the basic concepts and principles apply to all audio software and hardware.