In speaking with a reader the other day on the phone, the issue of how technical I should be in my posts came up. It’s true I’m a full-fledged geek and have a better then average knowledge of electronics, acoustics, music and audio engineering. But I like to think that I manage to avoid getting overly technical most of the time…although it seems I go past that barrier fairly often according the gentleman on the phone.
As most of you know, I teach audio engineering at a university in Southern California. There are no requirements that incoming students have a technical background or in fact, that they have any previous experience with audio engineering. I tell them that I will start at the very beginning and define every term or concept covered in class. My introductory students are required to keep a stack of index cards at the ready in case they need to create a flash card on the spot. At this point in the semester, they’ve accumulated hundreds of cards and hopefully learned the information on all of them.
Then there’s the use of words or terms that have nothing to do with audio or engineering but that I use in the course of my teaching that result in blank stares. It’s pretty obvious when I step into that minefield. I remember earlier in the semester using the word “dovetail” as in a dovetail joint and the room seized up. As a former woodworker, I was very familiar with the term and used it to describe the way two things can smoothly blend into each other. I’ve crafted several piece of furniture using large dovetails (on one occasion costly me 4 stitches across my thumb!). But a younger generation of students wasn’t familiar with the word…so I have to tread carefully with my vocabulary at times.
Just as with any profession and any pursuit, sound engineering and high-end audio comes complete with its own techno-speak and jargon. Of course, I expect everyone to know something about loudness/volume, frequency response, distortion and dynamic range. But things get more difficult when I start talking about spectragrams, partials, sample rates, Nyquist, aliasing and other more specialized concepts in digital audio. I do try to avoid acronyms (unless I accompany them with an immediate explanation) and I strive for simplicity in these posts.
So here’s what I’d like to propose. If I stray past your knowledge level, please feel free to post a comment or write me with a question. I promise that I will follow up with a reply or additional post with additional information or a clarification. I think this stuff is important…other wise I wouldn’t spend an hour of every day exploring topics that interest me…and hopefully you.
I don’t want the readers of this column to drift away because they feel I’m writing over your heads. Don’t be the quiet student in the back of the class that never visits me during my office hours, raises their hand in class with a question or comment and then tanks on the midterm. I strongly encourage questions and comments.