Too Much Tech Talk?

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.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

3 thoughts on “Too Much Tech Talk?

  • Frits van der Veer

    Hi Mark,

    I am very interested in following the audio Engineering class you give. Do you by any change record the sessions on Video and are willing to share these, via EdX or Utunes?
    Or do you have recommendation for (digital) audio lovers (wanna be geeks) like me for on online courses ?

    Never too old to learn is my credo, so in case i do not fully understand your writing, i re-read and/or google.

    • Unfortunately, the courses are only available at the university and not made available to the public. I have considered doing an online course…but for now, all I can offer is these daily posts.

      I am writing a book on the subject and will let readers know when it becomes available.

  • Robert

    Dear Dr. Mark,

    I disagree totally that your Posts are too technical. Of course, the
    acceptable level of technicality is individual, but no one after all is
    forced to buy or play your quality of recorded music. I would assume
    that those who do have an above average investment in their play-back
    system and must have some reason why they chose to go “high-end.” Seems
    to me that such a decision would be based upon, at least in part, an
    understanding of how and why it works. If a reader doesn’t need that
    info… fine, don’t read, just listen.

    I feel fortunate in being able to subscribe to your posts. There
    are multiple sources where all the compression methods are discussed and
    analyzed in mathematical detail for those who want that. Because of your
    cross-disciplinary background AND teaching ability AND hands-on
    experience actually recording the music, I find your explanations often
    challenging, but totally understandable. Keep up the good work!


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