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The waveform

From: Digital Audio Principles

Video: The waveform

The waveform is how we represent a digital audio file visually. You'll see a lot of waveforms when you start working with digital audio. It's basically what we work with the most in terms of editing, changing things around. It shows a couple of cool things. It shows amplitude along a Y axis, and Time along the X axis. The other thing to take note of is the center line or the zero crossing, where the amplitude is above and below. I'll show you a few examples of why. But all waveforms are usually displayed with a center line running through the center of them as a point of reference to use for making edits.

The waveform

The waveform is how we represent a digital audio file visually. You'll see a lot of waveforms when you start working with digital audio. It's basically what we work with the most in terms of editing, changing things around. It shows a couple of cool things. It shows amplitude along a Y axis, and Time along the X axis. The other thing to take note of is the center line or the zero crossing, where the amplitude is above and below. I'll show you a few examples of why. But all waveforms are usually displayed with a center line running through the center of them as a point of reference to use for making edits.

We can look at, as things move away from the center line, the greater the amplitude in both directions, but time is always moving forward. Time is marching on, but amplitude is above and below the center line or point of reference. When you work with digital audio, you'll be working with lots of waveforms. So let's go into Pro Tools real quick, and just take a look and zoom around in a few different waveforms just talk about a few of the different characteristics you might find. So here we are, and we have a couple of different waveforms. We have a Mono track here that's a voiceover, and then a Stereo track, which is a piece of music.

So these two waveforms are the left and right channels of a Stereo track. We also have a waveform that you can see is really smashed up here. It's got really some great amplitude. That's actually distorted. When you see those flat lines, that means that we have a piece of digital audio that's gone beyond digital zero in terms of amplitude, and it's smashed. We'll take a little bit closer look of that in a minute. We also have a waveform that we can tell is a very quiet waveform, because it doesn't have a lot of amplitude in relation. So I just wanted to show you a quick visual of the difference between when you look at something, the relative amplitude on the Y axis, you can pretty quickly identify if something is going to be loud or quiet.

So let's zoom in and just take a look at a few different things, and just see what these look like up close. I'll make them a little bit taller. Let's get a little bit closer even still. So here is looking at a waveform zoomed in very close. You can see here is our center line running down the middle. Here is what we call the zero crossing, or the point where the waveform crosses the center line.

We'll show you later in the editing chapter why being aware of this is important, but in a nutshell it's going to help you make quiet edits. Let's go to the beginning. You can just see that waveforms just have a lot of different shapes. When you see these higher quicker peaks, you know that might be a quicker sound, when you see a longer thing like this that could be a longer word. If this is a voice-over track, that might be someone saying, wait now, wait now.

Let's zoom in on the really loud one, and the really quiet one, take a look at it--it might look like it's just zoomed way in, but you'll see that it was actually really flat. If I change that visual look, and scale it up here by making the zoom different, we can see that it's still really flat there, and that we still have a lot of flattening out. That is distortion. That's a bad thing. We don't really want to see that. For making recordings, we're getting a lot of that square flattened off look, we're recording things way too loud.

Now hopefully things like peak indicators and the fact that it sounds pretty terrible and hard to listen to will give you that indication. But who knows maybe sometimes someone will send you a file to work with, you'll get it, and it will look like that. If you bring it in, and you noticed it's the flat-top style, you're going to want to try and get that file again or get a different recording of that information, because it's pretty hard to work with things that are flattened out that much. Now if on the other hand if you get an audio file that's too quiet, you can always go ahead and turn it up.

It's not ideal to work with audio files that are very quiet. We really want to take advantage of the full dynamic range, and work with as loud the sounds as we can without getting to distortion, but we'll talk about that in another movie as well. So that's a quick tour of waveforms, and what they look like. I just wanted to give you a quick tour, and a little birds eye view, you'll be seeing tons of these throughout this title. If you're starting to work with digital audio, you'll be dreaming about them. You'll see so many of them. What's so great about the waveform is that they give us such quick visual information about the sound we're working with. So that allows us to do things pretty quick.

The old days of rewind and fast-forward, and let's listen back, they still exist but not quite the way they used to. You can be pretty efficient and pretty fast in terms of looking at a waveform, and going right into the area you want. For instance, if I know I want to take out some gaps or some silence, I know that this is a quiet passage, I can go in there and start to work out right away, as soon as I open the file. So waveforms are really helpful in terms of the way you work with sound. In the next movie, we'll take a look at the different audio file formats that you'll encounter when you work with digital audio.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Digital Audio Principles
Digital Audio Principles

110 video lessons · 27570 viewers

Dave Schroeder
Author

 
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  1. 50s
    1. Welcome
      50s
  2. 39m 10s
    1. What is sound?
      4m 15s
    2. Hertz and frequency response
      5m 34s
    3. Phase
      2m 39s
    4. Capturing audio
      3m 39s
    5. Sample rate
      6m 16s
    6. Bit depth
      9m 47s
    7. The waveform
      5m 3s
    8. Audio file formats
      1m 57s
  3. 7m 25s
    1. What is a digital audio workstation?
      2m 59s
    2. Typical DAW signal flow
      4m 26s
  4. 50m 33s
    1. What microphones do
      1m 57s
    2. Element types
      5m 0s
    3. Pickup patterns
      6m 51s
    4. Axis
      2m 52s
    5. Frequency response and the proximity effect
      5m 10s
    6. Phase issues
      1m 41s
    7. Microphone types
      8m 44s
    8. Miking vocals
      5m 39s
    9. Miking amplifiers
      2m 17s
    10. Miking drums
      10m 22s
  5. 16m 39s
    1. Cables and connectors overview
      2m 42s
    2. Balanced and unbalanced cables
      3m 19s
    3. Common cable types
      7m 13s
    4. Cable tips
      3m 25s
  6. 12m 16s
    1. What is an I/O device?
      1m 41s
    2. Analog to digital conversion
      3m 10s
    3. Tour of an audio interface
      4m 49s
    4. Interface considerations
      2m 36s
  7. 21m 5s
    1. What is a preamp?
      3m 21s
    2. Input levels
      5m 29s
    3. Padding
      2m 18s
    4. Phantom power
      2m 37s
    5. Phase reverse
      3m 4s
    6. Preamp demo
      4m 16s
  8. 12m 56s
    1. What is a mixer?
      5m 55s
    2. Input section
      1m 17s
    3. Channel strips
      3m 16s
    4. Master section
      2m 28s
  9. 18m 21s
    1. What is monitoring?
      2m 11s
    2. Speakers
      4m 47s
    3. Room considerations
      5m 43s
    4. Headphone types
      3m 50s
    5. Monitoring levels
      1m 50s
  10. 15m 23s
    1. What role do computers play?
      1m 36s
    2. Performance issues
      4m 11s
    3. Hard drives
      4m 38s
    4. Mechanical noise
      2m 10s
    5. Authorization
      2m 48s
  11. 6m 54s
    1. Planning for recording
      54s
    2. Doing a system check
      1m 26s
    3. Planning your inputs
      1m 42s
    4. The recording environment
      2m 52s
  12. 25m 52s
    1. Types of digital audio software
      38s
    2. Multi-track recorders/sequencers
      4m 56s
    3. Two-track recorders/waveform editors
      4m 55s
    4. Loop-based music production software
      5m 44s
    5. Plug-ins
      6m 56s
    6. Other varieties
      2m 43s
  13. 18m 59s
    1. Common components
      46s
    2. The transport
      2m 4s
    3. The toolbar
      3m 19s
    4. The Edit/Arrange window
      4m 42s
    5. The mixer
      5m 8s
    6. The file list
      3m 0s
  14. 19m 17s
    1. Setting up a session
      3m 30s
    2. Assigning inputs and getting signals
      3m 19s
    3. Input modes
      3m 28s
    4. Overdubbing and punching
      5m 14s
    5. Bouncing down
      3m 46s
  15. 19m 42s
    1. What is editing?
      1m 21s
    2. Waveforms
      2m 53s
    3. Making silent cuts and trims
      7m 1s
    4. Fades and automation
      8m 27s
  16. 1h 23m
    1. What are plug-ins?
      3m 0s
    2. Using plug-ins
      6m 11s
    3. EQs
      7m 4s
    4. Dynamics pt. 1: Compressors, limiters, expanders, and gates
      5m 40s
    5. Dynamics pt 2: Applying dynamic effects
      7m 2s
    6. Pitch shifting
      6m 14s
    7. Reverb
      9m 28s
    8. Echo and delay
      6m 23s
    9. Modulation effects: Phaser, flanger, and chorus
      9m 39s
    10. Sound tools pt. 1: About, gain, normalize
      7m 39s
    11. Sound tools pt. 2: Reverse and time compression/expansion
      6m 29s
    12. Sound tools pt. 3: Noise reducers, dither
      8m 11s
  17. 23m 43s
    1. What is MIDI?
      3m 6s
    2. Keyboard controllers
      1m 23s
    3. Computer-based virtual instruments
      1m 6s
    4. Control surfaces
      1m 6s
    5. Recording and editing MIDI
      12m 4s
    6. Virtual instruments
      4m 58s
  18. 27m 29s
    1. What is mixing?
      1m 54s
    2. Some common objectives
      3m 4s
    3. Some useful techniques
      5m 59s
    4. A quick mixing demo
      16m 32s
  19. 18m 48s
    1. What is mastering?
      2m 24s
    2. Sonic maximization
      9m 43s
    3. Final preparations and exporting
      6m 41s
  20. 13m 34s
    1. What is audio compression?
      2m 16s
    2. Popular formats
      2m 9s
    3. Bit rate, sample rate, and channels
      5m 42s
    4. Other adjustments and considerations
      3m 27s
  21. 15m 6s
    1. Essential gear
      7m 36s
    2. Voice recording setups
      1m 43s
    3. The voice production process
      5m 47s
  22. 10m 4s
    1. Analog vs. digital
      2m 48s
    2. Tube vs. solid state
      5m 6s
    3. The continual upgrade
      2m 10s
  23. 18s
    1. Goodbye
      18s

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