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In this first installment of the Foundations of Audio series, author Brian Lee White shows how to improve the sound of a mix with compressors, limiters, gates, de-essers, and other dynamic processors. The course explains the fundamentals of sound waves, and amplitude, explores common compressor controls, and shows how to eliminate unwanted noise using gates and expanders. The course also demonstrates best practices in compression and limiting in a variety of audio applications and covers sculpting the attack and decay of individual notes with transient shapers and applying frequency specific dynamics control with multiband compressors. Exercise files accompany the course and include special Get in the Mix session files.
Before getting into the nuts and bolts of dynamics processors such as compressors, limiters, and gates, it's important to take a step back and examine some of the basics of sound. Sound is made of waves of energy that oscillate back and forth through a medium. Usually the medium is air, but sound can also travel through solids, like drywall or liquids, like water. Soundwaves create an invisible push and pull of the air particles around us and our ears perceive and translate these waves into nerve impulses that are sent to our brain.
For example, when you play music from your speakers, the speaker cone moves in and out, creating changes in the pressure of the surrounding air. The resulting soundwaves are picked up by our ears and our brain translates them into sound information. Soundwaves are generally measured across two dimensions: frequency and amplitude. Frequency is the oscillation speed of the wave of the rate of push and pull of air particles. Higher frequencies produce higher- pitched sounds, while lower frequencies create lower-pitched sounds.
While frequency and amplitude go hand in hand, in this course, we'll focus on measuring and reacting to changing a waveform's amplitude. So let's dive a little deeper into what amplitude is. When measuring the amplitude of a soundwave, we chart the changes in atmospheric pressure. When particles of air are packed together tightly, indicating higher pressure, we chart this push, or positive value on the graph, and it's called compression. Pulls are negative values in the graph where air particles are more spread out, are called rarefactions.
The height of these compressions and rarefactions in the graph indicate the amplitude, which is directly proportional to the loudness of the sound perceived; in other words, the greater the amplitude of a soundwave, the louder we will experience the sound.
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