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Audio Reproduction Systems

Ever wanted to know all about audio reproduction, but were afraid to ask? Do Watts and SPL sound like terms normal people would never use in public? You're in luck! The head audio geek at TargetPC, or Bill as I'm known to some, has decided to put fingers to the keyboard to demystify the wonderfully confusing world of sound. Why not follow along as I tackle a few difficult concepts and simplify manufacturer specifications that leave most of the world reaching for an air sickness bag.


What would technology be without its beloved technobabble? Specifications, or geakspeak to many, is just the verbage that must be used when conveying complex ideas so all is clear between engineers. Inner audio circles label their language as "dB." In my 20 years in professional audio, I've actually had people come up to me and spout, "Yeah man, just got a hot new 24 channel console, let's talk dB." Without touching on the social ramifications of such cryptic communication, here's a very condensed list of words and abbreviations to get anyone noticed in a crowd. Use these sparingly as prolonged exposure can do odd things, like increase the distance between you and your spouse or worse, attract more dB'ers.

Decibel or 1/10th of a Bell
Sound Pressure Level (measured in dB)
Unit of Pressure (denoted as E or V)
Unit of Power (denoted as P or W)
Unit of Current (Amperage, denoted as I)
Total Harmonic Distortion (a percentage)
Signal to Noise Ratio (measured in dB)
Frequency Response (measured in Hz & dB)
Hertz (frequency or recurrence)
Impedance (measured in Ohms)

A few modifiers are necessary as well. If I want one thousand of something, I'd say "kilo" as in kilohertz (1000 Hz). If I'd want one thousandth of something, I'd say "milli" as in millivolt (mV). Glance at a wider range if you prefer; this list is far from exhaustive.

Fraction or Multiplier
pico (0.000000000001)
micro (0.000001)
milli (0.001)
kilo (1,000)
Mega (1,000,000)
Giga (1,000,000,000,000)


The last time you requested someone to "turn it up," you could have said, "hey man, amplify that sound." An amplifier is a set of components designed to make something "more" or louder if you prefer. Similar to an automobile accelerator pedal, punching it equates to crankin' the knob off. So what's important when browsing your local electronic retailer? Is more always better?

Power Output

Watts are easy as PIE. No, not the fork and plate kind, the physics kind. Power (in Watts) equals current (I or A) times voltage (E or V). Since the formula is a linear ratio, increasing the power would mean an increase in voltage and/or current. All power amplifiers generate distortion, which are errors created when boosting the signal from a lower state to a higher state.

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