Module 1: Sound Fundamentals

Sound is an art and a science. This module will introduce you to the science of sound. Understanding the physics and science of sound will allow you to think differently and more effectively when engaging in audio post production work. Take a look at the video below about the frontier of sound technology. This was possible because the engineers understood sound science and physics to a high degree.

Clinton Frame Demonstrates Constellation Digital Acoustics by Meyer Sound

This module will introduce you to a few topics. First, is the three categories of sound; vibrationsfrequency, and amplitude. Then, we will cover binaural hearing. Understanding the process of binaural hearing is specifically important for creating three-dimensionality in your mixes. Many times, audio engineers attempt to make sense of their auditory experiences and recreate them using a digital audio workstation. After, we will cover the differences between stereo and mono. Finally, and most importantly, we will cover decibels. Understanding decibels is considerably important when discussing loudness and protecting your ears!

The Three Elements of Sound

The video below showcases artist Nigel Stanford conducting audio experiments while performing an original composition live. He uses many instruments connected to several natural elements such as water, fire, and minerals to show how these resources react to sound. Stanford is a composer for New Zealand best known for composing the soundtrack for the film Timescapes directed by Tom Lowe. I’ve included a link below to one of his most popular works, Cymatics.


You can watch the following video by clicking the link below. See if you can notice the three categories of sound; vibrations, frequency, and amplitude.

Cymatics: Science vs. Music by Nigel Stanford

Between the three, you may want to concentrate on understanding frequency. You will be better equipped when using an equalizer and using the audio tool will make more sense if you fully understand frequency. An equalizer is a tool ften used in audio production to manipulate the sound of a recording. Equalizers can be used as a corrective device to attenuate frequencies that are undesirable to the human ear. For example, an equalizer (EQ for short) can be used to minimize audio hiss on a recording to make it more clear. In addition certain frequencies can be boosted to enhance the intelligibility of the sound source. You can click the link below to see how EQs work in music production.

How to EQ Instruments in Nuendo or Cubase

Binaural Hearing

As human beings with two ears, we all have binaural hearing which allows us to perceive location and dimensional space. We will focus on sound localization and discuss its equivalent concept in Pro Tools.

The diagram below displays how sound localization is perceived, which is only possible by two factors; sound intensity and time of arrival.

Binaural Hearing

The main factor that influences sound localization is time of arrival differences between the left and right ear. If a sound source begins to your left, it will reach your left ear first, then it will bounce from the left side of your head to your right side. In this case, the right ear will receive the sound at a slightly later time. This difference in time of arrival creates the perception of sound localization. In addition to time of arrival, there is an intensity difference between the two ears. The left ear is receiving the sound slightly louder than the right ear.

Interestingly, audio engineers aimed to perfect to recapture how we hear with two ears with the utmost accuracy. So, they’ve created a dummy head with microphones in both ears. You can click the link below to understand more about this particular microphone.

Binaural Micing and Live Audio Playback

Sound intensity differences is how panning works in a DAW. By using panning an audio source, the user has the ability to “move” a sound from the left or right speaker. In reality, sound doesn’t actually move, however we perceive the sound as moving through intensity differences between the left and right speaker. If a user pans an audio source to the left, the right speaker will diminish in volume depending on how much the user panned the audio source to the left. This adjustment in volume makes the listener perceive as if the sound is “moving” to the left speaker.

Stereo and Mono

Have you ever wondered by people sometimes refer to their sound system as stereo speakers? Maybe not so much today due to how portable sound systems have become, but most home speaker systems will employ two speakers for the listeners auditory enjoyment. This is the definition of stereo. Stereo refers to two speakers that are related but independent. This means some sounds will play in the middle, some to the left, some to the right, and anywhere in between. This is how we hear music today and it’s how we hear in life. Stereo playback gives us a more natural listening experience and gives a sense of depth. Most of what you mix in your audio program will be in stereo.

Mono, however, means “one.” In this case, you many be listening to music from one speaker. Or, you can listen to music from both left and right speakers, however, the sound will only derive from the center. Listening to music in mono usually lacks depth and dimensional space. So you may ask, why use mono? When recording in your audio program, you will be given the choice to either create a mono or a stereo track. If you are recording with a single microphone, you will create a mono track. If you are recording with two microphones and are using stereo microphone technique to capture the sound of an ambience, then you can create a stereo track.

At one point in time, we only had the capability of mono playback. As a matter a fact, many of the early Beatles albums were recorded and mixed in mono because that was the only we were able to reproduce sound.

The Beatles Mono

However, some of those albums have been remastered to stereo. You can click the link below to read an NPR article describing the differences in listening to The Beatles in mono or stereo.

Mono Or Stereo: Which Beatles Box Is Better?