helps you understand the endless acronyms and buzzwords
(don't find the
definition you want? Did we make it even worse?
Let us know!)
SUSPENSION - This is a popular loudspeaker style. An acoustic suspension
system has the speakers mounted into a sealed box. These speakers generally
take more power to put out the same 'ooomph' as their bass reflex brethren, but
the trapped air inside the cabinet improves control over the woofer and adds
damping and 'acoustical stiffness' to the low frequencies.
AM - As
in AM Radio, it stands for "amplitude modulation." It's the way that type of
radio gets its signal to your walkman. Hey, like we said at the entrance, this
is the consumer's "non-technical" guide
- This is a method of storing data for later retrieval. For example, an
old-style vinyl record or a cassette tape stores its info in analogue format.
Today's video sources are generally analogue as well, providing an
approximation of the original source material. Ask a high end technophile if
analogue or digital sound is better and you'll really open a can of worms!
Digital video is common professionally, but real digital video is only
beginning to hit the consumer market via camcorders, though they've had digital
trinkets on VCR's and TV's for several years. It's inevitable that digital will
take over the video world, too (as it already has with sound) and that'll mean
the VCR you buy tomorrow will be obsolete.
- If your tuner has this, pressing the autoscan button sends the tuner
merrily up and down the dial, stopping at each signal it finds to let you
audition the station.
(ANALOGUE TO DIGITAL) CONVERTER - and D/A (DIGITAL TO ANALOGUE)
CONVERTER - These are pretty self explanatory, unless you want to look at
the math. You're most likely to be concerned with a D/A converter, which takes
the digital signals from things like Compact Discs and turns them back into
signals your receiver and speakers will understand. Once the signal's converted
to analogue, it's filtered by an analogue filter that (theoretically) smooths
out any rough edges.
- You'll find this feature on plenty of CD players. It adds 3 seconds of
dead time between tracks and is a convenience feature for those who like
pirating, er, recording) their CD's onto tapes.
What all these acronyms and terms are designed to do to the average consumer.
It's also the partition in a speaker cabinet onto which a speaker is attached.
Basically, a piece of particle board.
REFLEX - Another popular loudspeaker style. This is the type with at least
one hole in it that lets out the rear-firing wave generated inside the cabinet
by the speakers ('cause a speaker vibrates back and forth, creating waves in
both directions). And you can bet the wave is pleased to escape! If you're ever
curious to find out how much energy is let out, hold a lighted match
(carefully, of course) near the hole and watch what happens.
BIT - A
binary digit. Okay, it's the smallest unit of digital storage (like on a CD or
in a computer). It can either represent a zero or a one, on or off, or high
voltage or low voltage. String together eight of 'em and you have a
Eight bits. It takes one byte to represent a letter of the alphabet or any
other alphanumeric symbol (like #). Bytes start to really take on some
practical use when you have enough to make kilobytes, megabytes, or gigabytes.
Compact Disc - Read Only Memory. A computer CD that you can use to read data
from, but can't save data to. Wonderful and amazingly flexible
Short for 'Constant Angular Velocity,' this is a type of laserdisc. It tracks
at a constant speed (1800 rpm) as it heads across the disc. You only get 30
minutes per side, but even the cheapest player on the market will be able to
display marvelous freeze frame and other special effects on a CAV disc.
Unfortunately, you'll also be jumping up to change sides every time the movie
gets interesting. On the other hand, CAV discs can store something like 50,000
separate frames of data, so you can visit the Louvre from your TV or read
through screenplays (or see storyboards or production stills) on some special
- This is what happens when you crank your amp up beyond its capabilities.
Basically, it's distortion added to the signal. On an oscilloscope, the tops of
the waves look like they've been clipped off. Pete Townshend's ears probably
exhibit built-in clipping from years in front of Hiwatt amps.
This is short for 'Constant Linear Velocity,' and is another type of laserdisc.
It spins more quickly when the laser's at the inner "groove," slo g down as it
heads toward the outer edge (CD's and laserdiscs track opposite to the
out-to-in method of vinyl records). CLV discs give you an hour per side, but
unless you have a player with digital effects you don't get all the neato
freeze and still/step features of CAV discs.
CABLE - This is the stuff your cable company runs to your house and that
you split innumerable times to hook up all your TV's and stereos. If you're
hooking it as an antenna for your radio tuner, make sure you stick it on the 75
ohm (unbalanced) terminal.
Central Processing Unit. Also called a "microprocessor," this is the brain of
your computer (the part you really should be blaming most of the time you want
to punch out your monitor). 486 and Pentium are the most common CPU's these
days, with 386 on its way out. Clone Pentium chips are sometimes called 586's
in order, we assume, to prevent lawsuits from Intel if they dared use the trade
name Pentium. This is the part of the computer that does all the work, as
opposed to storing stuff, transferring stuff, displaying stuff, etc.
NETWORK - A series of filters that direct the correct audio frequencies to
the appropriate speaker, as in low frequencies to the woofer, highs to the
tweeter. 3 way systems separate the sounds into low, midrange, and high.
FREQUENCY - This is the frequency at which the sound is 'handed off' from
one speaker (for instance, the woofer) to another.
(dB) - a unit of measuring the intensity of sound (or noise!) levels. Zero
dB means nobody heard that tree fall in the forest, even if they were there.
130 is considered painful. Our publisher likes his music at about 150. His wife
likes hers at about 60. They don't listen to a lot of music together.
DIAPHRAGM - No birth control jokes here! This is the membrane
that vibrates to produce sound, like the cone in a conventional woofer speaker.
DISTORTION - What you don't want in your electronics.
Distortion is bad. What it boils down to is any difference in the signal coming
out of your system from the signal going in. Nothing is distortion-free (not
even CNN), but they're working on it.
DOLBY C, DOLBY HX PRO - These are various Dolby Labs-developed noise
reduction methods, usually in connection with audiocassettes. Dolby B was the
first for consumers, followed by "C" and, later, HX PRO. "C" is better than
"B," while HX PRO (which extends high frequency response and reduces
distortion) is built in, so you don't even have to worry about turning on a
switch or even having to think about it.
SURROUND/DOLBY SURROUND PRO-LOGIC - Yep, the same above-mentioned Dolby
Labs has been busy! Dolby Stereo, as it's sometimes also called, and the
biggest screen you can afford, is what makes movies at home so great. Dolby
surround gives you three audio channels (left, right, and rear), while
Pro-Logic adds a centre-front channel. The new Dolby AC-3 splits the
mono rear channel into stereo and gives all channels the full frequency range.
- A type of printer that uses a series of pins to punch ink onto the page
in a series of dots that form the image on the paper.
Dots Per Inch. This is how a printer's printing resolution, or a scanner's
scanning resolution, is measured. As with some much else in life, the bigger
the better. Actually, though, in this case it works the other way around: the
smaller the dots are the better it is. So the higher the number means the
smaller the dots (there are more of them in an inch). 300 DPI is a pretty good
resolution for today's laser or inkjet printer. Faxes are sent in fine mode at
200 DPI. It isn't hard to find scanners offering 2400 DPI, though some of them
cheat to get it.
You could also call this a speaker, in that a 3 way speaker system has three
'drivers' (high, midrange, bass) in it. In computers, a driver is the software
required to run your hardware. For example, a sound card needs drivers to work,
as does your CD-ROM drive.
- On videotape, it's those horrid sparklies or flashes you get on older
tapes. It means the tape has broken down at that place, probably left part of
itself on your video heads, and is just waiting until an inoportune moment to
destroy them. Throw out the tape when dropouts get numerous. Audio versions
will cause an interruption in the signal, too.
RANGE - This has nothing to do with the Maytag repairman. This is the ratio
between the quietest and the loudest sounds a piece of equipment can reproduce.
In this digital age, dynamic range is in the 100 dB range.
- This is the amount of energy going into a speaker that actually comes out
of it as sound. It's an indication of how much power you'll need for your
speakers to make your ears bleed. Generally, bass reflex and horn-loaded
speakers are more efficient than acoustic suspension.
- When you point proudly at your speakers, you're actually pointing proudly
to the enclosure, the box, in which your speakers (your drivers) are mounted.
It's also used on letters to indicate there's something else in the envelope.
- Not really floppy anymore, since just about everyone uses 3.5 inch
plastic disks that are pretty darn durable, the name harkens back to the dark
ages of computing when data was stored on larger, more delicate disks that
would lose all their data at a moment's notice.
Another radio term, this one stands for "frequency modulation." It's also how
TV sound is transmitted.
Floating Point Unit. Don't worry too much about this. It's a chip that
dedicates itself to mathematical calculations to speed up the overall
processing speed of your computer. It comes in handy when you're doing heavy
duty graphics. It's like a "mathco-processor.
RESPONSE - The range of sound a piece of equipment delivers. 20 Hz (Hertz,
see below) is about the lowest you can expect (though chances are you
might not hear that low yourself) and 20,000 Hz (20 KHz) is about the upper
limit unless you're a dog, and we're not about to get that judgemental about
our readers' appearance. As we get older our hearing tends to lose some of the
more extreme frequencies. Many electronics components don't give you the full
20-20K range but, depending on how important the sound is to you, it may not
matter much. You may also prefer an excellent 60 - 18,000 Hz to a crummy 20 -
SPEAKER - One driver that does it all (kind of like Al Unser Jr.), these
are most commonly found in smaller enclosures including computer speakers. But
would you hire a tenor to sing soprano and bass at the same time?
- One billion bytes (actually slightly more, but it still won't be enough).
DRIVE - This is your computer's main storage area. Measured in megabytes or
gigabytes (millions or billions of bytes, respectively), you always need more
than you have. Think of your hard drive as your "virtual filing cabinet." This
is where you store most of the stuff you use on your computer, whether it be a
program or a file. The more room you have the more stuff you can cram into your
computer. Time was a 5 megabyte hard drive was a trip to cybernetic heaven, but
now if you get anything less than about 850 Meg, you'll be kicking yourself a
year down the road. Typically, you can use 50-150 megabytes on a single
program. Windows 98 will eat up around 70 Meg; a
full installation of a package like CorelDRAW! 6.0 will swallow about 170 Meg!
Fortunately, hard drives are getting cheap like borscht. Considered by many as
"permanent storage space," they are obviously people who've never suffered a
(Hz) - In physics, the number of cycles per second (Shwinns not included).
Low numbers, like 20 Hz, are the lowest tones and high numbers are high tones.
Convenient, huh? It also corresponds to wavelength: low tones have long waves
and high tones have short ones. This is why "woofer" speakers (which reproduce
the lowest tones) are bigger than "tweeters;" they have to move more air to
generate the longer waves. This is also why you can hear the damn neighbour's
bass thump-thump-thumping from down the street, but you probably can't hear the
- Very self explanatory, this is a speaker driver shaped like a horn.
They're usually very efficient, and if you don't believe us sit in front of
some Klipschorns at about half volume for a couple of hours.
- Remember turntables? You'd get howling when you played the music too loud
and had the turntable too close to the speakers. And you thought it was just
your ears shutting down! The needle (stylus) would pick up the sound from the
speakers and feed it back through the turntable to the stereo, causing an
interesting chain reaction that did no one any good.
IMPEDENCE - Having teenagers. Seriously, this is the
"resistance" to the signal provided by wires, or circuits. It's like friction,
and is measured in Ohms. 8 Ohms is a common impedence in audio equipment; four
ohms is also common. Make sure you match the impedence of your amplifier to
that of your speakers.
AMPLIFIER - An audio component that includes both preamp and power amp in
REMOTE/UNIVERSAL REMOTE CONTROL - A universal remote will operate most, if
not all, brands of electronics. These are usually programmed at home, by
punching the appropriate code into the remote. So if you have a Sony TV,
Panasonic VCR, and Sansui receiver, your remote should work them all. You can
quite often find that not all of the original remote's features will work,
though, unless you have a remote with so many buttons it isn't funny. A
learning remote is one you can 'teach' the codes of another brand. This is
usually done by pointing the remotes at each other and teaching it the
functions of the various buttons.
- Most often seen on laserdiscs, this is a viewing format that allows you
to see the entire widescreen image of a movie without having the edges lopped
off as with happens with most videocassettes or movies on TV. Gives you the
original director's complete vision for how the production should look.
Unfortunately, it leaves blank spaces above and below the picture that causes
some people to think you're actually seeing less of the film (because the
picture is shorter from top to bottom than a regular TV program). Letterboxed
movies are the best, but they also encourage one to spend huge hunks of money
on big screen TV's, because a letterboxed "Ben-Hur" just doesn't make it on a
21 inch screen.
CONTROL - Ever wonder what that little button or switch on your amp really
does? It's a bass boost meant to be used at low volumes at which your ear isn't
as sensitive to them. You can turn it off once you're around halfway up on your
INPUT POWER - Pay attention to this one, speaker buyers. It's the wattage
at which your loudspeaker systems turn into little smoking ruins.
- One million bytes (actually slightly more, but it's never enough).
(MHz) - In computers, this is how quickly your processor (CPU) processes
(P.U.'s). The bigger the number, the faster and therefore the better. When
comparing these "clock speeds," only pay attention to similar chips, like 486
and 486. Always compare apples with apples.
- The speaker driver that handles the medium frequencies.
- While this really means "with one ear," a la Vincent Van Gogh, it's
generally taken to mean single channel audio, like on old radios, movies, or
VCR's. Stereo and quadrophonic double and quadruple the audio channels, giving
a "sound stage" that more closely approximates the original signal because you
can spread the instruments around and fill the room with ambience. Or so they
STEREO/SAP - This is a video term. Most TV's and VCR's sold these days come
with an MTS tuner. This means when you see the "in stereo where available" logo
on your favourite TV show, you'll be able to hear its glorious sound. MTS
stereo will also transmit Dolby Surround-encoded programs. SAP stands for
"Second Audio Program," and isn't used nearly as much as it could be. It gives
the opportunity for a program to be broadcast in two languages at the same
time. It can also be used to give a running commentary to a program that has
its regular soundtrack running on the other channel.
- A really nice buzzword that means your computer is capable of more than
just putting stuff on your monitor screen. It means you can also access and
display video, with stereo audio and all sorts of neat things that seem to grow
in number every day.
- A feature that plays the first few seconds of each selection on a tape or
CD, it makes it easy to find a particular selection quickly. Assuming, of
course, you recognize the first few seconds of the song.
There are probably a million legitimate definitions of noise. For TechnoFILE's
intents and purposes, noise is anything unwanted in the signal.
The measurement unit of electrical resistance/impedence. If you really want to
know, one ohm is the resistance through which one volt will give a current of
one ampere. See, you shouldn't have asked.
PRESSURE LEVEL - Measured in decibels, this is how loud your speakers will
play. The higher the number, the more in danger you are of becoming an
incurable Who fan.
RADIATOR - Or, when is a speaker not a speaker? This is a diaphragm that
doesn't have the magnets and other stuff that make it a real speaker. They
vibrate in concert (no pun intended) with the woofer, augmenting its output.
From the front they look pretty much like speakers, but they have nothing
"People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms." Also a new type of storage
device or peripheral that's about the size of a credit card. You can get
modems, hard drives, and other neat stuff on 'em right now, and Gawd only knows
what you'll be able to do with them tomorrow.
SEARCH - A compact disc feature that looks for the loudest part of a
selection, this is helpful if you want to set the recording levels on your tape
deck to prevent distortion that'll turn playback into a horrible experience.
Another term that applies to kids, as in something they go through. In home
theatre, phase can be described as the relationship between different
frequencies of the same sound. What you really need to know is that your
speakers should be hooked up in phase if you want them to sound right. Out of
phase speakers can sound kind of 'hollow.' Getting them in phase is easy: just
make sure you keep the positive wire to the positive terminal at both ends and
do likewise for the negative.
AMPLIFIER - This is the audio device that takes the signal from your
preamplifier and gives it enough ooomph to wake the dead.
Pages Per Minute. This is how quickly your printer, copier, or whatever, works.
Obviously, the higher the number the more closely its performance approaches
the speed of light. Don't be fooled, though. Sometimes the ads will say "up to
8 PPM" or something like that, and the operative words are "up to." They're
talking about printing stuff like reams of text; if you're printing a complex
graphic you may want to go for a walk or take a nap. Laser printers start at
about 4 PPM (up to, of course), and inkjet printers vary between 2-4 PPM.
(PREAMP) - Also known as a control amplifier. This is the part of your
audio system that takes in the source signals (TV, radio, CD, tape, whatever),
and allows you to switch between them and 'colour' the sound with the tone
controls. It's also the first stage of amplification, taking the signal and
boosting it to a level the power amp can grab and run with.
- Memory positions on a tuner (or whatever) that let you store favourite
settings, like radio stations, tone configuration, etc.
Random Access Memory. This is the workspace on your computer, much like your
desktop is your office workspace. The more RAM you have, the more you can do.
Also, the more stuff you're doing at the same time (the more programs and/or
files that are open at any one time) the more you're cluttering this "virtual
desk" and this is why your system slows down. It's also why you should buy as
much RAM as you can afford. 64 megabytes is the bare minimum now, but you
should go for as amuch as you can. You can never have too much RAM.
OUTPUT - Watch this one! Usually expressed as "watts per channel" or more
properly "watts per channel RMS," in simple terms it tells you how much bang
for the buck you're getting from your amplifier. There's more to it, of course,
but that's a general rule of thumb. Actually, some 50 watt amps sound a lot
better than some with twice the power, but that has to do with other factors
like current, quality control, etc. etc. etc. A reputable dealer will sell a 50
watt per channel amp as a 50 watt amp. Many dealers will sell the same amp as a
100 watt amp, adding the two stereo channels together. Likewise, if that
bargain system is 200 watts, find out if its driving two channels, four
channels, or what have you. There's a lot of "white lying" done here.
DRIVER - Usually a tweeter, this is a driver that uses a flat metal ribbon
as both voice coil and diaphragm.
Sounds naval, doesn't it. RMS means "Root Mean Square," and aren't you sorry
you asked! Used in conjunction with power output ratings, that's all you need
to know unless you're a technician, physicist, or incurable techie.
Read Only Memory. This is computer data storage that you can access, but
can't change, like on a CD-ROM. Great for games, reference works and that type
of thing. You can "read" from the disk, but you can't "write" to it. There are
also "WORM" disks (Write Once, Read Many), and recordable CD's, but they're
"Scuzzy," and isn't that a disgusting sounding acronym? This is an interface
that lets you hook a bunch of computer peripherals together in a 'daisy chain,'
with one plugging into the other. It's supposed to be faster than your normal
(IDE) interface and means you only need sacrifice one internal expansion slot
in the computer (for the SCSI interface itself) to attach many different
devices. Remember to buy SCSI versions of these devices, though.
- Another tuner term, this means how well the tuner receives a signal
without interference from nearby signals.
SENSITIVITY - Sounds warm and fuzzy, doesn't it? Sensitivity is
the minimum input signal needed to produce a specific output signal with a
specific signal to noise ratio. Okay, forget that. Just remember that the lower
a sensitivity number, the better it is.
SEPARATION - Expressed in decibels, and the higher the number
the better, this indicates how well your component keeps signals for the left
and right (or whatever) channels apart.
SPEAKER (or MAGNETICALLY SHIELDED) - Since speakers use magnets, they can
wreak havoc on your TV or computer monitor (or anything else that doesn't like
magnets near it). Speaker manufacturers get around this by shielding the
speakers so you can sit them closer to the TV or monitor without it causing all
sorts of rude, coloured splotches on your screen.
TO NOISE) RATIO - Again, the higher the number (also expressed in
decibels), the better. It means how much signal your component puts out
compared with how much noise. Signal is good. Noise is bad.
WAVE - Sometimes seen at football stadiums, this is also a phenomenon
created in rooms that have parallel walls. The sound waves bounce around and
interfere with each other.
- Another data storage medium, this one's usually a small cassette these
days and they're usually used to back up or archive data.
HARMONIC DISTORTION - Just remember that THD is bad and the lower
the number the happier you'll be.
- A speaker that reproduces high frequencies.
- This is a coil of wire that attaches to a speaker's diaphragm. An
electrical signal causes it to move in a magnetic gap.
Video RAM. This is your "video memory," and gives you more display choices. The
more VRAM you have, the higher the resolution you can display, or the more
colours (or both, depending on how much VRAM you have). For instance, while a
computer just out of the box may only display 640 x 480 pixels with 256
colours, by increasing your VRAM you can augment your resolution to 1024 x 768
and you can get up to 16.7 million colours. Increasing the resolution lets you
see more of your "virtual desktop" at one time, while the advantage of
additional colours is that you can get truer colour representation.
No, not a person suffering the aftereffects of a monster binge. This is the
speaker that reproduces the bass frequencies.
FLUTTER - Wow! This one is for tape decks, mostly, and is also bad. You can
hear flutter (it sounds just like the name sounds) on bad tapes when they don't
contact the tape head properly. Wow is a slower-sounding version.
Got a term
that bugs you that we didn't cover here? Email us at the address below and
we'll see what we can do for you...