The Audio Track

The audio track is one of the most useful tools in mastering. It allows you to visualize the soundwaves of your audio project. How neat!

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

What is the Audio Track?

The audio track is a visual representation of the waveform of the recording. The x axis is amplitude, and the y axis is time. The line through the middle is the quietest part of the recording. It is usually represented in one of two ways: linear amplitude or dB logarithmic amplitude. The following image shows the exact same track represented each way.

Here is a video on the Anatomy of an Audio Track (for Audacity). It does a good job of covering the basic parts of the tracks and zoom options.

Linear Amplitude 

The linear amplitude represents the amplitude of a waveform where 1.0 is the maximum value of positive signals before distortion occurs and -1.0 is the maximum value of negative signals before distortion occurs. 

dB Logarithmic Amplitude

The dB Logarithmic scale represents the amplitude of a waveform in a non-linear way. Here, 0 is the threshold of human hearing and negative dB values are how far below that threshold something is; correspondingly, positive dBs are how far above human hearing something is. 

To put it another way, 0 represents the level at which the audio will clip, and the negative numerical values are how far (in dBs) from distortion the audio is.

So for a rough example, on an audio track -3dB is loud, only 3 dB away from the threshold of what humans can hear. Whereas -40dB would be a whisper. And because the dB logarithmic scale is non-linear, every 6 dB SPL (sound pressure level) gain represents a doubling of amplitude, i.e. loudness. So -3dB is twice as loud as -9dB. Again, -9db is farther from the threshold.

Which Audio Track is better? 

Personally, I like the linear chart when editing dialog. I find it’s linear resolution makes identifying exact words a bit easier for me, so I can cut, paste, or edit a bit faster. 

While mastering, the dB scale makes it easier for me to pick out small details, like clicks and deep breaths. 

So the answer to which track is better will depend on what you are doing, and your own preferences. Sorry, there is no one quick answer, you will have to try them both out and find what works for you.

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