Module 44A


Updated: 02/15/2017

Module 44






Part I


Audio Recording,

Editing and Playback

A Quick Look Back:

Turntables and Reel-to-Reel Tape Machines reel-to-reel recorder

Records and reel-to-reel tape machines used to be the primary source of prerecorded material in TV production. Part of a reel-to-reel machine is shown on the right.

Today, they have almost all been replaced by CDs (compact discs) and computer-type hard drives.

"Vinyl," a term that refers mostly to LP (long playing) records, which was the primary medium for commercially recorded music for several decades. (Note photo below.)

Most vinyl records were either 45 or 33 1/3 rpm (revolutions per minute) and had music recorded on both sides.  Records had a number of disadvantages — primarily the tendency to get scratched and worn, turntablewhich quickly led to surface noise.

Unlike vinyl records, some of the newer media can be electronically cued, synchronized, and instantly started — things that are important in precise audio work.

Reel-to-reel analog 1/4-inch tape machines, which were relied upon for several decades in audio production, have also almost all been replaced — first by cart machines (below) and then by DAT machines, and more recently by computer hard drives.

The Return of Vinyl?

 Although digital equipment has a multitude of advantages, especially in broadcast production, in recent years some audiophiles (audio purists) have been returning to analog recordings -- especially vinyl LP records. (Note photo above.)

They say that analog equipment, including tube-based amplifiers, renders a fuller, richer tone to music. Unfortunately, this latest generation of this type of analog equipment tends to cost many times more than what it originally did.

Along with the move to maximum audio fidelity we've seen the opposite take place with the popularity of miniature digital audio devices equipped with ear buds. Although convenient and quite mobile, the audio files typically involve significant digital compression, which impacts quality. In particular, the dynamic range is reduced, raising the overall loudness of music.


Cart Machines

Cart machines (cartridge machines), which are still used in a few facilities, incorporate a continuous loop of 1/4-inch (6.4mm) audiotape within a plastic cartridge.
audio cartUnlike an audio cassette that you have to rewind, in a cart the tape is in a continuous loop. This means that you don't have to rewind it, you simply wait until the beginning point recycles again. At that point the tape stops and is either cued up to the beginning, or to the next "cut" (segment) on the tape.

Most carts record and playback 30- and 60-second segments (primarily used for commercials and public service announcements) or about three minutes (for musical selections).

Audio carts are now well on their way to ▲Museums of Broadcasting along with other exhibits of broadcast technology used in earlier years. Today, audio is primarily recorded and played back on hard drives, CDs, and solid-state recorders.

Compact Discs

Before we get to this we need to point out the difference between "disks" and "discs." 

Although the spelling is often confused, disc refers to optical media, such as an audio CD, CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, DVD-RAM, or DVD-Video disc. All discs are removable, meaning when you unmount or eject the disc it comes out of the player.

The term disks refers to magnetic media, such as a floppy disk, the disk in your computer's hard drive, or an external hard drive. Disks are always rewritable unless intentionally locked or write-protected.

Because of their superior audio quality, ease of control, and small size, CDs (compact discs) have been the a preferred medium for prerecorded music and sound effects. However, today, radio stations typically transfer CD selections to a computer disk for repeated use.
Although the overall diameter of a typical audio CD is only about five inches (12.7 centimeters) across, a CD is able to hold more information than both sides of a 12-inch (30.5cm) LP phonograph record. Plus, the frequency response (the audio's pitch from high to low) and dynamic range (the audio range from loud to soft that can be reproduced) are significantly better.professional CD player

Although CDs containing permanently recorded audio are most common, CDRs (recordable compact discs) are also used in production. These offer all of the advantages of using CDs, plus the discs can be re-recorded multiple times.

Radio stations that must quickly handle dozens of CDs use Cart/Tray CD players, such as the one shown on the right.

As we've noted, for repeated use, CD audio tracks are commonly transferred to computer disks where they can be better organized and quickly selected and played with mouse clicks or a few strokes on a keyboard. A computer screen displays the titles and artists, and the time remaining for a selection that's being played.

In mass producing CDs an image of the digital data is "stamped" or "burned" into the surface of the CD.

When a CD is played, a laser beam is used to illuminate the microscopic digital pattern encoded on the surface. The reflected light, which is modified by the digital pattern, is read by a photoelectric cell.

The width of the track is 1/60th the size of the groove in an LP record, or 1/50th the size of a human hair. If "unwound" this track would come out to be about 3.5 miles (5.7 km) long. Of course, DVDs take this technology even further, but that's a story for a later module.

In 2004, MP3 CDs appeared that have the capacity equaling as many as 10 standard CDs.

CD Defects and Problems

If the surface of the CD is sufficiently warped due to a manufacturing problem, or improper handling or storage, the automatic focusing device in the CD player will not be able to adjust to the variation. The result can be mistracking and loss of audio information. 

Automatic Error Correction   

Manufacturing problems and dust and dirt on the CD surface can cause a loss of digital data. Professional CD players attempt to compensate for the signal loss in three ways:
  • error-correction,
  • error concealment (interpolation)
  • muting
Error-correcting circuitry within the CD player can detect momentary loses in data (dropouts) and, based on the existing audio at the moment, supply missing data that's close enough to the original not to be readily noticed.

If the loss of data is more significant, error-correcting circuits can instantly generate or repeat data that more or less blends in with the existing audio. If this type of error concealment has to be invoked repeatedly within a short time span, you may hear a series of clicks or a ripping sound.

Finally, if things get really bad and a large block of data is missing or corrupted, the CD player will simply mute (silence) the audio until good data again appears — a solution that's clearly obvious to listeners.  

In the second part of this Module we'll look at the latest audio recording and playback processes.

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