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Glossary of terms used on this site

There are 47 entries in this glossary.
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Term Definition

An uncompressed Macintosh audio file. WAV files occupy an incredible amount of disk space, thus the need for compressed formats, such as MP3s.


When a Sun Microsystems or other Unix computer makes a noise, it does so in AU file format. And because the Internet is dominated by Unix boxes, you'll find a lot of AU files there. Luckily, Macintosh and PC browsers such as Netscape Navigator are usually able to play AU files, which have the extension .au. A sound file that originated on a PC is likely to be in WAV or MIDI format instead.

AVI (audio/video interleave)

Next time you see a video clip on your PC, there's a good chance that it's an AVI file. AVI is the file format used by Video for Windows, one of three video technologies used on personal computers. (The others are MPEG and QuickTime.) In AVI, picture and sound elements are stored in alternate interleaved chunks in the file.

bit rate

in essence, a measure of how many bits describes each sound in an audio file. A low bit rate means lower quality and a smaller file size, while a high bit rate means better quality and larger files. The standard bit rate is 128 kbps.


An area of memory (usually on your hard drive) that is shared by two enabling processes, which run at different speeds to sync up with each other. For example, a buffer designed for streaming audio helps a patchy data stream from a server sound consistent when played by your computer's audio software.


The process by which streaming audio and video saves data in advance of playing it. Programs such as RealPlayer or Windows Media Player will download a part of the video or audio stream before starting to play, then continue the downloading as the stream plays. If the playing catches up to the end of the buffer, the stream will pause while further buffering occurs.


The format of audio on a standard RedBook CD; can be extracted to your hard drive by a ripper into WAV (Windows) or AIFF (Macintosh) files.


A centralized database on the Web that can recognize most CDs and send track listings to your audio player so that you don't have to type in all the information yourself.


A codec is an algorithm for compressing and decompressing audio and video files without losing a significant amount of information. Once a file has been compressed by a codec like MP3 or RealAudio, it is smaller and easier to transmit across the Web, and still sounds fairly true to the original.

DAT (Digital Audio Tape)

A small cassette that records and plays back audio digitally, at CD quality and better.

DRM (Digital Rights Management)

A secure technology which enables the copyright owner of a piece of intellectual property (such as a music, video, or text file) to specify what a user can do with it. Typically, this is used to offer downloads without having to worry that the user is freely distributing the file over the Web without any compensation to the copyright holder.

DSP (Digital Signal Processing)

The (usually real-time) processing of an audio signal in such a way that it sounds different from the original. Examples include: bass boost; 3D simulation; and Rock, Jazz, and Classical presets.

DVD (digital versatile disc)

Originally referred to as digital video discs, these high-capacity optical discs are now used to store everything from massive computer applications to full-length movies. While similar in physical size and appearance to a compact disc or a CD-ROM, DVD is a huge leap from its predecessor's 650MB of storage. A standard single-layer, single-sided DVD can store a whopping 4.7GB of data. But it doesn't stop there--DVD also has a two-layer standard that boosts the single-sided capacity to 8.5GB. And there's more! DVDs can be double-sided, ramping up the maximum storage on a single disc to 17GB. Unfortunately, to use DVDs, you'll have to buy a new drive, but that new hardware will also read your older CD-ROMs and audio CDs.


Software that turns uncompressed WAV (Windows) or AIFF files into compressed files, using a CODEC such as MP3 or RealAudio.

EQ (Equalization)

A filter for audio that increases or decreases volume at certain frequencies, so that treble, bass, or midrange sounds can be amplified or quieted. Most audio devices and playback software contain some EQ options.

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