Six Sound-Related Terms That You Might Be Messing Up

I Don’t Think That Means What You Think It Means

You ever feel like your audio engineer has no idea what you’re talking about? Chances are, your audio engineer feels the same about you from time to time. That happens a lot when we mix-up definitions of often-used audio terms. It’s pretty inconceivable. (Yes…I had to make the Princess Bride joke. You’re welcome.)

Here are six terms (grouped in sets) that we get crisscrossed:

1. Gain Vs. Volume


a measure of the increase in signal amplitude produced by an amplifier, expressed as the ratio of output to input.

A measure of the loudness or intensity of a sound.

A common misconception of gain is thinking that it’s just another volume/level adjustment. In the simplest terms, gain manipulates the level of signal coming into your console, your volume fader(s) manipulate the level going out. When your gain and volume faders are adjusted correctly, your signal will be clean, clear, and have plenty of headroom for adjustment.

2. Feedback Vs. Hum


Acoustic Feedback
(in an audio system, especially a public-address system) the feedback of sound from a loudspeaker to a microphone, often resulting in a whistling noise caused by electrical oscillations.

making a droning sound; buzzing.

It’s surprising how often “feedback” gets used to describe hum, and hum gets used to describe feedback. Sometimes it’s easy just to toss out whatever word sounds fanciest in the middle of a sound-check-crisis.

Just remember this, feedback typically “whistles” and may sound like it’s spinning or oscillating. Feedback also tends to get louder the longer it goes unattended. If feedback is present, microphones, guitar pickups/amps (acoustic or electric) are typically the culprits.

Hum normally manifests as a buzz, drone, or pseudo distortion. Check batteries, cables, ground-lifts, and electrical insulation to track down your annoying hum.

3. Parametric Eq Vs. Graphic Eq


an electronic device for cutting or boosting selected frequencies by continuous narrowing or widening of the frequencies to be filtered.

an equalizer in an audio system that is controlled by sliders that show graphically and correct the frequency response within the preset frequency range.

On most decent audio consoles, each channel will have a dedicated parametric EQ. Your console may contain a graphic EQ going to your main and/or aux outs. Some rigs use an outboard graphic equalizer that goes between your console and your amplifiers.

In the simplest of applications and terms, if you adjust your mid-highs on your main graphic EQ, you’re adjusting EVERY channel’s mid-highs. If you adjust the mid-highs on just one channel’s parametric EQ, you’re just adjusting it on just that channel. Remember, many synths, guitars, amps, etc. operate their own EQ’s upon output before they even run to your console… keep that in mind when making adjustments!

There is plenty more to learn about EQ. Check out this article from PreSonus to get started.

Action Step

Choose a non-rehearsal and non-sound-check time to sit down with your audio engineer to talk over this article and any other audio vocabulary you may have questions about! It’ll make for smoother rehearsals and a more consistent audio experience in worship.


I’d love to hear from you below!

  • Tell me what terms you’ve heard confused/misused.
  • Or ask questions if you’re still learning about all things church audio.

Dusty Wallace is a worship leader from central Ohio, the owner/operator of Wallace Creative LLC, and cohost of The Plugged In Church podcast. You can find more about him at and on Twitter @DustyWallaceMUS.

Guest Writer