The Audio Expert (Focal Press, ISBN 9780240821009) is a bold title, with an even bolder claim in its subtitle, but its 23 chapters and roughly 650 pages do constitute a fairly comprehensive and wide-ranging tome covering most aspects of studio engineering and audio. Despite the title and the back-cover guidance that the book is intended for intermediate to advanced recording engineers, my impression is that it's more suited to novices and intermediate students of the subject. The book provides a useful working knowledge and understanding of audio engineering and an extended range of related topics and — more importantly, in some ways — how everything is interrelated. To that end, The Audio Expert combines practical examples and applications with theoretical explanations, although much of that theory involves familiar simplifications and short-cuts rather than hard-core technical complexities befitting of a true 'expert'. The book offers no proper explanation of the role of dither, or of why directional mics suffer the proximity effect, for example — although both of these subjects are discussed briefly — and the chapter on digital conversion doesn't mention the sinc(x) function once.
As is increasingly common, the book has a companion web site (www.theaudioexpertbook.com) which includes audio examples and video demonstrations, interviews with and performances by various musicians, and a couple of planned, but yet to appear, bonus chapters on MIDI, computers and video production.
The opening chapter covers the usual basics — decibels; standard signal levels and metering; audio frequencies and octaves; filters; phase shift and delay; Fourier and the FFT; sine, square and noise signals; resonance; audio terminology; and the Null Test concept. Chapter Two continues with the measurements and myths associated with 'audio fidelity', describing the four basic pillars of audio measurement (frequency response, distortion, noise and time-base errors), and discusses a variety of common myths and misunderstandings associated with them. The third chapter is equally subjective and looks at various aspects of human hearing and perception, including an examination of jitter and dither, ultrasonics, psychoacoustics, blind testing, placebo effects and expectation bias. Chapter four returns to the basics, with an exploration of basic audio signals, wiring, connectors, impedance and patch panels.
The second section of the book concerns analogue and digital recording and signal processing, and kicks off with an overview of basic mixing-console facilities and techniques, before moving into recording hardware and technologies, as well as basic microphone types and techniques. Chapter Seven describes various approaches to music mixing, and discusses the advantage of reference monitoring levels, optimising stereo panning, reverb and bass balance, amongst other topics. It also examines practical issues such as comping, normalisation, time alignment and basic mastering processes.
The book continues with separate chapters on digital audio technology, dynamics processing, equalisation, time-domain and pitch effects, and various other non-linear processing techniques. The section is completed with the unexpected addition of a 33-page chapter on synthesizers and synthesis techniques.
Part Three looks at transducers — the myriad forms of microphones and loudspeakers — while Part Four moves onto Ethan's home ground, with room acoustics, measurement and treatment techniques and solutions. The penultimate section comprises two chapters covering basic audio electronics and test equipment and procedures, while the final section presents another surprise: a chapter on the technology of musical instruments, covering such topics as equal temperament, bowed instruments, solid-body instruments, flutes, reeds, percussion instruments and piano.
The Audio Expert is easy to read, and is generously illustrated throughout. It also covers an unusually wide range of subject areas, with welcome material on the basic technology of common musical instruments. The author often voices subjective opinions as the topics are being explained, but at least it is always made clear what is opinion and what is fact, and the subjective views usually offer the benefit of experience and pragmatism. Overall, then, this is a useful and stimulating book for the interested enthusiast or novice student. It does fall well short of the title's expectations, but could any single book really contain the combined knowledge and experience of a true audio expert adequately? I think not! In the meantime, this book helps to explain much of the technology and technique of audio engineering and is a positive addition to the library. Hugh Robjohns
Paperback £33.99; Kindle edition £23.39 including VAT.$54.95.