“Audio effect” redirects here. For special sounds used in media, see Sound effect. For a device that processes sound, see Effects unit.
Audio signal processing or audio processing is the intentional alteration of audio signals often through an audio effect or effects unit. As audio signals may be electronically represented in either digital or analog format, signal processing may occur in either domain. Analog processors operate directly on the electrical signal, while digital processors operate mathematically on the digital representation of that signal.
Analog signal processing
“Analog” indicates something that is mathematically represented by a set of continuous values; for example, the analog clock uses constantly moving hands on a physical clock face, where moving the hands directly alters the information that clock is providing. Thus, an analog signal is one represented by a continuous stream of data, in this case along an electrical circuit in the form of voltage, current or charge changes (compare with digital signals below). Analog signal processing (ASP) then involves physically altering the continuous signal by changing the voltage or current or charge via various electrical means.
Historically, before the advent of widespread digital technology, ASP was the only method by which to manipulate a signal. Since that time, as computers and software became more advanced, digital signal processing has become the method of choice.
Digital signal processing
A digital representation expresses the pressure wave-form as a sequence of symbols, usually binary numbers. This permits signal processing using digital circuits such as microprocessors and computers. Although such a conversion can be prone to loss, most modern audio systems use this approach as the techniques of digital signal processing are much more powerful and efficient than analog domain signal processing.