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The glossary pages provide definitions for over 2680 PA-related terms and abbreviations. If you can't find the term you are looking for, or would like any of the existing definitions to be expanded, please email me − likewise of course if you find any errors in the links etc. Use of this information is conditional upon acceptance of the Disclaimer on the PAforMusic home page.

In the list below, the most commonly looked-up terms are in bold, lighting-specific terms are in pink, and video-specific terms are in orange.

P bass * P/C * P48 * Pa * PA * PA amplifier * Pad * Pad switch * Paddle * PAG * Pair * PAL * Pan * Pan law * Pan rule * Panel connector * Panel mount connector * PAR * PAR<number> * PAR can * Parallel * Parallel-series * Parallel effects unit * Parameter * Parametric equaliser * Parity * Part * Party-line * Pascal * Passage of sound * Passband * Passive * Passive cooling * Passive crossover * Passive DI box * Passive equaliser * Passive pick-up * Passive speaker * Passive split * Passive splitter * PAT * Patch * Patch bay * Patch cable * Patchbay * Path * Pattern of response * pbar * P/C * PCB * PCM * PDM * PDU * PE * Peak * Peaking normalisation * Peak programme meter * Peaking response * Peaky * Pedal * Pedal board * PEQ * Perceived level * Perceived volume * Perceptual coding * Percussion * Percussive * Period * Periodic inspection (and test) * Peripheral * Peritel * Personal mixing * Personal monitoring * PF (p.f.) * pF * PFC * PFL * Phantom power * Phase * Phase-angle control * Phase conductor * Phase linear * Phase response * Phase reversal * Phase shift * Phase switch * Phat * Phoenix connector * Phon * Phone jack * Phones * Phono * Phono equalisation * Pick-up * Pick-up angle * Pick-up pattern * Pico... * Piezo * Pilot signal * Pilot tone * Pin * Pin 1 problem * Pin 2 hot * Pin jack * Pink noise * Pitch * Pixel * PJ * Pk * Planar * PLASA * Plate * Plate microphone * Platform * Plenum cable * Plexiglas * Plosive * Plot * PLSN * Plug * Plug-in * PM * PMA * PME * PMP * PMPO * PMSE * Pneumatic stand * PnP * Point source speaker * Polar pattern * Polar response * Polarity * Polarity reversal * Polarisation * Polarised * Pole * Pole cup * Polyphonic * Pop filter * Pop shield * Popping * Port * Portamento * Positive feedback * Post * Post Office jack * Post-EQ * Post-fade * Pot * Potential * Potential acoustic gain * Potential difference * Potentiometer * Pouch * Power * Power-off bypass * Power amp * Power amplifier * Power Breaker * Power compression * Power conditioner * Power cord * Power distribution * Power factor * Power factor correction * Power filter * Power-off procedure * Power-on procedure * Power rails * Power rating * Power sequencing * Power supply * Power transistor * Power unit * PowerCon * Powered * Powered board * Powered desk * Powered mixer * Powered monitor * Powered multicore * Powered snake * Powered speaker * Powerlock * Powersafe * PPE * PPL * PPM * Pre * Pre-amp * Pre-amplifier * Pre-delay * Pre-emphasis * Pre-EQ * Pre-fade * Pre-polarised microphone * Precedence effect * Presbycusis * Presence * Presence peak * Presenter set * Presenter system * Preset * Pressure gradient microphone * Pressure microphone * Pressure zone microphone * Primary winding * Principle of superposition * Print-through * Printed circuit board * Processor * Processor-controlled * Processing * Production * Profile spot * Program * Program level * Program power * Programme * Programme level * Programme power * Progressive scan * Prompt side * Propagation of sound * Propagation time * Proportional Q * Proprietary * Prosumer * 'Prot' indicator * 'Protect' indicator * Protection lamp * Protective bonding * Protective conductor * Protective earth * Protective ground * Protocol * PRS * Proximity effect * PS * PSEM * Pseudo-balanced * PSU * Psychoacoustics * Psychology of hearing * PTT * Public address * Pulse code modulation * Pulse density modulation * Pulse width modulation * Pump up * Pumping * Punchdown * Punter * Pure tone * PV * PVC tape * PVR * PWM * Pyro * PZM

The definitions for these terms are given on the assumption of their use in the context of PA systems; many of the terms have more general meanings when used in a wider context. Where more than one definition is given for a term, the definitions are numbered (1), (2) etc.

Some of the definitions themselves use terms (such as "signal") in a specific way − most of these are links (just the first time they are used, in each definition), so just click on them to see the meanings that are intended.

P bass

An abbreviation for 'precision bass', a specific style of electric bass instrument. For details see Bass (2). Compare J bass.


An abbreviation for 'per channel', a term used in the specification of power amplifiers to indicate that the specified output power value is available from each individual channel of the amplifier (usually simultaneously), rather than being a total output power value.


The 48 volt version of phantom power specified by DIN EN 61938 (formerly known as DIN 45596 or IEC 61938).


An abbreviation for Pascal.


Originally an abbreviation for 'public address'. However, in general usage the term 'PA' now refers to any system whose primary purpose is to make sound louder or to distribute sound over a wider area than would be possible without such a system (as distinguished from systems that are primarily intended for recording or for live broadcast purposes). This includes systems for the high-quality amplification of live music for a 'live audience'; these systems are more properly referred to as sound reinforcement systems, however the term 'PA' is very widely used for them simply because it is short and much more convenient to say, so we use 'PA' throughout this website.

Note that PA is also an abbreviation for many other terms, such as 'production assistant', 'personal assistant' (to a manager, director, or other official) and 'personal appearance' (of a celebrity).

PA amplifier

See Power amplifier.


See Attenuator.

Pad switch

A switch whose operation introduces a defined amount of attenuation into the signal path. Such switches are most often found on mixer channels and condenser microphones, for the purpose of reducing the signal level in order to avoid overload of the channel input or overload of the microphone's internal pre-amplifier, respectively.


A slang term for a style of antenna that is sometimes used with receivers for radio microphones or with transmitters for in-ear monitoring (IEM) systems, so-named because of its flat plate shape. Paddles may be LPDA directional types or may be omni-directional, depending on their internal design. They are usually equipped with a BNC connector and a threaded mounting point suitable for attaching to a stand such as a microphone stand.


An abbreviation for 'potential acoustic gain'.


The two signal-carrying conductors of a balanced circuit (or balanced line), sometimes called legs. The term 'pair' usually refers to the two physical cores that carry one such circuit within an audio multicore cable, in which case the two cores that make up each pair are twisted together along the whole length of the cable and are surrounded by a screen. However, the term may also be used to refer to that whole assembly within the multicore, i.e. the two legs of the pair and their screen, together with the associated drain wire and/or pair jacket, if any. Or, the two wires of a balanced telecommunications line or data circuit (usually unscreened in both cases).

The two legs of a pair are commonly referred to as the 'hot' and 'cold' legs, or as the '+' and '−' legs, and in a multicore are often colour coded. Note that in a star quad cable two cores are used to make up each leg of the pair, making four cores in total. See also One-legged, Twisted pair, UTP and STP.


An abbreviation for 'phase alternating line'. The method used in the UK for coding the chrominance information prior to creating a colour composite video signal. Or, describes a composite video signal that incorporates chrominance information coded using that method. Compare NTSC and SECAM.


A facility of a mixer, allowing the sound being handled by an individual channel or group to be positioned at the desired apparent location between the Left and Right speakers of a stereo system. The term is short for 'panoramic'.

A pan control operates by controlling the proportion of the signal that is fed to the Left and Right mixes. For example, if the control is set to the left of its central position then more signal is fed to the Left speakers than to the Right, causing the sound to appear to be left-of-centre in the stereo image. In an analogue mixer, the control usually consists of two mechanically-linked potentiometers, and is often fitted with a central detent.

Note that there are several different styles of pan control − some types provide a reduction in the level of both the Left and Right signals when the control is in the central position, to compensate for the increased sound level that would otherwise result (for a centrally located listener) from both speakers reproducing the same sound (see Pan rule for more details). These different styles are implemented by use of an appropriate pan law, e.g., in an analogue mixer, by potentiometers employing the appropriate taper. Pan controls operating in LCR mode route the signal just to the centre speaker when the control is in the central position. Compare Balance control.

Pan law

The relationship between the physical position of a pan control (e.g. on a mixer) and the relative signal levels sent to the Left and Right channels of a stereo mix. Different models of mixer may provide somewhat different pan laws, however most commonly a law is utilised that gives a reduced variation in the perceived loudness of a source in the mix as the source's pan control is adjusted. Typically a variation of around 1 to 2 dB can be expected (loudest when centre-panned) − i.e. much less than the 6 dB maximum predicted by the pan rule. In an analogue mixer, the pan law is usually determined mostly by the taper of the pan pots. Or, an alternative name for the pan rule itself − see the next definition. See also Stereo image and LCR (1).

Pan rule

An audio mixing principle stating that any signal that is routed to both channels of a stereo system, with the same level and phase in each channel, will produce an increased loudness (as perceived by a centrally located listener) of up to approx 6 dB, compared with the signal being present only in the Left or Right channels at that same level. It should be noted that this maximum increase can occur only when the sounds from the Left and Right speakers arrive at the listener's ears with equal level and phase, which in practice is most unlikely (due to room acoustics and other practical factors); an increase of around 3 dB (resulting from acoustic power addition) is more likely. However, at low frequencies, they may arrive with nearly equal level and phase, giving an increase closer to 6 dB. A special case is where a stereo signal is electrically summed to mono, in which case the two channels will combine with essentially identical level and phase, giving the full 6 dB increase in loudness to any sources that have been centrally located in the stereo mix by being identically present in both channels (as compared to the loudness of sources present in just one channel at the same level).

A practical application of the rule is that the pan controls of mixers etc. are often designed with a pan law that modifies the signal levels so as to reduce this centre-boost effect, so that variations in the perceived loudness of a source in the mix are minimised as the source's pan control is adjusted − see the previous definition. See also Stereo image and LCR (1).

Panel connector, Panel mount connector

A connector that is intended for mounting on an equipment panel, rather than attaching to a cable. Compare Line connector.

PAR (1), PAR<number>

PAR is an abbreviation for 'parabolic aluminised reflector', a type of lamp. 'PAR' is typically followed by a number such as 56 or 64 − this is the diameter of the lamp in inches multiplied by 8. For further information see PAR can.

PAR (2)

An abbreviation for 'pixel aspect ratio', the aspect ratio of the individual pixels making up a digital video file, as distinct from the file's aspect ratio (which is the ratio of the number of pixels horizontally to vertically). Using PARs other than 1:1 allows for a video to be presented in its correct aspect ratio when the file's aspect ratio differs from that in which the content was originally filmed/created.

PAR can

A lantern consisting only of a lamp and its lamp-holder in a metal can. The reflector and the lens are integral with the lamp. (PAR is an abbreviation for 'parabolic aluminised reflector'.) 'PAR' is typically followed by a number such as 56 or 64 − this is the diameter of the lamp in inches multiplied by 8. PAR64 lamps are available in power ratings up to 1000 W. The beam from PAR lanterns can be quite eliptical (oval), necessitating correct orientation of the lamp in the can. A soft-edged area of light is produced.

The following abbreviations are sometimes used to identify the beam-width of PAR lamps:

Compare Fresnel and Profile spot.

Parallel (1)

Describes a digital interface or communications link in which multiple electrical connections are used to carry the data, so that, at any one point in time, more than one bit of information is being simultaneously conveyed. These multiple connections are usually made through single cables containing the required number conductors and single connectors providing the required number of poles. Parallel data links are now very rarely encountered other than inside equipment and within digital processing ICs, because of the high data transfer speeds now available with modern serial interfaces. In the past, the main advantage of parallel interfaces was their high data transfer speed, in comparison with the slow serial interfaces available at the time. Compare Serial.

Parallel (2)

Describes the interconnection of two or more items in such a way that the overall circuit current splits into several paths, and a part of it flows through each of the items before recombining. When one item is connected in parallel with another, it is said to act as a shunt.

When two or more connectors on an item of equipment are said to be connected in parallel, this means that the corresponding terminals of each connector are wired together (inside the equipment), e.g. for a 3-pole XLR: pin l to pin l, pin 2 to pin 2 and pin 3 to pin 3.

To calculate the overall value of unequal resistances connected in parallel it is necessary to sum the reciprocals of the individual resistances and then take the reciprocal of that sum. A calculator for this is provided here on the Calculations page. The same rule applies to parallel values of reactance (taking into account their sign), but not to a mixture of parallel resistances and reactances. It also applies to parallel values of impedance, provided they all contain the same proportion of resistance and reactance. When a number of equal values of resistance, of reactance, or of impedance are connected in parallel, the overall value is simply the value of one of them divided by the number of them.

Values of capacitance connected in parallel may simply be added together to calculate their overall value, but for values of inductance connected in parallel it is necessary to sum the reciprocals of the individual inductance values and then take the reciprocal of that sum.

When components of the same type and of identical tolerance are connected in parallel, the tolerance of their combined value will be the same as that of the individual components.

Speakers that are interconnected in a daisy-chain arrangement and fed from a single power amplifier channel (quite a common arrangement for monitors) are effectively connected in parallel, because of the parallel internal wiring of their connectors. Parallel wiring of drivers is also sometimes used within speaker enclosures that incorporate several identical drivers. When interconnecting speakers or drivers in parallel, always take care to observe correct polarity, to use an appropriate gauge of cable, and to ensure that their combined load impedance is not below the minimum value permitted for the amplifier driving them (at the required operating power level). See also Series-parallel. Compare Series.


See Series-parallel.

Parallel effects unit

An effects unit whose output consists only of the processed signal; none of the original signal is mixed in by the unit. So, to achieve a balance of original and processed sounds, it is necessary for the output of the unit to be separately mixed with the original signal. Therefore, these units are ideal for use with the effect send and return connections of a mixer. They are not generally suitable for simply inserting into the signal path, or for connecting in a 'chain' with other effects units. Compare Serial effects unit.


A particular characteristic or aspect of something. Parameters may be fixed or they may be controllable or adjustable in some way in order to change a detail of the thing's character or behaviour, without altering its fundamental nature or purpose. For example, the parameters of a speaker are fixed, and the main ones would be its power rating(s), frequency response, impedance, directivity, size and weight. In contrast, the parameters of a delay (echo) effects unit are variable − they would typically be delay time, number of repeats, and rate of decay. For further examples of fixed and variable parameters see Thiele-Small parameters and the next definition.

Parametric equaliser

A type of equaliser with a peaking response, most often used to cut or boost mid-range frequencies, in which several parameters of the filter are adjustable. One control determines the amount of cut or boost, another control determines the centre frequency of the range (or "band") of frequencies that is cut or boosted, and a third control (called the Q control) determines the width of the range of frequencies that is cut or boosted. In the case of some digital equalisers, it is also possible to change the shape of the response curve between a peaking response and a shelving response.

Confusion can arise over terms such as 'fully-parametric', 'semi-parametric' and 'quasi-parametric', as different people use these terms to mean different things. In particular, when it is the whole equalisation facility (e.g. of a mixer channel) that is being considered, the term 'fully-parametric' might be reserved for equalisers in which all frequency sections (HF and LF as well as Mids) are equipped with a Q control. Alternatively that term may be used when just the mid-range section(s) are so equipped, if the person is considering only the mid-range part of the equaliser. In that case, the term 'semi-parametric' would only be used if not even the mid-range section(s) were provided with Q control(s). See also Graphic equaliser. Compare Sweep EQ.


In a digital signal or stored digital information, additional bits that are incorporated to enable the receiving or reading equipment to detect the presence of most data errors. Usually, one parity bit is added for each group of data bits (often for each word), and is arranged to make the total number of '1' bits in the group either always even ("even parity") or always odd ("odd parity"). This system is only able to detect odd numbers of bit-errors occurring within the group (including the added parity bit itself), so it doesnĺt give a very high confidence of error-free data. See also Bit error rate, Checksum and Cyclic redundancy check.


The musical notes that are played or sung by a particular instrument or voice, or by a specific group of instruments or voices, throughout a particular song or piece of music. Or, the line of musical notes that are specified in a musical score as to be played or sung by a particular instrument or voice, regardless of how such written music is actually intepreted in any particular performance. Strictly, parts should not be confused with terms such as melody, harmony, lead (2) or backing, as the voices or instruments taking such roles may change throughout a song. See also SATB and Sectional.


Describes an intercom or communications system in which all stations continuously receive (hear) what is being sent (spoken) by all other stations. This is the simplest and most commonly used arrangement for intercom systems used in auditoria, studios, etc. for communication between technical and production personnel. An example of such a system is Clearcom®. See also Comms, Duplex and Hybrid (2).


A unit of pressure, equal to a force of one Newton per square metre. Abbreviation Pa. Used in the measurement of sound pressure level (SPL). As the Pascal is quite a large unit of SPL, equivalent to 94 dB SPL, units of ÁPa (one millionth of a Pascal) are frequently used. In terms of other units of pressure, the Pascal is equivalent to 10 dynes per square cm and to 10 Ábar.

A sound pressure level of 20 ÁPa RMS, the nominal threshold of hearing, is used as the reference value for expressing sound levels in decibels. Normal atmospheric pressure at ground level is variable around a value of approximately 100,000 Pa (100 kPa, or 1 bar). For further information see About Sound Levels on the Decibels page.

Passage of sound

See Transmission of sound.


The range of frequencies that is allowed to pass through a filter, without undergoing any significant attenuation. Compare Stopband.


Generally describes something that operates without the need for any source of electrical power, for example a passive DI box or a passive crossover. Because one of the most common reasons for needing such a power source is to operate amplification circuitry, the term 'passive' is commonly used to mean 'without amplification'.

Applied to a speaker the term most usually refers to any speaker that is not powered, i.e. that incorporates no internal power amplifier(s). However, some manufacturers use (or have in the past used) the term to refer specifically to such a speaker of the full range type that incorporates an internal passive crossover (and therefore does not require an active crossover to be used in conjunction with the amplifier driving it), or to refer to a switch-selected mode of speaker operation that brings an internal passive crossover into operation.

The opposite of passive is active. See also the following definitions.

Passive cooling

See Convection-cooled.

Passive crossover

See Crossover.

Passive DI box

See DI box.

Passive equaliser

An equaliser that consists entirely of inductors, capacitors and resistors, and which therefore requires no electrical power source.

Passive pick-up

See Pick-up.

Passive speaker

Most usually refers to any speaker that contains no power amplifier(s) within the speaker enclosure. Therefore the use of external power amplifier(s) is required, which may consist of separate unit(s) or be incorporated within a powered mixer or mixer-amplifier. Such a speaker may also be called an 'unpowered speaker'. However, see Passive. Compare Powered speaker.

Passive split

An interconnection, or a set of interconnections, carrying signals obtained from a passive splitter. Or, such signals themselves.

Passive splitter

A splitter that operates passively, i.e. without any power being required, and which therefore provides no buffering, amplification or conditioning of the signals passing through it. In most cases, this means that both (or all) of its output signals will be at a lower level than its input. Depending on the applications concerned, such splitters may provide a direct parallel connection of the outputs, or may utilise resistors or transformers. In the latter case, the transformers may additionally serve a ground isolation function and/or serve to block unwanted path(s) for phantom power. Passive splitters for microphone signals are often provided as devices that handle several channels, usually in multiples of 4 channels. See also the previous definition and Microphone splitter.


An abbreviation for 'portable appliance test' − a rather imprecise term for a formal inspection and test procedure to verify the safety of in-service electrical equipment. Despite the name, it also applies to items that are not portable (i.e. fixed and stationary items). In particular, the procedure includes visual verification of the mechanical integrity of the equipment's enclosure and any associated supply cables and connectors, and (in the case of Class I equipment) verification of the electrical integrity of its safety earth conductor(s) and connections. Where it is probable that mains cables may be swapped around between different items of equipment (which is often the case when equipment is frequently transported), the cables should be tested separately from the equipment.

In the UK, all PAT testing should be carried out in accordance with the IET's publication: 'Code of Practice (COP) for In-service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment', unless the special nature of the equipment or the specific circumstances of use take it outside the scope of that document. As a PAT test only checks the safety of the equipment on the date of the test, it is essential (and, in the UK, a legal requirement) that equipment is at all times properly used and maintained so as to prevent danger arising. Therefore, in addition to the formal PAT tests, equipment should be informally inspected before each use; suspect equipment should never be used.

The interval between PAT tests is usually determined by the person(s) responsible for the equipment, dependent upon the type of equipment and its operating conditions. Or, in some cases it may be specified by regulatory authorities. For the UK, guidance on initial test intervals and other matters is given in the COP.

Standard tests performed include insulation resistance and, for Class I equipment, earth continuity. In both of these tests, care must be taken to avoid damaging the equipment under test. For example, a standard high voltage insulation test (typically at 500 V DC) may cause damage to internal mains interference filters, particularly in older equipment not complying with standards EN 60065-1 (Audio, video and similar electronic apparatus), EN 60950-1 (Information technology equipment) or EN 62368-1 (Audio/video, information and communication technology equipment), or the test may give false results if the equipment contains surge protection components. In case of any doubt, the insulation testing should be carried out at 250 V DC or an earth leakage test performed instead. (The limits for earth leakage are 0.75 mA for hand-held & portable equipment, 3.5 mA for IT, movable, stationary and fixed equipment (when fitted with a BS 1363A plug) and, exceptionally, 10 mA in some cases of equipment that is permanently wired to a supply point or fitted with a CEE-form plug, provided that certain other conditions are also complied with. Refer to the COP for full details.)

Likewise, a standard high current earth continuity test (typically at 25 A or 8 A) may cause damage if the test current (or a part of it) flows through internal signal earth wiring conductors or circuit board tracks that are not intended (nor required) to carry large earth fault currents. In case of any doubt, the earth continuity testing should be carried out at a reduced current, typically 200 mA.

The inspections and tests do not include the permanent electrical installation of the building, which is subject to other requirements for inspection and testing as prescribed (in the UK) by BS 7671 − see Condition report.

For further information on safety see the Safety page. See also Class I, Class II, Direct contact and Indirect contact.

Patch (1)

To connect together two or more items of equipment, usually items located close together. Or, to make connections that incorporate additional item(s) of equipment into a system.

Patch (2)

In electronically generated sounds (e.g. electronic keyboards), a combination of settings that gives rise to a particular type of sound. Patches are usually stored in banks. See also Voicing (2).

Patch bay or Patchbay

An item of equipment whose purpose is to provide a convenient and flexible method of arranging signal paths so as to make the desired interconnections between several items of equipment. They are most commonly used in large systems and in recording and broadcast studios. Each panel of an audio patch bay usually consists of two rows of jack sockets (often B-type ones), the upper row being fed from signal sources and the lower row feeding signal destinations. Examples of use would be to provide flexibility in the interconnection of a multicore to a mixer, or in the assignment of effects units to mixer channels.

When no jacks are inserted, usually each upper-row jack is automatically routed to the lower-row jack beneath it, but by use of patch cables this routing can be rearranged as required. There are several variations on what the effect of inserting a jack in the upper or the lower row will be − see normalling for details. A less common design of patch bay additionally has an intermediate 'monitor' row, into which jacks can be inserted without any effect on the signal routing.

However, the term 'patch bay' is also sometimes used to refer to the complete set of connectors (of any type) on a large item of equipment such as mixer.

Patch cable

A short cable for use with a patch bay, or for connecting adjacent items of equipment. Also referred to as a patch cord (US term).


See Patch bay.


The particular route that something takes, or may potentially take. For example, the route that an electric current takes, most usually through an intentionally provided conductor such as within a wire or a cable − though unintentional paths can and sometimes do occur (see, for example, Short circuit). Or, the route that a signal takes − see Signal path. Or, the route that sound waves take. See also Routing and Signal chain.

Pattern of response

See Polar response.


A picobar, a unit of pressure equal to one millionth of a millionth of a bar, or to one millionth of a Ábar. The pbar is a unit sometimes used for quoting sound pressure levels (SPL), as the bar is very much too large for that purpose. One pbar is equivalent to 0.1 ÁPa. See also Pascal and dB SPL on the Decibels page.


An abbreviation for 'printed circuit board'. The flat surface, internal to an item of equipment, onto which the electronic components that make up the circuit are mounted.

Interconnections between the components are made by printed copper 'tracks' on the board, to which the components are connected by soldering. Single-sided PCBs have tracks on one surface only, double-sided PCBs have tracks on both surfaces, and multi-layer PCBs have internal layers of tracks, as well as tracks on the two surfaces. Through-hole components are usually mounted on just the 'top' surface of the board, their leads or pins beings threaded through holes to secure the component and to connect with the tracks on the underside. Surface-mounted components may be mounted on any tracked surface of the board.


An abbreviation for 'pulse code modulation'.


An abbreviation for 'pulse density modulation'.


An abbreviation for 'power distribution unit', an alternative term for a mains distribution unit − see MDU.


An abbreviation for 'protective earth', most often used as a means to identify terminals intended for the connection of protective earth (safety earth) conductors.


In PA work, this usually refers to the highest level reached (or expected to be reached) by a sound or by a signal, or to the highest level that an item of equipment is capable of accepting or providing whilst continuing to work normally, without clipping or excessive distortion. In this sense, the peak level of an audio programme signal will usually be significantly greater than its nominal level (which is typically the signal's average level). However, in some cases, and specifically when considering digital audio signals, the peak level is defined as the highest instantaneous value, positive or negative, reached by the signal. Level meters monitoring digital signals and using digital displays are able (in principle) to respond to individual sample values (see, however, True peak).

In contrast, level meters monitoring analogue signals, or that use analogue displays, are in general unable to respond to instantaneous signal values. As real signals often contain very short duration peaks (see Transients), the peak value registered by any particular level meter will depend upon that type of meter's ability to respond to rapid increases in level. In practice, the accepted peak value of an audio programme signal is considered to be the maximum reading given by a known type of peak-reading meter − or, less formally, simply by the type of meter provided. The lighting of an indicator marked "Peak" (or "Pk") on a mixer or an amplifier indicates that the equipment is nearing overload.

In common with other signal level measurements, in PA work peak-reading level meters are usually calibrated with reference to the indication produced by a constant level sine wave of known RMS voltage. For example, an indication of 0 dB is often arranged to be produced by a sine wave at +4 dBu (or in some cases 0 dBu). In broadcast work, however, the standard broadcast PPM scale markings of 1 to 7 (representing 4 dB per scale interval) are more commonly used.

(Note that the PA-related meanings given above are quite different to those used in electronics, where the peak value of a repetitive waveform is the highest instantaneous value (measured from zero) reached by the positive or negative crests occurring in each and every cycle − see also Crest factor.)

See also Headroom, VU and Dynamic range. Compare Trough.

Peak normalisation

A method of adjusting the relative level of two or more audio items such that their peak values are similar, or 'normalised'. This approach has been popular during the so-called loudness wars and enables all items to be handled within 'physical' constraints on maximum signal level. However, it has the significant disadvantage that different types of programme material may have similar peak levels but very different levels of perceived loudness. For pre-recorded material there is therefore a trend away from peak normalisation towards loudness normalisation. See also LUFS.

Peak programme meter

See PPM.

Peaking response

Describes an equaliser facility that provides control over a range of frequencies, limited by both a lower and an upper boundary, but have little effect on frequencies outside that range. For example, a peaking response is provided by a parametric equaliser, by a sweep EQ facility and by each band of a graphic equaliser. Such equalisers are sometimes said to exhibit a 'bell curve' response, because of the bell-like shape of their frequency response curve. Some peaking response equalisers allow adjustment of the centre frequency, and some also allow adjustment of the Q. See also Bandpass and Bandstop. Compare Shelving response.


Describes a signal whose peak level is much higher than its average level. See also Headroom, PPM, VU and Dynamic range.


An effects unit intended to be placed on the floor and operated with the foot. Used mostly with electric guitars, but also with electric basses and with acoustic guitars that are equipped with pick-ups. Sometimes referred to by the slang term 'stomp box' (but see also Stomp box (2)). See also True bypass and the next definition.

Pedal board

An item of equipment, placed on the floor, which accommodates several pedals. It may also incorporate a power supply for the pedals, and/or provide a facility for the audio interconnections between them.


An abbreviation for 'parametric equaliser', or, less often for 'preset equaliser'.

Perceived volume (Perceived level)

See Loudness (1).

Perceptual coding

A lossy compression algorithm that utilises the way in which sounds are perceived by the human auditory system (hearing) − particularly the masking phenomenon. Such techniques are heavily used in the MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 Layer 3 (MP3) and AAC compression standards. See also ATRAC and Psychoacoustics.


The class of musical instruments that produce sound by being hit, but do not employ strings under tension. They may be divided into those with a specific pitch, which is sometimes adjustable, and those that produce sounds without an obvious pitch. Whilst drums theoretically fall within the class of percussion instruments, for the purposes of some bands who need rather more than the 'standard' drums and the usual associated cymbals and high hats, the additional instruments may be arranged separately from the standard drum kit and be played by a separate person. In such cases the term 'percussion' is often used to refer to that set of additional instruments, to make a distinction from the standard drum kit. See also Cajon, Conga, Cow bell, Djembe, Floor tom, Rack tom, Kick, Snare and the next definition.


Describes any sound that has a rapid and very dominant attack, such as is produced by percussion instruments.


The time taken for one complete cycle of a repetitive waveform. This can be calculated (as a value in seconds) by dividing 1 by the frequency in Hz. For example, a 200 Hz signal has a period of 1200 second, or 5 ms. See also Wavelength.

Periodic inspection (and test)

A formal procedure of inspecting and testing a fixed electrical installation, usually occurring at regular intervals of between 1 and 5 years (depending on the circumstances). For the UK, the procedure is defined in BS 7671, which is produced by the IET. Although testing is also involved, this procedure is often referred to as a 'periodic inspection'. Such inspections are necessary in order to assess the condition of the installation and its safety for continued use. The results of the inspection, including an overall assessment of 'satisfactory' or 'unsatisfactory' are formally reported to the relevant person(s) by means of an electrical installation condition report (EICR) − see Condition report.


A supplementary item of equipment, connected to the main unit in order to provide additional or enhanced functionality. Most frequently used in the context of computer equipment. For example, a printer and an external hard drive are peripherals.



Personal mixing

A facility that enables each performer to create their own individual monitor mix, for use with in-ear monitors, headphones, or floor monitors (wedges). See also the next definition.

Personal monitoring

An arrangement in which one or more monitors are provided that are each targeted at just one performer. On a large stage, with well-spaced performers, these may be large floor monitors, or in a more compact stage arangement they may be smaller stand-mounted speakers operating at relatively low sound levels. Alternatively the term is sometimes used to refer to an in-ear monitoring arrangement. See also the previous definition.

PF (p.f.)

An abbreviation for 'power factor'. (But see also the next definition.)


An abbreviation for 'picofarad', a million-millionth (10−12) of a farad. (But see also the previous definition.)


An abbreviation for 'power factor correction'.


An abbreviation for 'pre-fade listening'. A facility of a mixer, allowing the operator to listen, via headphones, to the sound being handled by an individual channel, selection of channels, or group, regardless of the setting of the channel or group fader. See also AFL and Solo.

Phantom power

An arrangement whereby DC power is supplied through a balanced interconnection between equipment, without disturbing the signal being carried by that connection. It is usually used to allow a mixer to supply the power required by condenser microphones and active DI boxes.

Mixers that provide phantom powering usually allow this facility to be switched on or off as required. On smaller mixers a single global switch is generally provided, whereas larger mixers often provide a separate switch for each channel. To avoid causing high-level transients which may damage speakers and/or create unexpectedly high sound levels, such switches should not be operated while the affected channel(s) are routed to speakers (whether main or monitors) or to in-ear monitors. For similar reasons, once phantom power is activated on a channel, no connections at any point in cabling leading to the microphone input of that channel should be made or disconnected without first muting the channel.

In the most common phantom powering scheme, as provided by most types of PA mixers to power microphones and DI boxes, the positive side of the powering voltage is applied equally to the hot and cold signal connections of the balanced circuit (pins 2 and 3 of a standard XLR microphone connector), via independent feed resistors. The negative side of the voltage is applied to the screen connection (pin 1). (The term 'phantom power' arises because the powering voltage is 'invisible' to equipment connected across the two signal connections, because they both carry exactly the same voltage.)

So, it can be seen that any channel that has phantom power present on its input must only be driven from a balanced source. (If an unbalanced source were used − typically connected between pin 2 and pin 1 − the phantom voltage would be applied across the source, which may cause damage to that equipment. This remains true regardless of whether or not pin 3 is linked to pin 1.)

As some microphones are designed for low voltages of phantom power, to avoid damage always check the requirements of your microphones before connecting. For example, microphones having a digital output may use the 10 volt DPP standard specified by AES42. The most usual specification for analogue-output microphones, DIN EN 61938 (formerly known as DIN 45596 or IEC 61938), specifies a nominal voltage of 12, 24 or 48 volts DC, but the 48 volt version (known as P48) is by far the most popular. This allows a supply source voltage range of 44 to 52 volts (including the allowance for loading of the source by the devices connected). Whilst some microphones can accommodate a very wide range of supply voltages (e.g. 9 to 52) with little change in performance, others (especially professional studio mics) are intended to operate only within a much smaller range. (The current drawn by a microphone will inevitably reduce the voltage actually reaching it − usually to well below the 44 volt minimum source voltage for P48 − due to the voltage drop across the two 6.8 kilohm feed resistors, which are effectively in parallel. However, the design of the microphone should take this reduction into account, and the supply voltage range quoted in its specifications will normally be the source voltage range, unless stated otherwise.)

Also, care must be taken to ensure that the total current demand of all the phantom-powered devices connected to a mixer does not exceed the total phantom power current available from the mixer. The current demand of a single condenser microphone is typically 2 to 5 mA, but the P48 standard allows up to 10 mA per mic to be drawn.

As ribbon microphones can be seriously damaged by the mis-application of phantom power, it is best to avoid phantom power when using this type of microphone.

As a final word of warning, take care when using microphone splitters (or split outputs of mixers), that the intended mixer is providing the phantom power, and that the phantom power supplied by one mixer is not fed into the microphone input(s) of another if this might cause damage.

Phase (1)

The timing relationship between two or more varying quantities, usually the instantaneous voltages of two signals or the instantaneous wave pressures of two sounds, considered as a proportion of one complete cycle of variation. This definition means that, strictly, the term should only be used when comparing sine-wave signals or sounds of the same frequency; it is not strictly meaningful in reference to the complex multi-frequency audio signals and sounds generally encountered in practice.

However, in common usage, the expression 'in phase' is used to describe two complex quantities whose instantaneous variations happen at essentially the same time, at the relevant point(s) of observation. If, however, there is some relative time delay between their variations, then the quantities are said to be 'out of phase'; this is misleading because in such a case the extent of the phase difference between them (as a proportion of a cycle) will be different for each of their various frequency components (see Comb filter).

Confusion often arises because the expression 'out of phase' (or 'in anti-phase') is also used to refer to a relative reversal of polarity, in the absence of any timing difference. In such a case, the variations between the two quantities are exactly opposite at all frequencies − i.e. as the instantaneous value of one quantity changes in a positive direction, the other changes in a negative direction. (This confusion of terminology arises because, in the case of a sine wave, a reversal of polarity is indistinguishable from a time delay equivalent to half a cycle of change.)

Phase is important in two respects:

Phase differences between the current and voltage of an AC mains supply are expressed in terms of power factor. See also Phase shift, Comb filter, Phase response and Group delay.

Phase (2)

An effect sometimes used with guitars to improve the "interest" of the sound. It operates by introducing a change in phase (1) to a narrow band of frequencies, the affected band being continuously varied through the required frequency range.

Phase (3)

The mains supply to large buildings is usually delivered on three line conductors rather than just one. This arrangement is termed a "3-phase supply", because there is a phase difference (of 120║) between the voltages on each of these three conductor, with respect to Neutral (or to safety earth). This arrangement allows thinner supply cables to be used, because only one Neutral conductor is needed, shared by all three line conductors. Further, it allows for the use of equipment requiring this kind of supply, such as some electric motors.

However, each low-power circuit in the electrical installation (such as socket-outlet circuits for low-power audio equipment such as mixers) takes its supply from just one of the three phases. The line conductor ('live' conductor) of such a single phase circuit is connected to the selected line conductor of the incoming supply (via appropriate switching and circuit protection devices), and the Neutral of the circuit is connected to the common Neutral conductor of the incoming supply.

A significant issue for PA systems is that if interference from the mains supply is a problem, and the building has a 3-phase supply, then sometimes a solution can be found by taking the power for single-phase PA systems from outlets that are supplied from a different phase to the one supplying the source of interference.

However circuits providing very large amounts of power, such as those supplying large stage lighting systems or very large PA systems, use all three phases − often connected through CEE-form connectors (always coloured red). For current ratings greater than 125 amps, single-pole connectors such as the Snaplock, Powerlock or Camlock types are usually employed.

In the UK, the three phases have, until 2004, been identified as the 'Red', 'Yellow' and 'Blue' phases, but with the change to use brown, black and grey colourings (to harmonise with Europe), the official identification is now L1, L2 and L3. Furthermore, the Neutral conductor, previously identified in the UK by the colour black, is now identified by blue. All new permanent wiring and all temporary installations must use the new identification scheme. (The UK colour for safety earth remains green and yellow striped − or just green for some single-pole connectors.)

WARNING: This means that black may identify a Neutral or a live line conductor, and blue may also identify a Neutral or a live line conductor, depending on which identification scheme is in use. When an installation has a mixture of the old and new schemes, extreme caution must be applied to ensure that all conductors are correctly identified.

Caution: The 'new' colours referred to above relate only to the UK and to European countries that have adopted the 'harmonised' identification scheme. Other countries are likely to employ other schemes, possibly involving different uses of the colours mentioned above. For example, in the USA the standard scheme for 208 V 3-phase is black, red and blue for L1, L2 and L3, with white for Neutral, while for 480 V 3-phase it is brown, orange and yellow for L1, L2 and L3, with grey for Neutral; in both of these cases the colour for safety earth is green or green and yellow striped.

For safety reasons, never interfere with an electrical installation or with power distribution equipment unless you are competent to do so safely, have the correct tools and test equipment and have the permission of the person responsible for it. WARNING: In the UK, where the normal mains supply is at 230 volts (previously 240), the voltage between any two line conductors of a 3-phase mains supply (e.g. between L1 and L2) is nominally 400 volts (previously 415). This is a very dangerous voltage.

Caution: When connecting or disconnecting to or from a live 3-phase supply (for example by inserting or removing a 4-pole CEE-form connector), there is a possibility that the connections of two or more of the phases may momentarily make contact without the Neutral connection. This could potentially reult in serious damage to any equipment currently connected to the distribution arrangement that is being connected or disconnected. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the supply to the relevant point of connection (e.g. CEE-form outlet) should be switched off before making the connection to it or disconnecting from it. Alternatively, all current-using equipment should be completely isolated from the distribution arrangement (e.g. by unplugging) before connecting or disconnecting the arrangement to/from a live 3-phase supply. (It is not sufficient to merely ensure that the equipment switches are in the Off position.) See also MCB, RCD, Distro and Rigging motor. Compare Single phase.

Phase-angle control

A method commonly used for dimming incandescent lamps that operate at mains voltage, such as are commonly employed in lanterns for stage lighting. In this method, a reduction in the average power applied to the lamp, and therefore in the lamp's perceived brightness, is obtained by applying only a part of each half-cycle of the supply to the lamp. The conventional method of achieving this has been to vary the point in time, within each half-cycle of the supply waveform, at which the supply is applied to the lamp; this is referred to as 'leading edge dimming'. An alternative method is to vary the point, within each half-cycle, at which the supply is removed from the lamp. The latter arrangement, termed 'reverse phase-angle control' or 'trailing edge dimming', is much less common but is potentially able to offer improved performance. In either case, the switching on and off of the supply to the lamp is usually performed by a triac within the dimmer unit.

Such dimmer-controlled supplies are not suitable for powering other kinds of lamps (unless specifically indicated as dimmable), or for powering any other equipment. In particular, most LED lanterns cannot be dimmed by external dimmer units; dimming of these lanterns is usually performed by an internal dimming function under DMX control, that uses a different method to vary the average power (see LED).

Poor quality or faulty dimming units are liable to produce radio-frequency interference (RFI) and/or mains-coupled interference that may adversely affect PA systems. See also Dimmer pack.

Phase conductor

See Live conductor.

Phase linear

See Linear phase response.

Phase response

An indication of the way in which the phase shift through a system varies according to the applied frequency. See also Linear phase response and Group delay.

Phase reversal

A term normally used to describe a signal changing from an in-phase condition to an anti-phase condition, or vice-versa, relative to some reference phase. Such a change will usually be the result of an intentional or accidental reversal of polarity in an interconnection, or of the operation of a 'Phase' switch on a mixer or other item of equipment. Another possible cause is the re-positioning of a microphone, for example from above to below a snare drum.

[Strictly, this term is a misnomer because in strict terms 'phase' relates to a timing difference (as a specific proportion of a cycle), and not to the relative direction of the signal voltage. Further, it could be argued that phase (in its strict sense) cannot be 'reversed' (except, perhaps, in relation to swapping over two identical-frequency signals that have a timing difference equivalent to a 180║ difference in phase of their fundamental − which is not what is usually meant!). The normal usage described above arose because it is useful to reserve the term 'polarity reversal' for the physical swapping of the poles or signal wires of an interconnection, requiring the need for another term to describe the equivalent 'voltage direction reversal' effect on a signal (which may have been caused electronically, without any such physical swapping of connections). The term 'phase reversal' is deemed to be appropriate because in the case of a symmetrical repetitive waveform such as a sine wave, a reversal of voltage direction is indistinguishable from a true phase shift of 180 degrees.] See also Balanced.

Phase shift

The difference in phase between the output and input of a system, at a particular frequency. Phase shift is usually measured in degrees (360║ being one complete cycle). See also Phase response.

Phase switch

A switch provided on a mixer channel to enable a deliberate polarity reversal to be introduced into the signal − for further details see Phase (1) (especially the 2nd bullet).


Describes (subjectively) musical sound that is rich in 'body' and 'depth'. Pronounced the same as 'fat'. See also Ballsy. Compare Thin.

Phoenix connector

A slang term for a style of multiway in-line connector having exposed screw-operated clamp terminals for the insertion of the stripped conductors of individual wires. This style of connector is available in several sizes (number of poles) and current ratings. Phoenix are one of several manufacturers of this style of connector, however they also manufacture other styles of connectors and other products. Compare Barrier strip.

View Phoenix connector image (5-pole equipment connector)


A quantified measure of loudness − the level of sound as perceived by an average human ear. It is not the same as the sound pressure level (SPL), because the ear does not have a flat frequency response. It is expressed in decibels, by attributing the value of sound pressure level (in dB SPL) of a 1 kHz sine wave (or narrow-band noise centred on 1 kHz) to the perceived loudness of that tone and to that same perceived loudness of a sound of any other frequency.

So, whilst a 1 kHz tone at, say, 90 dB SPL will always have a loudness of 90 phons, an SPL level of more or less than this may be required to achieve a loudness of 90 phons at other frequencies. Furthermore, the amount by which the SPL differs from the loudness depends not only on the frequency but also on the sound level. The frequency at which the ear is most sensitive is around 2.5 to 3 kHz. See also A-weighting and Sone.

Phone jack

A term that is used by different people, or in different circumstances, to refer to several different types of connector. In terms of audio connectors, it usually refers to either a A-type or a B-type jack − for details see Jack. It may also refer to a telephone connector − see BT431a.


An abbreviation for either headphones or earphones.

Phono (1)

A type of connector sometimes used for unbalanced screened connections. Its main use is in line-level audio connections (but also for video and digital audio signals) on consumer 'Hi-Fi' and television equipment. Professional applications are limited. Beware − because of the consumer market usage, versions of very doubtful quality are widely available!

The following colour-coding conventions for phono connections are often (but not universally) used:

Its name derives from its initial use as a means of connecting a "phonograph" (an antiquated term for a record deck, or turntable) to other equipment. Also called an RCA connector, after the company which originally designed it, and sometimes a Cinch connector, after one of the first companies to manufacture it. Occasionally called a pin jack (USA term).

View Phono image

Phono (2)

An input intended ONLY for the connection of a record deck (turntable) pick-up. Usually provided as a pair of inputs, for stereo pick-ups. The internal pre-amplifier circuitry to which they are connected inside the equipment provides the special fixed equalisation (known as RIAA equalisation) that is needed for the proper reproduction of recordings on vinyl. Most phono inputs are high impedance types, suitable only for the connection of moving-magnet (MM) pick-up cartridges. Moving-coil (MC) cartridges, which are capable of a higher sound quality, are low impedance sources and require the use of a suitable pre-amplifier or matching transformer.

Phono equalisation


Pick-up (1), Pickup

The part of a musical instrument (most commonly a guitar or electric bass) that converts the vibration of the strings (and body) of the instrument into an electrical signal, for connection to a means of amplification. Or, a device attached to an instrument to serve that function. There are two basic types:

A passive pick-up has no amplification of the signal within the instrument, and so requires no power source. Some varieties have a very low output level or a high output impedance, and these types may be unsuitable for connection to a passive DI box without use of a pre-amplifier, otherwise a loss of sound quality will result. Passive pick-ups usually operate on magnetic principles. A specific design of magnetic pick-up is the humbucker type, popular for some makes of electric guitar. A small dynamic microphone may sometimes be used.

An active pick-up provides some amplification of the signal within the instrument, and so requires a source of power (usually a battery in a compartment built into the instrument, or in a bodypack). Substantial facilities for the adjustment of tone may also be provided, as compared to the simple tone control often provided with a passive pick-up arrangement. In some cases this is a small graphic equaliser. Active types may usually be connected directly to any type of DI box without any problems, and may operate on either magnetic or capacitative principles. A small dynamic microphone or condenser microphone may sometimes be used. See also Humbucker and Divided pickup.

Pick-up (2)

The ability of a microphone to adequately convert sounds into electrical signals, or the extent of such ability. For further details see Sensitivity and the next definition. See also Polar response.

Pick-up angle

The angle through which a microphone is usefully responsive to sounds, measured as the total angle from one side of the microphone to the other. This angle will be mostly governed by the polar response of the microphone at each of the frequencies present in the sound, but may also be affected by the distance between the microphone and the sound source. The limits of the pick-up angle are usually taken as being the points where the sensitivity of the microphone has dropped by 3 dB from the on-axis sensitivity, at some reference frequency. For some typical figures see Cardioid, Super-cardioid and Hyper-cardioid. Also called the 'angle of acceptance'.

Pick-up pattern

See Polar response.


A prefix indicating one million-millionth (10−12). It is abbreviated to 'p'. For example, a picovolt (pV) is one million-millionth of a volt, and a picobar (pbar) is one million-millionth of a bar.


An abbreviation for 'piezo-electric'. The effect exhibited by certain materials (especially ceramics) in which an applied voltage creates a physical force (and therefore the potential for movement) and in which an applied physical force generates a voltage. These two aspects of the piezo-electric effect may, respectively, be used to create drivers or microphones.

Such drivers are generally only useful at high audio (and ultrasonic) frequencies, but as they are limited in power output, and have a high minimum usable frequency, their use in professional full-range PA systems is generally restricted to speakers in which the mid-range is handled by one or more separate drivers. They are sometimes used to provide an extended treble response in speakers intended for disco use and similar applications, when the horns that are used have an upper frequency limit that would be inadequate. Due to their very low cost and minimal crossover requirements, some budget PA speakers employ piezo-electric horns as the sole complement to the woofer.

Piezo-electric microphones are generally unsuitable as conventional microphones for use in PA systems, and are restricted to specialist applications such as contact microphones.

Pilot tone (Pilot signal)

An inaudible supplementary signal that is transmitted by a radio microphone transmitter, along with the audio signal. Its purposes vary from system to system, but usually include conveying to the receiver information such as the presence (within usable range) of a compatible switched-on transmitter, the identity of the transmitter, the state of charge of the transmitter's battery and/or the position of the transmitter's mute switch. See also Squelch.


Literally, a projecting contact pole of a connector. In many types of connector, the pins are shrouded by part of the connector's shell in order to provide mechanical protection against damage when the connector is not mated. Connectors that make all or most of their connections by means of pins are usually described as 'male'. However, the term 'pin' is also frequently used to refer to a specific connecting pole of a connector, regardless of the connector's gender − see, for example, the following two definitions. For further information see Pole.

Pin 1 problem

A term that refers to the situation in which poor equipment design results in the introduction of noise (usually hum and/or radio-frequency interference) when, under particular circumstances, a connection is made to the signal earth terminal of a balanced signal connector on the affected item of equipment. This problem can arise when, internal to the equipment, the signal earth terminal of such a connector has been wired to signal earth at a point somewhere within the equipment's circuitry, rather than being connected directly to the metallic equipment chassis at the immediate location of the connector. This is poor design because:

It is sometimes suggested that these problems could be avoided by disconnecting the screen from the signal earth terminal inside the connector at one end of the cable. However, this is not addressing the source of the problem and can lead to similar difficulties of its own, in particular:

To avoid the "pin 1 problem" at source, the signal earth terminal of all balanced input and output connectors on audio equipment should be internally connected direct to the earthed chassis immediately adjacent to the connector (using the shortest possible length of wire), and to nowhere else. In this way, the cable screen and the metallic equipment enclosure effectively act as one piece, surrounding both the signal pair of the cable and the internal circuitry of the equipment against RFI, and screen currents are kept away from the signal paths through the equipment. Although some equipment manufacturers do adopt this practice, many do not. Therefore, a large amount of potentially problematic equipment is currently in use. Whether or not a particular item of equipment exhibits any problems will depend not only on its design but also on the circumstances of use.

Equipment that is potentially vulnerable to pin 1 related hum problems can be identified by using a test device to force a substantial audio-frequency current to flow between the signal earth connection of each balanced audio connector on the equipment (in turn) and the equipment chassis, and monitoring the equipment output(s) to evaluate to what extent the applied signal is present there, at various settings of the equipment controls. A popular form of such a test device applies a current-limited low-voltage mains-frequency signal, and is therefore referred to as a 'hummer'.

When equipment is found to have this problem, and modification of the equipment is not a practical option, for XLR connectors one 'work-around' approach that is sometimes effective is to connect the cable screen to the shell of the connector that mates with the equipment, instead of to pin 1 of that connector. However, this method relies on a good electrical contact between the shell of the connector and the metallic body of the equipment's connector, and also on the body of the equipment's connector having good electrical contact with its earthed chassis. Also, remember that this work-around cannot permanently correct a "pin 1 problem", as the signal earth terminal wiring of the equipment's connector remains flawed. [To try out this work-around conveniently, it can be useful to make a special short XLR extension cable that has the screen connected to pin 1 (only) at one end and to the shell (only) at the other end; be sure to label it accordingly! N.B. Two versions will be required: for inputs a version with the shell connection at the male end, and for outputs a version with the shell connection at the female end − be sure to label which cable is which! If this is found to be effective, it is strongly recommended that, unless the installation is a permanent one, the work-around is implemented by use of a sufficient number of labelled short adaptor cables of this type, rather than by a modification to the longer cables that connect with the problematic equipment. This will allow those longer, normally wired, cables to be used elsewhere on other occasions without problems.]

This issue was so-named because pin 1 of an XLR is used for the signal earth connection through that type of connector. It was first documented by Neil Muncy.

Pin 2 hot

This refers to the standard convention, adhered to by all modern audio equipment, that pin 2 of 3-pin XLR connectors carrying balanced audio signals is used for the 'hot' connection of the balanced pair. By inference, pin 3 of such an XLR is used for the 'cold' connection.

Pin jack

See Phono (1).

Pink noise

A particular type of noise, whose level decreases with increasing frequency in such a way that each octave of the audible frequency range contains the same amount of noise power. It is intentionally generated for use in assessing the acoustics of rooms and in assessing the power handling capability of speakers, because it has a power/frequency distribution that is similar to that of actual programme material. See also White noise and IEC noise.

Pitch (1)

The musical term for the perceived fundamental frequency of a single note produced by a musical instrument or sung. Because the ear responds logarithmically to frequency (as well as to sound level), pitch is not measured in Hertz (Hz) but on a logarithmic scale, using tones, semitones and octaves. Within each octave, the basic notes of a musical scale are indicated by a letter from 'A' to 'G', with the addition of 5 extra notes called 'sharps' and 'flats'. The particular octave to which a note belongs is indicated by a single digit following the note letter, the first octave being numbered '0'. In this system, each octave starts with the note 'C' (not 'A'). Only A0, Bb0 and B0 from octave '0' appear on a full-sized acoustic piano; the first 'C' appearing is C1. To the nearest Hz, the approximate fundamental frequencies of the 'C' notes on such a piano tuned to concert pitch are as follows:

  C1     C2     C3     C4  
(middle C)
  C5     C6     C7   C8
33 65 131 262 523 1047  2093   4186 

The strings of a standard 6-string guitar are conventionally tuned to E2 (82 Hz), A2 (110 Hz), D3 (147 Hz), G3 (196 Hz), B3 (245 Hz) and E4 (330 Hz) − their frequencies are quoted to the nearest Hz. (These are of course the 'open string', i.e. unfretted, pitches. The pitch of a fretted string will in each case be higher.) See also Middle C, Cent, Harmonic, Bass (1) and Bass (2).

Pitch (2)

A distance, especially the spacing between the members of a set of identical objects points, etc. that are spaced at regular intervals. In regard to an LED display screen, the pitch is the spacing between the screen's pixels.


An abbreviation for 'picture element' (or possibly for 'picture cell'). On a display screen, a pixel is the smallest area of the screen that may be independently controlled. Screen images are constructed of rows and columns of these units, each of which has a single brightness, colour and saturation. The greater the number of pixels that are accommodated by a display of a given size, the better the resolution of the images produced − see, for example, VGA. See also LCD and HDTV.


An abbreviation for 'projector', typically referring to a video projector.


An abbreviation for 'peak'.


Describes something that is flat, especially a driver which uses a flat diaphragm rather than a cone. This type of driver is very rarely encountered in PA systems.


An abbreviation for 'Professional Lighting and Sound Association'. Their website is: www.plasa.org (opens in a new window or tab). See also ISCE and AES.

Plate (1)

A type of reverberation effect, so called because it may be produced by passing sound vibrations through a metal plate (though the effect is now usually produced digitally). See also Spring line and Hall.

Plate (2)

An American term for an anode.

Plate microphone

An alternative name for a boundary microphone.

Platform (1)

A raised area or stage. See also Dais.

Platform (2)

A system onto (or into) which may be installed a variety of apps or equipment modules. The term is often used to refer to an operating system. See also Modular and Plug-in.

Plenum cable

See CPR (2) and LSF.


The trademarked name of a transparent plastic sheet material, sometimes used in the construction of on-stage items such as drum screens. Often incorrectly spelled 'plexiglass'. Generically known as PMMA (poly methyl methacrylate).


The sound generated by a breath blast. This is a clever term, in that saying it generates the sound that it refers to − while at the same time being an abbreviation of 'explosion' (which, technically, is what happens at the lips during such a sound, when air under pressure is suddenly released). Compare Popping. See also Windshield.


An abbreviation of 'sound plot' or of 'lighting plot'.


An abbreviated name for Projection, Lights and Staging News, an on-line news magazine for the professional stage lighting industry (not UK-specific). Their website is plsn.com (opens in a new window or tab). See also FOH and EPD.


A connector that is attached to a cable. This term may be applied to such a connector regardless of its gender. Note, however, that the term 'socket' may sometimes be applied to such a connector if it is of the female gender. Compare Socket.


An optional additional item of software that may be installed in order to enhance the capability of an app or of software-controlled equipment such as a digital mixer, for example by providing specific additional signal processing facilities such as effects. See also DAW, SAC, Accelerator and Platform (2).


An abbreviation for 'production manager'. See also PA and SM.


An abbreviation for 'programme memory area', the area on a recordable audio compact disc (CD-R) or on a re-writable audio compact disc (CD-RW) that stores information about where on the disc the recorded tracks can be found, prior to the disc being finalised.


An abbreviation for 'protective multiple earthing'. See TN−C−S.


An abbreviation for 'peak music power' − see PMPO.


An abbreviation for 'peak music-power output'. A measurement of the power handling capacity of equipment (usually amplifiers or speakers) that takes into account the fluctuating level of real programme signals. PMPO figures are higher than 'continuous' or so-called 'RMS' power figures for the same equipment (particularly in the case of speakers), because the equipment is able to provide (or accept) a fluctuating signal having a peak power level greater than the power level that could be provided (or accepted) if the signal being handled had a constant level. For more information see Power Ratings on the Amplifiers and Speakers page.


An abbreviation for 'programme-making and special events'. A designation given to the allocation of radio-frequency spectrum for radio microphones, in-ear monitoring systems, etc. (whether licensed or licence-free) for entertainment and sports events purposes. This designation applies only to usage relating directly to the production of the programme or event − not to ancillary functions such as security etc. Also, the name of the organisation, operating under the control of Ofcom, responsible for the issuing of licences for radio microphones, in-ear monitoring systems, etc. in the UK. (This role was previously undertaken by JFMG.) Their website is pmse.co.uk (opens in a new window or tab). See also BEIRG.

Pneumatic stand

A type of microphone stand that maintains its set height without using a manually tightened clamp in the vertical section. The height of this type is adjusted simply by pushing down or pulling up the top section, whereas types having a clamp require the clamp to be manually loosened before adjusting the height, and tightened again afterwards. Pneumatic stands usually have a heavy base (often of cast iron), to ensure that the lower section remains on the floor when pulling up the top section to raise the height of the stand.


An abbreviation for 'plug and play', a term often used to describe an item of equipment or software that can be readily incorporated into an existing compatible system, by a simple process of connecting it or installing it, without any involved setting-up procedures being required (for basic operation). Pronounced "pee-in-pee".

Point source speaker

See Concentric.

Polar pattern

See Polar response.

Polar response

The pattern of sensitivity of a microphone or a speaker, showing the changes in sensitivity as one moves around the device from the front, to one side, to the back, to the other side and back to the front, whilst maintaining a constant distance from it. So, the polar response indicates the extent and nature of the microphone's directionality, and is an important factor to consider in microphone technique. The polar response of a particular microphone varies according to the frequency of the sound and may also be affected to some degree by the distance between the microphone and the sound source.

The three basic polar response patterns are omni-directional, uni-directional and bidirectional. Uni-directional types are available in several patterns, including subcardioid, cardioid, super-cardioid, hyper-cardioid and rifle. These responses are described in the Omni-directional or Uni-directional section on the Microphones page. See also Pick-up angle, Pressure gradient microphone, Distance factor and End-firing. For more information on microphones see the Microphones page.

View uni-directional polar responses illustration


The "way-roundness" of something, usually of the wiring at an electrical connection or of the voltage carried on an interconnection. Correct polarity is often very important − for example in the connections of power supplies (mains and DC) and in the connection of speakers to power amplifiers (regarding the latter, see Phase (1)). For information on reversals of polarity, see the next definition.

Polarity reversal

The situation that exists when the polarity of an interconnection is reversed (whether intentionally or accidentally), for example by swapping over the 'hot' and 'cold' conductors of a balanced interconnection or the '+' and '−' connections of a speaker cable. Or, the situation that exists when an inversion is applied to a signal, so that positive changes in instantaneous voltage become negative ones, and vice versa, for example by operation of a Phase switch on a mixer. The term 'phase reversal' is sometimes used to mean a polarity reversal.

To assist in the avoidance of accidental reversals of polarity, the insulation of cable conductors is usually colour coded, and connectors are physically polarised and have their poles identified with appropriate markings (see, for example, XLR and Speakon).

In the case of a signal interconnection such as a balanced line or the connections to a speaker, the effect of a polarity reversal is to cause the signal to be received in so-called anti-phase relative to the original (or 'correct') polarity. In regard to audio signals, such a reversal would usually be unimportant if all related signals (if any) were also reversed, because the ear is largely insensitive to the polarity of sound waves. However, nearly all audio systems involve multiple related signals (e.g. multiple speaker feeds) and polarity reversal of a subset of such signals would usually cause problems, such as destructive interference. (Regarding speaker polarity, see Phase (1).)

In the case of a supply of power (whether mains or DC), the effect of incorrect polarity could be a serious risk of fire or electric shock, and/or serious damage to equipment, so the supply polarity should never be reversed unless you are certain that it is presently incorrect and that such a reversal would correct the original error at the same point in the supply at which that error occurred. (This is because a 'double reversal' may give rise to confusion and further danger.) A reversal of mains supply polarity is sometimes suggested as a means to reduce hum problems; this should only ever be performed by reversal of a non-polarised mains connector (however, such an approach is unlikely to effectively address the underlying source of the problem). See also Pair and Live (1).


In relation to radio microphones, a term used to describe the orientation of the radio waves. Vertically polarised radio waves have a vertically-oriented electric field, and use a vertical aerial for transmission and reception − this is the norm for radio microphones. Horizontally polarised radio waves have a horizontally-oriented electric field, and use a horizontal aerial for transmission and reception. In relation to connectors, see the next definition.


Describes something whose polarity is significant. For example, a polarised connector is one that is designed in such a way that it can be mated in only one physical orientation, in order to avoid a reversal of polarityi.e. a 'non-reversible' connector. A polarised electronic component such as a polarised electrolytic capacitor must be connected with the correct polarity, otherwise it may explode. See also Non-polarised connector and Non-polarised electrolytic capacitor.


A conducting part of a connector or of a switch; usually one of several such parts, electrically insulated from each other. For example, a connector that has the facility for making connections for three independent conductors would be described as '3-pole'. Note that most multi-way connectors, e.g. XLRs and DIN connectors (but with the exception of the SCART), exclude the shell from the count of poles, whereas coaxial connectors such as phonos and BNCs include it. The jack connector is not classed as coaxial and does not have a shell; all of its conductors are counted as poles. In the case of some multi-way connectors (such as the DIN connector), the term 'pin' is sometimes informally used in place of 'pole', even for female connectors; e.g. '3-pin socket'. See also Hot, Cold, Signal earth, TRS and Core.

Pole cup

An alternative name for a top hat.


Describes a sound source (usually a musical instrument) that is capable of producing several different notes at the same time (e.g. a keyboard). Compare Monophonic.

Pop filter (or Pop shield)

Another name for a windshield, so-named because of its ability to reduce popping.


The sound resulting from plosives entering a microphone. It is particularly evident when the distance of the microphone from the mouth is about 3 inches (7.5 cm). It can be reduced by using a windshield (also called a 'pop filter'), or by placing the microphone such that the breath blast passes above it (or, less commonly, below it).


An opening in a speaker enclosure, carefully designed to modify the bass resonances of the bass driver / enclosure combination so as to give the speaker an improved bass response. There may be several openings making up the porting system, and one or more of them may be fitted with 'tuning' tubes (usually internal to the enclosure). A ported enclosure is also called a 'reflex enclosure'. See also Thiele-Small parameters. Compare Sealed box.


A gradual change (or 'slide') in pitch between two musical notes.

Positive feedback

The situation in which a signal that is fed back to an earlier point in a signal path is in-phase with the signal that is already there, and so reinforces it. If the in-phase gain around the feedback loop is greater than unity at some frequency, then oscillation will result − usually at the frequency of greatest in-phase gain. For further details see Feedback. See also Oscillator. Compare Negative feedback.

Post (1)

A general term for 'after'. See, for example, Post-EQ, Post-fade and Post-production. Compare Pre (1).

Post (2)

Short for 'binding post'.

Post Office jack

See Jack.


Describes a signal after it has passed through the relevant equaliser (EQ) − i.e. a signal that is affected by the position of those EQ controls. For example, a particular output of a mixer might be described as 'post-EQ' if the signal it provides is affected by those controls. See also Direct output and Insert. Compare Pre-EQ.


Describes a signal after it has passed through the relevant faderi.e. a signal whose level is affected by the position of that fader. For example, a particular Aux Send control of a mixer channel strip might be described as 'post-fade' if the signal it sends is affected by the channel fader. This type of Aux Send is commonly used for sends to effects. Compare Pre-fade.


Describes the activities performed on a recording of a production, i.e. activities undertaken after the recorded production itself has finished. For example, a mixdown of the recorded tracks − see Live (4).


A slang term for a potentiometer.


A capability, whether realised or not. Another word for voltage, because the existence of a voltage implies the capability for a flow of current.

Potential acoustic gain (PAG)

The theoretical (i.e. calculated) maximum amount of gain that a PA system can achieve before the onset of acoustic feedback. The calculation is a little complex, and only gives an approximate guide to the actual gain before feedback that the system will provide. In order for the system to be able to provide sufficient amplification, the potential acoustic gain must be at least as large as the needed acoustic gain (NAG) figure.

The simplified equation for the calculation, giving a result in decibels, is:

PAG = 20 x (log D0 + log D1 − log D2 − log Ds) − 10 x (log NOM) − 6


It can be seen from the above that in order to maximise the potential acoustic gain, it is necessary to maximise D0 and D1 and to minimise D2, Ds and the number of open microphones. The figure increases by 6 dB for each doubling of D0 or D1 and for each halving of D2 or Ds. It decreases by 3 dB for each doubling of the number of open microphones. Of the four distances involved, Ds is generally the one that is most easily controlled.

By way of example, consider a system with 6 open microphones in which the needed acoustic gain is 15 dB, and the distances are as follows:

The equation with the logs of the relevant values substituted becomes:

PAG = 20 x (1.009 + 0.602 − 0.778 − (−0.699)) − 10 x (0.778) − 6

This equates to 16.86 dB so, within the limitations of this theoretical analysis, the indications are that this system should just be able to provide the needed acoustic gain.

Potential difference

Another name for voltage.

Potentiometer (Pot)

The device, inside an item of equipment, to which the knob of any control (other than a switch control) is attached − regardless of whether it is a rotary control or a slider control, and regardless of the function of the control. Often called a "pot", for short. It consists of a moveable wiper in contact with a resistive track, usually arranged to 'tap off' a proportion of the applied signal (or voltage), the proportion being dependent upon the physical position of the control knob (or slider).

A 0% setting of the control always gives 0% output and a 100% setting of the control always gives 100% output, but for intermediate settings it is more complicated. There are several possible 'laws', or 'tapers' defining how the output changes with position, but these two are the most common:

When pots become worn, damaged or internally contaminated, they often contribute a characteristic 'scratching' sound to the signal as they are adjusted. They are then described as being 'noisy', and may need to be replaced.

When replacing pots, there are other factors to take into account besides the resistance value and taper, so it is recommended to always use the equipment manufacturer's official replacement part, where possible. At the very least the new part must fit successfully, so size and pin-position (for PCB-mounted types) are important. In order for the correct knob to fit the new part, the shaft size and style must also be considered. Rotary pots are sized by diameter, most commonly 9mm, 12mm, 16mm, 20mm and 24mm. Their shafts are available in various lengths and are usually 6mm or 6.35mm diameter and are either circular, flatted, or splined. Slide pots are sized by the length of travel, most commonly 30mm, 45mm, 60mm and 100mm, though the overall length (which will be larger) is sometimes quoted. Their shafts are available in various lengths and styles. Common variants include the provision of a central or multiple detents and, on rotary types, provision of switch contacts that operate at the fully anti-clockwise position.

The most popular manufacturers of standard rotary and slide pots for pro-audio equipment are Alps and Bourns. Other commonly encountered makes are Alpha and TT Electronics.

Types that are designed for very infrequent adjustment (e.g. during manufacture or maintenance only) are referred to as trimmers or presets. These are always linear-taper rotary types. They do not have a shaft connecting to a control knob on the exterior of the equipment; adjustment is generally by use of screwdriver and access generally requires partial dismantling of the equipment (though sometimes access is provided via a hole in the equipment panel, e.g. for level meter calibration adjustments).

See also Taper, Travel, Noisy, Dirty (2), Balance control and Pan.


The usual name given to the flexible plastic bag used for the individual storage and transport of microphones, often supplied by the manufacturer with the microphone. They are usually equipped with a closure of some kind, often a zip. They are useful for protecting the mic from dust and other contaminants, but are not usually sufficiently padded to protect from drops and other mechanical shocks or pressure. Hard, foam-padded cases are much more suitable for regularly transported mics, and can hold several of them.

Power (1)

Strictly, the rate at which energy is being transferred or is being converted from one form to another. It is measured in watts, one watt being a transfer rate of one joule of energy per second. Although power can appear in many forms (motion, heat, light, etc.), in PA work we are generally only concerned with electrical power and acoustic power (i.e. sound). Electrical power that is converted into another form (usually heat) is said to be dissipated.

The amount of electrical power depends upon both the voltage and the current values. The power value (and direction) at any instant in time can be determined by multiplying together the instantaneous values of the voltage and current. This calculation always works in the case of DC, because these values are constant.

In the case of AC (e.g. for electrical supplies or for audio signals), then if both the voltage and the current are given as RMS values, multiplying these two figures together gives the average power value (often incorrectly referred to as the RMS power). As this calculation assumes that the voltage and the current are in phase with one another (unity power factor), the result it gives will be higher than a value which takes into account a phase difference. For other calculations involving power, see the Calculations page.

For more information on speaker and amplifier power ratings, see Power Ratings on the Amplifiers and Speakers page.

Acoustic power is usually expressed in terms of the sound pressure level (SPL) − see the Decibels page for further information on this. See also Sound intensity level (SIL).

Power (2)

An informal term for the electrical supply that enables active equipment to operate. Or, a term used to describe equipment associated with the provision or distribution of such a supply, e.g. "a power cable", "a power socket", etc.. The term may refer either to the mains supply or to a low-voltage AC or DC supply (including batteries), but it is always essential to ensure that the supply is of the appropriate voltage, type and polarity (for DC supplies), and is able to provide adequate current, before connecting it to the equipment. See also Power supply, Distro and Phantom power.

Power-off bypass

A feature of an effect unit. The purpose of this feature is to automatically switch the unit to bypass mode in the event of a loss of power, so that the signal path through the unit is maintained (though without the effect function).

Power amplifier (Power amp)

An amplifier whose output(s) are intended for direct connection to one or more passive speakers. Normally refers to a separate item of equipment that converts a line-level input signal (e.g. from a mixer) into an output signal of sufficient voltage and current-supplying capability to drive one or more speakers at a specified power level. Such an item of equipment is often simply called an 'amplifier' (or 'amp'); the term 'power amplifier' is used to distinguish this type of amplifier (which is able to supply relatively large amount of power at its output(s)) from other kinds of amplifier (see Amplifier for a list of these). Alternatively the term 'PA amplifier' is sometimes used.

This equipment does not normally include any mixing facilities. However, the term 'power amplifier' may also be used to refer to a speaker-driving amplifier that is incorporated within a larger item of equipment that does include mixing facilities, such as a powered mixer or a mixer-amplifier.

Some power amplifiers are designed specifically for public address applications; these types generally have 100 volt line speaker outputs rather than the usual low impedance outputs, and are often provided with at least one microphone input and some basic mixing facilities. These amplifiers are also often provided with multiple outputs and zoning switches, allowing control over which outputs are active at any point in time. The total connected load (usually specified in watts) must not exceed the drive capability of the amplifier, or damage to the amplifier may result.

Power amplifiers usually provide two separate paths of amplification (called 'channels') within a single unit (though they may share a common internal power supply). The two channels may be used either to enable stereo use, or may be used independently (e.g. to amplify two different monitor mixes). Some 4-channel types are also available. They often have very few controls (often just a level control for each channel), though some 2-channel types provide a facility to configure the two channels into single-channel bridged mode.

The more powerful types usually incorporate some type of overload protection (often thermally operated), short-circuit protection and speaker protection − but nevertheless attention must always be given to the value of connected load impedance, both to avoid damaging the amplifier and to achieve optimum power output. When switching on a PA system, it is important that the power amplifiers are switched on last of all (preferably with their level controls at minimum), so that the switch-on transients of other equipment are not passed to the speakers. Likewise, when the system is being powered-down they should be switched off first (preferably after setting their level controls to minimum). For further information on this type of amplifier see the Amplifiers and Speakers page. Compare Pre-amplifier.

Power Breaker

A trade-marked brand name of a range of mains power accessories. Most often used to refer to a plug-in RCD (whether of that brand or not) − to avoid possible confusion this usage is however best avoided.

Power compression

The dynamic compression effect that occurs in a driver when subjected to a sustained power level towards the upper limit of its power-handling capability. This effect is due to the temperature rise of the voice coil causing an increase in the coil's resistance, and therefore a rise in the impedance of the driver; this in turn reduces the power that is drawn from the amplifier by the speaker. The only solution is to use speakers with a higher power rating, or with improved voice-coil cooling. Note that the term has no direct connection with the naming of a compression driver. See also Ferrofluid.

Power cord

An American term for a mains lead.

Power conditioner

A general term for any item of equipment whose purpose is to improve the quality of the mains power that is fed to other items of equipment, with the intention of improving the performance of those items. Different types of power conditioner vary widely in their effectiveness in addressing the different aspects of mains power quality, and range from simple interference filters to full regeneration of the supply waveform. It is very important to ensure that any conditioner used is able to supply the maximum amount of supply current required in total by the items of equipment that it is feeding. See also Uninterruptible power supply, Distro, Line filter and VA.

Power distribution

Equipment and cabling for the distribution of mains power. Commonly abbreviated to 'distro'. See also MDU, Distribution board, IEC, BS 1363A connector, CEE-form, Socapex, Powerlock, Camlock, Snaplock, BS 7909, Power conditioner, LX and Sparky.

Power factor

A numerical means of expressing the extent of phase difference between the voltage of an AC supply (such as the mains supply) and the current drawn from it. (Note: Take care not to confuse with efficiency.)

In the case of a DC supply, power (in watts) can be calculated by multiplying the supply voltage (in volts) by the current drawn from it (in amps). However, in the case of an AC supply, this calculation only works when the current drawn is in-phase with the supplied voltage.

When there is a phase difference between current and voltage, only a proportion of the current drawn provides 'real' or 'useful' power, and the purpose of the power factor is to directly indicate what that proportion is. For example, if the power factor is 1 (otherwise known as 'unity'), this indicates that the current and voltage are in phase and so all of the current supplied provides useful power. If the power factor is 0.75, this indicates that the current and voltage are out of phase to the extent that only three-quarters of the current supplied provides useful power.

Some kinds of equipment, such as heaters and undimmed filament lighting are said to have a 'good' power factor as their power factor value is typically only slightly less than 1. For other kinds of equipment, such as motors and some varieties of lighting dimmers, the current drawn is significantly out of phase with the supply voltage and these are said to have a 'poor' power factor − a value significantly less than 1.

In a large system powered from an AC mains supply, it is necessary to determine the amount of current required from the supply, in order to be able to check that the supply is capable of providing it. For example, a maximum of 13 amps can be taken from a standard 'domestic type' single UK power socket. It might be thought that the total current required by several items of equipment could be calculated by simply dividing their total power requirement by the supply voltage, but this would give an incorrect result as it fails to take the power factors of the equipment into account.

The actual current required to be drawn in order to provide a given amount of power (at a given voltage) can be determined using the power factor of the equipment concerned. To do this, divide the power value (in watts) by the voltage (in volts) and also by the relevant power factor. Since the power factor for items with a poor power factor will be less than 1, this may give a substantially higher current requirement for such items than if the power factor had not been taken into account. For example, if 1725 W of power is required from a 230 V supply system and the power factor of the relevant equipment is 0.75, then 10 amps of current would be drawn. Compare this with the 7.5 amps that would have been drawn had the equipment had a unity power factor.

When (as is usually the case) multiple items of equipment are concerned, to find the total current requirement given the power requirement (in watts) of each item, you would also need to know the value of the power factor for each item. You must work out the current required by each different item separately, by dividing its power requirement (in watts) by the voltage and by the power factor for that item. Then finally you would need to add up all the individual currents to get the total.

Thankfully, there is often an easier way to find the total current requirement: if the supply requirement of each item is specified in VA (the 'apparent power' needed), then you can forget about power factors. Instead, just add up the VA value of each of the items to find the total VA value, and divide that total by the voltage. (Note, however, that some kinds of equipment such as transformers have a VA value marked that indicates the maximum capacity of the equipment − this will represent the supply requirement of the equipment only in the case where it is operating at this maximum value.)

Power factor correction

This term most usually refers to a design feature of a mains-powered item of equipment, which enables that equipment to operate at an improved power factor, i.e. at a power factor value closer to 1. Such a feature is usually included only in relatively high-powered equipment that would otherwise have had a poor power factor. It enables the equipment to draw a somewhat reduced mains current while still providing the same power output. Often abbreviated to 'PFC'.

Power filter

See Power conditioner.

Power on/off procedure

See Switch on/off procedure.

Power rails

See Rails.

Power rating

A numeric value (with the relevant units stated) typically specifying the power-handling capability of an item of equipment or an electrical or electronic component. See also VA, RMS, Programme power, Music power, De-rating and the Power Ratings section on the Amplifiers and Speakers page.

Power sequencing

See Switch on/off procedure.

Power supply

Usually refers to a device that converts mains electricity into supplies of the particular type (AC or DC), voltage(s) and current(s) required by an item of equipment. When the power supply is external to the item of equipment being powered, or when it is a specific replaceable module internal to the equipment, it is frequently referred to as a power supply unit (PSU). When external, it is essential that only the power supply and interconnecting cable that are intended for use with that specific equipment are used, as other types may not be electrically compatible (even though the connectors may be mechanically compatible) − for example the supplied voltage, the current rating or the polarity may be incorrect. (For further information on this see Can I use a different model of external power unit? on the FAQ page.)

Power supply units generally incorporate a transformer to provide the required voltage change. Increasingly, such units are of the switched-mode type, in which the conversion of mains voltage to the required voltage(s) is performed by high-frequency switching of the voltage applied to the transformer (or, occasionally, to an inductor). This technique enables the power supply to operate at a substantially improved efficiency as compared to a 'conventional' (or 'linear') power supply, in which the transformer operates at mains frequency. It also enables a substantial reduction in the size and weight of the unit, as a high-frequency transformer is much smaller and lighter than a mains-frequency one of equivalent power-handling capacity. The switching frequency is typically in the range of 40 to 150 kHz. The abbreviation 'SMPS' or 'SMPSU' is sometimes used to refer to a switched-mode power supply. See also Wall wart and ITE.

Or, rarely, the term 'power supply' may refer to the mains electrical supply, or to the local outlet or point from which it is obtained (see Power (2)).

Power transistor

A transistor that is intended to operate at high power levels, in comparison with the very low power levels at which the transistors used in small-signal amplification and processing circuits operate. Power transistors are most commonly found in the output stages of power amplifiers and backline amplifiers (where they are often referred to as the output transistors), and in power supply circuits.

Power unit

See Power supply.


A trademarked name for the NAC3 range of locking mains power connectors manufactured by Neutrik, which are sometimes used on audio equipment. It looks similar to a Speakon connector, but will not inter-mate with it. Its current rating is 20 amps for the original type, 32 amps for the −HC type and 16 amps for the 'True1'® type. The 20 amp type comes in two versions: 'Type A' having a blue-coloured body for power inputs to equipment and 'Type B' having a grey-coloured body for power outputs from equipment. These two versions will not inter-mate. The 32 amp type has a black body, and will not inter-mate with the 20 amp types. The manufacturer's instructions state that the 20 amp and 32 amp types must not be engaged or disengaged in normal use when live or under load, however the 'True1'® type, which has a black and yellow body, may be engaged or disengaged under these circumstances. See also IEC 320.

View PowerCon image (20A Type B)


This term may be used to describe something containing circuitry that requires a source of electrical power in order to operate − i.e. essentially the same meaning as 'active'. However, in cases such as in the following definitions, it clarifies that the equipment includes power amplification facilities or has the capability to handle speaker-level signals.

Powered mixer, Powered desk, Powered board

A mixer that incorporates power amplification facilities in the same unit. Usually refers to units having a 'desk-like' construction, like a conventional (i.e. unpowered) mixer. Compare Mixer-amplifier.

Powered monitor

A monitor that incorporates its own power amplifier(s) in the same enclosure. This avoids the need for a separate power amplifier, but means that mains power must be supplied to the monitor. A level control and basic equalisation facilities are usually provided; in some models this may be a small graphic equaliser. Additional facilities such as a limiter or automatic feedback suppression are also somtimes included. However, such controls and facilities may cause problems for the sound engineer if band members are prone to make adjustments without the engineer's knowledge or permission.

Some powered monitors have a 'speaker output' or 'slave out' facility which enables the connection of a slave monitor sharing the powered monitor's internal amplifier, however the user manual must be carefully consulted to ensure that the amplifier is not overloaded by use of this facility. High-power versions are usually bi-amped. See also Powered speaker.

Powered multicore, Powered snake

A multicore equipped with cable conductors suitable for the connection of speakers to their associated amplifiers, enabling the amplifiers to be located at the mixer end of the multicore (as would be the case when using a powered mixer or a mixer-amplifier with a multicore).

Powered speaker

A speaker that incorporates its own power amplifier(s) within the speaker enclosure. The main advantages over passive speakers are the elimination of the speaker cable, which can be expensive and/or impair the quality of the sound, and the avoidance of concerns about the correct matching of speakers and amplifiers (see the Amplifiers and Speakers page). A level control is usually provided; these must be correctly adjusted on all the speakers in the system. The main disadvantages are the need to supply mains power to the speaker, increased speaker weight, and often increased difficulty of access to the amplifier to make adjustments or for repair purposes (amplifiers develop faults more often than speakers).

Some powered speakers have a 'speaker output' facility which enables the connection of an unpowered speaker sharing the powered speaker's internal amplifier, however the user manual must be carefully consulted to ensure that the amplifier is not overloaded by use of this facility. High-power full-range powered speakers are usually bi-amped. Sometimes called a 'self-powered speaker' or an 'active speaker'. See also Powered monitor.


A range of single-pole locking mains power connectors intended for applications where a higher current rating is required than that provided by CEE-form connectors. The standard Powerlocks are available in 400 amp and 600 amp versions, however an upgraded version called Powersafe is also available. In common with other types of single-pole power connectors, Powerlocks must not be mated or de-mated whilst the circuit is live, and all poles of the circuit must be mated before the circuit is energised. The poles must be mated in the sequence Earth first, then Neutral, finally the Phases − and be de-mated in the reverse sequence. The labelling and colour-coding of the connectors must conform to the up-to-date standards of the country concerned. See also Power distribution and MDU. Compare Snaplock and Camlock.

View Powerlock image


A version of the standard Powerlock single-pole mains power connector that uses upgraded components to permit use at up to 500 amp or 800 amp depending on the specific type (455 amp and 615 amp for UL Certified versions). The connectors are fully compatible with standard Powerlocks, but the additional features such as the increased current capability are available only when two Powersafes are mated together. Like most single-pole connectors, each pole is coloured according to use and is also keyed to prevent mismating. Additionally, it has supplementary features such as a secondary mechanical locking system, requiring a special release tool to disengage it, to guard against accidental disconnection. The cable conductor is attached to the connector using either set-screws (up to 120 mm2 CSA) or crimping (35 to 300 mm2 CSA). The correct size of cable clamp gland must be fitted, to ensure secure clamping of the cable. They must not be mated or de-mated whilst the circuit is live, and all poles of the circuit must be mated before the circuit is energised. The poles must be mated in the sequence Earth first, then Neutral, finally the Phases − and be de-mated in the reverse sequence. See also Power distribution and MDU. Compare Powerlock, Snaplock and Camlock.


An abbreviation for 'personal protective equipment', equipment worn to reduce the risk of personal injury. Such equipment must be suitable for the work and conditions involved, comply with the relevant standards and be a proper fit for the wearer.


The name of an organisation that licenses the broadcasting of music and music videos in the UK, and pays royalties to the performers and/or recording companies who own the copyright of the work. PPL was formally an abbreviation for 'Phonographic Performance Limited', the previous name of this organisation. PPL also manage the allocation of ISRC codes in the UK. Their website is: www.ppluk.com (opens in a new window or tab). Compare PRS.


An abbreviation for 'peak programme meter'. A type of level meter whose response is specially tailored to indicate the peak level of a signal. This type of indication is useful in any situation where the required peak level is close to the maximum permissible level, i.e. where there is limited headroom. (These would usually be situations where it is vital to make best use of the available dynamic range of equipment, so as to maximise the signal-to-noise ratio.)

Originally found mainly on mixers used in broadcast studios, where the peak level must be carefully monitored to avoid over-modulating the transmitter. Now also frequently found on mixers used in recording studios and in other situations where digital audio storage, processing or transmission is involved, as an aid to the avoidance of overs.

To satisfy its purpose, the PPM must have a fast response to increases in level and a slow response to decreases in level. The required behaviour is detailed in IEC standards 60268-10 and 60268-18, which specify an integration time of 5 ms and a decay time (to −20 dB) of 1.5 seconds. The specified integration time avoids the meter responding to very short-lived peaks, sometimes referred to as transients. However, an indicator with a much faster integration time (0.5 ms or less) is required to ensure that recording equipment (especially digital types) is not overloaded; such an indication may be be given separately from the PPM level indication, e.g. by a separate 'Peak' indicator LED.

The standard display style adopted for broadcast equipment in the UK is derived from BBC specifications, now referred to as IEC 60268-10 / IIa. This style has a scale marked with digits from 1 to 7, each division representing a 4 dB difference in level. A reading of '4' represents a steady-state sine wave signal level of 0 dBu, as commonly used for alignment (see SOL). The normal broadcast peak programme level is +8 dBu (equivalent to 1.95 volts RMS), represented by a reading of '6' (for a steady-state sine wave) on the BBC-style meter. See also Bargraph meter. Compare VU meter.

Pre (1)

A general term for 'before'. See, for example, Pre-EQ, Pre-fade and Pre-delay. Compare Post (1).

Pre (2)

Short for 'pre-amplifier' − see the next definition.

Pre-amplifier (Pre-amp, Pre)

An amplifier that provides initial amplification of a signal; especially of very low-level signals obtained from certain sources such as microphones and instrument pick-ups. The term may refer to a stand-alone item of equipment or to the initial gain stages of an amplifier that also includes power amplification, such as a guitar amplifier combo or head. Often abbreviated to just 'pre'. The gain provided by the pre-amplifier raises the signal level to a value suitable for processing (equalisation, mixing etc.), for passing through a substantial length of cable or for further amplification.

All microphone-level signals require pre-amplification; in PA work this is usually provided by the mixer channels or by head amplifiers remote from the mixer location. In recording studios, very high quality separate units are often used in critical applications such as pre-amplification for vocal microphones.

The level of noise contributed by the pre-amplifier is of particular significance, especially when the level of signal applied to it is very low (for example, in distance miking applications), or when the final mix may be listened to in a low ambient noise environment (for example, most recording and broadcast applications). This noise contribution is usually specified as an A-weighted equivalent input noise (EIN) value in dBu. To take advantage of a low EIN value, it is necessary to use a source (e.g. microphone) with a correspondingly low noise level. (For conversion of a microphone noise level specified as an A-weighted equivalent noise level (or 'self-noise') figure in dB SPL to a value in dBu, see Microphone Noise Levels on the Microphones page.)

Instrument pre-amplifiers are usually equipped with a balanced DI output, to enable connection to the balanced inputs of a mixer − often via a multicore. See also Gain structure, Quiet (1) and Thermal noise. Compare Power amplifier and Output stage.


The feature of a digital reverberation unit that provides some initial delay to the signal before the start of the reverberated sound, so as to better simulate the acoustic behaviour of a real reverberating space. Typical pre-delay values are between 30 and 80 ms. See also Hall and Delay.


The application of a specific fixed equalisation curve to a signal prior to entering a potentially deleterious process such as recording or radio transmission. An exactly opposite curve is applied after the process (e.g. on playback or at the receiver); this is called de-emphasis. The overall purpose is typically (but not always) to improve the final perceived signal-to-noise ratio. See also NAB and RIAA.


Describes a signal before it has passed through the relevant equaliser (EQ) − i.e. a signal that is unaffected by the position of those EQ controls. For example, a particular output of a mixer might be described as 'pre-EQ' if the signal it provides is unaffected by those controls. See also Direct output and Insert. Compare Post-EQ.


Describes a signal before it has passed through the relevant faderi.e. a signal whose level is unaffected by the position of that fader. For example, a particular Aux Send control of a mixer channel strip might be described as 'pre-fade' if the signal it sends is unaffected by the channel fader. This type of Aux Send is commonly used for monitor mixes. Compare Post-fade.

Pre-polarised microphone

See Condenser microphone.

Precedence effect

See Haas effect.


A general term for the declining ability, with increasing age, to hear frequencies towards the upper end of the audible spectrum. This typically occurs through the process known as sensorineural hearing loss (see SNHL) − though other mechanisms may also play a part. Although presbycusis is a natural aging process, the rate at which it occurs may be influenced by factors such as exposure to high sound levels (see NIHL), medical history and genetic make-up. See also Audiology.


Frequencies in the upper mid-range region (especially 1 to 2 kHz), or a common name for an equalisation control that affects such frequencies (most usually found on guitar combos and heads).

Presence peak

An intentional increase in the sensitivity of a microphone at frequencies in the presence region. Used mostly in vocal microphones, where it is intended to increase the degree to which the vocals are able to cut through instrumentation. Compare Flat (1).

Presenter set/system

A term commonly used by equipment manufacturers to refer to a complete radio microphone system (or 'set') that includes a miniature microphone intended to be worn by a person making a spoken presentation. Usually this will be a chest-worn lavalier microphone incorporating a clip for attaching to clothing. The microphone is connected to the set's bodypack by a thin cable. Compare Vocalist set.

Preset (1)

A user-selectable feature of an item equipment, usually invoking one of several pre-defined combinations of multiple operating parameter settings. These combinations of settings may in some cases be set up and stored by the user, but in other cases are pre-defined by the manufacturer and cannot be changed by the user.

Preset (2)

A circuit component that provides a means of internal adjustment within an item of equipment − see Trimmer.

Pressure gradient microphone

A microphone in which the output signal is a function of the difference between the air pressure at the front and the rear of the diaphragm, so giving the microphone a uni-directional characteristic and a proximity effect. Compare Pressure microphone. See also Polar response.

Pressure microphone

A microphone in which the output signal is a function of the pressure of the air at the front of the diaphragm. At the rear of the diaphragm is a sealed cavity. So, the microphone has an omni-directional characteristic, and no proximity effect. Compare Pressure gradient microphone. See also Polar response.

Pressure zone microphone

See Boundary microphone.

Primary winding

See Transformer.

Principle of superposition

The physical law which states that, in a perfectly linear system, the output that is obtained when several summed inputs are applied is the sum of the outputs that would be obtained if each of the inputs were applied separately. For example, if inputting a signal 'A' gives an output 'X', and inputting a signal 'B' gives an output 'Y', then inputting 'A + B' gives exactly 'X + Y' (and nothing else).

In the absence of unwanted non-linearities such as distortion and intentional ones such as compression, this vital principle essentially applies to a PA system and has three major impacts:

In reality a small amount of distortion is always present in any real system, and non-linear processes and effects may be deliberately incorporated. However, the principle of superposition is fundamentally what allows multiple sound sources to be handled simultaneously by a single system.

In tape recording, an impression formed magnetically (usually over a long period of time) from one layer of tape onto the adjacent layer of tape on the reel. This causes an unwanted 'echo' effect on playback, either after or, most noticeably, before the wanted sound. Usually only of any significance in analogue recording.

Printed circuit board

See PCB.


See Signal processing.


Describes a speaker that is used with (or is intended to be used with) speaker management equipment (often called a 'speaker processor'). Some types of speakers are specifically designed to be used with a specific model of processor − generally manufactured by the same company as the speaker − and this may be necessary for adequate speaker protection. Some powered speakers incorporate the processor within the speaker enclosure.


See Signal processing.


As a noun, a show or other performed event. As a verb, the process of creating programme material for a live event or for recording or broadcast.

Profile spot

A type of lantern that produces a narrow focused beam, typically used for highlighting a small area on a stage. Compare Fresnel and PAR can.

Programme, Program

The audio or video material being handled by a system (or by part of a system) at a particular point in time, i.e. the information content of an audio or video signal. The term is most often applied to the mixed output signal from a studio, for broadcast, live relay or recording. See also PPM.

Programme level, Program level

The nominal signal level of an audio programme. It is usually quoted as an average level, measured using a VU meter, but the peak level, measured using a PPM, is also of great interest, as is the programme loudness. See also SOL, LUFS and Headroom.

Programme power, Program power

A power rating sometimes applied to speakers, which attempts to take into account the dynamic nature of real programme material. Since the highest level pulses of typical material are separated by lower level intervals, during which the speaker driver(s) have some chance to cool down, the speaker is able to handle such pulses at a somewhat higher level than it would be able to handle a continuous sine wave signal. Programme power ratings are therefore generally higher than continuous average sine wave ratings (which are often incorrectly referred to as RMS ratings). Manufacturers who specify a programme power rating often quote a value that is twice the quoted continuous average sine-wave rating, but in reality the ratio between the two values will depend on the exact nature of the program material in question, and upon the design of the speaker.

A speaker's programme power rating, alternatively known as a 'music power' rating, is considered by some to be an indication of the power rating of an amplifier that would be suitable for driving the speaker at its maximum safe level (with typical programme material), but others would take a more cautious approach. For further information see Power Ratings on the Amplifiers and Speakers page. See also RMS.

Progressive scan

In a video display system, a technique for the improvement of display definition, as compared to a system using interlace. It operates by arranging for every line of the display to be refreshed in sequence during each vertical scan of the screen, so avoiding the time-difference between adjacent lines that is inherent in interlaced systems. This improvement is especially evident in the rendition of fast-moving images. However, in order to avoid the flicker that was eliminated by interlacing, a high vertical scan rate is required. See also Raster, Frame, Field and HDTV.

Prompt side

A term used in theatre to refer to stage left. Commonly abbreviated to PS. Compare Opposite prompt.

Propagation of sound

The manner in which sound waves travel. The term is most often used in respect of the manner in which they travel through a gas or a fluid, most commonly air. The term may be used in relation to the physics of the process, or in relation to the practicalities of how sound waves travel in a particular space or under particular circumstances such as varying temperature or humidity. See also Medium, Dispersion, Absorption, Refraction, Speed of sound, RH and Longitudinal wave. Compare Transmission of sound.

Propagation time

The time taken for something to travel a particular distance. Usually refers to the time taken for a sound wave to travel a particular distance − especially from a speaker to a listening position. Most often, it is relative propagation times that are significant − for example the difference in time between the sound from two or more speakers being heard, at a given listening position. See also Speed of sound, Latency, Time alignment, Haas effect and Delay (2).

Proportional Q

Describes a particular type of frequency response curve, provided by some peaking equaliser (EQ) controls − especially the controls of some graphic equalisers. This response provides an increasing Q (see Q (1)) as the amount of cut or boost is increased on the control. This provides a broader, smoother response at small amounts of cut or boost, and a more focussed response at large cuts or boosts. However, in the case of a graphic equaliser, this behaviour results in unwanted interactions between adjacent frequency bands of the equaliser, meaning that the true overall response of the equaliser is not that indicated by the position of the controls when two or more adjacent bands are adjusted from their 0 dB position. It is claimed by some that proportional Q behaviour is the most suitable for creative, sound-shaping applications, but is not so suitable for correcting the response of microphones, speakers etc. Compare Constant Q.


Describes the internal design techniques of equipment, or interfaces between equipment, that are specific to a single manufacturer (although they might be licensed to other manufacturers). Proprietary interfaces (such as MIDI sysex messages) are unlikely to be compatible between different makes of equipment.


Describes equipment that is semi-mass-produced for semi-professional use. Equipment which, in terms of performance, reliability, ruggedness and overall quality, lies somewhere between professional equipment and consumer equipment. The term is formed by a contraction of the words 'professional' and 'consumer'.

'Protect' (or 'Prot') indicator

An indication device, usually a red LED, that is provided on a power amplifier for the purpose of indicating that the amplifier (or a specific channel of it) has entered protection mode. The LED is usually labeled 'Protect' or 'Prot'. This would typically occur in response to a problem within the amplifier (e.g. severe overheating or a serious fault) or to a problem with the speaker(s) connected to it or the wiring to them, such as a short circuit. The effect of entering protection mode will usually be for the amplifier to disconnect the speaker output(s) from the affected channel(s), in order to avoid the possibility of further damage occurring to the speaker(s) or amplifier. Some internal parts of the amplifier may also shut down. In most cases, after removing an external fault condition from the amplifier output, it is necessary to switch the amplifier off and on again in order to leave protection mode; in the case of overheating it may also be necessary to allow time for it to cool down. See also Thermal protection.

Protection lamp

An incandescent lamp provided for protection purposes. It is most commonly found within a speaker, typically connected in series with the driver(s) to be protected. The lamp effectively provides signal compression at levels near the driver's maximum power rating, and so provides some degree of protection against overload. (Note, however, that some types of speaker employ different methods of driver protection, such as polymeric 'self-resetting fuse' devices that rapidly increase their resistance as the device heats up beyond a specific temperature.)

A protection lamp operates by means of changes in its filament resistance caused by the varying filament temperature as the current through the lamp changes. Such lamps are often incorporated as part of a full range speaker's passive crossover unit, and are usually arranged so as to protect only the horn(s).

Protection lamps may fail from time to time and need to be replaced, especially if the speaker is frequently used at or near its maximum power rating. Sometimes the speaker design employs a type of lamp that in other applications may be used for illumination purposes, other speaker designs use a specially made type. In either case, for continued driver protection it is important to use only the specfied type as a replacement. See also Speaker protection.

Protective bonding

See Bonding.

Protective conductor

A safety earth conductor. See also Circuit protective conductor.

Protective earth, Protective ground

A more formal term for a safety earth, in contrast to a signal earth. Compare Functional earth.


An agreed set of rules that are used to ensure the orderly and reliable passing of digital information or commands between items of equipment. Such communication will only work correctly if all the items of connected equipment use the same protocol, so the protocols for the most common interfaces are published in 'standards'. See also Handshake. Compare Format.

Proximity effect

The behaviour of uni-directional microphones whereby sound sources that are close to the microphone are picked up with a greater bass response than sounds that are further away. It can be noticable at distances up to 9 inches or so (22.5 cm), but is most obvious at distances less than 4 inches (10 cm). Microphones differ in the extent to which they exhibit this effect. The effect is caused by the difference in sound level between the front and rear ports of the microphone becoming more and more significant as the distance from the sound source decreases − this difference in level affects the proper operation of the microphone's directionality-producing mechanism at bass frequencies. See also Pressure gradient microphone and Microphone Technique on the Getting Started − for Performers page).


The name of an organisation that licenses the public performance of live and recorded music in the UK, and pays royalties to the songwriters, composers and/or music publishers responsible for the work. The full name of the organisation is 'PRS for Music'. PRS is an abbreviation for 'Performing Right Society', the name of one of the constituent companies of PRS. The PRS website is: www.prsformusic.com (opens in a new window or tab). See also MCPS. Compare PPL.


An abbreviation for 'prompt side'.


An abbreviation for 'personal sound exposure meter' − see Dosimeter.


Describes an equipment interconnection that uses a cable whose flexible part consists of two signal-carrying conductors inside an overall screen (i.e. exactly as used in a balanced interconnection), but in which one of those signal-carrying conductors has a direct connection with signal earth. It is typically used in an attempt to provide an improved method of interconnection between equipments that do not provide balanced inputs and outputs, though in practice any actual improvement obtained may be marginal. There are two likely scenarios:

Most commonly, such interconnections are used between unbalanced equipment outputs and inputs that employ 2-pole connectors − typically the phono connectors commonly used on domestic Hi-Fi equipment. In this case, the cable is often fitted with high-quality phono connectors, to suit. One of the cable's two signal-carrying conductors interconnects the 'hot' terminals of the connectors, and the other interconnects the signal earth (screen) terminals, providing a return path for the signal current. The cable screen is also connected to the signal earth terminal, but at just one end of the cable − at the other end the screen is not connected to anything. This type of cable is often considered by audiophiles to give superior performance as compared to a standard unbalanced cable, due to the symmetry of the signal-carrying conductors. However, as the input to which it connects is not a balanced input there is no rejection of common mode interference in the manner provided by a balanced interconnection. Furthermore, connection of the screen at only one end can result in increased pick-up of radio-frequency interference, due to it acting like an aerial. Nevertheless, such cables are sometimes marketed as 'balanced' cables, which is inappropriate terminology.

In the second pseudo-balanced scenario, 'audiophile grade' Hi-Fi equipment is used that is equipped with 3-pole connectors such as XLRs, and the cable used to interconnect them is wired exactly the same as a balanced cable i.e. the two signal-carrying conductors and the screen are each separately wired to their respective terminals at both ends. However, despite appearances, the interconnection is not balanced because of the way the equipment's connectors are wired inside the equipment. The two signal-carrying poles of the connectors (e.g. XLR pins 2 and 3), are used for the signal's 'hot' and 'return' paths but the 'return' terminals (pin 3) are connected directly to the signal earth (chassis) of the equipment. The signal earth (pin 1) terminal is also connected directly to signal earth, but in only one of the two items of equipment. Therefore, when the wiring inside the equipment is taken into account, the electrical connections are exactly the same as in the first scenario, and the results are very similar. The only advantage over that scenario is that here the connectors are included in the pseudo-balancing, and they may be of higher quality.

These types of interconnection cannot in any technical sense considered to balanced, because the two signal-carrying conductors do not have an equal impedance to signal earth. (It should be noted, however, that some 'audiophile grade' Hi-Fi equipment does provide truly balanced inputs and/or outputs.)

A pseudo-balanced interconnection is not to be confused with a semi-balanced (sometimes called quasi-balanced) one, nor with a quasi-floating one. A table comparing the most common types of balanced interconnections is provided under the 'Balanced' entry. Diagrams illustrating various different types of signal interconnections are available here (opens in a new window or tab). See also Ground-compensated and Directional cable.


An abbreviation for 'power supply unit'. See Power supply.


The study of hearing (particularly human hearing) as regards how sound is perceived by the brain, as opposed to just the mechanics of how the ear converts sound into nerve impulses. Also known as the 'psychology of hearing'. See also Auditory filter, Perceptual coding and Haas effect.

Psychology of hearing

See Psychoacoustics.


An abbreviation for 'push to talk', a switch provided on some types of communications systems. This switch must be held depressed whilst speaking via the system, in order to keep the microphone open − either to avoid unintentional pick-up or in order to accommodate half-duplex operation. The switch is sometimes integrated into the microphone. See also Clearcom.

Public address

A system whose purpose is to enable a large number of gathered people to be addressed (i.e. spoken to), or which enables people located within a substantial but defined area (such as within a building or outdoor arena) to hear announcements. In the interest of economics, such systems have often provided only the limited audio bandwidth necessary for the reproduction of speech, and therefore gave poor results when mis-used for music applications.

However, it should be noted here that the term 'PA' (originally simply an abbreviation for 'public address') is now widely used to include high-quality sound reinforcement systems intended for music applications.

Public address systems incorporating multiple speakers distributed over a substantial area commonly use what is known in the UK as a 100 volt line system to provide the interconnection(s) between the speakers and power amplifier(s); this arrangement requires appropriate types of speakers, amplifier(s) and cabling. Such systems may be more fully (and more helpfully) referred to as 'distributed public address' systems. See also Installation speaker, Musac and CABA.

Pulse code modulation

The use of sequences of bits, that is, of binary codes, to represent analogue information − usually an audio or video programme signal. In general, this is the principle used by all digital programme signals, although in practice there are many standardised coding schemes in use. Usually abbreviated to 'PCM'.

In the simplest PCM scheme, the bit-stream consists (fundamentally) of consecutive fixed-length groups of bits. Each group of bits corresponds to a single sample of the analogue source programme, and the binary value of the bits in the group directly indicates the value of that sample. This is the original meaning of the term, and is the basis of the coding used for audio compact discs and in AES3 and S/PDIF bit-streams. However, the term is now also applied to more complex coding schemes such as floating point coding and compressed data (MP3 etc.). See also Analogue to digital conversion and Codec.

Pulse density modulation

A scheme in which the density of pulses in a 2-state signal is varied in correspondence with some other signal. Often abbreviated to PDM. The pulses of a PDM signal usually have a constant pulse width. Such a pulse-train does not have a constant frequency.

PDM signals are produced and amplified in some Class D power amplifiers, in order to provide very high-efficiency amplification and so enable high-power amplifiers to be made with reduced size and weight, as well as reduced mains power requirements. (Class D amplifiers more commonly use pulse width modulation (PWM) − some of the issues mentioned in that definition also apply to PDM.)

PDM is also used as an alternative to PWM in some applications requiring the control of average power levels, such as in the dimming of LEDs, and can provide some reduction in the generation of problematic interference. See also Modulation and Amplifier Classes on the Amplifiers and Speakers page.

Pulse width modulation

A scheme in which the transitions of a constant-frequency 2-state signal have their timing varied in correspondence with some other signal. Often abbreviated to PWM. PWM signals are produced and amplified in some Class D power amplifiers, in order to provide very high-efficiency amplification and so enable high-power amplifiers to be made with reduced size and weight, as well as reduced mains power requirements. (Other Class D amplifiers use pulse density modulation.)

In amplifiers using PWM, instantaneous values of the analogue input signal are sampled at a high rate and used to control the transitions of an internally-generated square wave signal at around 50 kHz to 200 kHz, so producing a high-frequency PWM signal. Alternatively, the PWM signal can be produced directly from a digital input signal such as AES3 or SPDIF. The PWM signal is then amplified and subsequently filtered to remove the unwanted high-frequency components, leaving just an amplified version of the wanted audio signal (in normal analogue form), suitable for driving a speaker.

Note that although a PWM signal has only two voltage states, it is not a digital signal in the true sense of the term 'digital' because it does not operate using numbers. Therefore, Class D amplifiers should not be referred to as digital amplifiers, even if they have digital inputs only. (In any case, high-quality versions of such amplifiers have to incorporate some processing of the signal in analogue form, due to the need to include the output low-pass filter within the linearising negative feedback loop.)

PWM is also used in applications requiring the control of average power levels, such as in the dimming of LEDs. See also Modulation and Amplifier Classes on the Amplifiers and Speakers page.

Pump up

A slang term meaning to increase the sound level, as in "Pump up the volume". See also Loudness and Crank.


An undesirable phenomenon that can occur during signal compression, whereby the resulting signal level noticeably varies in correspondence with the signal content. Can usually be avoided to some degree by reducing the bass content of the side chain signal. See also Breathing.


Describes a cable connection method using insulation displacement technology. See also Termination (1) and Krone.


A (UK) slang term for a member of the public attending an event.

Pure tone

A musical note, or other sound or signal, that consists only of a fundamental frequency and no harmonics, i.e. a sine wave. See also Tone (2).


A slang abbreviation for the equipment manufacturer Peavey, sometimes used to refer to an item of equipment manufactured by them. See also Yammy.

PVC tape

Usually refers to self-adhesive electrical insulating tape, which is generally made from PVC and is available in a range of different colours. However, no tape should be used for electrical insulating purposes unless it is specifically approved for that purpose. PVC tape is frequently used for alternative purposes such as securing coils of cable in transit and (when white) as console tape. However, it is not suitable for use at high temperatures (e.g. on or close to lanterns). Insulating tape may also be referred to as electrical tape or as LX tape. PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride, a type of plastic. See also Cable tie. Compare Gaffer tape.


An abbreviation for 'personal video recorder'. See also DVR.


An abbreviation for 'pulse width modulation'.


An abbreviation for 'pyrotechnics' (fireworks). Refers to any explosive-type devices used during an event (usually located on-stage). These are normally triggered remotely, often by the lighting engineer. Special safety considerations always apply to the storage, handling and use of these devices. See the Safety page for general information on safety.


An abbreviation for 'pressure zone microphone'. See Boundary microphone.

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