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Microphone Month 2

What does “-20dB Pad” Really Mean?

Q: I always thought that it was weird to say you were using a “-20dBpad. How can a pad be negative? Doesn’t the term “pad” itself indicate that you are dropping the level? Wouldn’t a negative pad value indicate that the sound was actually getting louder?

A: Whoo boy, we’re not sure we want to step into this one. Put it this way: yes, the term “pad” does indicate a circuit or parameter used to drop or attenuate a signal level. So perhaps technically and semantically, “20dB pad” is more correct than “-20dB pad.”

But in the case of a specific product, “-20dB” on the label of an inline pad, for example, is certainly a valid way to indicate the amount of attenuation provided by the device.

And, the “-” nomenclature could be consider common usage. As long as everyone understands the meaning, it doesn’t cause any harm.

Finally, thinking outside the audio level box, we would also submit that a -20dB pad could be a washy background sound, often generated by a synthesizer, that is playing back at a -20dB level…

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