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Professional audio, abbreviated as pro audio, refers to both an activity and a category of high quality, studio-grade audio equipment. Typically it encompasses sound recording, sound reinforcement system setup and audio mixing, and studio music production by trained sound engineers, audio engineers, record producers, and audio technicians who work in live event support and recording using audio mixers, recording equipment and sound reinforcement systems. In contrast, consumer audio equipment is a lower grade of gear which is used by regular people for the reproduction of sound in a private home on a home stereo or home cinema system.
Professional audio can include, but is not limited to broadcast radio, audio mastering in a recording studio, television studio, and sound reinforcement such as a live concert, DJ performances, audio sampling, public address system set up, surround sound design in movie theatres, and design and setup of piped music in hotels and restaurants. Professional audio equipment is sold at professional audio stores and music stores. While consumer electronics stores sell some of the same categories of equipment (e.g., power amplifiers and subwoofer cabinets), the equipment that consumer stores sells is a lower consumer-grade type of equipment, which does not meet the standards for low noise and low distortion that are required in pro audio applications.
The term professional audio has no precise definition, but it typically includes:
- Operations carried out by trained audio engineers
- The capturing of sound with one or more microphones
- Balancing, mixing and adjusting sound signals from multitrack recording devices using a mixing console
- The control of audio levels using standardised types of metering
- Sound signals passing through lengthy signal chains involving processes at different times and places, involving a variety of skills
- Compliance with organisational, national and international practices and standards established by such bodies as the International Telecommunication Union, Audio Engineering Society and European Broadcasting Union
- Setting up or designing sound reinforcement systems or recording studios.
Compared to consumer-grade audio equipment, professional audio equipment tends to have such characteristics as:
- Greater mechanical robustness and reliability
- Many more options for "tweakability" and modification than typical consumer grade equipment. For example, whereas a typical home audio grade active subwoofer may have a factory set-audio crossover to determine at which point the audio signal will be routed to the subwoofer and a factory preset phase control and equalizer setting, pro audio active subwoofers (with built-in amplifiers and electronics) may offer adjustable crossover points, user-selectable phase control and equalizer controls[a]
- Heavy-duty industrial-grade connectors, e.g. XLR balanced audio cables (for audio signals) rather than unbalanced cables and Speakon speaker connectors, rather than 1/4" speaker jacks
- Designed for touring and transportation. This includes the use of 19-inch rack-mount devices for electronic effects units and power amplifiers, the provision of handles and/or dolly wheels on heavy equipment to facilitate moving gear onstage (large speaker enclosure cabinets for subwoofers and sound reinforcement system main speakers typically have handles and wheels)
- Balanced audio interfaces (XLR) for lower noise and hum
- Higher analog audio signal levels of 0 dBu or more
- AES/EBU digital audio interfaces
- Lower-noise audio equipment with less Total Harmonic Distortion
The broadcast quality of professional audio equipment is on a par with that of consumer high-end audio and hi-fi equipment, but is more likely to be designed purely on sound engineering principles and owes little to the consumer-oriented audiophile sub-culture.
A professional audio store is a retail establishment that sells, and in many cases rents, expensive, high-end sound recording equipment (microphones, audio mixers, digital audio recorders, speakers and surround sound speakers, monitor speakers) and sound reinforcement system gear (e.g., speaker enclosure cabinets, stage monitor speakers, power amplifiers, subwoofer cabinets) and accessories used in both settings, such as microphone stands. Some pro audio stores also sell video equipment, such as video projectors, as this equipment is commonly used in live audio settings (e.g., business presentations and conventions). Some pro audio stores also sell and/or rent DJ gear (record turntables, DJ mixers) and the stage lighting equipment used in rock concerts, dance clubs, raves and theater/musical theater shows.
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