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Nonlinear Filter Example:
Dynamic Range Compression

A simple practical example of a nonlinear filtering operation is dynamic range compression, such as occurs in Dolby or DBX noise reduction when recording to magnetic tape (which, believe it or not, still happens once in a while). The purpose of dynamic range compression is to map the natural dynamic range of a signal to a smaller range. For example, audio signals can easily span a range of 100 dB or more, while magnetic tape has a linear range on the order of only 55 dB. It is therefore important to compress the dynamic range when making analog recordings to magnetic tape. Compressing the dynamic range of a signal for recording and then expanding it on playback may be called companding (compression/expansion).

Recording engineers often compress the dynamic range of individual tracks to intentionally ``flatten'' their audio dynamic range for greater musical uniformity. Compression is also often applied to a final mix.

Another type of dynamic-range compressor is called a limiter, which is used in recording studios to ``soft limit'' a signal when it begins to exceed the available dynamic range. A limiter may be implemented as a very high compression ratio above some amplitude threshold. This replaces ``hard clipping'' by ``soft limiting,'' which sounds less harsh and may even go unnoticed if there were no indicator.

The preceding examples can be modeled as a variable gain that automatically ``turns up the volume'' (increases the gain) when the signal level is low, and turns it down when the level is high. The signal level is normally measured over a short time interval that includes at least one period of the lowest frequency allowed, and typically several periods of any pitched signal present. The gain normally reacts faster to attacks than to decays in audio compressors.

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``Introduction to Digital Filters with Audio Applications'', by Julius O. Smith III, (September 2007 Edition).
Copyright © 2014-03-23 by Julius O. Smith III
Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA),   Stanford University