Adventures In Audio
What is a transient? Can it hurt me?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Monday July 31, 2006
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A transient event is something that comes and goes very quickly. In audio, it means a sudden increase in signal level followed by an almost immediate decrease. In terms of milliseconds, we would be thinking about less than a hundred, or a tenth of a second. Anything longer wouldn't really be worthy of being called a transient, although it is a similar judgment call to when a stream becomes a river.

A transient in audio can also be a sudden increase in level, followed by a steady-state high level signal. So in this case the signal isn't coming and going, but the sudden change in level is the transient.

A transient can hurt your recording in a number of ways...

It is good practice therefore to manage transients consciously. That doesn't mean getting rid of them, just reducing their effect where appropriate. The tool to use is the compressor or limiter. If you set a fast attack time, then the transient will be brought down in level. However, this will also change the character of the transient, and the 'front end' of a sound is important to the way the ear hears. So you have to be careful and achieve a fine balance. If you use a slow attack time, the transient will get through unaltered, so you haven't achieved anything.

If you have just one or two significant transients in your recording, then it will be better to reduce their level using the editing facilities of your recording software. You will be a far better judge of what to do than the automatic action of a compressor.

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