An Oscilloscope – A Quick Overview

In this article, we will explain to you what an oscilloscope is, how it works as well as how it can be used.

What it is
An oscilloscope is used to visually represent a waveform for a period using a graph with the two axes. The parallel axis is used to represent time, while the upright axis is used to represent amplitude.

Oscilloscopes are used during music production to assist sound synthesis and dynamics processing. The signal chain of both usages has an oscilloscope placed at the end of the chain. The purpose is to allow it analyze the overall effects of all the plugins that have been placed ahead of it. Generally, Oscilloscope PLUGINS (WIN/MAC/LINUX) despite their frequent usage towards the end of the chain, like other analysis plugins, can be still be inserted anywhere. This will allow you to analyze that point's signal.

Usage Scope
When making music and you place a drum riff in the audio track of a DAW, what you will see is a stationary waveform region or clip. You can read this article to know what a waveform is. This static waveform is a representation of the initial audio when it was being inserted.

When an oscilloscope is finally inserted after every other thing has been placed in a signal chain, the stationary waveform will then be displayed straightaway. You can then see how it was affected by processing and also how it will look after final production.

If you are compressing a drum riff, using an oscilloscope aid in the observation of how the attack time affects each drum's hit initial spike (transient portion). If the attack period is fast, the transient will be squashed; hence, the height of the hit being displayed will decrease. But if a high ratio of compression, fast release time, and low threshold are combined, the height of the hit being displayed will increase because the tail and the hit have been increased.

Oscilloscopes aid in sound designing. It can be used to function as a sort of sonic microscope that the producer can use to observe a waveform's single cycles. With it, direct observation of the slow and low-pass filtration of a wave with rich harmonics as it progressively concludes its sharp corners is possible.

Also, you can observe the modulation of a pulse width when it has been placed on a wave (square). Generally, oscilloscopes have become very important in the understanding of synthesis concepts.

Setting Up Your Oscilloscope
Before you begin to use an oscilloscope, you must know certain things. The measurements given on the parallel axis could vary; it could be time division, samples, or musical values such as note lengths. On the other hand, dB is always the measurement found on the upright axis.

You can alter the axes' scales to allow you to view the waveform better by zooming in or out. The upright axis is usually set so that the display can be maximized. The parallel axis however is the more interesting. You can measure an individual wave cycle closely by zooming in, or you can view the larger waveform by zooming out.

An individual wave cycle's measurement, when used at a certain frequency, remains the same provided it is measured in milliseconds. If it is measured in samples, it indicates that the measurement is dependent on your DAW's sample rate.

One 100Hz wave cycle with a sample of 44,100kHz, in turn, will have a representation of 441 samples. But if this same wave cycle uses a 96kHz sample, it will then have a representation of 960 samples. Therefore, put this into consideration during the configuration of the units on the parallel axis.

Oscilloscopes working in a mode known as "free-running" draw the waveform usually starting from the left and moves to the right. It does this until the display's right-hand corner is hit. This action will then cause it to retrigger/reset thereby starting the plotting processing again.

The trace existing waveform is then overwritten. Consequently, the period the device uses in filling the display might not in perfect synchronization with the frequency of the waveform, this will lead the display to bounce around randomly.

To counter this, most oscilloscopes function in the mode called "classic". In this case, once the level has passed the parallel axis' center point, the device begins to plot from the display's left again. This way, the waveforms can be steadily observed.

Oscilloscopes have proved helpful in music production over the last couple of years. And until something better is invented, they will remain great tools for sound analysis.

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