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What is DSP: Everything You Need To Know

What is DSP

Whether you are a beginner or experienced in the audio engineering scene, you have probably heard of the term DSP.

But what exactly is it, and how does it work? And WHY is it an essential part of the world of audio?

DSP offers a WIDE VARIETY of uses that can change how you create music!

Let’s dive into the meaning behind DSP technology and how we can use it in our daily lives!

Table of Contents

Now, What IS DSP?

Now, What IS DSP

DSP stands for Digital Signal Processing or Digital Sound Processing.

This means that any INPUT (audio signals, voice, instruments, microphone, etc.) or DIGITAL SIGNAL is taken and processed into a different analog signal, and vice versa.

For example, any real-world signal can be digitized, whether it be audio, video, or vocals.

DSP is used sort of like an EQUALIZER for your studio. It is used to POLISH any sounds to make your audio quality sound BETTER!

Because analog sounds are harder to transmit over long distances, store and require many amplifiers to boost signals, DSP makes the job EASIER by taking in the digital inputs and manipulating them to give you your preferred output.

  • It generally increases SIGNAL-CONVERSION EFFICIENCY altogether. 
  • DSP represents analog data in its APPROXIMATED digital version or vice versa.
  • This allows you to listen to the SUBTLE DETAILS in music through your headphones, speakers, or home cinema speakers and maintains a BALANCE between high, low, and midrange frequencies.

Many audio products have a built-in DSP where you can record real-world signals in real-time without a separate device!

Components of a DSP

Components of a DSP

A DSP user interface is comprised of three main elements.

  • The Program Memory, as the name suggests, stores the programs used by the DSP.
  • The Data Memory stores the information to be processed by the DSP’s compute engine.
  • The Compute Engine is the one responsible for doing all the mathematical algorithms. It also uses the programs and data stored in the Program Memory and Data Memory.

Step By Step Process

DSP (Digital Signal Processing) goes through many high-speed real-time data streams for the audio signals to be fully processed.

  • First, the analog signals or audio go through an INPUT FILTER where it filters out any high-frequency noise and other unwanted things.
  • The signal then goes through a SAMPLE AND HOLD circuit, where it takes a look at the audio signal (sampling) at certain points, and in between those points, holds its value until the next point.
  • This goes on until it reaches the ANALOG TO DIGITAL CONVERTER (ADC). Here it takes the samples and quantizes them in digital format, assigning a binary value to the analog samples.
  • This binary digital data get transmitted quickly to the DSP (Digital Signal Processor) to be processed, stored, reproduced, and a bunch of other stuff using mathematical functions and algorithms to the audio signal to make it better.
  • The analog signal goes through the DIGITAL TO ANALOG CONVERTER (DAC).
  • The digital signal is converted into an analog form, which is what you hear in the real world when you listen to music with your headphones or speaker system.
  • The final step is the OUTPUT FILTER, which smoothens the analog signals.

How Does DSP Affect Audio Processing?

How Does DSP Affect Audio Processing

DSP technology is something that can MAKE OR BREAK your audio. It is a necessary tool that all audio engineers use to achieve the best sound possible.

One of the ways DSP affects audio processing is by producing high-quality EFFECTS to enhance your song or any audio you have.

  • These effects include REVERB, which you hear when sounds bounce off certain surfaces and back into your ears and could enhance and add depth to your instruments’ recording.
  • Another effect is EQ, which balances the frequencies in your audio signal, from your voice to the instruments. EQ is used to prevent sounds from clashing and overpowering each other so that you can get FULLER and more HARMONIOUS performance outputs.
  • DSP also uses automatic gain control where you can balance the volume levels of your signal.

You can also rely on the DSP algorithm to remove background noise or any unwanted noise like crinkling paper during playback with acoustic echo cancellation. This filters out any unwanted echoes and starts in the input filter section.

DSP also allows you to adjust your microphone’s signal output so you can make it sound the way you wish! 

DSP also offers COMPRESSIONS, which brings down super high-level frequencies and brings up low-level frequencies, which prevents distortion and evens out the levels.

Types of Digital Signal Processors

Types of Digital Signal Processors

SINGLE-CORE low-power DSP units run on only one processor chip. Nowadays, most DSPs are made with two or more chips and perform higher-power signal processing.

MULTI-CORE DSPs are built for higher-power processing. The presence of multiple chips boosts speed and efficiency in signal processing.

The MSC8256 High-Performance Multicore DSP is an example, with six cores for high-level performance and speed.

MANY-CORE DSPs are a special kind of multi-core instead of two or six cores. They hold up to a hundred or even a thousand! Some supercomputers even reach up to the millions!

How Is DSP Different from a CPU?

Both a CPU and DSP are used to perform similar tasks, but they are different in their ways too.

First, we all know that a CPU is sort of like the HEART of a computer.

A CPU is designed to perform BASIC functions at a slower time than a DSP. CPUs are not suited for super fast computations in such small increments of time.

CPUs are also designed to do general tasks like graphics or video processing power, but not at the same efficiency level as a DSP. It cannot process high numerical data as well as a DSP.

A DSP, on the other hand, is a type of CPU that CAN perform a specific set of functions like high numerical processing in a super-fast amount of time.

Another specific function that DSP uses is to process analog signals as numbers in real-time.

While CPUs can perform more GENERAL, basic tasks in a longer amount of time, a DSP specializes in SPECIFIC tasks in a shorter time and with more efficiency.

Why DSPs Matter

Anyone can record something with any software and then be done with it.

But Digital Signal Processing/DSP allows you to make your recording SO MUCH BETTER than what it already is.

All the little nuances and subtle details that we overlook while listening to music or watching movies are probably thanks to Digital Signal Processing.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

There you have it! A crash course on DSP.

Digital Signal Processing/DSP is used everywhere, from any software on your computer or cellphone to your car radio.

It helps us tell the difference between good and bad audio.

Try listening to songs and imagine what they would’ve sounded like without DSP!

About the author


After becoming obsessed with the beats that were the soundtrack to his youth, Nick became a student of hip hop, digging for vinyl records, looking for the perfect break. Before he got his hands on an MPC sampler, he would mash these records, beats, and breaks into mixtapes and live DJ sets.