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From Chace Audio

Gating refers to an unnatural sounding fluctuation of levels in audio program. A gate is a dynamic function that controls the volume or level of an audio signal; it acts as a portal that blocks an audio signal from getting through, depending on its volume. The audio signal has to be loud enough to “push open” the gate in order to be heard. An audio engineer has the ability to adjust the weight, or resistance, of the gate. If the gate is set to be “heavy” and the audio signal is too weak, it can't push open the gate, and no sound gets through. As the audio signal gets louder it can push the gate open and be heard.

Gating becomes problematic when the gate is made too “heavy” and shuts out quieter portions of program material that should have been allowed to get through. Instead of a natural dynamic of loud and quiet audio events, gating results in loud audio events and silence; the quieter portions of program are removed. It is possible to have gating where the closed gate does not completely shut off the audio signal but allows reduced levels to get through. This also results in an unnatural sounding fluctuation of levels in the audio program.

A common example is a track where all the dialogue plays at normal level, but the ambient background between words is suddenly greatly reduced. This phenomenon is also referred to as pumping.