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I ask this assuming there are enough people with experience with electric instruments, mixers, and other recording equipment to make this relevant.

On any mixer, one of the first buttons that can be used to modify a signal is the PAD button. To pad something, usually means to augment or supplement the thing. So turning on the PAD button should make the signal stronger (louder), but this is the exact opposite of what actually happens. The PAD button is used to decrease the signal strength by a fixed amount.

My guess is that it comes from the idea of dropping something. You would drop it on a pad to soften the impact. But this is just a guess and I would like to know where it actually comes from.

Websites about live audio and mixers don't usually delve into the origins of the terms they use, so I have found no help there.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Your suspicion appears to be correct. From this page:

The use of pad comes from the early days of 600 Ohm transformer coupled devices, where direct connection of the output of one to the input of a second would result in all sorts of resonant peaks in the frequency response and instability due to reflected impedances. An attenuator was inserted in order to pad (as in provide a buffer, like padding a ceramic vase for transport) the output of one device from the input of the next.

Note that here, a pad is another name for an attenuator.

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I had been searching for months to no avail. But thanks to the info you provided, specifically that a pad is another name for attenuator, I started getting hits in Google. This one from the same site offers a different explanation. "The recording machine had two horns, set 180 degrees apart, one for the vocal one for the orchestra. You controlled the record level and balance by carefully sliding a piece of angora wool in the mouths of the recording horns. That may well be the origin of the word "pad" (attenuator)" – By137 Sep 5 '12 at 7:22

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