Differences Between Analogue and Digital Sound
Which is better, analogue or digital audio? Is there really a difference ? Do you need very expensive audio equipment to tell the difference? Does it really matter?
Before delving into the discussion, we should take a quick look at what makes a sound digital or analogue. Everything has to do with how a sound is recorded. A copy of analogue sound recording is a continuous electronic signal.
Today, advances in the analogue to digital conversion methods have improved the quality of digital recordings. Some people say there is no distinction between digital and analogue mode. Others disagree - sometimes passionately. Music lovers - people who want the highest possible quality in sound systems - insist that analogue systems provide better sound.
What are the differences between analogue and digital recordings? Read on to find out.
History of digital sound
Before the 1970s, musicians recorded with analogue recording equipment. The microphones they used recorded sound and generated an analogue waveform that other devices could transfer directly to the suitable media, which was generally tape. Assuming that the musician used reliable equipment, the recorded sound was a faithful representation of the original sound.
With digital recording, audio engineers convert analogue waveforms into digital signals. There are many different types of equipment that can be converted from analogue to digital. Some studies record analogue audio in the original master tape, and then transfer the sound to a digital format. Others use special equipment to record directly to digital.
The first digital recordings sacrificed fidelity, or the sound quality, for reliability. One drawback of an analogue format is that analogue media tend to wear away quickly. Vinyl records can deform or scratch, and this can drastically affect the sound quality. Magnetic tape will eventually wear out and is vulnerable to the magnets, which can delete or destroy data stored on the tape. Digital media such as CDs can be played indefinitely, and are more durable.
Analogue vs. Digital
Some music lovers believe that digital recordings fall short when it comes to reproduce the sound accurately. They use complex language and jargon to describe the capabilities and shortcomings of an audio system. Most of their criticism deals with the sound frequency.
Humans can hear sounds ranging from 20 hertz (Hz) to 20 kilohertz (kHz). The frequency of a soundwave corresponds to our perception of the height of a sound. The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch we hear.
Audiophiles describe the sound quality of an audio system with respect to different frequencies by use of terms such as full, warm and airy. A full or warm sound comes from a system that reproduces low frequencies well. An airy sound means reproduced music gives the listener the impression that the instruments are in spacious surroundings and usually refers to sounds in the high frequency range.
Some music lovers say vinyl albums are better in the lower frequencies, which means they provide a warm sound. They argue that CDs are not as accurate in reproducing sounds in this range. Others insist that there is no detectable difference between a well-produced digital archive and a vinyl in good condition.
If the artist uses an analogue format to create the original recording, then an analogue copy is best. That's because there would be no need to convert sound from analogue to digital. The copy must be an exact representation of the original track. But if the artist uses digital recording, then it would be better to buy the album on CD.
The perception of musical quality is subjective. Two people who listen to the same music, with the same equipment, may have different opinions regarding the quality of the recording.
Analogue and digital signals
Sound is of course an analogue signal. An analogue signal is continuous, meaning that there are no breaks or interruptions. Digital signals are not continuous. Specific values are used to represent information. In the case of sound, a soundwave is represented as a series of values representing tone and volume over the length of the recording.
Some argue that analogue recording methods are best at capturing a true picture of sound. Digital recordings can lose the subtle nuances. But as digital recording processes improve, digital devices can use higher speeds with greater accuracy. Although the signal is not continuous, the high frequency may create a similar sound to the original source.
Another advantage of digital media over analogue is that you can make as many copies of the source sound as you want, without damaging it. Over time, even a masterful analogue recording will not sound as good as the original sound. But nothing corrupts a digital file, which will remain the same, no matter how much time has passed or the number of copies made.
Analogue and digital sound today
Nowadays, technology in the audio recording industry is so advanced that many sound engineers will tell you that there is no detectable difference between analogue and digital recordings. Even if you were to use the best sound equipment, you will not be able to identify one medium from another by simply listening. Many music lovers agree and claim that the analogue format remains supreme.
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- Digital media include CDs, DVDs and audio files. Digital sound files without compression tend to be very large. Often, sound engineers compress the files to make them more manageable, but this may affect the sound quality.