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Understanding Analog & Digital In Terms Of Audio
Neither analog or digital is "better" or "best". An uncolored look at the underlying simple truths of both formats.
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Analog? Digital? Both?

In professional audio, many choices exist, but there’s not enough time to make the wrong ones.

We regularly hear claims floating about, often skewed by particular opinions and interests that tend to color underlying simple truths.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the noun “analog” as being something that is analogous (similar or related) to something else.

For example, an analog can be a food product that represents another, such as inexpensive whitefish “krab” intended to replicate more expensive (real) crab meat, or, for you vegetarians, soybeans processed to look and taste like beef.

If you’ve experienced either of these examples, you know that some products are more successful than others in recreating the essence of the original. The audio world is really no different.

But a fundamental difference between processed food and audio, of course, is that a foodstuff analog can only ever be exactly that - analog.

In contrast, audio can be reproduced as an analog OR as a digital representation of the original.

When something makes a sound, such as a musical instrument or a human voice, the vibrations produced travel through the air as an analog of that sound.

So, we start with an analog of the original, a close representation of the sound source.

If we’re able to accurately preserve the subtleties and nuances of the original movement of the air throughout the audio system, then we have done our job. But how best to do that?

It isn’t just a question of whether it’s better to put together an entirely analog or entirely digital signal path to capture and convey the original sound source.

Both methods offer advantages and disadvantages, and a variety of factors, including circuit design and component choice, can affect how accurately the equipment reproduces the source.

But for all the advances that have brought high-resolution digital audio products to the marketplace, the debate still rages over which sounds “better.”

The crux of the matter is how close current digital audio technology, even at high sampling rates and bit depths, can come in replicating full-bandwidth analog audio gear.

Audio - sounds that are within the average human range of hearing generally accepted to cover the frequency range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz - moves through the natural world as an analog signal that is continuous in time and amplitude.

It always starts with analog, such as the lovely voices of Norah Jones (left) and Dolly Parton.

In a digital audio system, a natural sound traveling through the air must be converted after being captured by a microphone.

An analog microphone translates the movements of air on its diaphragm into an electrical signal.

That electrical signal must then be converted into a digital signal, a string of zeroes and ones, in order to be transported by, operated on, or stored by the digital audio system that follows.


Comments (5) Most recent displayed first | All comments in chronological order
Posted by George S. Louis  on  11/28/11  at  07:06 PM
FYI about polarity at the link: http://www.ultrabitplatinum.com/?page_id=725 . If you find that interesting, I can send you a text only version sans commercial references. You may also find my think pieces about polarity and imaging at: http://www.ultrabitplatinum.com/?page_id=88 and at: http://www.ultrabitplatinum.com/?page_id=1513 interesting as well, or not.

If you'd help me sort out the mistakes, when and if they're corrected, you just might become an instant overnight music-lovers' folk hero. Or on the other hand be tarred and feathered and have your ears cut off and served up to you on a silver platter for your last meal as an audiophile guru. I invite you to visit so that I can take you out for a meal on me and then we can share some of your music and mine on my custom built (by me) audio system on a CD player with a digital domain remote controlled polarity switch. My system is the best I've heard so far for discerning polarity that still must be done by ear. Those who hear CDs played over my system don't usually have much trouble hearing polarity. But whatever happens it will be just between the two of us, if that's what you prefer. It'll be attorney client privilege, or Perfect Polarity Pundit privilege, you decide. But ultimately for the sake of the music, it's up to you to either be part of the problem or part of the solution, so that 30 years doesn't become 31. Besides email you may also call me 7 days a week at 619-401-9876 or toll free at 888-588-9542 between 9AM and 11:45PM Pacific Time.

Best regards,

George S. Louis, Esq., CEO Digital Systems & Solutions Email: gslouis@gslouis.com Website: www.GetBetterFidelity.com Phone: 619-401-9876 1573 Kimberly Woods Drive El Cajon, CA 92020-7261 P.S. How difficult would it be for companies' voice menus instead of saying "Please listen to the entire announcement because our menu has changed recently before making your selection" to "Our announcement was last changed on such and such date? And that would also save time and electrical energy.

Posted by Alexander Jenkins  on  11/28/11  at  04:50 PM
My comment of respectfully disagreeing with the "comment above" refers to Zal's expression of analog not affecting the sound, not the article.

PS , if I misunderstood Zal's comment, then simply take my thoughts as a general comment.

Posted by Zal  on  11/28/11  at  04:50 PM
As a mastering engineer, we once had a shootout with 3 top A to D converters...one sounded best but I noted that another sounded the most like the original analog master tape, and that's the one we chose to master with.

While I am well aware of the changes that can occur with different gear, and there are times when this is efacacious, we were looking for the most accurate to the original.That's the situation I was referring to.

As a musician, I know that when it comes to a Jazz piece (in general) you start out with the original melody and them embellish, and take off from there...but if you start off in an altered state, it's hard to get back to the original (at least enough to appreciate it after the musical astral travels). Of course, the analogy is a bit flawed here as the musicians COULD choose to go back to the original melody somewhere in the song, but, if we are talking about capturing the purity of sound, once it's altered, there is no turning back.

Posted by Alexander Jenkins  on  11/28/11  at  04:42 PM
Great article. Fun to read.

As a medical professional once stated, "every medication has side effects. There isn't a medication made that is truly transparant to the body". Such it is with anything we use to capture or process sound. So to respectfully disagree with the comment above, when using analog to capture the sound as close as possible to the "real thing", I also use it to alter/color the sound as the article suggests. While it may not be processing using 1's and 0's, it still adds color which distorts (alters) the sound from the original. For instance I use a dynamic mic on a snare because inertia from the sound pressure of a snare hit causes the diaphragm to continue motion beyond the natural length of the sound coming from the snare. This lengthened sound is artificially created due to the inability of a dynamic mic element to stop fast enough. So while the sound is still "analog", it is now like the artificial crab example in the article. I like the taste of both and am happy to have some great analog and digital options nowadays. Even the digital remakes of analog processing, which while close to the originals and even if spec-wise appear to react exactly the same, still have a new character of their own.

Posted by Zal  on  11/28/11  at  03:25 PM
While it all starts as analog, it also all ends as analog, or you just won't hear it.

And analog doesn't have to be recorded or processed to sound good, it just sounds natural just the way it is while digital is meant to mimic that natural nature of analog. Analog sound doesn't have to mimic anything....

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