Every music fan who thinks highly of themselves and owns a record player will most likely devotedly claim that they can simply hear a huge difference in the quality of sound between a vinyl and a CD or a song on YouTube. The difference they are referring to is analog versus digital sound. But what exactly is that and can a human ear truly pick up on these intricate nuances?
Digital and analog are basically just two different versions of recorded sound. We can look at it this way: digital starts off as analog, but the former has some extra steps. When the process of recording an analog takes place, the sound – a voice or a music instrument – is captured using a microphone, which turns the air pressure created by the sound waves and transforms that into electrical analog signals. What we hear are those signals imprinted into vinyl groves or analog tapes by the means of magnetization.
Creating a digital recording is exactly that except an additional step occurs – the recording is transformed into numbers and stored as a digital file of a certain format, such as the well known mp3. Our computers, being as smart as they are, use specific software to read those files and present us with songs we enjoy. However, the digital recording receives bandwidth limitation, meaning that the quality is compromised to some extent, whereas analog recordings are thought to have unlimited bandwidth. The question is, can we really hear that difference, and if we can’t, should we care about it?
The answer is yes and no. It all really depends on the way in which you are listening to the recording. If it is meant strictly for personal use and the speaker quality is barely above mediocre, you probably won’t be able to feel any difference. However, if you play the recording at a concert, with technical means to produce truly pure and high-quality sound, the analog will take the cake for sure. After all, there is a reason why DJs still use those massive black CDs during their concerts – they want analog sound because they want quality.
Digital recordings are also known to have a greater sound-to-noise ratio (that’s basically the amount of noise present in the recording). It occurs because when the sound is transformed into a digital form, the sound waves end up being edgy and chopped up (as opposed to the even and smooth analog ones) and thus increasing digital noise.
Overall, when it comes to sound quality, analog is certainly superior, but digital makes up for it in its versatility. That’s the recording you’ll conveniently listen to from your mobile and with old headphones on while on a train, this is the recording you will play while you and a couple of your friends are hanging out and having a picnic outside, the simple reason being it is a lot more portable. So evidently, there ups and downs to each one of those, and the preferred recording type really depends on the situation you’re in.