How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 812

What is analog? I hear about digital audio being better than analog, but nobody defines what analog is. — DG, Houston, TX
In analog audio, the air pressure fluctuations of sound at the microphone are represented by a continuously variable physical quantity such as an electric current, a voltage, or a magnetization. Thus as the air pressure at a tape recorder's microphone rises during one moment of a song, an electric current in the recorder will rise and a region of a magnetic tape surface will become particularly strongly magnetized in a particular direction. Overall, each value of air pressure is converted to a particular value of the physical quantity.

The problem with analog recording is that when the sound is recreated, any defect in the physical quantity representing air pressure will lead to an imperfection in the reproduced sound. For example, if the magnetization of the recording tape has changed slightly due to how it was stored, the sound that the tape recorder produces won't be exactly the same as the sound that the microphone heard. Digital recording avoids this problem by recording the information as bits. The physical quantity such as magnetization is representing bits (which take only two possible values) rather than the air pressure itself (which can take a broad range of values). Minor changes in the physical quantity representing these bits won't change the bits. Thus imperfections in the recording or playback process won't affect the sound quality.


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