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Date: November 29, 2005
To: Mr. Gawain Emanuel, University of Pittsburgh Professor
From: Jesse Brocious, University of Pittsburgh
Subject: Final Report, True Audio Reproduction
Dear Mr. Emanuel:
Enclosed is a copy of my report on analog and digital audio recording. After submitting the proposal of the topic, this final report provides detailed information regarding analog and digital audio formats.
With research and personal experience, the report includes technical and opinion based information. The research for the paper provided some new information that supports my opinions as well as show evidence for the perceived differences between the two formats.
Based on the research I have reviewed, my assertion that analog audio provides a more natural listening experience is supported. New technologies have overshadowed the traditional analog form, but analog has had a resurgence recently. As more advancements in technology are introduced, those individuals who do not know of the old recording format will not have the opportunity to hear the lifelike and natural sound.
Thank you for the opportunity to research this topic and present its findings. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you may have.
The introduction of digital audio during the 1980’s brought on a race to create the most pure fidelity. This race has caused most of the audio product consumers to move from their old analog audio equipment (vinyl records) to the new digital audio (compact discs). As with any new technology, people will take hold of a new product and spend whatever it takes to get the latest gear.
With the new audio revolution, the old vintage analog form is slowly becoming extinct. Audiophiles have began to switch from their trusted vinyl recordings as well. Today, many new consumers do not even know that vinyl records are still available and produced. The rapid shift from analog to digital can be summed up in one word, convenience. Compact discs are cheaper to produce, easier to maintain, have a longer life, and can be copied unlimited times with no change in quality.
Given the ease of use, digital audio may seem like the logical choice, but for pure audio reproduction vinyl will remain the best choice. When cost, time, and effort are of no object and the user desires the most accurate reproduction of his or her favorite music, vinyl will be the choice of the most discerning audiophile. Based on research, personal experience, and technical data, analog recordings are fundamentally superior when given the proper setup and maintenance. While good quality equipment and calibration may require additional effort and money, the results will be rewarding.
In order to show the differences between the two audio formats, technical knowledge will be necessary to understand the fundamentals. While analog recording is a constant replication of the music, digital recording is, “the chopping up of music into little pieces, and reconstituting it like powdered orange juice” (Holt).
Given my research and personal experiences, I assert that analog recording provides a more natural and uniform listening experience.
True Audio Reproduction
Since the inception of recorded sound, novices and audiophiles alike have tried to reproduce sound as accurately as possible. Today, with the digital revolution, many have lost appreciation for the natural sound of analog audio.
During the 1980’s, the compact disc (CD) was introduced as the first mass-produced digital1 audio format. This led way to an on going debate as to whether the new digital format was better than the traditional analog2 format. While an analog recording is a mechanical representation of the sound, a digital recording encodes the original sound with a computer (“Analog”). The debate amongst audiophiles lies in the fact that digital recording breaks the audio into thousands of pieces to be decoded later, while analog recordings are an actual representation of the sound waves. That being said, the use of traditional analog sources will produce a more life-like and natural listening experience.
As defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, sound waves are “A longitudinal pressure wave of audible or inaudible sound” (“sound wave”). These sound waves are perceived differently by each individual and are subject to scrutiny. Much of the debate regarding the differences between analog and digital recordings are more or less perceived, but there is technical and scientific evidence as well.
By establishing an understanding of sound and its structure, my research shows that analog recordings are superior in many audible areas. These areas will be evaluated in regards to perception and scientific evidence. Most of the debate on this issue resides in the perception of the music being played, and as J. Gordon Holt states, “The first stereo discs were castigated by most sonically-aware critics on precisely the same grounds” (Holt).
Analog and Digital Technicalities
In order to understand the differences in the two formats, a clear foundation of the reproduction of sound is necessary. Sound itself is vibration and is represented by waves in a graphical form. Mathematically, sound is defined by frequency, wavelength, and amplitude. For the purposes of this paper, frequency will be the only term needed for a clear understanding of the material. Frequency is defined as, “the number of air pressure oscillations per second at a fixed point occupied by a sound wave. One single oscillatory cycle per second corresponds to 1 Hz3” (“Sound”). To humans, the average audible range is somewhere between 20-20,000hz, with 20hz being low bass frequencies and higher pitched frequencies ranging upwards of 20,000hz.
For the analog format, a wave will be a direct correlation of the actual sound being recorded. A digital format on the other hand will be an estimate of the original waveform (see figure 1). By estimating the pattern of the waveform, many proponents of analog audio feel that digital recordings lose the natural flow of the sound.
Vinyl records for example have a groove carved into the surface that mimics the actual wave pattern. Compact discs on the other hand break up the analog pattern at a rate of 44,100 times per second (also referred to as 44.1kHz). A computer then processes this sample of the analog signal and the pieces are put back together as an audible form. This process is known as a digital to analog conversion, DAC for short (“Analog”).
Audible and Perceptible Differences
Audio recording quality is greatly based on the listeners’ perception. Many of the most discerning audiophiles have quite different views as to which audio format is more accurate. Technology today has created new formats of digital audio that create recordings of 192kHz, which is over four times the sampling rate of conventional compact discs. With the new format, the original analog sound wave is much more closely followed (“Sound”).
In terms of audible differences, the new format can replicate an original analog recording much better, but it is still not exact. Critics claim, “that the analog sound is "truer" because it is not reconstructed” (“Analog”). Imagine drawing a circle by connecting lines more like an octagon, the circle will obviously not be smooth despite following a similar pattern. Thus, the analog recording can follow an infinite wave while the digital form will still be in pieces no matter how many pieces (see figure 2). This irregularity is also known as aliasing4.
The fluctuations in the wave pattern are usually audible in instruments such as drums. Quick changes in the music can be missed by the recording and will be heard as a light popping or bottoming out. On the hand, analog recordings will provide a smooth transition regardless of timing or frequency.
Analog recordings are not perfect though, and for the audiophile vinyl records usually define absolute fidelity. The downside to analog vinyl recordings is their lack of resilience. They are easily scratched, any dust on the record will be heard, and they wear out over time. In order to reach their full potential the vinyl must be meticulously maintained. However, dust is the biggest culprit to deteriorating sound quality on a vinyl recording. Dust can cause interference between the needle reading the grooves in the recording. On the other hand, J. Gordon Holt remarks,
“Every technological advance in sound reproduction has been hailed as "unmusical," "unnatural," and "contrary to God's law." The first electrical recordings were condemned (by those who cared about sound at all) as "shrill," "steely" (footnote 1) and "unmusical"” (Holt).
That being said, both formats can have their downsides, but for the audio purist analog will remain superior.
Many contenders of analog recordings find the popping or clicking caused by dust and scratches in the vinyl to be the biggest downside. Unfortunately, most of those individuals have never had the ability to listen to a high quality recording on high quality equipment. The difference is night and day and a very detailed soundstage is present when the noises are eliminated. Robert Hof states,
“Many audiophiles, for instance, swear that well-produced, well-maintained vinyl records produce warmer, more pleasing music than compact disks. "The old vinyl sounds better," insists Al Farleigh, owner of Big Al's Record Barn in the Silicon Valley city of Santa Clara, Calif” (Hof).
As more people make the switch to digital, the more distant younger generations will grow apart from the older technologies. The digital age will continue to advance and at sometime maybe match the natural sound of vinyl, but until then people should try and appreciate the distinct sound.
In order to build an appreciation for old technology, an A and B comparison would be necessary to show the differences. The trouble with sound is that it relies heavily on opinion and perception. Even in a direct comparison, someone who is accustomed to certain sound qualities might be partial to attributes others may find harsh or unpleasant. The benefit to analog recordings is that it usually carries a warm and smooth sound unlike the metallic or synthesized sound of digital recordings
Digital audio has many advantages over analog audio to the everyday user. Digital audio in the CD form is more portable, reliable, easy to use, and less expensive. From the economical and practical standpoint, digital is superior in almost every aspect. On the other hand, my assertion remains in the fact that for the audiophile or someone seeking purity and musical excellence, analog vinyl recordings can provide an unrivaled soundstage. Regardless of the subject matter or product, a consumer seeking something premium will not be concerned with the additional effort or money needed to grasp the added benefits.
From the technical standpoint analog may lack sophistication in the area of noise reduction and tone control, but as long as the original recording is true to the real music it will sound more natural. Given the right equipment and a quality recording even the most diehard digital fan will grow an appreciation for how musical analog recordings can be. Hof comments in his article,
“Behind the sleek facade of the digital age there lurks a dirty little secret. Creaky old "analog" technologies such as film, vinyl phonograph records, and, yes, even mechanical clocks with revolving hands boast a raft of advantages -- a richness, longevity, and human scale -- that most of their digital counterparts are not yet able to match” (Hof).
Analog audio is the pinnacle of prestige and quality for someone seeking unparalleled reproduction of music. By taking the additional time to maintain and calibrate an analog setup the sound quality can be impacted greatly.
Should've just posted the 3rd paragraph of his cover letter. Each successive paragraph just restates that one anyway.
Technicalities are hinted at, but the most elucidating it gets is when the writer maintains that vinyl is not chopped up into little bits and the reconstructed, it's a representation of the sound wave (Citation).
And besides that, Jesse Brocious happens to be from the town where I live. Not only that, but his parents and my wife and I have been friends for years. Not only THAT, but I am the person who introduced the young man to vinyl!
It is a small world. I now know someone in Pittsburg.
A friend who has designed many amps and speakers, both professionally and for himself, and who has done analogue recording would choose original master tapes first and SACD second as the closest thing he ever heard to master tapes.
thats funny that this little report made it over here.... i had to write an opinion based persuasive report for my finally paper... as you could guess, this was put together VERY quickly and it is almost 100% OPINION based.... that premise of the piece was to persuade students to listen to vinyl....
anyway, im always up for constructive criticism, however this was a persuasive piece and only about 75% of the paper is included on this thread and the one at audiokarma
im 22 and only been listening to vinyl for about 2 years, my technical knowledge will grow with time
Based on your cover letter I was expecting more detailed information and more technical information. From the standpoint of an opinion-based report, I guess it's okay, except for your erroneous analogies.
Neither digital nor vinyl deals with music directly. They both deal with an electrical signal that supposedly represents music. Both formats alter that electrical signal by changing it into something different so that it can be stored for later retrieval. The retrieval process further alters the original signal during reconstruction. However, if you measure the difference between the original signal and the reconstructed signal, you will find that digital produces a more accurate version of the original than does vinyl. This is fact.
If you want to talk about the methodology of digital, I think it only fair to present the methodology of vinyl, as well. In order to store a musical signal onto vinyl the bass must be reduced to minimize groove spacing and the treble must be increased to achieve an adequate signal-to-noise ratio. This requires reverse equalization in order to recover a “flat frequency response” during playback. Now, the playback stylus has a different shape than the cutting stylus, which causes scanning distortion. Both frequency response and dynamic range for vinyl are finite, not infinite. Furthermore, dynamic range for vinyl is less than that of Redbook digital and frequency response for vinyl rarely exceeds 20-kHz, which is the upper limit of Redbook digital and also the upper limit of human hearing.
Here is the bottom line:
If you have an original recording that you believe sounds as good as anything could possibly sound, then a digital reproduction of it will come audibly closer to that perfect sound than a vinyl reproduction. You can easily prove this to yourself by using a high quality digital recorder to copy a vinyl record and compare the original to the copy. I do this all the time and the two sound identical.
I'd be curious to hear what his professor had to say about it.
its too bad he didnt find some factual data, it very likely exists. but the 'paper' is one mostly of opinion and preference.
I agree with you completely!
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