This second needle was connected to another horn, this one used to amplify the vibrations of the needle. As the needle rode through the grooves, it reproduced the sounds that had been cut into the cylinder. Wax and vinyl records worked in much the same fashion.
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At the record-cutting plant, a vibrating needle cut patterns into a master disc, which was then used to stamp out millions of replicas—the records you or your parents or grandparents! The waveform associated with live music is rather complex and has a large dynamic range—the difference between the loudest and softest passages. In addition, analog recording introduces extraneous noise and distortion into the process—especially when copies are made.
This means that playback is often plagued by the annoying hiss and pops produced when the needle passes over the vinyl groove. Finally, analog recordings can only be stored physically. Instead of trying to produce an exact image of an analog sound, digital audio uses small bursts of information—digital bits in the form of 1s and 0s—to represent pieces of the analog sound wave. When the bits of digital information are small enough, and when there are enough of them, an extremely accurate picture of the original sound emerges.
Making a Digital Recording When making an analog recording, you attempt to mimic the original waveform on some sort of physical medium—wax cylinder, vinyl disc, magnetic tape, or whatever. Digital recording works much differently. All digital recordings—starting in the recording studio—are made by creating digital samples of the original sound. This process is called sampling and you can see how it works in Figure 3. Digital sampling of an analog sound; the original waveform is captured as a series of discrete segments. The quality of the digital recording is dependent on how many samples are taken per second.
The more samples taken the higher the sampling rate , the more accurate the snapshot of the original sound.
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The other quality factor is the length of the sample taken, measured in bits. The smaller the sample size, the more accurate the recording. Ultimately Interesting Audio CDs sample music at a This is called the sampling rate. Each sample is 16 bits long. When you multiply the sampling rate by the sample size and the number of channels two for stereo , you end up with a bitrate.
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You can copy it, edit it, delete it, even use your computer to download the file from the Internet or send it from your computer to another electronic device. And, of course, you can play that file to listen to what was recorded. When you play back a digital recording, the digital audio file is converted back into analog format by a digital-to-analog converter DAC.
The higher quality the DAC, the more accurate the playback. Dealing with Digital Compression One of the issues with digital audio is that the higher the sampling rate, the larger the resulting digital file. For example, a typical three-minute song with CD-quality audio takes up close to 32MB of disk space. This process is called compression, and it works by removing slices from the digital file in an attempt to reduce the file size.
Ideally, less-important pieces of the recording are lost; a digital audio encoder uses complex algorithms to determine what sounds a human is able to hear, based on accepted psychoacoustic models, and chops off those sounds outside this range. Different audio file formats use different types of compression. But when you need smaller file sizes, you can choose from two different types of compression—lossy or lossless.
Lossy compression is so named because some of the original data is lost in the process. You control the sound quality and the size of the resulting file by selecting different sampling rates for the data.
The lower the sampling rate, the smaller the file size—and the lower the sound quality. If you want to create a high fidelity digital archive, a better solution is to use a lossless compression format. These formats work similar to the ZIP compression used for other types of computer data; redundant bits are taken out to create the compressed file, which is then uncompressed for playback.
The resulting file has exact fidelity to the original, while still being stored in a smaller-sized file. The average listener today seemingly has little problem with the reduced sound quality induced by lossy compression. This is apparently the price we pay to get easily manageable files that can be stored on a pocket-sized playback device. Audiophiles, however, demand higher fidelity, which means going with less or no compression and a higher sampling rate, and somehow dealing with the resulting increase in file size.
Ultimately Interesting Another way that digital audio encoders reduce file size is by using lower sampling rates; the less sampling taking place, the smaller the file size.
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The Benefits of Digital Music The movement to digital recording, then, provides all sorts of benefits. Not only do you, the listener, get potentially better sounding recordings compare a song on CD vs.
Remember how those old LPs would start to hiss and crackle after several playings? Not so with digital media. Those 1s and 0s remain 1s and 0s throughout the entire process. Physically, this means that the music on a CD sounds exactly the same after a thousand playings as it did first out of the jewel case.
In addition, if you choose a higher sampling rate with less or no compression, a digital recording can come extremely close to accurately mirroring the original sound. Analog recordings can also be very accurate, but are more often than not plagued by a low signal-to-noise ratio because of high background noise.
Digital recordings have a very high signal-to-noise ratio, with very little background noise or distortion. The bottom line: digital affords the opportunity for the highest possible audio fidelity, no matter how many times a song is played. Even better, you can conserve on electronic storage space by intelligently compressing your digital music files. Depending on the type of compression you choose, file size can be dramatically reduced without noticeable degradation in sound quality.
Those smaller files then open the door for all sorts of new uses for the original music, including downloading off the Internet and playback in portable audio devices. Easier Organization With a physical CD or album collection, you can only organize things one way. Maybe you sort your CDs by title, by artist, or even if your mind works in mysterious ways by date purchased. You can then quite easily display your collection, in real time, by any of these criteria.
You can even apply multiple sorting criteria, to display only those tracks in the jazz genre that were released in You also have the ability to quickly search your collection for a single track or album. With a digital collection, all you have to do is enter the name of the song and start searching. Easy as sugar pie. Streaming audio lets you listen to a file in real time without actually downloading and storing the complete file on your computer. Streaming audio is also ideal for listening to live concerts, news reports, and sporting events. In the old days pre-digital technology , performances were recorded to magnetic tape.
Depending on the era, a tape machine might record 1, 2, 8, 16, or 32 separate tracks. In either case, there were many compromises to be made, and recording quality ultimately suffered. Editing was also a challenge. If you wanted to use a guitar solo from one take and a drum track from another, you had to literally splice different tape segments together. Not easy and not always doable. Digital recording, however, has eliminated all these constraints. Want to construct a recording from different instrumental and vocal tracks? You can do it. Digital technologies also simplify the editing process.
Inserting a single track from one take into a different take is as easy as cutting and pasting a sentence in Microsoft Word; you can easily cut a few measures from a guitar solo on pass 22 and paste into the master recording, to create the perfect solo. The result is that making a great-sounding recording is now much easier and costs much less than it used to.
The investment is minimal and just about anybody can achieve professional results. Many of the old disciplines have been forgotten, with the result that too many recordings today have a similar sound. In addition, because software programs like Pro Tools can correct a lot of mistakes, making even an average musician sound good, the magic of a live performance by top-shelf musicians is lost.
It all sounds good, but none of it sounds special. These are my personal grumblings, in any case. I happen to be a big fan of the golden days of studio recording, when a talented producer would bring a team of experienced musicians into a big studio, rehearse them until things were just right, then roll the tape and capture the magic of all those musicians playing together in a single stellar performance.
Farewell, Phil Spector; we miss that wall of sound. Chapter 4. When you download or rip a music track, that track is stored in a digital data file of a given format.
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There are many different file formats that can be used to store digital audio; some sound better or worse than others, some are larger or smaller than others, and some are more or less common than others. Which file format you choose will affect just about everything you do as a digital music collector. The file format you centralize on determines which music player programs you can use, which portable music players you can work with, even which online music stores you can buy from. In other words, choosing the file format you use for your digital music is both important and complicated.
Evaluating File Formats There are more than a dozen different audio file formats available today. They differ in terms of compatibility, sound quality, file size, and the like. My preferred approach is to divide the file formats in terms of compression used. An uncompressed file offers the best audio quality but at very large file sizes.
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This is a good compromise in terms of audio quality vs. Lossless compression preserves the original audio quality while still decreasing the file size—but not quite as small as what you get with lossy compression. This approach creates the smallest sized files, but at some degradation of audio quality. If disk space is at a premium, however, you want to go with some sort of lossy compression and accept the lower audio quality.
Related The Ultimate Digital Music Guide: The Best Way to Store, Organize, and Play Digital Music
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