Saturday, May 19, 2012

Analog vs. Digital

Back when CDs first came out, a lot of "golden ear" types lamented the passing of analog reproduction, saying the digital just wasn't the same. I couldn't hear the difference, and decided that even if I could, the absence of all the little pops and hisses of vinyl more than made up for it.

Here lately I've dug out my old reel to reel tape deck so as to transfer some compilation tapes I did back around 1970 to CDs. The first thing that happened was my wondering where all the static was coming from and checking all the connections, only to realize it was simply the popping and hissing of vinyl that I'd forgotten about.

The next thing I realized was that I could hear the difference between analog and digital and now understand what was lost. The best way to explain it might be to compare it to the resolution of pixels on TV or computer screens. Sometimes when it's very low resolution you can sort of see what's being represented, but it's fuzzy and your brain has to supply the detail. 

The first thing on the tape is a cut from the Baptism album of Joan Baez where she's singing the e. e. cummings poem "all in green went my love riding" put to music. The arc and continuity  of her phrasing took my breath away. That movement from moment to moment in the music is in no way pixelated and the effect is much more engaging than the digital sound of the CD. My brain needed to filter out the pops and hiss, but the beauty of line of the music through time was fully there.

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