Should we all just switch to digital systems?

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Analog vs. Digital: The Verdict

Some audiophiles believe that digital recordings fall short when it comes to reproducing sound accurately. They use an intricate language filled with jargon to describe an audio system's capabilities or shortcomings. Most of their criticisms deal with sound frequency.

Humans can hear sounds ranging from 20 hertz (Hz) to 20 kilohertz (kHz) [source: Hyperphysics]. A sound wave's frequency corresponds to our perception of a sound's pitch. The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch we hear.

Audiophiles describe an audio system's sound quality regarding different frequencies by using terms like full, warm and airy. A full or warm sound comes from a system that reproduces low frequencies well. An airy sound means that the music reproduced gives the listener the impression that the instruments are in a spacious environment and usually refers to sounds in the high frequency range.

Some audiophiles say that vinyl albums perform better in the lower frequencies, meaning they provide a warm sound. They argue that compact discs aren't as accurate at reproducing sounds at this range. Other people insist that there is no detectable difference between a well-produced digital file and an undamaged vinyl record.

An audiophile would likely point out that your sound system will be the most important factor when listening to music, not the media you put into it. But assuming you've put together a really strong system that can handle both analog and digital formats, which format should you choose when shopping for a new album?

It depends on the recording method. If the recording artist used an analog format to create the master recording, audiophiles would argue that an analog copy of the music is best. That's because there would be no need to convert the sound from analog to digital. The copy should be an accurate representation of the original track.

But if the artist used digital recording, then it would be best to buy the album on CD. In order to press a vinyl album from a digital recording, audio engineers must first convert the music from a digital signal back into an analog sound wave. Any time engineers have to convert a recording from one format to another, there's a chance that the quality will suffer.

In the end, the perception of musical quality is somewhat subjective. Two people standing in the same room listening to the same music might have very different opinions regarding the quality of the recording. One might describe the music as warm and airy, while the other could say it was harsh and flat. That can happen whether the listeners use digital or analog media.

So bottom line: which is better? After much research and subjecting ourselves to hours of listening to music, we've come up with an answer. We're going to have to call this one a tie.

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