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Analog Recording VS Digital Recording (Steve Albini VS Ken Andrews)

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Published on Dec 19, 2010

For almost a century, sound was recorded using only analog techniques like magnetic tape. Over the past 20 years, however, digital technology has almost wiped analog recording off the map, and not everyone is happy about it.

Analog purists argue that traditional recording gives the sound a warmth and depth digital can't match. And tape has proven to have a lifespan of decades; who knows how long digital recordings, which can be stored on anything from a hard drive to a CD, will last?

Digital diehards point out that editing a computer file is far easier than physically cutting and splicing tape - and doesn't entail the risk of accidentally destroying the original in the process. Besides, these days, software allows engineers to doctor digital recordings to make them sound like they were recorded on an analog console.

What's the difference, anyway? Sound itself is just vibrating changes in air pressure, which travel in continuous waves and cause similar vibrations in our eardrums.

Analog recording mechanically duplicates those continuous vibrations, using the grooves of a record, or the flux of a magnetic tape passing through a tape recorder.

With digital recording, computers slice up those continuous sound waves into separate bits of information called samples. The faster the sampling, the more the recorded sound resembles the original.

WIRED SCIENCE sat down with the members of the band Great Northern and two top recording industry engineers - pros who have worked with everyone from Duran Duran to Justin Timberlake - to see if they could tell the difference between analog and digital recordings. The results surprised everybody.

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