Analog vs Digital: What’s the Difference?

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analog vs digital
The seemingly always-relevant allure of retro-tech and nostalgic music and shows leads many to wonder what it’s all about, especially with the popularity of VHS and camcorder apps, prompting the need for a better understanding of what analog is and what digital is.

Houses that still employ or need things such as weather radios or outdoor TV antennas and antenna amplifiers are a good example of analog and digital going hand in hand, and those people might be able to understand some of what we’re about to explain more intuitively; there are differences in an analog signal VS digital signal, analog VS digital TV, as well as points of distinction, to be made in digital VS analog audio.

Analog Signal VS Digital Signal

Digital signals are a game of ones and zeros. One represents an “on” state and zero an “off” state or the presence and absence of data, and a combination of these 1s and 0s is used to put together meaningful data, which we call information.

They are signals that carry this information across devices, being sent from one end and received at another (single or multiple, such as many devices receiving the Internet from a Wi-Fi router in your home or office).

An analog signal is considered “continuous”, represented by sine waves whereas digital signals, represented by square waves, are discrete by nature. These square waves, however, are more a way of representation, as digital signals are considered to be binary in essence and form (the aforementioned ones and zeros).

Due to its discrete nature, a digital signal is much less prone to distortion or manipulation from an outside source.

There is no discussion of amplitude, phase, or frequency, and things are handled in terms of bit rates and bit intervals. This is because a digital wave is a “sampling” of the analog wave, which is also what makes digital data so much more efficient, enabling compression through grouping together of certain patterns in the numbers.

Analog VS Digital Delay

If analog and digital are the difference between the signals and how they transmit data, what are analog and digital delay pedals and how do they connect to what we’ve just learned?

For some, this might be the question that led them here, and for the uninitiated, both an analog delay pedal and digital delay pedals are the two basic types of pedals that can be used on guitars by musicians. Guitar pedals are used to create effects such as distortion or overdrive, create specific sound textures, or just to make the tone of your guitar better.

These names are not arbitrary: analog delay pedals utilize the analog signal in a mechanical way using capacitors and are slightly limited in their function, owing to their usage of bucket-brigade device chips that repeat the analog delays making the sonic signature very particular and specific. While a lot of guitarists prefer this “classic” sound and know their way around it, the shorter maximum delay times are a real problem, leading to the use of digital delay pedals.

Digital delay pedals forgo the BBD chips for DSP chips, which use digital signal processing, offering flexibility and much greater control over your machine in the form of presets and precise delay time control, and even the ability to emulate analog delay – though, again, many guitarists swear by the specific musical quality of analog delays.

Digital VS Analog Audio

The most noticeable difference in the analog VS digital debate is in digital VS analog audio, usually manifesting as a vinyl VS CD/MP3/streaming debate.

Of course, the analog wave captured by a vinyl most closely replicates the analog signals of a real human voice, the actual sound of a band, and even the actual waves captured on the reels and tapes by the greatest artists in history, even as recently as the Foo Fighter’s hit album Wasting Light which was recorded all on analog. But apart from a technical and theoretical discussion, is the difference noticeable?

While audiophiles might disagree, there is a growing amount of research which shows that many people cannot parse out a noticeable drop or increase in quality on different audio formats, especially considering that most turntables and record players produced these days are also of lower quality than they used to be, as are the speakers and headphones – ultimately, digital mediums.

At the same time, however, the fact of the matter is what it is; digital music is replication, and sound is analog. Many factors such as the signal-to-noise ratio and how “warm” the sound is, leave many still preferring analog formats – hence, the great vinyl resurgence of recent years.

Conclusion: What’s Better?

While audiophiles might spend thousands of dollars on limited edition picture disk vinyl albums and guitarists might appreciate the feel of an analog delay pedal, it’s said the world’s most accurate atomic clocks are digital ones, and our very access to more information and entertainment than we can possibly access in ten lifetimes is all due to the digitalization of the world.

You don’t need the best DVD player hooked up to the latest 4k TV to make a decision for choosing a side in an analog VS digital TV debate. Nobody would want to watch something on a television from 20 years ago, and even if you prefer older films, it’s likely that watch you’re watching now is a restoration, a digitally remastered version that has made sure that great art is preserved for all times.

Still, there’s a lot to be said for the feel, look, and sheer practicality of all things analog: analog watches are more technically accurate than quartz, the most expensive watches in the world are all analog (tying in to the look and aesthetic aspect), and, of course, analog is way more durable, with many vintage and classic items still preserved in museums and by collectors and enthusiasts all over the world.

The question is of quantity and quality, durability and endurability, but ultimately, even in an ever-increasingly digital world, analog still has a special place.

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