Damaging digital

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If I have a digital file on my computer and I want to share it with you, I need only upload it to Dropbox for storage and email you a link to download it. That file can sit in my Dropbox folder for mere seconds or many years and it can be downloaded by one or a hundred people without any sonic consequences. I can email that same file to you if it isn't too large. I can copy it to multiple hard drives, perhaps a CDR, a DVDR, USB memory stick or an SD card. I can place that card or those discs in the post and mail it across the world to friends that will then transfer its contents to their computers; all without changing one little bit of how that file sounds.

Yet, as soon as I load that file into my DAC, the final storage medium has an effect on its sound quality.

If we were discussing analog that would not be true because every step of recording, copying and sending degrades the sound. I find it ironic that he frailty of digital occurs only at the end of the chain and never in the middle. I can make 100,000 copies of the same file on 10 different mediums, transmitting their contents over the internet to be broken into discrete packets traveling through disparate networks, reassembled halfway around the world without any sonic degradation. Don't believe me? Try emailing yourself a digital music file and compare the sound of that emailed file to the original and there will be no difference you can hear, provided the last storage medium transferring the data to your DAC is identical.

How can this be true? Because up until the point that a clock is added to the data, bits are truly bits. At no point in the copying or transfer of data was there a timing reference associated with the data. The marriage of musical bits and accurate clocks happens only when we wish to convert those bits into that which we can hear and it is this process that changes how it sounds.

Ironic, indeed.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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