Popular misconceptions

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There's a popular misconception amongst Audiophiles that analog is continuous and digital isn't; ergo analog is better because nothing is missing as it must be in digital. While this is a nice idea it is not a correct one. The first thing to understand is how an analog system captures and records sound. Let's use a tape recorder as an example. A tape recorder works with a piece of film or tape that's been impregnated with tiny bits of iron glued to its surface. This tape moves past a recording head that is nothing more than a coil of wire used as an electro magnet. If you've ever watched our Coal to Coltrane movie on how electricity and magnetsim works, you'd know that this electro magnet only works when we stop and start it over and over. It is this stop and start action that makes the tape recorder do what it does - and what it does is turns those bits of iron into permanent magnets of greater or lesser strength depending on what you put into the magnetic head - each discrete piece of iron is turned into a magnet. When you turn the magnetic head from a recorder to a playback and pass the tape over the head, the tiny magnets on the tape come in close contact with that same coil of wire and the process is reversed creating an electrical signal. If you stop the tape and the little magnets on the tape sit still, then the coil in the playback head produces nothing. Remember, only stop and start or less and more will work in this medium. But, you say, it is still continuous and never comes to a complete stop - missing whatever happens in between the time it's stopped and it starts again - and I would counter that by its very nature it cannot capture continually because it leaves out the slowest and the fastest movement. In other words, in an analog recording if something's happening very slowly or very quickly, that information is completely lost because the recording device only works if things are stoping and starting fast enough to make the magnet work (about 10 times per second) or if it's too fast (about 16,000 times per second), the little bits of iron are unable to change their state quickly and that info is lost forever. We tend to put the blinders on and think "ok, I understand analog only works in this range, but within that range everything is captured continuously which is different than digital" and we would be confusing ourselves. All motion is an illusion of continuous. Even something as continuous as light is really a stop and start event with little bits called photons. Sorry to be the one that pops the bubble.
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Paul McGowan

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