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What is Digital Recording?

Brad Cole
Brad Cole

Digital recording is the translation and transcription of sound into an on-off format (binary). This binary transcription is called a digital recording, and is done by an analog to digital converter (ADC). The recording can be translated back into sound by computers and other playback devices.

There are many different types of digital recordings including CDs, mp3s, and WAV files. They differ in two primary ways – how the data is encoded and on what media the data is stored. Not all digital playback devices can play all types of digital recordings – this is due to the playback device either being unable to read the storage media or being unable to translate how the recording is encoded.

A CD containing digital recordings.
A CD containing digital recordings.

The data that makes up a digital recording is often compressed when it is transferred into a computer file. The way the file is compressed is considered to be either lossless or lossy. Lossless compression means that no data is altered when the file is compressed; lossy compression means that small amounts of data have been changed or discarded due to the compression. Lossless digital files tend to be much larger than their counterparts, and include files created using the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) and Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC). Lossy files are much smaller, and tend to be more popular for that reason. They include MP3 and WMA formats.

One of the most important aspects of a digital recording is the sample rate. The sample rate represents the number of times every second that data from the sound wave (continuous signal) is taken and translated into a digital format. A sample rate of 44,100 times per second is considered the amount needed to produce the quality of a traditional music CD.

One of the primary advantages of digital recordings has to do with copying. When treated properly, these recordings can be copied an infinite number of times without losing sound quality. As well, copies can also be made of the copies without the sound being degraded. This has advantages in both editing and portability. With sound editing, it means that the digital recording can be clipped, copied, put into different editors, and then recopied without losing much sound quality. In regards to portability, it means that music enthusiasts can copy their favorite songs from their computer, to their portable music player, and even transfer their entire collection to a new computer all without the loss of sound quality.

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Discussion Comments


@whiteplane - Good points. For me the biggest advantage to recording music digitally is that it is so easy to share. I think about people in the 60s that were making all kinds of crazy music, but they had no easy way to record or distribute their music. Left with out an audience, their creativity dried up and their ideas were lost.

Nowadays it is so easy to connect with like minded people. If you want to make music that sounds different to the stuff on the radio, or that is completely crazy and abstract, you can easily share your passion and your music with appreciative listeners around the world. This is very encouraging for a young musician operating at the lonely fringe.


The influence of digital music cannot really be understated. It has completely revolutionized the way people record, listen to, buy, compose and consume music in every way. Think about the recording business just 20 years ago and how much it has changed.

Now we have I-Tunes, and pro tools, and MP3 players, and a whole culture of remixes and mix tapes. Anyone can record a pristine sounding record with one microphone and a computer. Music is bigger and more adventurous and more accessible than it has ever been before. It is an exciting time to be a musician.


I have a small digital recorder that I carry in my pocket at all times. It allows me to have the capacity for digital audio recording any time, anywhere I go. I can record thoughts I have, sounds I hear, music that my friends are playing or cool bits of audio that I might want to sample later.

The recorder can hold hours and hours of recordings and it downloads easily to my computer. I picked the thing up for less than $100 and it has been worth its weight in gold.


thanks. this helped me a lot!

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    • A CD containing digital recordings.
      By: kredo
      A CD containing digital recordings.