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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.
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.