Analog Vs. Digital Microphone: Which One to Choose and When?

FACTS CHECKED BY  Jose George​

If you start audio versus digital discussion, you can go for hours—especially the audio enthusiasts who have a lot of information on both. However, no matter how long the conversation is, it always ends in a mixed conclusion. You cannot determine whether one is better than the other. Here, we will compare analog vs. digital microphone to choose one based on a different application.

Analog vs. Digital Audio: What’s the Difference?

They are different from each other in many things. For example:

Signal flow

In wireless microphones, the transmitter turns the audio signal into radio waves. The receiver converts these radio waves into audio signals. The variation in amplitude and frequency of the audio signal is reflected in the change of the radio wave. In analog wireless microphones, these changes are continuous. In digital wireless microphones, these changes happen from one value to another.

A digital microphone converts the sound into a digital signal. This signal then travels through the air, and the receiver picks up these signals and converts them back to the sound signals.

On the contrary, an analog wireless mic uses companding. It compresses the signal in the transmitter, and it then expands the movement precisely in the receiver.  As a result of companding, the dynamic range maximizes and minimizes any cross-talks. However, it also brings some pumping and breathing effects in the sound.

Recording methods 

Analog audio signals are one of the oldest technologies in sound recording history. Here, the microphone converts the original sound into electrical audio signals. The process imprints the signs directly onto a master tape, i.e., a large reel or a cassette. Sometimes, it also gets imprinted on vinyl records through spiral grooves.

The sounds also convert into analog electrical signals in digital audio recording. However, here, the signals then convert into digital signals. The digital signals are numbers that digital software can recognize, read and reproduce. You can copy these digital formats onto hard drives or compact discs. Further, you can also upload them online to use them as playback on internet-based or digital audio systems.

Audio Bandwidth:

You can convert a recorded signal at different resolutions depending on the various sound systems. However, the final sound quality largely depends on the bandwidth. The more the bandwidth of the audio signal, the more is the audio quality. This is similar to the image resolution; the more the resolution, the better the image quality.

In the case of analog audio signals, the bandwidth is unlimited. It means that you can move the signs to higher resolutions without affecting their audio quality. On the other hand, digital signals limit the audio signals to a fixed bandwidth. However, you need a high bandwidth if you want to increase the potential of your audio. You need high-quality audio for audio-producing speakers.

Image: analog sound mixing console to mix music and microphones

Signal to Noise Ratio:

Signal to Noise ratio is a common term related to audio equipment. It is the desired sound from the speakers versus the unwanted noise. Signal to Noise ratio or SNR is presented in numerical decibels. An audio signal of SNR 100 decibels means that its audio signal is 100db higher than the noise level. The higher the number, the lesser the unwanted sound. You can quickly know whether an audio file has high or low SNR depending on its quality.

All the digital audios have a higher SNR ratio, especially recordings with higher sampling rates. The unwanted sound decreases when there is a longer or lower sampling rate.

Note: Sampling rate refers to the samples of audio recorded every second

In digital recordings, the sound waves travel as the stairs, and as a result, it creates or adds noise. On the contrary, analog signals are smooth. However, you may notice some popping or cracking sounds at times. When some mistakes are recorded on vinyl or master tapes, these sounds generally occur.

Loss of quality

Analog audio recordings can show degradation in their quality over time. Degradation occurs because the vinyl records or cassettes age due to repeated playing. Whereas in digital recordings, there are many safe storage solutions available. As a result, they remain secure over time. Repeated playing and copying do not affect their quality.

Media Versatility:

Undoubtedly, digital recordings are more versatile than analog recordings. Further, you can play analog files only on tape decks and players. In contrast, there are several options for storing and playing digital files—for example, compact CDs, portable mp3 players, or media hosting websites. Though the market for vinyl records and tapes has not ended, there is a high spread of digital music worldwide.

Image: digital audio mixing console used for broadcast band

Source: https://depositphotos.com/stock-photos/digital-microphones.html?filter=all&qview=393059718 

Things to consider when picking analog and digital:

So, you see, analog and digital are crucial debate topics. At times, one is better, and you have to choose the other one at other times. Here are some things you can compare while picking analog or digital audio signals.

Sound quality: 

Many factors decide the sound quality, so you cannot precisely say which one is better. If you compare dynamic range and frequency, digital audio recordings are better. The system compresses the audio and expands back at the receiver in analog. As explained earlier, this companding process reduces the dynamic range of audio signals. However, higher-end analog wireless systems do not face this issue. These systems perform this companding process smoothly, making the signal quality better.

Latency:

In digital systems, latency is an issue. However, it depends on the processing quality of a digital strategy. On the other hand, analog systems have almost zero latency. You can tolerate latency based on the application. For example, in conferencing applications, the latency of 15ms or more is acceptable. For instruments like guitar, you need low latency as the delay can spoil the performance. So, when you are choosing digital systems, consider latency details.

Analog Vs. Digital Microphone– RF performance:

The RF performance depends on the spectrum in which the system operates and the spectral efficiency. Let’s understand this with an example. Both analog and digital approaches can use the Ultra High-frequency band range, i.e., 470-8565MHz. However, digital wireless systems are much more spectrally efficient than analog systems.

Digital systems do not always give more wireless channels. For example, in the 2.4 GHz range, digital strategies can handle 4-5 compatible systems. This number is much less than their analog counterparts.

Remember, RF interference can occur in any system. To prevent this interference, you need proper planning and frequency coordination within the band.

Analog Vs. Digital Microphone–Security or Encryption

From a security and encryption perspective, digital systems are undoubtedly safe and more secure.

analog-digital converter

Image: analog-digital converter

Conclusion:

Why are you holding yourself back from picking up a wireless system? When you choose one, the only thing that matters is that the one you choose should be suitable for your application. If you are still confused, feel free to reach us. We can help you choose the right system. We can also help you with high-quality cable assemblies to support your wireless systems.

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