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The Era of Digital Music

Updated on January 2, 2015
Old tape machine
Old tape machine | Source

Times are changing fast. It can be seen in many areas of life. In the current article I will elaborate on the topic of changes in the world of music and try to analyze the current situation with digital music.

Magnetic Tape Recording

The idea of magnetic tape recording was developed in Germany in the beginning of the twentieth century and it comes from the invention of magnetic wire recording by Valdemar Poulsen (1898). Storing audio data on a tape became widely popular in the end of the century - in the form of compact audio cassette tapes with prerecorded sound sources (most often music). Tape heads were meant to both record and store data on a plastic tape covered with ferromagnetic material. There were two stereo pairs of tracks available on the tape (one for each direction), and the signal passing through the tape head, transferred on tape "magnetic field proportional to the signal to be recorded." (1) Despite being capable of recording and playing back sounds at high level of quality, magnetic audio tapes were too fragile to store data for a long time. By 2001, they were almost entirely replaced by compact discs.

According to Wikipedia, the production of compact cassettes resumed in 2010 due to low production costs. They are now being used by independent music labels and English language schools in Asian countries. (2)

A row of magnetic audio tapes
A row of magnetic audio tapes | Source
Lp vinyl record
Lp vinyl record | Source

Gramophone record

The phonograph (later gramophone) recording became widely popular at the end of the 19th century thanks to Thomas Alva Edison. The first recording medium was a cylinder that later developed into a flat 10 inch disc. At the beginning of mass production of gramophone records, the rotation speed of the discs varied from one device to another, until 78 rpm became the standard. First records were single sided until 1923, when first double sided disks appeared in the market. In gramophone disks, audio is recorded and reproduced in spiral carvings on the surface of the disk. The history of development of gramophone disks expands from 1920s until 1960s when 45 rpm records became a success in music business.

Old documentary about vinyl records

Audio CD

A compact disc (CD) has been the most widely used recording medium since 1990s. Compact discs are comprised of several layers: a layer of polycarbonate plastic that stores data in spiral tracks on the surface of the disc, a shiny layer (made of aluminum, or more rarely gold) that reflects the laser beam which reads data from polycarbonate layer, and protective layer that covers the reflective surface. The laser that is sent from a reading/recording device reads the data and reflects it back into the machine. Compact disc are capable of storing more than an hour of high quality audio on a single side, while its rotation speed is about ten times higher that that of gramophone discs (from 210 rpm to 480 rpm). Despite a slight decline in sales (most likely due to invention of digital mp3 format) compact discs are still leading the music market.

Digital MP3 music

MP3 refers to "MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III" is a lossy audio storage format that is widely used in computers and other digital data storage devices since 1990s. Designed by Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), this data compression algorithm reduces some frequencies in the sound source that are considered to be higher or lower than the hearing range of a human ear. The rest of the data remains at its original quality, while the size of the resulting digital file considerably reduces. Mp3 is considered to be a lossy format despite untrained ears of an ordinary listener being unable to spot the difference.

Although listening to Mp3 music became widely popular after Apple established the famous iTunes platform, it has never become the main data recording medium due to aforementioned limitations in sound quality.

The future of recorded music

Despite mp3 format conquering the world of consumer audio, it has met a lot of criticism in the past years, especially from musicians and loyal music lovers. Soon after the format was invented it became obvious by many that it was killing the music industry; we have somehow lost those precious moments when we could buy a vinyl record or at least an original CD recording and marvel at the layout. Now, the only thing we get is a digital picture of the cover of the disc - that does not mean that we purchase the original, this means we buy a copy, a digital copy that does not have either size or shape. I personally think that we are devaluing music by becoming too digital. It is time to reconsider the situation and get back to collecting compact disc, vinyl or maybe even audio tape records.

What is your opinion of the current situation in the music market?

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