Many of us who aren’t too technologically advanced are aware that there are signals all around us. It’d be hard not to know that considering the thousands of phones around all of the time, constantly chattering into thin air and sending out messages.
Further, we’re surrounded by devices that emit signals in different kinds. Those signals, as many of us know, are digital or analog. That’s about all most of us know, though.
Analog vs digital signals come with pros and cons, and different devices use them for different reasons. We’ll go into detail about each form of signal in this article.
Analog vs Digital Signals
Before we begin, let’s go over a basic explanation of what a signal is. Ultimately, it’s a message sent from one device to another, typically with a certain purpose that enacts a change.
These messages can contain multitudes of information, like videos, music, images, text, or combinations of everything in between. These messages are transmitted through wires and airwaves, or both.
Messages can be sent from device to device, changing forms, but ultimately ending up in the intended place. It’s pretty neat when you break it all down.
What Is an Analog Signal?
The term analog refers to signals or pieces of information that are infinite in possibility. When people use the word nowadays, they are talking about older audio and video equipment, which has a musty connotation.
It’s true that analog signals are infinite, though, and we’ll explain why.
The easiest way to imagine an analog signal is on a graph. The analog signal moves on a sine wave, which is essentially an up and down motion on the graph that goes a specific distance up the Y-axis, then down the exact same distance. This process repeats forever.
As the point of the graph moves up and down, there are infinite points between any two curves of the wave. It’s similar to the idea of breaking a line in half over and over.
If you drew a line, cut it in half, cut it in half again, and kept cutting it in half, you would never get to a point where you couldn’t cut it in half again. It is infinite.
Take analog voltage that comes out of your wall sockets. While your socket could be governed to voltages between -120 volts and +120 volts, you’ll notice there are unlimited potential values between those numbers; you could break something down far past 70.0000000000000000000000002 volts, for example.
You could just keep adding zeros forever.
Why This Matters
People who prefer analog technology are usually impressed by the amount of potential that analog signals have.
If you ever walk into a record store and ask the worker why vinyl is better, they’ll tell you that you can hear more of the music that was recorded. The infinite potential of analog signals captures and relates more information than the finite version contained in your phone.
That finite version comes in the form of a digital signal. Analog signals are also recorded physically in most cases. Think of something like a tape, a record, or a VHS.
All of those items take information and store it onto the physical copy that can then be relayed later. Even film cameras are considered to be analog technology. Light enters through the lens and imprints on the film, which is then translated onto photo paper.
Digital signals are recorded in the form of numbers.
What Is a Digital Signal?
A digital signal must exist as a specific number, meaning it can’t be infinite. When represented on a graph, a digital signal typically shows as one of two numbers, alternating back and forth discontinuously.
Many of the electronics we use operate on digital circuits that communicate information to different parts of the device. These signals work in complex ways, operating at hierarchical levels of logic and communication.
The digital signal translates information into number sequences that can then be accessed and sent at the user’s leisure. This makes storing information a lot more practical. It also allows for a lot of creativity.
If all of the information on the internet had to be physically stored on tape or vinyl, the world wouldn’t have enough space. That’s part of the reason that digital information is so valuable.
This post by LabJack goes into some more detail about the specifics of digital inputs and outputs and how they operate.
So, Which Is Better?
People are often polarized by the idea of using old or new products. There are advantages to using both, and it depends on the product you’re talking about.
You may be a musical purist, only listening to vinyl on your vintage record player and receiver. That’s great, and the sound quality of your music is definitely superior to the sound of an iPod or Bluetooth speaker.
That said, what happens when you go on a vacation and want to listen to music? Are you going to lug around your record collection? You could store thousands upon thousands of albums on your computer or iPod and have access to them all at a moment’s notice.
Not to mention, the tracks won’t skip when your plane faces some turbulence. The reality is, understanding a little bit about analog and digital equipment will greatly improve your ability to make judgment calls on which products to use.
Analog stuff is nice to use. It has a certain quality, and the art you can access through those products have a lot of nuances that digital forms don’t. At the same time, are you going to tune into the valuable aged feeling of your tapes when you’re just watching something to fall asleep?
No, you’d do just as well opening up your laptop and watching Netflix. The point is, it’s situational, so play it by ear and read up on how it all works!
Need More Cool Knowledge?
Understanding analog vs digital is important if you want to get the best quality out of your technology. It’s something that not a lot of people understand, though.
There’s a lot of information that should be known but isn’t. Visit our site to get the scoop on more cool topics.