What Is the Difference Between Analog and Digital Audio on a Headset for the Computer?by Jacob Andrew
The quality of audio from a computer to a headset can vary according to a number of factors. Connection type, audio processor, speaker quality and even the audio source can affect the sound. To understand the difference between an analog and a digital headset, one must understand what is happening on the computer, the sound card and the headset.
The Difference Between Analog and Digital Sound
The difference between digital and analog sound is subtle, but important. Analog sound produces a smooth "wave" of energy vibrating directly from the source. In a traditional setup, a vinyl record vibrates a needle which feeds that energy directly through a copper wire to a cone to produce the sound. Digital samples the sound wave at certain points and turns each part of that wave into a block of information defined by a certain number of 0's and 1's. Those 0's and 1's define what noise is coming out at each point in the wave.
The Quality of the Source
Ultimately, the quality of your headset is not going to be judged by technical specifications, but by how well your music or game sounds. These sounds need to come from a quality source if they are to produce quality sound in the headphones. For analog, the "source" is the recording studio -- a high-quality band needs to be recorded by a high-quality microphone to a high-quality master tape if it is going to be received in high quality. The fidelity of a digital recording comes down to how much data is used in defining those initial analog waves. This is referred to as the digital audio's bit rate. The higher the bit rate, the more detail it will capture; 320 Kbps captures virtually all the sound in an MP3, but it takes up large amounts of space on a computer while 128 Kbps creates smaller files, but lower quality audio.
The Audio Processor
Once you have a source, that source is going to be fed through an audio processor. The audio processor can either be the sound card in your computer or located in the headset itself, and most can handle audio up to 16-bits. This 16-bit depth is slightly different from the bit-rate of MP3 files. What should be understood, however, is that most recording studios today use 24-bit recordings, and that a high-quality digital recording fed through a lower-quality processor will have its quality reduced.
From the Processor to Your Headset
At the end of the day, what separates an analog from a digital headset is where the audio processor is located. All audio, whether from an analog or a digital source, must be converted into an analog vibration to produce the sound. Analog headphones connect via a traditional headphone jack to an audio processor built into the computer. Digital headphones connect either into a digital audio out jack or a USB port and receive digital information to an internally-installed audio processor.
There are various upsides to using digital or analog. Analog headsets tend to be cheaper, while digital headsets, by contrast, ensure the same level of quality, regardless of which device you plug them into. Many of the more higher-end audio processors are only available for installation into a computer.
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