You are here

Digital and quality — different stories

By Jean-Claude Elias - Apr 16,2015 - Last updated at Apr 16,2015

Does quality still matter in 2015 if 95 per cent of the population is satisfied with the digital contents it is living with?

Audiovisuals today are almost entirely digital. The under-30 generation actually knows nothing else and does not lose sleep over analogue to digital comparison. For them this is just not relevant. As for those who lived the revolution that took the world from analogue to digital, circa 1985-1995, they are still amazed by the change. Now that written communication and financial transactions are also well on the way to becoming almost exclusively in the digital domain, one has the right to stop and wonder what happened to quality on the way.

For many digital is equivalent to quality. This is a misconception. Digital is just what you make it. Its main and huge advantage over analogue is that it will stand the test of time if well-kept and is easier to replicate and to exchange, remaining unaltered in such cases. Other than that you can have poor quality digital just like you can have poor quality analogue.

More than 30 years in the digital audiovisual age you still find exaggeratedly compressed MP3 music that does not sound good and amateur photos that are a real eye-sore. Cheap office scanners, some costing JD40 or less, create poorly digitised documents and low-end mobile devices playback music that should not be called music at all.

Look, for example, at great analogue printed photographs taken by real artists in the pre-digital era. I was admiring one of Ansel Adams photos taken in the 1950, a black-and-white landscape titled Golden Gate Headlands. The stunning definition, the subtle and smooth shades of grey, the tones, everything in the shot tells you that they didn’t need any megapixel count back then to come up with superior quality photographs.

The same kind of thinking applies to music. Fervent audiophiles still listen to recordings made between 1965 and 1980, the golden era of analogue vinyl stereo records. They swear that this gives them the greatest listening pleasure.

Does this mean that analogue is superior to digital and that we can’t get top quality with digital? Of course not. Digital can equal and even surpass analogue — but at a price!

Today’s technology can produce sound that exceeds what even the best human ear can perceive and images that challenge reality in terms of definition, sharpness and true-to-life colours. Unfortunately the tools that you need for that are not only expensive but aren’t always convenient to use.

A top-end sound adapter for computer costs at least JD200 and requires delicate settings to work, plus maybe some extra cabling. On the other hand the built-in sound adapter found in the average laptop costs JD5 to JD10 and requires no special settings to function.

A high-end full-size pro DSLR Nikon camera, for example, with the lenses to match, will set you off some JD4,000 to JD5,000, not to mention that you have to put up with its size and weight. Otherwise you’d be shooting with your smartphone most of the time. I know of people who are fortunate to own both kinds of devices but who use their smartphone camera most of the time simply because of the convenience it offers.

What rules now and in the overwhelming number of cases and situations today is practicality, not quality. Speed, cost, social networking, the urge to send and to receive quickly, to copy and to communicate, they all have priority over sheer quality. The latter remains an exception.

How often do you listen to music sitting comfortably in your quiet living room, doing absolutely nothing else? Virtually never, or so rarely these days. Most of the time you’d be driving, chatting with friends, reading, working, jogging, texting, etc. Who then cares if the music you are listening to is less-than-perfect in terms of sonic quality? Given the context and the listening environment you wouldn’t be able to tell average MP3 from pristine uncompressed 96KHz 20-bit audio.

207 users have voted.


Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.