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Chapter 1. MIDI and Digital Audio Basics > So What’s Really the Difference?

So What’s Really the Difference?

After reading the explanations of MIDI and digital audio, you might still be wondering what the difference is between them. Both processes involve signals being sent to the computer to be recorded, and then the computer sending those signals back out to be played, right? Well, you have to keep in mind that when you’re recording MIDI data, you’re not recording actual sound; you are recording only performance instructions. This concept is similar to a musician reading sheet music, with the sheet music representing MIDI data and the musician representing a computer. The musician (or computer) reads the sheet music (or MIDI data) and then stores it in memory. The musician then plays the music back via a musical instrument. Now what if the musician uses a different instrument to play back the music? The musical performance remains the same, but the sound changes. The same thing happens with MIDI data. A synthesizer keyboard can make all kinds of different sounds, but playing the same MIDI data back with the keyboard yields the exact same performance, no matter what.

When you’re recording digital audio, you are recording actual sound. If you record a musical performance as digital audio, you cannot change the sound of that performance, as described earlier. Because of these differences, MIDI and digital audio have their advantages and disadvantages. Because MIDI is recorded as performance data and not actual sound, you can manipulate it much more easily than you can manipulate digital audio. For example, you can easily fix mistakes in your performance by simply changing the pitch of a note. And MIDI data can be translated into standard musical notation, but digital audio can’t. On the other hand, MIDI can’t be used to record anything that requires actual audio, such as sound effects or vocals. With digital audio, you can record any kind of sound, and you can always be sure that your recording will sound exactly the same every time you play it back. With MIDI, you can’t be sure of that because although the MIDI data remains the same, the playback device or sound can be changed.


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