Although I have heard that CD players are on average better at reproducing sound…

Although I have heard that CD players are on average better at reproducing sound, I have also heard that the best sound quality can still be had from high end phonographs. To what extent is this true?

The digitization process does introduce some distortions into the sound signal, including aliasing (confusion about high frequencies) and quantization error (round-off errors in recording the softest sounds). However, these distortions should be so small or at such high frequencies that they should be inaudible. Still, there are always some audiophiles who can hear (or claim to hear) these imperfections.

Why do CD’s skip?

Why do CD’s skip?

CD players must position their optical system very precisely, relative to the spinning disk itself. It uses very sophisticated electromechanical devices to keep it in place. But if you jar a player violently enough, it will lose its position and the audio may suffer. Most modern CD players save a short amount of information so that they are reading ahead of where they are playing. Even if they lose the track for a few hundredths of a second, they have enough music saved up that they can keep playing continuously. But if the upset is severe enough, they will run out of saved music and will go silent for a moment or two.

Do you know anything about a special kind of digital tape that could replace the…

Do you know anything about a special kind of digital tape that could replace the CD?

Digital audiotapes have been around for a few years. These tapes store sound as digital information on a tape. Because of the digital recording and playback, the reproduction is almost perfect. The digital process involves an enormous amount of information each second; too much to be recorded in the conventional method used in cassette tapes. Instead, I think that a helical technique is used, in which information is written as diagonal stripes across the length of the passing tape. By writing a closely spaced series of these stripes, the DAT (digital audio tape) player uses much more of the tape’s surface than a standard cassette and stores much more information on that surface. I doubt that DAT tapes will replace CD’s because CD’s are so easy to mass-produce. DAT tapes must be recorded one at a time.

Why do some CD players sound better than others even if the CD is seriously scra…

Why do some CD players sound better than others even if the CD is seriously scratched on the bottom half?

At this point, there should be very little difference between CD players that are playing perfect CD’s. They all create almost distortionless reproductions of the original sound. However, different players use different tracking techniques and optical systems and thus have different abilities to recover from imperfections in the CD.

How are the binary numbers represented in the ridges of the CD?

How are the binary numbers represented in the ridges of the CD?

In principle, the binary numbers could be written as the presence or absence of ridges (i.e. a 1000 nanometer long ridge could be a 1 while a 1000 nanometer long flat area could be a 0). However, this technique has technical problems. The main problem is that the number “0” would be a long flat region (16 adjacent flat regions would be one 16000 nanometer flat region). If the flat region became too long, the CD wouldn’t be able to follow the track any more. So an encoding scheme is used to make sure that ridges and flat areas are never too long. They use a length-encoding scheme, where ridges of different lengths correspond to a short group of binary bits. Furthermore, a very extensive error correcting arrangement makes sure that the music can be read even if a great many bits are unreadable. About 25% of the CD’s surface is dedicated to this error correcting information.

Why do you need to separate the different polarizations of light?

Why do you need to separate the different polarizations of light?

Any light wave can be described in terms of horizontally and/or vertically polarized light. For most things, these two polarizations are unimportant. But when light reflects from surfaces or passes through certain materials, these polarizations become important. The charges in surfaces and materials do not always respond equally to the two polarizations of light. The two polarizations may even travel through very different paths (e.g. in the polarization beam splitter).

How does a laser diode work?

How does a laser diode work?

A laser diode resembles a light emitting diode, in which electrons flowing across a p-n junction (in a diode) find themselves in conduction levels of the p semiconductor, with lots of excess energy. These excited electrons give up their excess energy by emitting light and they drop down into empty valence levels with much less energy. In a laser diode, the region in which this energy release occurs is a very narrow channel with mirrored ends. Instead of emitting their light spontaneously, the electrons experience stimulated emission. Light bounces back and forth between the ends of the channel and is amplified as it passes new excited electrons. Because all of the light produced by a laser diode emerges from one end of this very narrow channel, it experiences severe diffraction and spreads out into a wide, cone-shaped beam. To convert this cone of light into a narrow beam, a converging lens is usually attached to the diode laser’s housing and this lens bends the beam into a fine pencil of light. Most laser diodes operate in the red or infrared portion of the spectrum, although some laser diodes that emit blue light have recently been developed.

Will light going in two directions in the same space create destructive interfer…

Will light going in two directions in the same space create destructive interference?

In general, the answer is no—there won’t be large regions of space in which the two light waves cancel one another. That’s because, while the electric fields from the two waves do add to one another at each moment, those fields go in and out of phase with one another very rapidly as the waves pass and the end result is that they do not interfere with one another over broad expanses. However, there can be points or surfaces in space at which the electric fields from the waves at least partially cancel for extended periods of time and at which there is destructive interference. These points and surfaces are often observed in experiments with single frequency laser beams.

How does alternating current affect the laser? Does it make the laser reverse?

How does alternating current affect the laser? Does it make the laser reverse?

A diode laser will only emit light (lase) when current flows through it in the proper direction. It is, after all, a diode and only conducts current in one direction. But small fluctuations in current do affect the light emission. If you run a modest current through a laser diode, so that it emits a steady stream of light, and then begin to modulate that current up and down slightly, the light emitted by the laser will modulate up and down slightly, too. In this manner, you can send sound or other information over a laser beam. This technique is useful as a private means of communicating over long distances. Only someone who can “see” the blinking laser beam can detect the information that it contains.