Digital sound effects recording and reproduction uses the same technology as analogue sound recording and reproduction, with the addition of digital sound waves, allowing them to be stored and transmitted through a greater variety of media. Digital binary numerical data is a representation of the analog vector points of the raw information of the sound sampling rate most frequently, in which the human ear is able to distinguish the differences in quality. Digital recordings do not necessarily have a higher sampling rate, but are often considered to be of higher quality because of less noise and electromagnetic interference in playback and less mechanical deterioration from corrosion or improper handling of the storage media. A digital audio signal, when converted, resembles an analog signal, as opposed to a pure binary digital signal that would only be perceived as a sound vibration (background noise) by the human ear.

Automatic music reproduction can be traced back to the ninth century, when the Banū Mūsā brothers invented "the oldest known mechanical musical instrument", a water-powered organ that played interchangeable cylinders automatically. According to Charles B. Fowler, these "cylinder with raised pins on the surface, were the basic device to produce and reproduce music mechanically until the second half of the 19th century". The Banū brothers also invented a mechanical flute player that appears to have been the first known programmable machine.

In the 14th century, in Flanders the mechanical bell controlled by a rotating cylinder appeared. Apparatus of similar design appeared in Realejos (15th century), musical clocks (1598), pianolas (1805), and music boxes (1815). All of these machines could play pre-programmed music, but they couldn't play sounds arbitrarily, they couldn't record a live performance, and they were limited by their physical size. The first device capable of recording sounds mechanically was the phonautograph, developed in 1857 by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, however it was not capable of reproducing the recorded sounds. One of his first recordings, Au Clair de la Lune, a French folk song, was converted to digital sound in 2008. It is believed to be the earliest recognizable recording of a human voice in existence. Since the recording was recovered, the same team has already recovered a recording of a 435 Hz tuning fork (then the French standard for tuning the A note – now 440 Hz). The tuning fork sound is barely audible, however this second recording has become the oldest known recording of an identifiable sound.

The pianola, which first appeared in 1876, used a perforated roll of paper that arbitrarily stored a long stretch of music. This roller was moved along a device that initially had 58 holes, being enlarged to 65 and then to 88 holes (usually one for each key). When a hole went through the hole, it made the note sound. Pianola rolls were the first form of music storage that could be mass produced, although the equipment to reproduce it was too expensive for personal use. The technology for recording a live performance on a pianola roll was not developed until 1904. Piano rolls have been mass-produced continuously since 1898. In 1908, in a US Supreme Court copyright case, it has been noted that in 1902 there were between 70,000 and 75,000 pianolas manufactured, and between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 pianola rolls produced. The use of the pianola began to decline in the 1920s, although some variants are still made today. The fair organ, developed in 1892, used a similar system, a type of punch card folded into an accordion shape.