Thursday, June 06, 2013

Analog versus Digital Multi-track Recording

I have quite a few musician friends who say they like the sound of analog recording better than digital.  Well, yeah, and there's a reason for that, but the price you pay for it is not worth it, in my opinion.

Yes, of course you can hear the difference between digital and analog.  The point to digital is that it doesn't sound like anything; it's supposed to sound exactly like what you put into it, no more, no less.  (how close it gets to that is a different, complicated question, but I think it is not really debatable that analog might be MORE "accurate" than digital).  Whereas, using analog THESE days (when something better is available ;) ) is actually because analog doesn't sound transparent, and doesn't sound like what you put in.  It's the equivalent of turning an amplifier up until it distorts at bit.  Yeah, you might like the sound, but it's distorted just the same.  And once it is distorted, you can't un-distort it.

Also, keep in mind that, unless you are going to listen to your recording on a 90 min cassette or on your old turntable, you are going to be listening to "digital" anyway, or at least a hybrid of analog on backend and digital on the frontend, whether you listen to an mp3, to a CD, or stream a song online.

I contend that it is quite possible, these days, to make a digital recording that sounds "warm" in the way that an analog recording sounds.  Hell, you can make them sound "warm" in any way you like!  Want the "warmth" of a Neve recording desk and an Otari multi-track?  Or maybe you'd prefer SSL and Tascam?  There must be plugins for this, but in any case, it can be done.

And digital has so many other advantages:

   * digital is much cheaper, in every way
   * quick, easy and safe cut and paste of songs.
   * non-destructive post-mixing eq and other manipulation
   * did I say cheaper?  You replace the thousands of dollars in buying and maintaining a recording tape deck and a desk with a few hundred dollars in an analog to digital converter.  You also save the space.
   * your digital recording may last forever, with proper backups.
   * copies of digital sound files are identical to the original.  copies of analog masters are yet another generation removed from the pristine quality of the original.
   * analog recordings degrade EVERY time you play them.  Imagine your turntable needle being pulled through the soft, hot vinyl of a record, or a vinyl tape been pulled over a magenetic tape recorder head, over and over again.  Digital recordings are not degraded by playing them.
   * analog recordings must generally be played back on the same type of machine that created them.  You are out of luck if your tape machine format is no longer manufactured.  Whereas digital data is just bits; converting that data to a new format is just a matter of writing a program to do it.


eleanore said...

"Hey you kids, get off my analog lawn!"

Hugh Caley said...

Wouldn't this be more like shouting "Hey you kids, get on my lawn and play your new music really loud!"?

Rachel Cutler said...

My boom box is better than your boom box! ;)