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  #1  
Old 01-28-2013, 01:17 AM
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Default Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

Some people are more sticklers about this than others and I was just wondering what other people's opinions on this were. I'm in a band with some friends and one of them is extremely pro-analog. Not necessarily for the sound quality but for the concept of analog. With digital sound is recorded as discrete 1's and 0's then reproduced. This can be interpreted as "fake" audio. Analog converts one type of waveform to another.

A way to think about this is in terms of energy. With analog, vibrations are converted to electrical waves then pressure waves (sound); there's a continuum of energy here. With digital, vibrations are converted to electrical waves and then digitized. Then the digitization is reproduced into electrical then pressure waves (sound). There seems to be this "interruption" of energy.

I'm somewhat convinced that analog seems to be the "purer" type of sound and digital is somehow "fake". I don't really have the confidence to use those words without quotations so I'm on the edge of the argument. I'm trying to convince myself that digital isn't "fake" but I can't seem to do that.

Which do you prefer and why assuming equal sound quality (ie. highest fidelity equipment known to man for each)?
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Old 01-28-2013, 02:09 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

Assuming 'perfect' quality, there would be no difference. Both would be perfect.

Digital sound does sample. Hence 44.1KHz sampling rate - 44,100 samples per second, or 48KHz or 96KHz, etc. Analogue sound is theoretically at an infinite sample rate and therefore theoretically 'higher' in quality. The same is true of the bit depth (the number of steps available dynamically) - digital is stepped and analogue is theoretically not stepped.

In practice they are very different. Digital sampling rates (particularly those above CD quality (44.1KHz at 16-Bit)) are so high that the ear cannot distinguish any practical difference between the recorded sound and 'natural' sound.

Analogue on the other hand does have a particular sound. Tapes are often driven hard and produce a slight compression, which is usually pleasing and helps 'glue' the low-end together on a track - the drums and bass can often fit better together than with purely digital recording.

For an analogue system to truly 'outperform' a modern digital system is terms of natural sound, or rather accuracy would be to all intents and purposes impossible. Digital sound is, by it's nature, clean and clinical. What goes in the A/D is what comes out of the D/A converters if no manipulation is applied (and by manipulation, I include downsampling and equipment besides the computer). Analogue sound is inherently transformed by the recording medium.

Furthermore, there are some really great emulators out there that can reproduce the sound of tape within a DAW. In one issue of 'Sound on Sound' magazine they actually conducted a blind experiment to see whether anyone in the studio could tell the difference between a recording done on a 24-track tape recorder (the specific model escapes me but it was essentially the best-regarded machine in the industry) and a modern DAW with software written to emulate the sound of that precise machine. The difference between the two was practically nothing and neither 'won' the contest.

If you want to record on tape, be my guest. I've done it. It's a lot of fun. Practically though, it's much harder to get good-sounding results on tape than it would be on a modern DAW system. There are specific difficulties with tape machines that make them more specialised - setting the azimuth, setting the bias correctly, choosing the type of tape and cleaning the heads. Also, you have to bear in mind that tape degrades so you cannot afford to 'run over' the same section again and again because it will compromise the quality of the recording.

Editing is incomparably more difficult on tape. Honestly? Unless you're very handy with a razorblade and have a lot of practice and time, I wouldn't even bother trying. Editing on a DAW system is quite literally hundreds of times easier.

Analogue (due to the limited track count) does force you to streamline your workflow and make mix decisions early. This is a good thing. It means you end up with a better result most of the time because you're eliminating the unnecessary cruft. Adapting the same technique with a digital system is a good idea if you have the discipline.

A lot of modern studios run a 'hybrid' system whereby they record to tape, dump the tape tracks to digital, edit digitally and then master to tape. That's the best of both Worlds really but still highly specialised.

In an ideal World, I would run the hybrid system. It's not an ideal World though and I don't have the patience to use tape regularly. I also don't want to be moving a 400-pound tape machine from one room to another when I could simply take my laptop. Or deal with the acres of outboard gear, or the setting up of the machine itself. Tape is a pain in the arse, although it does sound very good if you can get it right.

Here's a great article about the different steps that analogue systems use in recording:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/feb1...oguewarmth.htm

It's very complicated. It's highly specialised. It's difficult and if I were home recording, I wouldn't be touching tape with a ten-foot barge pole. I would only consider doing it in a 'real' studio with 'real' money and a lot of time - and I have a good idea of what I'm doing.
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Old 01-28-2013, 05:34 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

This argument consistently cracks me up. In the 1960's I guarantee not one person said "Man, I really wish we still recorded to a copper plate like we did fifty years ago!"

Put your superstition aside and appreciate the technological advancements in recording you are living to experience. I promise they do nothing but make your life/workflow easier.
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Old 01-28-2013, 06:29 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

Excellent write-up, Duncan.

IMO, the practical benefits far outweigh any relatively small sonic advantages you *might* get - it's not as easy to find analog hold-outs as it used to be so the pool of expertise is an ever shrinking one.

BTW, I don't see digital as being fake in any way. It won't mask a poor performance or make a bad one sound good. There's not any smoke and mirrors going on; on man behind the curtain so to speak. At the end of the day, all those zeros and ones are voltage signals. The translation uses a different principal but it's no less valid. As long as the resolution is tighter than what you can hear, I don't see how it can be fundamentally inferior.

I can see how the words "digital" and "analog" evoke different emotional responses, but historically that's never been a good gauge of something's worth.
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Old 01-28-2013, 08:23 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

I always incorporate analog into recordings that I do in my studio, whether it be tracking on tape or mastering, or even just a tube compression plug in. Editing always happens in the digital realm, though.

You can't assume the sound quality is the same. If it were, there would be NO contest--digital for the win. The fact remains that there is a world of difference in the sound. I like using the best of both worlds.
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Old 01-28-2013, 09:27 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

Analog is cool if you didn't know any other way of working. Once you start working, if an easier way came up to be able to do it, you would.

Your statement was if "all things were equal", then they'd be equal. The question is how you work within each mediums' parameters.

I know an older gentleman who was an analog synthesist pioneer in the 60s and actually produced the music for Disney's Electrical Parade which debuted in 1972, and we were talking about digital, and he asked me, "would you go back to analog after knowing what you know now?" And the answer was "of course not". He's always looking for newer better ways to do things, and the man has done them. Les Paul said it too to a group of engineers at an audio convention: "You'd think with all those bald heads out there you'd come up with a better way to record and reproduce sound than by dragging a diamond needle in vinyl grooves or running rust over a metal head". And he was right.

Obviously, the op owns a computer. I'm wondering if you partake of the joys of downloading music and carrying all your library in an iPod (or something similar) - or better - you have all of it on your phone. If you are going to commit to analog, I think you should do it all the way ;)
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Old 01-28-2013, 09:48 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

Both - of course!! (Like matched vs. traditional grip.)
But either way make sure you're using the best stuff you can afford!

You know what added to the 'analog is better/smoother' hype? The fact that in those days technology simply wasn't any better than it was - not saying it was bad - it was... limited from today's perspective but on the other hand folks at that time manufactured gear to sometimes _higher_ technical specifications (component selection, overall build quality) than nowadays! Those components were more 'forgiving' in terms of signal processing and the signal flow within the equipment was 'slower' than nowadays. This resulted in the overall sound being less harsh (having less or smoother high frequencies) and the transients (fast level bursts which by far exceed the average level) were more prone to being reduced simply by the components, not by design.

Nowadays gear tends to sound cleaner or, if you want, 'harsh'. But that's not because the gear is crappy but because there's more left of the original sound than there was in the past. That's a somewhat simplified version. We _do_ have crappy gear nowadays but you get the idea.

Personally I like using (hi-end) analog gear as front-end (signal -> mics -> analog pre-amps), then (if needed but usually yes) I'd add EQ and/or compression (analog also), then convert the signal. After A/D conversion I'd either use digital stuff or sometimes add another D/A stage for further analog processing. While there are stunning plugins if you once set your hands on really great analog gear and learn what analog stuff can do to the signal (literally within a few seconds you can have noticeable improvements when e.g. using an EQ and turning real knobs instead of fumbling with a mouse at the PC) analog does provide a sound quality to dream of and gives you a great feel of having control over a sound. Plus having real knobs at one's fingertips is just different from clicking in menues.

Provided you have decent gear there's not much of a sonic difference. The difference becomes really obvious when you compare so-so gear (from both worlds).

Converters are a critical component because regardless of the processing quality of the gear itself a crappy D/A converter will make you think that piece of equipment is crap. And modern converters are extremely high standard (money provided).

Just recently I've bought the very best guitar modeling/fx processor around (Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II) and for the first time I really feel I'm not playing a modeling device but a real instrument/amp. In fact I'm considering selling some of my guitar/analog processors/effects because that digital thingy makes so many things extremely easy (endless routing/editing/saving options, all within _one_ unit - plus MIDI footcontroller). I do have a decent Mesa/Boogie tube head sitting at my homestudio but the sound difference is shockingly tiny if inaudible (provided you have a minimum of talent getting settings right/reasonable). I'll keep the amp, at least for now - not really because of any sound difference but because I've paid good money for it, it's decent analog/tube gear and it looks cool! (But weighs a ton...) Haha.

Ultimately I'd rather go with great analog front-end plus mediocre A/D converters than crappy digital.
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Old 01-28-2013, 10:59 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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Originally Posted by denjay View Post
I'm in a band with some friends and one of them is extremely pro-analog. Not necessarily for the sound quality but for the concept of analog
Following on from something that was alluded to earlier in this thread - one of my considerations would be for whom the recording in question is intended. I mean, if one is making a recording for personal amusement where time and money is no object and the finished product will be pressed onto a vinyl LP and played exclusively to me and my band mates on a high-end record player through big floor-standing speakers then yeah - old-school all the way.

On the other hand if you have a limited budget and anticipate the majority of your audience listening to your recordings through tiny ear-bud headphones connected to an mp3 player then time and money spent on analogue mics, pre-amps, desks, tape reorders, and the rest of it would seem a little superfluous wouldn't it?
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Old 01-28-2013, 03:52 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

Analog Rush albums vs. digital age Rush albums. You decide.

I'm the Analog Man. 100%. No comparison.
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Old 01-28-2013, 05:25 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

No problem or preference with either, the resulting sound is what's important and digital has come a long way since its relatively brittle roots a few decades ago. Mics, rooms, and mic preamps make more of a difference than ever now. Al's new tracks are all digital, but have the sound we had for our first several albums, which were all recorded and mixed to tape. Of course, the advantages of production and mixing in ProTools (or DP, Logic, Sonar, etc) cannot be denied. Even if somebody wants to track to tape, it's dumped to digital before much else will happen.

And that's another thing... it's all digital, isn't. Record all you want in the analog domain, transfer it at 24/192 for integrity, and in the end it becomes a CD at 16/44.1 anyway. Or worse and more common, a streamable/downloadable format.

But back to the sound... if done right, there doesn't have to be a difference. And if done wrong, neither format is very forgiving.

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Old 01-28-2013, 06:04 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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Originally Posted by larryz View Post
Analog Rush albums vs. digital age Rush albums. You decide.

I'm the Analog Man. 100%. No comparison.
Rush sucking after '85 wasn't digital's fault, I'm afraid. :(
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Old 01-28-2013, 06:20 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

Bermuda, just to add.

I have held the view for a long time that CD 44.1/16 is hopelessly outdated and has been for at least a decade. CDs sound fine for most applications and they are honestly a good-quality format but in countries with high-bandwidth Internet access (like mine, we have a decent fibre connection in my house) that lossless audio or FLAC is definitely the way forward. The sound quality is better and 24-bit audio definitely and noticeably improves the dynamic range of digital recordings.

Above 192 Kb/S, Mp3 is good enough for 99% of listeners, even. Even at lower bitrates, Mp3 is a good codec and I doubt there are a huge number of laypeople that can differentiate between 128 Kb/S and 192 Kb/S. I can (definitely) but amongst the general public? Not so much.

Digital, high-quality downloads are the future and it's only the inherent conservatism of distributors and labels that has prevented this from becoming the 'standard' method of delivery. iTunes has come a long way in providing quality downloads and other places offer lossless or FLAC files for a little more money, I just wish it had become more mainstream in record shops.

I don't mind buying CDs and I continue to do so because they're just about good enough but it's high time that physical disks were upgraded to 96/24. It annoys me that DVDs often have higher-quality sound than CDs and in a lot of cases are much cheaper to buy. Using a DVD format for music would alleviate most of the issues with people needing to buy new equipment. SACD was a good idea but required specialised players to take advantage of the format and there weren't ever enough good new releases taking advantage of the format.

When it comes to my own listening, I like to listen to vinyl. I like the imperfections and I like the sound but for the sake of convenience, at least 80% of my listening is digital and usually lossy.

The industry need to sit down and discuss a new physical format and get behind it. The Red Book needs updating badly. CDs have been around 30 years (as of this year) commercially and are not the best that we could do any more.
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Old 01-28-2013, 09:44 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

Good input from everyone (who supported their stance). Unfortunately the "it all ends up digital" argument doesn't necessarily apply in this situation since we're more in the punk/noise music world where its very common to release something on vinyl. Then again there's always a streaming/downloading system used as well. Right now budget is a HUGE determining factor so digital/analog together it is.

Thinking about it more, later on (with money) I could produce an EP or LP with only analog devices. This analog concept would tie into the album and be meaningful but I think for general purposes, a hybrid system might be the way to go. There's seems to be some inherent quality of analog that makes it seem more.. alive. I'm not sure what it is really. Maybe the imperfections bring in an aspect of randomness that makes it have its own personality of sorts... Too much time spent thinking about analog or digital, not enough time spent making music.
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Old 01-28-2013, 09:46 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

Noise, or Punk?

I ask because Noise was my specialism at University.
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Old 01-29-2013, 03:01 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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And that's another thing... it's all digital, isn't. Record all you want in the analog domain, transfer it at 24/192 for integrity, and in the end it becomes a CD at 16/44.1 anyway. Or worse and more common, a streamable/downloadable format.
Here's a thought...once it's got to the transducers, it's all analogue. No such thing as a digital speaker, is there? There's got to be movement of the drivers between each sample, each 16-bit increment...the digital gaps are smoothed over due to having to be reproduced in the real world of air and vibration.
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Old 01-29-2013, 03:03 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

As long as I never turn out like this guy:



God help me if I ever end up running one of those.
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Old 01-29-2013, 07:12 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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I don't mind buying CDs and I continue to do so because they're just about good enough but it's high time that physical disks were upgraded to 96/24. It annoys me that DVDs often have higher-quality sound than CDs and in a lot of cases are much cheaper to buy. Using a DVD format for music would alleviate most of the issues with people needing to buy new equipment. SACD was a good idea but required specialised players to take advantage of the format and there weren't ever enough good new releases taking advantage of the format.
At that time, listeners didn't really get the concept of hi-def audio, and CDs certainly sounded good enough and presented an obvious advantage to vinyl's frailties and lack of portability. Ever see a Discman for an LP? Actually, there was one way back... also an attempt or two at a car player. Just silly and gimmicky really.

But in just the last 5 years, the advatages of "hi def" have become quite clear in the visual context with better screens and content for TVs and devices. Perhaps there's a better understanding and a new willingness to accept hi-def audio again. Agreed that a DVD player has already replaced CD players for many people, and BD movies are often cheaper than CDs as well.

Our most recent album was released as a CD, LP, and BD with uncompressed audio. Happily, there were videos for every song on the album, so there's something to see in addition to just listening. But it's that kind of value added benefit that will make such a format attractive for those who might otherwise just buy the CD or downloads. And it's an introduction to the use of a BD player as a hi-def audio player.

I'm ready, my hearing is still good enough to tell the difference!

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Old 01-29-2013, 08:56 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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Originally Posted by BacteriumFendYoke View Post
Noise, or Punk?

I ask because Noise was my specialism at University.
We're a noise band. After a long time of listening to it and some Noise Rock we decided to just make noise and record it. Learning along the way and it's quite fun.
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Old 01-30-2013, 02:10 AM
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We're a noise band. After a long time of listening to it and some Noise Rock we decided to just make noise and record it. Learning along the way and it's quite fun.
Aha! You ought to pick up 'Noise/Music: A History' by Paul Hegarty. A great read.
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Old 01-30-2013, 04:19 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

I think it depends on what type of equipment we're talking about, generally I like Analog synths more than soft synths, but usually I find that Pro Tools gives a better sound than analog recording methods, even modern analog recordings, but I do see both sides there. And vinyl, which could be considered analog of sorts, is of course better than cd's or Mp3/flac ect.

But in the end it just depends on the sound you are looking for.

just my 2 cents.
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Old 01-30-2013, 04:42 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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Aha! You ought to pick up 'Noise/Music: A History' by Paul Hegarty. A great read.
Might give that a go then. Recognize the artists in the description. One member of my band is huuuugely into Japanese Noise and a bunch of the more experimental guys like Alvin Lucier, Bob Ostertag, and Carlos Giffoni (my favorite) to name a few. Then there's the American artists like Aaron Dilloway. So much going on nowadays with noise.
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Old 01-30-2013, 04:45 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

Do any of you have any idea what it takes to keep a top of the line analogue tape recorder clean and up to spec? Digital makes it so you don't need to do any of that. Also, your music is safer in the digital format and will not degrade over time, which is what happens to reels of analogue tape, not to mention generation loss.

And digital sounds great. Listen to Roy Haynes' CD "Love Letters" and tell me that it should have been recorded analogue.
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Old 01-30-2013, 07:55 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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Also, your music is safer in the digital format and will not degrade over time, which is what happens to reels of analogue tape, not to mention generation loss.
I agree. I still need to get around to transferring some of our old tapes to digital so they can be saved (not sure why, most of it's pretty rough).

Thanks for the informative post, Duncan. I found this especially interesting:

Quote:
Tapes are often driven hard and produce a slight compression, which is usually pleasing and helps 'glue' the low-end together on a track - the drums and bass can often fit better together than with purely digital recording.
My impression has long been that digital slices are small enough to fool the human ear, like fine pixellation fools our eyes into seeing flat colours. So I've tended to wonder if the extra "warmth" that many people attribute to analogue was actually an aural hallucination, or maybe an expectation effect. Nice to know there's something real there too.

I think of the digital / analogue process in stages. The instrument (acoustic or electo), the recording gear (tape or direct to digital) and the mixing gear where, as mentioned earlier, the improvements are so great that you might as well say there's only one way to go.

I can do so much more with free software like Audacity today than I could with an expensive Portastudio plus effects units back in the 80s. The only small thing I lose is the ability to adjust the faders while doing the final mix down - which was a bit of an art in itself in the old days.

(Having said that, the other improvements are so great and my ears are not so fine that missing out on doing final touch ups with the faders is a non issue for me, and I mention it only for the purpose of completeness :)
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Old 01-30-2013, 11:01 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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My impression has long been that digital slices are small enough to fool the human ear, like fine pixellation fools our eyes into seeing flat colours. So I've tended to wonder if the extra "warmth" that many people attribute to analogue was actually an aural hallucination, or maybe an expectation effect. Nice to know there's something real there too.
That warmth isn't really about the sampling but about the dynamic compression/harmonic distortion, just like valves in a guitar amp. This is another reason why digital can sound a bit more sterile than analogue recording, because once you'd not only have an analogue preamp but a recording medium that also added pleasing harmonics to the sound. With digital you can have neither, so the results are truer/more accurate, but less pleasing to the ear. That's the odd thing, 'analogue' isn't about producing something 'analogous' to what signals go in, it's much more about how it augments the sound in a pleasing way.
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Old 01-30-2013, 04:08 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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Above 192 Kb/S, Mp3 is good enough for 99% of listeners, even. Even at lower bitrates, Mp3 is a good codec and I doubt there are a huge number of laypeople that can differentiate between 128 Kb/S and 192 Kb/S. I can (definitely) but amongst the general public? Not so much.
See, I have had trouble getting a straight answer as to whether we can tell the difference between some of these bitrates. I understand the lower bitrates are achieved by removing frequencies the human ear can't detect anyway.

Is there more to it than that? Is it a listening "skill" that anyone can develop, or is it simple physiology/age, etc?


I would love to do a truly blind A/B test and see if I could tell the difference between 128/256/320, etc.
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Old 01-30-2013, 05:15 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

MP3 works by using a series of psychoacoustic 'tricks'. The encoder will run a series of analyses on the original file and - depending on the quality required - take out more or less of the original source signal. This is true of any lossy codec and they all work is similar ways, although the algorithm used to determine what is unnecessary is different between each different codec, so they will sound different.

One of the common methods used is to take out frequencies that are masked by others. Some frequencies 'cover up' other frequencies making them difficult to hear and - thus - irrelevant to the mix. Those will be taken straight out with only the prominent frequency remaining. Another technique that is used is take out the fundamental frequency of a note and to leave some of the harmonics. The human ear quite often 'fills in' the fundamental note if we hear the harmonics, so taking out the lowest fundamental is utilised. Out goes a whole set of other frequencies.

There are dozens of these little things that MP3 does.

Then you run into all the 'standard' quality changes. Bit depth, sampling rate, etc.

This article:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/may00/articles/mp3.htm

Explains quite a few of them. Even though the article is nearly thirteen years old, the codec (and hence encoding) is still the same. The processes have got marginally better and refined since then but the basic premise and the techniques are the same.

The fact is, that the more we remove from an original PCM recording, the more we notice the distortions and changes - to the point where it starts to sound 'unnatural'. Now, for most people, 128 Kb/S is just about 'good enough', although a lot of people will be able to tell the difference; especially if they're trained (like me) to spot the differences. 192 Kb/S is more than good enough for the vast majority of people (myself probably included) for an MP3 to sound like the original PCM recording. There is a certain skill to it and I can best describe it as a kind of 'graininess' that you get at lower-quality. When you get into very low-quality, it's immediately obvious because the dynamic range and sampling rate (hence frequency output - like up Nyquist theorem) is significantly altered. That does get harder to detect with age because of a natural loss of hearing at high-frequency but if somebody is - theoretically - over the age of fifty or sixty with 'normal' hearing loss, then it's still detectable and obvious.

When mixing tracks though, it always helps to have the highest-quality source file to work from in the first place. When processing tracks, some of the quality is likely to be lost with various manipulations or any distortions made more obvious by processes like normalisation, so working with the best-quality we can prevents that from happening.
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Old 01-30-2013, 05:33 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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Do any of you have any idea what it takes to keep a top of the line analogue tape recorder clean and up to spec? Digital makes it so you don't need to do any of that. Also, your music is safer in the digital format and will not degrade over time, which is what happens to reels of analogue tape, not to mention generation loss.

And digital sounds great. Listen to Roy Haynes' CD "Love Letters" and tell me that it should have been recorded analogue.
I've dealt with tape machines (admittedly, not top-of-the-line but decent 16-track machines) and they are a royal pain in the arse. Specialists need only apply if that's all that you're using for a whole session.

They sound lovely but now you can get hold of tape machine emulators that are indistinguishable from the original machines as a plug-in for a DAW there really is no need to use them any more.
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Old 01-30-2013, 08:20 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

Duncan, thanks so much for taking the time to post all that. It's so nice to finally come across a person who really knows his sh**. There are a lot of pretenders out there, as I'm sure you know.

Very enlightening.
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Old 01-30-2013, 08:23 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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Duncan, thanks so much for taking the time to post all that. It's so nice to finally come across a person who really knows his sh**. There are a lot of pretenders out there, as I'm sure you know.

Very enlightening.
There are a lot of people out there that know a damn sight more than me, too. Thanks though mate - I appreciate it.

It's important that musicians understand the formats that we're using to communicate and how they might effect our art.
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Old 01-31-2013, 05:02 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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I would love to do a truly blind A/B test and see if I could tell the difference between 128/256/320, etc.
I've compared moderately high bit rate (224) to 16/44 FLAC on my home stereo, which is probably considered a decent consumer system, as opposed to "audiophile"
with close listening, there is clearly more depth to the FLAC. I wouldn't notice it with casual listening. If I didn't listen to each side by side I might not be able to consistently tell which is which. I suspect that with higher end systems, the difference may be more apparent. or maybe not.
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Old 01-31-2013, 05:07 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

I'm just listening through my iTunes library right now with my 'good' headphones on (AKG K701) but running through a small interface that's limited to 44.1/16.

Every now and then I change album, listen for a few seconds and check the bit-rate. I have managed to identify the 128 Kb/S-encoded tracks every time before checking. Between 192, 256 and 320 I can't obviously discern a difference but that might be a limiting factor of the portable interface I'm using. I'll try it again tomorrow through my 'full' interface.
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Old 01-31-2013, 06:24 AM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

"I'm somewhat convinced that analog seems to be the "purer" type of sound and digital is somehow "fake"."

I'd argue that both analog and digital recording systems are not pure. For example, in its strictest sense, distortion is a corruption of a pure signal. Distortion can either occur or be invoked in both analog and digital recording devices and systems. The only difference is that because analog is an earlier technology, many types of music have already established a large repertoire of creative uses for analog distortion, and these have gone on to become canons of recording practice. But there are other more recent contemporary styles which are have found equally creative applications for digital distortion, and which have opened up new avenues for artistic expression.

Much of 20th and 21st century popular music have invoked all sorts of signal processing which, on the one hand can be seen as a corruption of a pure signal, but on the other hand are deemed necessary to fulfill the creative desires of the artist. I've stopped worrying about the analog-digital argument, and focused more on how the inherent characteristics of each paradigm can be deployed to deliver my artistic intentions. I use whatever works. And I 'm thankfull for having both technologies at my disposal.
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Old 01-31-2013, 04:41 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

I would have to choose digital, because of the easy accessibility. But, that's just me. I enjoy having the modern technology at my disposal, but I also love the sound of vinyl records (I have a turntable, forgot which model).
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Old 01-31-2013, 07:04 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

The binary system of digital recording is, in a way, identical to analog tape. Instead of ones and zeros, tiny magnetic poles on the tape are turned from "off" negative to "on" positive (or is it the other way around, I can't remember...). So, the OP's superstition is unnecessary (as superstitions tend to be).

It has long been known that tape compression/saturation, and the harmonics imparted by preamps and mixing consoles are responsible for analog's desirability. But every year a new plug-in arrives to emulate these features, and they sound better and better. Initially, crappy AD and DA converters and jittery wordclocks were to blame (and you can still find crappy converters in consumer stereos), but that's been addressed in recording interfaces.

The one failure of digital as a medium is monitor mixing. Sending a signal through a computer, and then back into a pair of headphones takes a few milliseconds, whereas in analog the task is instantaneous. As computer processing power continues to increase, though, this becomes less and less of an issue as well.
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Old 02-01-2013, 02:03 PM
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Default Re: Assume sound quality is equal: Digital or Analog?

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Do any of you have any idea what it takes to keep a top of the line analogue tape recorder clean and up to spec? Digital makes it so you don't need to do any of that. Also, your music is safer in the digital format and will not degrade over time, which is what happens to reels of analogue tape, not to mention generation loss.
Yea, I've been working with and servicing tape machines for over 45 years and I'm still the tape engineer at one of the studios where I work. Tape machines are not as delicate and unpredictable as most everyone thinks. Azimuth is very critical from edge to edge, but very easy to maintain with higher quality machines. We charge a premium for working with tape primarily because of the current cost of the tape, but still our Studers and Ampex machines are kept very busy. Here at my home studios, I make drum recordings on both analog (15ips) and digital formats and pick the analog sound every single time.

The primary reason for tape breakdown was the introduction of "back coating". This turned out, after many years, to be a thorn in the backsides of both Scotch and Ampex. Most of the early tape formulations without the back coating, such as Scoth 111, are still fine and even today are still being used to make digital copies of material that was recorded more than sixty years ago. No one really knows the life expectancy of our current digital media or processes.

I have to use both, it goes with the territory, but I enjoy using analog because it was instilled into me at a very early age.

Dennis
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