How are analog formats doing?

BassDriver

Silver Member
When it comes to listening to music it seems that digital has dominated with the popularity of CDs and MP3s.

Is the analog age collecting dust or are there any more advancements just as there have been in recent years with digital?

I was surprised when I found out a Melbourne community radio station I listen to was playing new tracks from new albums that were released on vinyl.

Now there is this big debate about analog vs digital but I've got the impression (from what I've read on the net) is that analog (being analogously recorded) makes a truer representation of sound waves and has a 'warmer sound' etc. while digital allows for a higher dynamic range (which sadly isn't exploited enough)...their pros and cons go on

...and what about tape? Does anyone still record to tape? (I'm thinking Compact Cassette Tapes - a much more portable analog format).

I had these kind of wonderings and a few weeks ago I ended up picking up and listening to a few old southern-european-folk tracks (on compact cassette tape) that were collecting dust at my grandfather's place.

...and what's next after digital...quantum?
 

PQleyR

Platinum Member
Analog(ue) is designed to capture a continuous 'analogue' of the waveform, but because it's recorded in a physical object any flaws that the object contains will become part of the sound, hence vinyl's crackles and pops.
Digital makes certain assumptions about the shape of the wave, so you lose the frequency spectrum above (and below) the range of human hearing, which may have more of an effect on the sound than is popularly realised. The biggest advantage over tape is the lack of any particular noise floor, whereas you need to have a very 'hot' signal going to a tape machine in order that the noise on the tape isn't audible. There's a Buddy Rich solo on here that illustrates that point very well, as when he's playing ppp stuff on the snare, the hum threatens to overwhelm what he's playing.

Nobody uses cassettes any more. Cassettes must be the worst format out there to release music on.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Good reply, PeeCu. I think you need a very good system to take advantage of any advantage (exceptionally well cared for) vinyl may have.

I have some old cassettes at home that I mean to take out for a spin and to see how well or badly the magnetism has held. Now if I could work out how to wire the speakers on my cassette player ...
 
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mediocrefunkybeat

Guest
I actually write compositions on casette tape, that use the inherent lack of quality of casettes as part of piece. I'm doing an installation at the moment, for example. I like the tactile sensations of physical media and I enjoy listening to vinyl. Objectively though, the advantages of digital are obvious and I usually listen to digital formats. I enjoy analogue media all the same.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Mark Knopfler was still recording to tape in his London studio as of the last album or two.

As for digital vs. analog, it's true that the earliest digital could sound a bit brittle, with some splatter. No, you couldn't hear it on ear buds or computer speakers... I'm talking about listening on more revealing high-end system. Cymbals and horns suffered the worst from this. But as digital recording improved and higher resolutions were possible, the sounds smoothed out and in theory (and based on human hearing) are perfectly realistic.

What analog tape has always done is to introduce its inherent saturation/distortion, and this is where the "warmth" comes from. It's not that it's unrealistic, it's just what we've been used to hearing. Sort of like the transition from film to video, or analog tv to digital & hi-def. There was a 'texture' (read: warmth) that's no longer there. It's not always good or bad, it's just different. Anyway, the analog tape warmth is what made drums sound punchy, bass sound warm, vocals sound present, etc. An old trick to get really punchyh/crunchy drums was to record them at 7.5ips, then copy those tracks to the master reel running at 15 or 30ips and record everything else more cleanly.

How do we get that analog sound now? Two ways. Either record to analog tape then transfer the tracks to digital (which will retain all of the saturation, even though it didn't create it on its own) or, there are plug-ins to restore the analog sound, sort of a pre-mastering process.

I'm trying to think back to the last time I recorded to tape... maybe 2003?

Bermuda
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
I have noticed vinyl has made a big come back in recent years.

But at the same time, many newer vinyl releases were still recorded to digital, so I'm not sure what the point is.

The line between digital and analog is so blurred now, I'm not sure it makes a huge difference.

I once spoke with the bass player for a major band, and he was telling me how they run the signal though the tape machine, but right back out into Protools. I think I've read a few other bands that have tried similar things.

You can buy a multitude of plug ins for your DAW that will "simulate" analog sound.

But as pointed pointed out, digital recording is so much more advanced now than it was when it came out, that criticism people had the of early digital sound is rather moot by todays's standards.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
I have some old cassettes at home that I mean to take out for a spin and to see how well or badly the magnetism has held. Now if I could work out how to wire the speakers on my cassette player ...
All my old cassettes got very stretched out from over playing, or melted or such.
I tossed them all out a few years back.
 

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
I've recorded onto tape as recently as 2 months ago. Last summer, I recorded a project where the band leader wanted the basic tracks laid down on tape, so I whipped out my 4-track recorder, blew the dust off of it, and mixed to 4 tracks. Nostalgic, but yeah, I'm not used to the noise of tape anymore--at least the noise on a porta-cassette recorder...
 
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mediocrefunkybeat

Guest
I recently mixed using old analogue gear using Pro Tools effectively only as the playback source. With less options to play with, we actually made decisions quickly and our mix improved as a result.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
I have noticed vinyl has made a big come back in recent years.

But at the same time, many newer vinyl releases were still recorded to digital, so I'm not sure what the point is.
The vinyl puts the analog back in, somewhat.

Basically, you can record analog and transfer to digital, preserving the traits of analog. Or record to digital, and somewhere along the way introduce analog. But the earlier you make the analog step, such as with the basic tracks rather than a finished digital mix, the more old school it will be.

BTW, certain mics have a great warm sound that translates well to digital. Old ribbon mics are a real fave for serious engineers, and make drums sound fabulous.

Bermuda
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
A buddy of mine picked up the Bill Evans Village Vanguard date on vinyl and played it for me on his moderately high-end turntable. That recording is 50 years old. It sounded glorious to me, pops, crackles and all.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
We have this discussion every now and then around the table here at Disney. And really, to us, analog is dead. The advantages of digital really outweigh the disadvantages. And as one of the gentlemen who wrote and recorded the original music for the Main Street Electrical Parade (back in '71) asked me over lunch, "could you go back to analog?" This guy isn't - and you could say he's been there and done that. It isn't nostalgia for him, he clearly knows the advantages of the new medium.

I thought about picking up a nice 8-track reel-to-reel to be the basis of my demo studio, and after looking at the maintenance costs of a 15-year-old machine and the fact that tape is just not available anymore, really made the decision for me. Even if you got yourself a nice Tascam DA88 8-track, there are so many moving parts in that machine it costs at least $200 to bring it back up to spec, and then replacing the heads?

As a photographer I have these same discussions with my photog buddies, basically the same discussion, but none of us are going back. I love film, but thanks to folks like Wozniak and Jobs and a little concept known as RAM - it isn't cost-effective to do either analog mediums.
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
As a photographer I have these same discussions with my photog buddies, basically the same discussion, but none of us are going back. I love film, but thanks to folks like Wozniak and Jobs and a little concept known as RAM - it isn't cost-effective to do either analog mediums.
I'm with you on the sound equipment. There's a nostalgia for records and turntables and that stuff with me, but it's not enough to offset the disadvantages.

But I'm a photographer, too, and I can say I have no interest whatsoever in digital photography at this point. I spend all day on computers and working with Photoshop and the other tools is a lot of fun, but that has nothing to do with why I got into photography. I loved the challenge of getting the exposure right as much as I did capturing the subject.

For me, the best part was the experience and anticipation of going into the darkroom, working with the chemicals and practicing the art of things like dodging and burning. The whole thing was an isolationist experience for me - going into that room alone or with my dad - and the tactile aspects of it all; using the tongs to take the paper out of the stop bath and put it into the fixer; the safety lights; the sound of water running through the rinse tray... that was what it was all about for me.

So although taking photos might be easier and better now, that was never the point for me.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
I'm with you on the sound equipment. There's a nostalgia for records and turntables and that stuff with me, but it's not enough to offset the disadvantages.

But I'm a photographer, too, and I can say I have no interest whatsoever in digital photography at this point. I spend all day on computers and working with Photoshop and the other tools is a lot of fun, but that has nothing to do with why I got into photography. I loved the challenge of getting the exposure right as much as I did capturing the subject.

For me, the best part was the experience and anticipation of going into the darkroom, working with the chemicals and practicing the art of things like dodging and burning. The whole thing was an isolationist experience for me - going into that room alone or with my dad - and the tactile aspects of it all; using the tongs to take the paper out of the stop bath and put it into the fixer; the safety lights; the sound of water running through the rinse tray... that was what it was all about for me.

So although taking photos might be easier and better now, that was never the point for me.
I get that and I tried to stick with film for as long as I could, but once you get into the business of going out for a day and banging through a bunch of high school student portraits and big group shots, your workflow just bogs down. Jobs like that are much quicker and easier done with digital, as are weddings and other events. If it was just me doing the Ansel Adams thing out on safari, then yeah, give me my 4x5 LF or an old Hasselblad camera and a mule to carry all the stuff and I'm there. But I never get to live that kind of charmed life!

I do know several photogs who only shoot film for everything and they argue the cost is about the same, and that's cool. They are definitely in the minority. Many places around here in Los Angeles are doing less and less film developing, so it's getting more expensive to shoot color 35mm film just for fun.
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
Ah, I didn't realize you were talking about doing professional work. Yeah, that's a whole different ballgame. I called myself a photographer, but it was just a hobby for me. Big difference there for sure.
 

BassDriver

Silver Member


Analog vs digital.

Vinyl is still being recorded to, so technically its not dead.

So analog has that nostalgic sound but I get the impression that digital is easier to work with, less things can go wrong with digital equipment.
 

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
Bo I like the music/photo comparison. I shoot only on digital cameras now and I think the one main thing that music and music have in the digital age is the ease of fixing mistakes and deleting big mistakes. My one main camera on a medium setting or format and a 2 gig card will let me shoot about 3000 photos. That would obviously cost a ton in film. and of course there is the instant feedback. But again it's the ease of manipulation that sells either.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Another interesting analogy is writing - typewriters v word processors - and its effect on the creative processs. My mother was a writer and technophobe. She refused to even look at work processors and never laid a finger on one until the day she died (mid 90s). Everything was done on her ancient typewriter. Minor typos were dealt with by white out and major changes meant rewriting the page(s).

There was no chance to cut and paste sentences or paragraphs, and generally far less flexibility in changing anything. That meant there was more pressure in the "performance" because she'd be punished for lapses. Many artists in various areas talk about how pressure can drive their creativity. I used to know an artist who waited until the last minute to paint before her exhibitions because she felt that brought the best out in her.

Just one of those intangibles that's changed with the advent of digital.
 
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mediocrefunkybeat

Guest
Polly, Bo and everyone, actually.

This actually gets to the crux of the issue. Polly says about her mother, 8Mile, Bo and Grunter about cameras. The analogue formats force you to make decisions earlier because there is no going back and changing it - or it's at least a lot, lot harder to change it.

I think that's the real advantage (or is it?) of digital everything is that you can go back over and edit more easily with an 'undo' button at your disposal. We can argue about analogue sound and the number of grains a ISO200 film might have over a 5MP camera (for the record, I have a small collection of film cameras - a Pentax SFXN, and a pair of student Prakticas (MTL 3 and 5 - the 3 is jammed though) as well as a couple of other lying around and I was brought up with a photography mad Dad)) - so I understand the appeal of the film formats and their tangible quality as well as the downside.

It's arguably more critical in film and video to edit the minute detail because the eye is generally more discerning that the ear, and I agree - if I'm doing quick shots for something like DW, then I'll use an old digital camera because it's quicker, easier and more productive. If I'm doing it for pleasure, I'll use the film if I can - because I actually think it's more 'fun'.

If you're talking about art, then this is where it all gets a bit stickier. I record to digital because it is cheap, quick, high quality and simple. More-or-less all the things that tape isn't, but I often get caught in the 'endless mixing' loop because my workflow doesn't have to be defined by the equipment. The endless freedom to chop and change makes it much harder for me to be productive - so for me, the only solution is to use analogue outboard and effectively use Pro Tools only for playback and recording to stereo from the desk. That forces my workflow and ensures that I'm actually making decisions. I'm sure that if I were a professional, this wouldn't be a problem but as a (fairly experienced) amateur - it absolutely is. I can mix in analogue in two hours (for say, a static 16 - track, four minute mix) and get a decent enough result. I can spend literally triple that doing it 'in the box' because nobody is forcing my decisions. And I need my decisions made early! Like with a typewriter, like with a film camera.
 

BassDriver

Silver Member
Bo I like the music/photo comparison. I shoot only on digital cameras now and I think the one main thing that music and music have in the digital age is the ease of fixing mistakes and deleting big mistakes. My one main camera on a medium setting or format and a 2 gig card will let me shoot about 3000 photos. That would obviously cost a ton in film. and of course there is the instant feedback. But again it's the ease of manipulation that sells either.
I guess the bad thing about being able to cut out mistakes is that musicians won't strive for a really rock solid recording...which ends up making a final result stale.

eg. Compression is used to to keep volume levels (dynamics) at a consistent level, this then takes the "life" out of a recording. Musicians that have more focus on their dynamics wouldn't have to have so much compression and then that essence of expression stays in the reocrding.

I'm not saying I hate digital, I think it is great, how else would music (or any media format) be able to be beamed and shared across the internet.

...but I also don't think that analog is completely useless either; I don't mind if there is a bit of noise on the vinyl tracks that the radio station plays.

...often in music recording analog equipment (especially for some special audio effects) and digital equipment are both used.

I'll put in some more fuel for discussion:

The potential of digital recording is often not used well enough. Digital recording allows for a wider dynamic range (volume range between the quietest sounds and the loudest sounds) but unfortunately so much music has the life compressed out of it - this is called the loudness war. It happened in the days before digital, it is the reason why remastered CDs have such crap sound.

The existence of digital equipment makes you appreciate how painstakingly recorded a sonically innovative album like The Dark Side of The Moon was.

Imagine how much sonic innovation be used with digital.
 
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