Is Analog Dead?

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If you’ve been following, you might’ve noticed that most of my articles lately have been of the what-ever-happened-to variety. That’s because the world of music is in a strange place for me. I’m old enough to remember a time when music took up tangible physical space on my shelf in the form of tapes, records, or CDs. But, I’m also savvy enough to be able to stumble my way into acquiring over 70 gigs of music stored on various hard drives.

My piece of shit car doesn’t have a jack for my iPod.

Although this pisses me off, it also gave me the recent opportunity to listen to the last known haven of analog music: The Cassette Tape

After pushing the cassette into the player, I was amazed at how dense the sound coming from my speakers actually was. Considering that the speakers in my car are just as crappy as the car itself, the fact that it sounded good at all was surprising.

I compare the experience to having added salt to bland soup.

The soup was OK. There were carrots and celery and bits of chicken, but it was a bit…blah. But after the salt was added, it was freaking delicious.

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For technical reference, let’s take a quick look at how analog and digital recording works. The easiest explanation I could find comes from HowStuffWorks

In analog technology, a wave is recorded or used in its original form. So, for example, in an analog tape recorder, a signal is taken straight from themicrophone and laid onto tape. The wave from the microphone is an analog wave, and therefore the wave on the tape is analog as well. That wave on the tape can be read, amplified and sent to a speaker to produce the sound.

In digital technology, the analog wave is sampled at some interval, and then turned into numbers that are stored in the digital device. On a CD, the sampling rate is 44,000 samples per second. So on a CD, there are 44,000 numbers stored per second of music. To hear the music, the numbers are turned into avoltage wave that approximates the original wave.

 I really like this explanation because it coincides with something a recording engineer once said to me.
“Digital can never replace analog. Digital tries to replicate analog sounds. But, while analog is a smooth line, digital is a series of steps. Sure, the steps might get smaller and smaller over time, but they’ll always be steps.” 
Of course, he was wrong because digital has replaced analog, but I think you get the point.
Digital trying to replicate analog signals is like trying to watch an old Jet Li movie that’s been dubbed into english; something always gets lost in translation. Currently, analog seems all but completely abandoned. Some bands still record using reel to reel, but the transfers still end up going on a digital format, whether it’s CD or MP3. Some say that you still need to record in analog before converting to digital to get a broader spectrum of sound to sound organic enough to the listener. But it seems to me that our ears are being trained to slowly abandon those sounds that can only be found in analog.
I remember when some of the first digital recordings came out, and people were bitching left and right about how thin they sounded. And, my experience listening to the tape in my car made me realize that I’ve gradually been conditioned to accept the thin sound of digital. Granted, digital recording has come a long way, but there is still quite a bit missing from the analog experience. As a guitar player who does home recording, I’m always struggling with trying to find the right sound. The moment I have it dialed in on my rig, the recording sounds like I’m using a tin can as an amplifier.
So, is Analog dead?
Um, Yeah.  Duh.
Long dead. Stick a fork in it. It never had a chance.
RIP
Well, at least I have more shelf space.

 

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About the Author: Marc published his first novel Becoming in 2010. It’s a kick-ass book with monsters and dreams and stuff, and you should buy it. Since then, he’s written thousands of articles for TheToneKing.com, many of which have been picked up for circulation by manufacturers and other news outlets. His next book, Drugs and Pancakes, should be available early 2014 if his alcoholic editor can find time to work on it in-between destroying his liver and screaming about punctuation. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors, which means that he’s not as dumb as he looks. He’s been playing guitar for over 25 years, which is almost twice as long as most of his students have been alive.

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  1. Jonathan says:

    analog sound the best
    Real record not the new record that are just cut from digital master but the old LPs
    Even better I have some 1/4″ tapes that you were once able to purchase if you had a 1/4″ reel to reel deck.

    The ones that have not deteriorated sound great

    The sample rate has to be presented at least at 192 and so far nobody has the gut or nohow to pull that off
    Neil Young is working on that with his format “Pono”.
    I sincerely hope it works.

    BTW
    Mr Young records on 2″ 24 tracks and does not transfer to digital until it is mastered.

    So interesting that you are now seeing expensive turntables again McIntosh has a real cool turntable for $6500

    The industry is driven by the “buying audience” and that would those that were brought up on MP3′s.
    there goes the neighborhood in terms of good sound

    I still have a great Phillips turntable some JBL 4311′s and all McIntosh components and it still sounds awesome….yeah there are scratches and pops from my well cared for vinyl LP’s but they sound great

    So F*** digital

  2. trushack says:

    I also vastly prefer analog and don’t think it’ll ever truly be replaced at the source (e.g. tube amps), but I think we’re getting better in terms of mastering techniques for the digital recording age.

  3. Bruce says:

    I prefer analog. A huge reason I love the newest foo fighters record is it was done analog.

  4. Deneteus says:

    The real problem is when people accept low bit rate recordings because they can’t hear a difference. Alot of people can. Its the same issue as LCD TV’s not being able to represent 32 bit color. Compare blacks on a tube TV to an LCD and you will be sorely disappointed. The closest we have is OLED these days for true blacks. It’s why we have been suck with 1920×1080 as the standard for HD when in all actuality we should be way past that. 4K is the new HD and we currently have nothing new for audio.

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