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 Analog Vs. Digital 

Listen weird-toe, I will now ask you a question: must it be Analog or Digital?
Analog 28%  28%  [ 5 ]
Digital 72%  72%  [ 13 ]
Total votes : 18

 Analog Vs. Digital 
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Post Analog Vs. Digital
"Analog vs. Digital", written by Owsley Stanley.

We commonly hear the remark that the digital sound on CD's is inferior, or "inaccurate" to the sound of an analog vinyl LP which is made from a purely analog master tape.

What is said is partially true, the unplayed pressing of a "converted master", that is, an acetate master cut on a mastering lathe, which is plated and that plating used to press the vinyl, and assuming that the vinyl is first quality virgin material, is very close to the master tape (note the phrase "very close"= not the same). Due to the mechanical reality of the process of making the disc, there are artifacts which aren't in the original. That said, the real problem rears its ugly head: there isn't any stylus which can accurately trace the grooves in the plastic record. The cutter uses a stylus which has very sharp corners (not surprising, since its job is to cut the plastic master), and therefore creates a groove which only a like-shaped stylus can trace perfectly. Unfortunately such a shape would simply reform (overcut) the groove into a straight furrow with no audio information remaining after its passing.

So you have a choice of two traditional stylus shapes to use for recovering the audio information from the grooves. One of these has a conical shape, and is usually called "spherical", after the shape of the tip. This shape cannot come very close to following the movements of the cutter at any but the lowest frequencies. The other shape is a stylus which has an elliptical cross section, used with the major axis placed across the groove in an attempt to follow the cutter a bit more closely, but still quite inaccurate at the higher frequencies as well. Worse yet, both styli cause serious damage to the surface of the plastic inside the grooves. The friction of the stylus in the groove, exacerbated by the downward pressure required to keep it in the groove melts the plastic and so destroys the information on the sides of the groove. The damage is so severe (I've examined a lot of records under the microscope in the days when I produced the Old and In The Way LP) that you can only play the record once with any sort of fidelity with the elliptical point, and no more than 3 times with a spherical/conical.

In absolute terms the reproduction of even the best set-up has differences with the original recorded tape as much or more so than digital, only of a different kind, and somewhat "sweeter" in the ear--but inaccurate nontheless. Perhaps these people would be happier with a cassette made directly from the analog master, if such exists. In that case be sure that the cassette is either metal or genuine CrO2 tape, as the ferric formulations including high bias types won't hold the highs for more than a few months.

The above comments about tapes are not to be extended to the digital tape format known as DAT. The recording of digital information on a magnetic medium is not a permanent way to store information. The information on a DAT tape is very short wavelength square waves, and the tape has a serious problem with self-erasure. The effect is somewhat more subtle than the more obvious loss of highs with the analog tapes, but is more difficult to deal with since it is a broad-spectrum type of information damage. The rule with DAT is to always re-copy them every 8 to 10 months to ensure that dropouts and data errors are minimised. Since this is obviously not going to be practical for most people the only way to store any significant amount of digital music is by burning it onto a CD-R disk.

So what good is vinyl? Something that you can have sitting in your living room as a curio to amuse and impress your friends? Turntables for playing LP's that are any good cost a small fortune, both due to the mechanical difficulties of servoing that much mass and making it silky smooth, (a necessity to prevent rumble) but also due to the fact that only a very few extreme fanatics want them. The pickups are a real-world compromise in their mechanics, and very few are any good, and those few set you back big bucks, as well as introducing additional changes in the sound versus the tape originals. In addition, the resurgence in vinyl pressings seems almost exclusively confined to the Rap/Techno market and is driven by the DJ's in that genre.

I agree that the sample rate chosen for encoding CD's is far too low for the best fidelity, and I sincerely hope that a data rate of 200 to 500k will emerge with the introduction of the DVD, but at least the CD will always play the same each and every time you put it on the turntable. Why else do you think we use it? I can hear a lot of things in the music that has been digitized at 44.1k, don't get me wrong, and in fact I am sure that I hear all of the artifacts (such as anti-aliasing) that the most vocal critics of the digital media are voicing. All things in the real world require some compromise.

Perhaps eventually some clever engineer will come up with a crossed-laser, non-contact pickup head for reading the vinyl grooves without causing meltdown. Not an impossible task, given the state of the art, but to take advantage of this you will need records that have never been played even once with a conventional pickup.

Source: http://www.thebear.org/essays2.html#anchor506008


August 1st, 2009, 4:07 am
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Now this is interesting. I think, nothing can compare to analog media in terms of quality, but as the writing tells, every analog media (vinyl, tape, etc) will always be modified in time, even if not used, as physical modifications directly alter the recorded sound, so even the wind could alter that. On the other hand, with digital media you can just lose the data or not, but wether the cd is completely scratched or you poured your beer all over it, if the cd player plays it, it plays it right.
The discussion is not just the media to hold the recorded sounds, its far more important HOW you record that sounds. What the fuck does it matter a vinyl when you record your album with digital equipment and at 44.1 KHz? Vinyls there will only have disadvantages. Sometimes you may want to record in a completely analog studio, but then send the tracks in digital format to mix and master. Then, you want it on vinyl back to you. Fail, you lose all the reasons to want vinyl if you mix/master in digital.
For what I have seen, nowadays the cheaper studios use digital equipment, or maybe analog but then record directly to digital and use computers to store the masters. Maybe they use some high bitrates so they are not doing bad, but I would prefer to record analog instruments on analog equipment, then maybe some day we can use it without loss of quality in a home-level cheap way.
The bitrate is another theme for discussion. I think for most of the people the cd quality is more than sufficient. Even more if you take to account that a lot of music if produced directly in digital...
But for some powerful listeners and ears, the bitrate used in a cd will never be high enough, but I'm sure that one day dvd-audio will be more standarized, if not, at least one has the option to record it. For myself, I've been accustomed to mp3 for a lot of time and now I note the difference in quality with the cd A LOT, but I think that, most of the time, the cd is ok, and maybe when it's not it's fault of the recording or some other thing. But it's also true that I have had nothing to compare the cd to.

In conclussion, the better way to store recordings for now would be the highest bitrate possible digital media, but analog will always be the true thing, but for now it has quality lose over time, although I don't know how serious it is for "normal ears".

Fuck, after all this I don't know what to vote, so I won't. I will just say: digital for home use and ultra-expensive analog media to store the masters so one day we can recover it in its full glory. AND analog recording when it comes to analog instruments. Digital music must come in its source bitrate in data files, if it's different than cd bit rate.

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August 2nd, 2009, 11:59 am
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I like tapes. Music should always be played on long strings of magnetic something coiled on two coils.

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August 2nd, 2009, 2:21 pm
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Personally, I favor the digital realm. Analog is simply over-rated and over-stated for its "warmth". Tape is quite simply unreliable, stretches, wears out, and is just as susceptible to erasure from magnetic sources and hard disks, maybe even more so.

We have so many great kinds of software that allow you to record cleanly and studio gear to "warm things up". Or make it crystal cold and clean, icy trebly digital.

Either way, I was absolutely incapable of recording anything worthwhile on tape until I came upon the digital realm. It is also far less expensive. I remember the days where recording studios paid thousands of dollars for an 8-track tape machine and analog board just to record demos. They had to get them recalibrated every year, and tape reels were ree-donkulously expensive.

Digital just makes more sense. Easier. Cheaper. The only reason most audiophile dinosaurs insist on analog is because they don't know how to use a computer. Really. I swear that's the biggest reason. I have a really good friend who used to run a small demo studio years ago. He quit the business because he didn't want to learn how to use a computer. He can't sell his equipment because nobody wants to buy it. I can literally do what he used to do on a $600 Laptop.

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August 2nd, 2009, 5:05 pm
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@Andreas

What do you personally enjoy about tapes? What would you say is part of their charm?

@Dimaension X

I totally agree with you. Perhaps it is to be blamed on my age (25), but I never got into any type of analog idealism. When I was 10-11 years old (fourth year in primary school), I reached a peak into my cassettes collection. King Diamond, Slayer, Carcass, Obituary, Megadeth, Metallica, Cannibal Corpse, etc. Up until then, my main (and only) issue regarding tapes had always been to NOT be able to select the songs I wanted to hear at any given moment, as I didn't have the tape-reader option where it would automatically stop at the beginning of a song when you were fast-forwarding it. Also, I had a vague but growing feeling that tapes were parts of an old and decaying world: even my parents, for God's sake, were buying cd's! So I very CLEARLY remember one night, laying down on my bed and thinking to myself in the dark: from now on, I will only buy cd's. And that's what I did. And the FIRST cd I bought as soon as I had convinced myself was Absu's The Sun of Tiphareth (which was released in '95, so I must have been 11). I still remember this "magical event" to this day because of the amazing feeling I had when I first put my Absu cd in the player, looking into the cover, which was much larger than my usual cassettes. I knew that I was now part of the more advanced world of music, as ridiculous as this may sound nowadays. I knew that my cd collection would one day be huge, and that I still would be able to listen to my oldest records without any problem. And I EVEN could push on a button and the system would tell me how much time was left in a song when I was listening to it, and that was so special and perfect for me. Add to this that I could listen to music as loudly as possible at my parental house and I remember getting the feeling that my new cd's sounded MUCH better than any of the tapes I owned at the time: for instance, the Metal guitar sound had more "spike" so to speak. So in one word, going back to tapes was never an option for me, nor has it ever been tempting to regress even more back in time, for instance to vinyls. But I know that many other people enjoy cassettes and vinyls so it's probably part of everyone's own little history. And by the way, I'm still an Absu fan and I still have my Sun of Tiphareth at home and it plays perfectly well LOL. Which also explains why it was so emotional for me to see Absu live for the first time of my life one month ago.


August 2nd, 2009, 10:21 pm
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@Adryuu

I find it very interesting to read your answer about your appreciation of the problems at sight. The bitrate issue, to be very honest, is not something I feel my ears are accustomed to, though in the last few years, with the advent of mp3's, when I listen to a burned CD and then to the real one I can absolutely hear a difference in depth. So I guess that would be what I can say about the bitrate problem: I much prefer the sounds found on a professionally pressed CD than what any "cd-r" done at home from mp3s and not from the masters can offer. But as for the bitrate difference between a CD and a vinyl, I've never heard it, probably due to the fact that I've not owned a turntable for most years of my life.

The recording issue is also very interesting, as you and Dimaension X have two different points of view, and both have your own reasons to do so I guess. I would like to hear more musicians about this: do you prefer to record with analog equipment or digital equipment? Or both? And why?


August 3rd, 2009, 12:27 am
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Can anyone actually remember the first CD they ever purchased? I honestly can't. It was around 1994. Maybe David Torn-Mick Karn-Terry Bozzio - "Polytown"? And that CD is actually a great "headphone" listen.

I do remember "defending" cassette tapes until I started buying CDs. No more hiss. No more songs suddenly slowing down and speeding up, going out-of-phase, etc.

And now mp3's. I'm listening to some of the pre-production mixes of the next Moroghor album as I type this. I could never have done that if I was still working with tape. Mixing is as easy as hitting the "render" command and dropping it into I-Tunes on my laptop.

So much easier and simpler.

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August 3rd, 2009, 12:45 am
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@Dimaension X

How is it going by the way, drumming for the first time on a record must be kind of challenging, even if it's Done/Droom? I mean, having to find the perfect minimalism I think is interesting. Also what kind of thing are you programming versus what kind of thing do you prefer to "play live"?


August 3rd, 2009, 12:52 am
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Tape because of the culture surrounding it. The format is unwieldy and unreliable, as DimX said, but! The format is dead. No-one does it any more. So it's completely underground. Limited cassette editions = an elitism I can buy into. Industrial music comes out perfectly with the crunchy hisses of the cassette format.

As for recording, I prefer combinations of analogue and digital. I often record stuff on tape, then transfer to DAW (digital audio workstation, i.e home computer). I don't like the idea of using for example software amp emulators, I want the "true" sound of an amplifier - even if it sounds "worse". I'd rather have my music sound like AUTOPSY twenty yeas ago, than any new tech-DM band (including my own band, hahaha!).

I don't see the point in editing professionally on tape these days though, except for the sake of doing it completely analogue, and paying the price. But I can't take a stand on either analogue OR digital, I think both are necessary. Of course it's much easier and less expensive to just plug a guitar into a line 6 pod, but where's the fun of that, if you can use a big phallic wall of amps?

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August 3rd, 2009, 8:05 am
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@Oliver:

Well, actually the bitrate can't be compared in vinyl versus cd just because in any analogue media that features analogue recordings the bitrate is "infinite". That does not mean that we have to appreciate the difference, though. I have not owned a vinyl player for lots of years, too, so I can't really remember what the difference may be, but I have some tapes left yet and I remember freaking out to cd quality when I started to have.

One of my first original cds has to be either Ratos de Porao, Manowar, hmmm maybe Kreator "Pleasure to Kill" that I found at a local store and had never heard of them before. Also Anthems to the Welkin, Battles in the North... can't remember which one exactly was the first.

Hmmm, back on bitrates, as I said before, I think that the cd quality, 44.1 KHz, is enough for "normal" ears, but I haven't yet listened to music (digital format) in better bitrates than that, but there is, and the difference must be notable at least for someone. I have to add to this that the hifi, discman, headphones or crappy pc speakers where you play the music also matters, a lot.

And for the recordings, I think analogue would be the best to record analogue/acoustic instruments, but I myself make digital music directly in digital format, and not much higher or lower than cd-quality in bitrates. But that's because my music is entirely digital, for now. Anyway, when I have to record voices or acoustic instruments, I'll record in digital because of my amateur budget.

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August 3rd, 2009, 8:37 am
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I am with DimX too. Analogue is overrated, and that "warmth" (?) is easily something which can be simulated by digital means. As nearly everything can be done by digital means.

With TODTGELICHTER, in the (professional!) studio we use for album recordings everything is done digital (as ne3arly every professional studio these days). And the equipment is NOT cheap, on the contrary; this was top-notch equipment, speakers and software where you hear everything clearly and which costs half a fortune. To grasp the quality of the studio recordings at home you´d have to own REALLY expensive speakers. I think the recordings were done at LEAST with 128 Kb at 24 Bit, and anyone telling me that beyond that point the human ear is able to distinguish any quality fluctuations is either superhuman or fantasizing. :wink:


August 3rd, 2009, 12:24 pm
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Yeah, that's fucking much more than enough bitrate for our ears, but maybe not the bitrate you will get when you pass that on to a cd. Anyway, of course top notch digital equipment is out of range and ultra-expensive, but you can produce at home with virtually every modern pc for a low cost and get results that you wouldn't think of in the 80's for example. I use a normal home pc with pc oriented speakers or mp3 headphones and it's enough for me. Of course, I do not do mixes and masters, just rough "mixes". (Almost) Never used eq or compressors. But I bet that it would not be that crazy with my "equipment". Just not a proffessional work.

By now I think this thread is not of argueing or I'm with this or that one, there's not much to argue but to explain our thoughts and experiences.

About that 'warmth' some talked about, I don't think it's relevant, too. As long as you get enough samples per second, you will not distinguish digital from analog. And, of course, better a top notch digital equipment in good hands than any random analog in the wrong hands. ;)

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August 3rd, 2009, 1:40 pm
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What you'll probably not emulate is the "warmth" of cassettes, since it's generally a completely bad thing (as opposed to the fuzzyness of vinyl). I've never got on the vinyl train though. Too expensive, too fragile. I want my music on compact disks or tapes.

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August 3rd, 2009, 1:45 pm
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But then I suppose that the warmth you are talking about are the artifacts or noise that comes from the physical media? I mean, those things are errors, one would not want to have them, nor the vinyl noise.

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August 3rd, 2009, 1:47 pm
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Exactly! It's a poor format, the best they could come up with at the time, pre-digital. Excellent, haha! I've released two cassettes with my industrial project, and both have come out very unlike from what I heard when mixing at my computer w/ headphones. The format obscured some things, and lifted out other, I can still listen to them and hear things I didn't even know I recorded! Completely unreliable. Cassette is culture!

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August 3rd, 2009, 2:08 pm
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