• Donny

Digital is cold, analog is warm

Really? Is it true? Welllll........ Let's talk about it. The first CD players that came out had a harsher sound by far than most people were used to BUT they didn't have any hiss, surface noise, and could deliver a lot more detail than a vinyl record, hence the initial attraction AND the initial criticism. Without trying to explain the tech side of it, CD's got better, but the digital vs analog war was on. In the rush to supply content many CD's that came out were created with hasty and even outright poor mastering jobs so audiophiles would be right to say "this doesn't sound anything like the old recordings of this band I'm familiar with." This too improved over time as artists got more control over their master tapes and insisted on higher quality analog to digital transfers and mastering jobs. For the most part record companies wised up, but this sad little chapter also helped fuel the digital vs analog war. I've spent the last 30 years working in the pro audio retail industry so I hear a lot of people talking about the sound of digital vs analog. Digital is COLD! Analog is WARM. You heard it over and over. Well sort of I guess, but I've watched formats come and go, and I've seen a lot of improvements. First I'd like to talk about analog recording on tape. That's where it all starts. Even if you listen to a vinyl record, before CD's it started life as a multi-track and then master, tape.

The big enemy with the tape format is hiss. All tapes have it to some degree. You fight it by recording as much signal as possible to cover up the hiss. Mostly this works, but there are several noise reduction systems that were used to help reduce annoying hiss. The two most popular were DBX and Dolby. Using them took away the hiss. But it also took away high end detail. The other enemy is wear. Tapes wear out. Zeroes and ones do not. Ok, so digital...zeroes and ones. Digital recording is very cost effective. With good technique, a modest recording studio set-up can produce excellent results. The ability to take your entire music collection with you anywhere you go and have it sound the same every single time cannot be achieved with analog. It's here to stay. The enemy of digital was retraining our DNA to move away from the "record as hot as possible" mantra that is burned into our brains from day one, to realizing giving digital recorders more headroom allows the convertors to do a more pleasing job. This has been a long time coming but now that it is more widely known, digital recordings are sounding better and better. The technology has improved as well with higher bit rates and sampling rates. When all we had was tape, the effort was to pull the sound up out of the mud, and now with digital you're trying to warm (yuck, there's that word again) it up. So, where are we now? Record sales have outgrown CD's partly from the popularity growth of that format, but mostly due to the rise of streaming digital which negates the need for a CD. Higher quality digital formats have replaced the earlier low rez mp3's, a very good thing. and people are using hybrid systems with both tape and computer recording to paint their masterpieces. The sad truth is all we had to do was click our heels together three times all along----it's called tone control. Every car and stereo receiver has them. You want it warm? Turn down the treble knob. Instant warm. Old tape sounds dull? Don't crank the bass knob all the way up and swing that treble knob to the right. Boom.

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