Dr. AIX's POSTS — 05 November 2015

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If you’ve read any marketing materials, attend audiophile trade shows, read forums, or listen to HiFi “experts”, you’ve undoubtedly encountered the assertion that “analog sound” is something audio engineers and producers should strive for and listeners should cherish. “Analog sound” is…in the minds of its supporters…the pinnacle of reproduced sound. However, audio production has moved irreversibly away from analog to digital methods and equipment for capturing and reproducing music.

Those who think that the best sounding recordings are derived from “analog” production paths are just plain wrong. In fact, digital wins in all categories hands down. There’s potentially more frequency response, more dynamic range, less distortion, less speed variation, less noise, less crosstalk, and more. Just name a specification and do the comparison between a bona fide high-resolution digital recording and an analog track (even first generation esoteric analog tape) and high-resolution PCM digital comes out ahead.

So why do so many audio enthusiasts insist on claiming ” analog sound” is a deserving goal? Because they want to perpetuate the familiar and trusted instead of accepting that technology and techniques have moved on. Why else would they cling to technologies that are only rarely used to produce new recordings? And all of the older albums that music lovers of my generation love and enjoy are almost exclusively consumed in their digital incarnations rather than the analog originals…this is certainly true for the mass market and I would venture is also true among audiophiles.

The industry needs to adjust their marketing and advertising to mesh with the new reality. PCM digital recording is the format of choice. Notice I didn’t attach the prefix “high-resolution” to the previous sentence although I personally believe that moving up from CD spec to 96 kHz/24-bits is the sweet spot for the ultimate enjoyment of recorded music. Of course, I would love to see production methods widened to include more dynamics, surround mixes, and more lifelike sounding instruments and voices. But that’s another topic for another time.

If the pundits, equipment makers, and marketing heads want to insist on continuing the myth that analog is the pinnacle of the record art, then they need to establish an objective set of metrics by which analog recordings can be measured…and then line PCM digital recordings up against those same metrics. Some of us know that the results would deal a serious blow to the analog side of the music business.

Don’t take my position as being anti analog audio…I’m not. However, the description of “more analog sounding” gets under my skin. It’s meaningless without specifics and the subjectivists want desperately to avoid specifics because it gives them running room whenever they pronounce a new device or process as “making the sound more analog sounding”. Everyone is allowed to enjoy whatever they personally prefer…and that may be analog for some and digital for others.

The highest expression of the audio recording art is to create or preserve a musical or sonic event with the highest fidelity possible. If a particular project benefits from compression, heavy uses of equalization, distortion, or other processes that can diminish the fidelity of the recording, that’s fine with me. Not everyone can or should produce according to the same aesthetic. But don’t tell me that making all recordings sound “more analog” should be the goal of all music tracks. I don’t accept those compromises.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

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