A couple of stories involving analog tape came my way today. The first was an email ad for a digital plug in made by Izotope called “Ozone 7”, which includes a module called “vintage tape machine”. This processor does exactly what Robert Werner mentioned in a comment a few days ago. He was being sarcastic…but I responded that professionals have access to digital processors that can modify the fidelity of a digital file and make it sound like a completely different format…including analog tape.
Here’s the marketing text on the Izotope website:
“The Vintage Tape module brings the distinctive richness and feel of tape saturation to your modern digital recordings with all the frequency coloration, distortion, and phase effects of tape. Take advantage of analog tone for masters that sound more musical with added dimension, fatness, and depth.
• Get the deep, natural sound and punchy low-end response of analog tape with the convenience of a digital interface.
• Inspired by the innovative Studer A810 tape machine, known for excellent frequency response even at the critical high and low frequency range limits.
• Continuous Bias control allows for precise tuning of frequency and distortion response.
• Mix in even harmonics for warmer saturation, or leave them out for more accurate tape emulation.
How would you feel about someone taking a pristine, very high fidelity digital recording and reducing the fidelity in order to “bring the distinctive richness and feel of tape saturation to your modern digital recordings with all the frequency coloration, distortion, and phase effects of tape?” This company (and they aren’t alone) is providing a set of tools that modify the sound of your “modern digital masters” and makes them sound like analog tape with the imagined “added dimension, fatness, and depth”. Advocates for analog tape can lust after the distortions, phase anomalies, and frequency colorations produced by their favorite format but I couldn’t imagine taking a fabulous high-resolution digital master and removing all of the advantages of high fidelity digital.
And a comment I received this morning speaks volumes about the quality of sound of digital vs. analog tape. Here’s what Alex told me:
“3M Digital Mastering System
We booked the Village Recorder in 1981 to cut tracks for ‘Nightfly’ and decided to try the 3M digital machine. We ran a Studer A-80 24-track analog machine in parallel with the 3M for the test. After the band laid down a take we performed an a-b-c listening test. The analog and digital machines were played back in sync while the band played along live. We could compare the analog machine, the digital machine, and the live band. The closest sound to the live band was the 3M digital machine. We re-aligned the Studer and gave it one more chance. The 3M was the clear winner. We rolled the Studer out into the street, (just kidding) and did the rest of the recording on the 3M 32-track machine. When it came time to mix, we mixed to the 3M 4-track machine.”
Once again, it comes down to the personal preferences of artists, engineers, producers, audio reviewers, vinyl advocates, and of course, consumers. Analog doesn’t sound better than digital…it sounds different…and less accurate to the input microphone feeds. In reality, audio writers should flip their analog-sound bias and start wishing that analog recording could match the “digital sound” that contains more fidelity than the best of the best analog formats.