What Is “Analog” or “Digital” Sound?

I did a quick Google search on the term and this is an example of what came back. Steve Guttenberg, the Audiophiliac at C|NET, stated, “Analog just sounds better than digital” in his 2010 article “Why does analog sound better than digital?” I recognize that there are two camps out there that believe passionately in there positions but while both love to listen to wonderful music reproduction, they are split on an issue that is not as close as one might imagine.

The “analog is better than digital” camp is tied to the past. They’ve gotten it into their heads that because the groove of record or the analog magnetic tape moving over a playback head are continuous phenomena and digital audio is a set of discrete values stored in the pits of an optical disc or the flip-flops of a digital memory that it’s all settled.

I remember being shocked when I ran across a sign posted near the expensive boxed sets of LP at the local Best Buy store. It stated, “Vinyl records provide a more rich, warm tone than digital formats. The reason for this better tone is because the grooves on records provide more musical data to your amplifier. When the stylus (needle) fits into the groove of the record, it vibrates in such a way that it is reminiscent of the soundwaves present when the artists performed the song. When amplified, you get a reproduction of the original performance”. I don’t know who wrote this, but they’ve obviously never heard a well-recorded HD-Audio program.

The word analog shouldn’t be used as an adjective when describing the quality of a particular piece of music. Terms like warmth, detail, clarity, boomy, noisy and plenty of others have some meaning when discussing the sound of a particular piece of music but “analog” applies to the production process involved in creating and delivering a piece of music.

Similarly, describing something as “digital” sounding is absolutely meaningless. I have produced many pieces of music in a wide variety of genres using high-definition PCM audio equipment. They do not sound “analog” or “digital”…they sound like the music arriving at the microphones during the session. It’s true that capturing and reproducing a selection of music involves lots of creative decisions on the part of the engineer and producer of the tracks, and some might prefer the “sound” of analog equipment over digital gear, but that choice is not inherently better than those of us that prefer a recording made with high-definition PCM audio machines.

It simply comes down to personal taste. Enjoy your analog tape or vinyl if that turns you on. But an HD-Audio PCM track can provide greater dynamic range and extended frequency range for those with the interest, equipment and desire for a different music experience. My favorite quote came from Andrew Quint of The Absolute Sound when he visited my studio and said the sound was, “quite simply the most realistic and involving instance of recorded sound I can recall, from any source format”.

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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