Audio Recording in Digital Or Analog?

 A Review By: Alphonso Soosay

The difference between Analogue or Digital is a choice and it is a subject of debate, and it doesn’t matter if analogue audio is superior to digital audio or digital is more superior. This subject can be extremely achieved by the quality of the input source, audio systems used and the audio engineers behind it.  From my past and current experience, accurate high quality sound reproduction is possible using both analogue and digital systems. Outstanding and expensive Analog systems may possibly outperform digital systems, and vice versa; in principle any system of either type can be outperformed by a better, more elaborate and costly system of the other type.

As with Analogue technology, a wave is recorded and used in its original form. (Analog information is translated into electric pulses of varying amplitude).  For instance, in an analogue tape recorder, a signal is taken straight from the dynamic or condenser microphone and recorded onto magnetic tape. The wave from the microphone is an analogue wave, and therefore the wave on the magnetic tape is analogue as well. That wave on the magnetic tape can be read directly, amplified and sent to speakers to produce the expected sound.

Audio Recording in Analog or DigitalIn the field of modern Digital technology, the incoming analogue wave is documented at some interval, and then turned into numbers that are stored in the digital device hard drive. (Digital translation of information is converted into binary format, zero or one, where each bit is representative of two distinct amplitudes).  Note: Both Analog and Digital signals are used to transmit information, usually through electric signals. In both these technologies, the information of any audio is transformed into electric signals.  CD has a sampling rate of 44,000 samples per second. Therefore on a CD, there are 44,000 numbers stored per second of music. To hear the music, the numbers are converted back into a voltage wave that approximates the original wave. The advantage of digital technology is that the recording does not degrade over time and even with over dubs. As long as the numbers can be read by the laser head, you will always get exactly the same wave.

Since 1978, I have enjoyed most of my audio vocation engineering, producing and working in various recording studios and with International recording companies in Singapore and Australia using “Analog recording equipment’s and currently using digital.  As a result it keeps on enlightening me when a reviewer or other critic refers to a piece of music as “Analog” or “Digital”. I have heard this statement many times. Sometime ago I had an email conversation with Louis Davidson, a well know audio engineer from New York and apparently he is a sincere fan of analog reel to reel tape. So was I since the 60’s and I am still an enthusiast of analog sound as nothing beats the warmness of analog sound.  I mentioned to Louis that over the last 10 years I have been listening to HD Audio such as SACD and DVD audio. Louis was in the beginning quite fascinated by the idea but ultimately decided that copying an HD-Audio master recording (one that has the potential to far exceed the specifications of his finest analog deck) wouldn’t be truly analog. He mentioned that he had, in fact, already done what I had proposed to him. He recorded the output of his friends SACD player to his reel to reel deck and that the playback “still sounded digital”. That’s because the SACD recording has gone through a Digital pre-amplifier at the recording stage and will always sound digital but the overall compression will be much less than CD compression.

On another occasion here in the studio, I demonstrated a very prominent high-end cable from a Australian cable manufacturer for Louis. I played a variety of my best SACD and HD-Audio CD recordings in my 7.1 surround room and then inquired what he thought. He paused for a moment still thinking and then answered, “The output sound is just too “Digital” for me, what he meant was, it’s too clean and detailed for him. I agreed with him and I still prefer a more analog sounding even though it will not have much of the upper dynamic frequencies”. Note: Upper dynamics are great for Classical Music, Brass Band arrangements and Home Theatre effects.

So, there it goes. For this member of the audio loyalty, the lack of noise and that certain distortion that comes with analog reproduction as well as the increased high frequency components present in my 96 kHz/24-bit track were thumbs down for him. Unambiguously he was so used to his vinyl records, tube amplifiers and reel to reel recordings that have a more comforting and easy sounds. However, I took his comments as encouraging and complimentary. He heard exactly what I wanted him to hear. That got me thinking about the use of the words “Analog” or “Digital”. Do they actually mean something or are they useless terms that simply don’t mean anything anymore. As an audio recording engineer that has worked optimistically for both environments. Subjective is the word.

My own understanding of “Analog” or “Digital” reflects more about the personal preferences of the listener than any flaws present in a particular track. In this contemporary stage of audio development, both can deliver absolutely glorious renditions of recorded music. What I wish for in my high-end audio experience might not be the same as someone else. I guess I have started to think about varieties of different audio formats more like preferences for a particular type of music.

Alphonso Soosay

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