Is Analog *Really* Dead?

Is analog a dead technology when it comes to music? Some probably consider that a silly question. Marc Johnson, writing at The Tone King .com, probably thought the question “Is Analog Dead? ” had an obvious answer. Marc concluded that analog is most definitely dead.

I’m not so sure.

Like Marc, I too am old enough to have such memories of my favorite music on cassette. Although unlike him while my car doesn’t have an iPod jack, it also doesn’t have cassette player.

is-analog-music-dead-cassette-tape

Anyway, here are some thoughts I had while crafting a comment on the blog posts. (it turned into too much for a comment, so I’m responding on my blog with a link back to the original post instead)

Digital technology and the “death” of analog.

Here’s the difference between digital and analog recording and the reason digital has killed analog, as pointed out in the original post:

For technical reference, let’s take a quick look at how analog and digital recording works. The easiest explanation I could find comes from HowStuffWorks

In analog technology, a wave is recorded or used in its original form. So, for example, in an analog tape recorder, a signal is taken straight from the microphone and laid onto tape. The wave from the microphone is an analog wave, and therefore the wave on the tape is analog as well. That wave on the tape can be read, amplified and sent to a speaker to produce the sound.

In digital technology, the analog wave is sampled at some interval, and then turned into numbers that are stored in the digital device. On a CD, the sampling rate is 44,000 samples per second. So on a CD, there are 44,000 numbers stored per second of music. To hear the music, the numbers are turned into a voltage wave that approximates the original wave.

Marc then goes on to say:

I really like this explanation because it coincides with something a recording engineer once said to me.

“Digital can never replace analog. Digital tries to replicate analog sounds. But, while analog is a smooth line, digital is a series of steps. Sure, the steps might get smaller and smaller over time, but they’ll always be steps.”

Of course, he was wrong because digital has replaced analog, but I think you get the point.

And it’s that last statement where I differ in my view…

Digital can never truly replace analog in a scientific sense by definition of the two (see above). However, it can (and has) effectively replaced it though. Once the sample rate and quality reach a certain point, it is impossible for most people to discern the difference between digital and audio.

Unfortunately, many times the digital signal is under sampled or compressed to a point where those square steps become noticeable. That’s something that cannot happen to analog.

Audiophiles know this. It’s why guitarists prefer tube powered amplifiers to solid state transistor amps. Analog sounds more warm and true to life because it’s organic.

Analog may be down, and may have been replaced as the dominant medium (IE: records and cassettes replaced by CDs, replaced by mp3…), but many people said transistors (digital) would replace tubes (analog) in amplifiers too, and tube amps are still alive a quite well. In fact, most professional musicians prefer them.

Old technology doesn’t always die. Radio is still around despite television being purported to have made it obsolete. Likewise, television is still around, even though many said the Internet would kill it.

You never know who might lead a revolution back to analog in recording, if not storage.

Heck, analog cassettes aren’t even dead in a technologically advanced alternate reality ! 😀

 

Photo courtesy of  Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

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Comments
  • A Schneider September 22, 2015 at 7:10 am

    Analog can’t truly die, because most styles of music can’t be recorded or listened to without it. Even in a predominantly digital recording setup, there has to be some method to capture sound and play back sound if the music requires any organic elements (like a human voice). That usually entails microphones and preamps on the front end and speakers on the back end, both of which are analog technologies. Even digital microphones that convert analog signals to digital and bypass the need for preamps have to have an analog front end. If you’re listening to a song and it has a non-robot voice on it (even sampled from another recording), that voice was initially recorded using analog technology. The fact that the sound is reaching your ears means you’re listening on analog technology.

    Will the medium of analog ever return? No, sadly. Digital is much easier to distribute and retain, and as noted in your article, most people can’t discern the difference or wouldn’t care if they could. That seems to be part of the culture change surrounding music. For all the woes the music industry brought on itself, there was a time when artist were heavily vetted and studio time was a major expense. Now anyone can make recordings with very little investment. On the positive side of that, we get some great music from talented people that might have otherwise remained obscure. On the negative side of that, we’re inundated with so much music (much of it awful by anyone’s standards) that music as a whole becomes a throwaway commodity.

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