Adventures In Audio
The Analogue Renaissance (part 2)

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Thursday January 1, 2004

I am hardly an advertising copywriter, but you don’t have to be to find
a whole series of nice things to say about analogue. And no matter how good
digital technology gets, all of the above points will still apply - maybe the
fourth could become less relevant in time, but I don’t see that it’s
the way things are going. The point is that analogue recording is a wonderful
thing and we are in grave danger of allowing it to slip away from us. We don’t
even have to argue between analogue and digital since if they are both available
then we can use either as it suits us. Let’s just give analogue the respect
it deserves, and look forward to finding a way to give it a place in the future,
as well as in the past.

Analogue is Better than Digital?

People who are still using analogue technology have certain reasons for doing
so, so let’s examine them in turn. Firstly, those who say that analogue
is better than digital...

There is now no doubt that a better world exists beyond the 44.1kHz/16-bit
standard of conventional CD. Right now we are looking at 96kHz/24-bit recording
and in the future we would anticipate sampling rates to increase up to somewhere
around 400kHz, which has been suggested as the upper limit of the resolution
of human hearing. Note that this doesn’t mean that a frequency response
up to 200kHz is necessary - the benefit would be to capture frequencies in the
near-supersonic range, that many think are perceptible rather than audible,
with absolute accuracy. Analogue tape of course has no trouble with frequencies
into the mid twenties (of kilohertz) range, and is capable of a response up
to 30kHz, and even beyond with careful design and maintenance. Looking at the
noise floor, it has been suggested that the half-inch stereo format has a resolution
equivalent to 24-bit digital. Perhaps there may be some noise present, but signal
can be heard way below the noise floor without any kind of dithering or ‘bit
mapping’ process demanded by digital technology. The noise floor will,
for many purposes, be equal to or better than the noise produced by current
microphone technology, so further improvement would not bring additional benefits.
My interpretation of the ‘analogue is better than digital’ debate
would be that there certainly are ways that analogue can be considered better
than current digital formats, but with improvements to digital technology this
will not always be the case.

A second type of person using analogue technology would say that analogue has
a better sound than digital, not necessarily more accurate but just subjectively
better. There is no arguing with subjectivity of course, but a little analysis
isn’t going to hurt anyone...

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