It is a fight we are all very familiar with: the battle of analog versus digital sound. Purists have always preferred analog, and they will passionately defend their position. Those who prefer digital are usually not so avid of supporters, but will have more than one point to back up their choice.
Either way, it brings up a question that my friend Ian Ainslie always asks: is analog actually better than digital? Or has the format been over hyped and deified based on nostalgia alone?
The Pros Of Analog
Most commonly, you will hear analog enthusiasts mention the sound itself when considering the pros of the format. By most accounts, it has a ‘warmer‘ tone, and sounds more alive than its digital counterpart. This is due to a lack of enhancements that have become standard for digital formats. Analog is all natural, and you have no audio bandwidth restrictions with analog, such as bitrate and sampling rate. The type of recordings that are put in analog formats are also different. You are limited in how you edit analog, and so it is impossible to go back and make constant changes. Anyone who has heard some of the final products that come out of recording studios now will see the benefit of this. Analog music is less likely to have been interfered with by executives, who commonly step in and change music today. Things are over compressed to make them as loud as possible.
The Pros Of Digital
The sound of digital formats are a lot more clear, because they can be easily enhanced and remastered. It does lose the warm tones of analog when this is done, but it becomes suitable for new media uses. For example, you can quickly enhance and incorporate a digital file into a video, game, or other multimedia. Convenience is the primary pro of digital. It is easy to record, edit, and use. There are a large number of editing tools, and you can record in multiple formats (hard disc, optical, RAM, ect). Plus, you can clone data, then transmit it quickly and effectively over networks.
The Cons Of Analog
Obviously, the biggest con here is that analog has gone out of style. It is no longer easy to get a hold of, and it just isn’t used anymore. The materials deteriorate over time, constant maintenance is necessary to protect recordings, and it is hard to find the equipment needed to record to listen to it. The more you copy it, the more the sound will deteriorate, and sound pollution (distortion and hissing) is common. When it comes to data, there is very limited space with analog.
The Cons Of Digital
While analog deteriorates, digital corrupts. Data files can become unusable, and when a certain level of corruption occurs it probably won’t be possible to recover it. During work with a digital file, you are at constant risk of a computer crash. If not saved diligently, changes can be lost. Sound performance is decreased, as mentioned in the pros. The warmer, more natural sounds of analog are lost when you switch to digital. Instead you get those crisp, clear, but harsh sounds that come with electronics.
Which Is Better?
Needle on the RecordThat depends on what you are needed with the recordings. If you are a music enthusiast who just wants to listen to something beautiful, there is no way to beat the classic analog tones. You will be closer to the actual source, as though you are there listening to it in person. Digital formats create a disconnect there, and can take you away from the experience.
On the other hand, trying to convert analog for use in a multimedia project is incredibly inconvenient. The use of digital is so much easier, plus it is enhanced for better use in that way. So both have their pros and cons, and it will come down to your preference.
Personally, I prefer analog. But my experience is based on that of a listener, not someone who is using audio for any kind of professional or creative project. If I were, I would go to digital as the most efficient means of transferring and using audio. Do you have an opinion on the matter? What makes you like one over the other? Leave a comment!