The Sound of Analog, the Sound of Digital

On his PS Audio blog today Paul McGowan posted a piece titled: "The meaning of analog." Paul writes: "There’s no such thing as the sound of analog and digital. They are antiquated terms . . ."

Paul of course is not disputing the existence of the different technologies of analog recording and digital recording, or of the existence of mechanical and electronic differences between analog playback systems and digital playback systems. I believe he is suggesting that whatever the mechanical or electronic differences between how analog music and digital music are created and played back, it is antiquated to think about or to describe a sound as being inherently analog or inherently digital.

What do you think about this?

Is Paul correct in your view?

Are (the sound of) "analog" and (the sound of) "digital" antiquated terms? studio.jpg
 
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Comments

Al M.

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#41
At least we've gone from comparing "apples to oranges" to "oranges to oranges".
Gotta be progress after 37-38 years since the first cd appeared at Tower Records.
LOL, that's progress indeed. Five years ago this would have been unthinkable ;).
 

the sound of Tao

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Jul 18, 2014
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#42
Problem is most audiophiles can't afford oranges at the prices they charge these days, and so end up with peanuts
We’ve already ruined music and now fruit... let’s not ruin peanuts as well o_O:D
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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#43
It's now the only reason I still hope that God exists. My first question at St Peter's Gate...
Well, maybe second after I ask what DID i do with that wallet I lost.
 

bonzo75

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#45
Do you think we are bananas
 

Tango

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#46
Sorry for the lightheadedness. Mike's orange analogy Is superb though and very much in line with the thread.
 

bonzo75

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#47
My posts are very much in line with the thread too.

They don't make much sense, neither does understanding why we should pay attention to a Paul McGowan comment, and even if we should, I think we are misinterpreting it only to have discussion.
 
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bonzo75

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#48
Paul is simply saying we should refer to both analog and digital in terms of real. Currently the practice is, when we say it sounds analog, we actually mean it sounds real, and if in the same context we say it sounds digital, we mean it sounds artificial. Paul is saying this creates a sense of discrimination and bias against digital.
 

Al M.

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#49
Paul is simply saying we should refer to both analog and digital in terms of real. Currently the practice is, when we say it sounds analog, we actually mean it sounds real, and if in the same context we say it sounds digital, we mean it sounds artificial. Paul is saying this creates a sense of discrimination and bias against digital.
Let's get real. Since when does analog sound real, in terms of an indistinguishable copy of a live event?

In that sense, I think both analog and digital are similarly as close or as far from the ideal.
 
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Al M.

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#50
degrading to whatsworstforum......
Or maybe a reflection that these days not much of an analog vs. digital debate is to be had anymore. The issue has become more or less moot; otherwise analog fans would come up with more hard-core arguments than comparing non-organic and organic oranges (and as Microstrip suggested, you can even ask what is what).

Five years ago flames flared high in such debates, now not anymore. Digital has arrived.
 

PeterA

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#51
Or maybe a reflection that these days not much of an analog vs. digital debate is to be had anymore. The issue has become more or less moot; otherwise analog fans would come up with more hard-core arguments than comparing non-organic and organic oranges (and as Microstrip suggested, you can even ask what is what).

Five years ago flames flared high in such debates, now not anymore. Digital has arrived.
This is an interesting discussion, but I don’t really understand the point Paul is trying to make. For me it is very simple. I have two local friends who have both analog and digital in their systems and when I go to visit them I always prefer the analog and they’ve both said the same to me in email exchanges.

We can debate differences and preferences all day long, but for me this is what what it all comes down to. MikeL understands this.

Now is Paul suggesting that I cannot use the language of tick pop and crackle to describe the difference between analog and digital?
 

cjfrbw

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#52
I am not shocked. I have been using the VERY high end Yamaha GT-2000 for more than a decade and I will put it up against any 20K+ TT made today. A friend of mine was TT shopping and heard mine and went right out and bought his own...never looking back or thinking what if.

IMO, analog done right is still superior and delivers a fundamentally different feeling when listening to it. Is it the mastering of the recordings?? Not too sure about it. I think the fundamental difference in the distortion produced is a major factor.
Analog, so flawed. So beautiful, though, that flawed is a feature. It is like a musical instrument playing music rather than a machine playing music. It's hard to ruin it.
That being said, I have no argument with modern digital, it's great.

This is perhaps the lowliest kind of rig a hi end maven would sniff at and it still sounds great aka 42 year old Sony PS X70, Ortofon Kontrapunkt A (18-19 years old?)
 
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Kingsrule

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#53
This is an interesting discussion, but I don’t really understand the point Paul is trying to make. For me it is very simple. I have two local friends who have both analog and digital in their systems and when I go to visit them I always prefer the analog and they’ve both said the same to me in email exchanges.

We can debate differences and preferences all day long, but for me this is what what it all comes down to. MikeL understands this.

Now is Paul suggesting that I cannot use the language of tick pop and crackle to describe the difference between analog and digital?
You might PREFER the vinyl source but that doesn't mean its sounds real. There is a BIG difference.....
 

Al M.

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#54
This is an interesting discussion, but I don’t really understand the point Paul is trying to make. For me it is very simple. I have two local friends who have both analog and digital in their systems and when I go to visit them I always prefer the analog and they’ve both said the same to me in email exchanges.

We can debate differences and preferences all day long, but for me this is what what it all comes down to. MikeL understands this.
And yet, both friends were far more vocal and decisive about their preference of analog over digital five years ago. That is typical of a larger shift of opinion explaining why debates analog vs. digital don't attract as much fire anymore as they used to.

I myself was five years ago decisively in the "analog is superior" camp, even as a digital-only guy. Now, I am much more ambivalent about the issue.
 

PeterA

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#55
You might PREFER the vinyl source but that doesn't mean its sounds real. There is a BIG difference.....
I never said it sounds real. And surely digital guys do not claim that digital sounds real either. Of course there is a difference between reproduce music and the real thing. Yes, of course it is my preference and that of my two friends who have both mediums.

But I don’t understand not being able to use language to describe the differences. We do here differences between analog and digital do we not? If we hear those differences how are we supposed to describe them without language? I think each medium still has a signature sound.

And when someone describes a system as sounding like analog or sounding like digital those comments still have meaning to me and perhaps to other people. I disagree with Paul that that language is obsolete now.
 

PeterA

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#56
And yet, both friends were far more vocal and decisive about their preference of analog over digital five years ago. That is typical of a larger shift of opinion explaining why debates analog vs. digital don't attract as much fire anymore as they used to.

I myself was five years ago decisively in the "analog is superior" camp, even as a digital-only guy. Now, I am much more ambivalent about the issue.
Al, Do you agree with Paul’s comment about language? Do you hear a difference between the two formats?

We’ve had similar discussions about solid-state and digital amplifiers each advancing and sounding more real. No one is suggesting they sound real just closer to real over time. And yet there are still people who talk about tube sound or having a tube somewhere in the chain and people describing solid-state sound.

I don’t see that discussion as being very different from the analog digital debate in terms of each typology having a signature characteristic still recognizable after all of the advancements being made.

No one is denying that digital is getting better. And I don’t think the debate is over.
 
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Al M.

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#57
Al, Do you agree with Paul’s comment about language? Do you hear a difference between the two formats?
No sure I do anymore, Peter, when they are at the best I have heard them. I might here and there, but the jury is still out for me as to how significant and persistent these issues are.

We’ve had similar discussions about solid-state and digital amplifiers each advancing and sounding more real. No one is suggesting they sound real just closer to real over time. And yet there are still people who talk about tube sound or having a tube somewhere in the chain and people describing solid-state sound.

I don’t see that discussion as being very different from the analog digital debate in terms of each typology having a signature characteristic still recognizable after all of the advancements being made.
I basically gave the answer to this in post #8. Once digital noise falls away, it becomes difficult to hear a clear signature of digital.
 
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Atmasphere

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#58
I am not shocked. I have been using the VERY high end Yamaha GT-2000 for more than a decade and I will put it up against any 20K+ TT made today. A friend of mine was TT shopping and heard mine and went right out and bought his own...never looking back or thinking what if.

IMO, analog done right is still superior and delivers a fundamentally different feeling when listening to it. Is it the mastering of the recordings?? Not too sure about it. I think the fundamental difference in the distortion produced is a major factor.
Both approaches have distortion- in the digital world they call it 'aliasing' but if it were the exact same distortion in the analog world it would be called 'inharmonic distortion'. Analog tends to have fairly low distortions of the traditional types, but most of it actually turns up in playback, which means if you can do your setup right, you can really get the distortion down.

I've not seen bandwidth discussed, but vinyl seems to have superior bandwidth, being good for at least an octave above the audio band and an octave below. As far as noise goes, that seems to be a function of the pressing plant; a lacquer fresh off the lathe is amazingly low noise- no matter your electronics that will be the noise floor rather than the lacquer. So noise can vary quite a lot from disk to disk.

You might PREFER the vinyl source but that doesn't mean its sounds real. There is a BIG difference.....
But at the same time, you might prefer and it might sound real too. But yes- there is a BIG difference!

Digital has gotten so much better in the last 5 years in particular that I barely care about it, but when buying music I prefer to buy LPs still. What really told me that digital has 'made it' was an inexpensive Topping DAC (E30) which seems to bat far out of its price point ($130.00 w/shipping). I'm not saying its the best, but its certainly great and the differences between it and better DACs are subtleties.

I'm still unhappy with streaming though- its like the wild west, with so many competing approches which can't seem to operate on the same platform...
 

Ron Resnick

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#59
. . . Once digital noise falls away, it becomes difficult to hear a clear signature of digital.
Then what is that (to my ears, telltale) residual digital dryness on vocals?
 

Al M.

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#60
Then what is that (to my ears, telltale) residual digital dryness on vocals?
I don't hear one at all. In fact, to my ears digital excels at vocals, solo, ensemble or choir. I find vocals on good digital to sound timbrally intact and extremely realistic. I am talking here mostly about classical music or contemporary avantgarde.

When you talk about certain pop tracks, not so much, but there the problem is processing, not the medium itself.
 
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