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The Analogue Renaissance (part 2)

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.

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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...

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
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