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The Analogue Renaissance (part 4)

Analogue has a future as well as a past. And it is the future to which we should look forward. Too many people, including some who I would have thought would know better, have written analogue off and see it as a dying medium fit only for the archives...


Analogue’s Future

Yes analogue has a future as well as a past. And it is the future to which we should look forward. Too many people, including some who I would have thought would know better, have written analogue off and see it as a dying medium fit only for the archives. This is simple not so, and I am confident that time will prove me right. This is not to say that analogue will regain its former glory, there is no way that could happen, but analogue will in time carve out its own very important niche in the scheme of things - I hope to see this process get under way now, rather than wait until the situation gets any worse.

The future of analogue is fairly obviously in popular music recording. This type of recording requires both multitrack and stereo machines. Both types are currently still available new in the form of the Studer A827 and A807, but Studer has stated that analogue technology will not be developed any further until a serious demand has been demonstrated. This is a problem, since a demand as ‘serious’ as Studer requires will probably never materialize. Low demand, in this case, is not indicative of low worth, but manufacturing companies need volume sales to allow a product line to continue. I find it difficult to see how Studer, despite their current intention to keep the machines in production, can maintain this attitude indefinitely. The longevity of these machines is probably the greatest enemy to their remaining in the catalogue.

My personal expectation is that at some time in the next few years, Studer will discontinue manufacture of analogue tape recorders completely, although I must stress that they have not said in any way that it is their current intention to do so. Some things however do seem inevitable. In five years time, there will probably be no manufacturer of analogue tape recorders. Where do we go from here? There are two possibilities:

  • The existing stock of analogue machines can be maintained in service by small specialist companies.
  • Small specialist companies might licence designs from the likes of Studer, Ampex and Otari and continue to make analogue recorders in small quantities, probably at high prices.

The first option is happening already. If you really want an analogue tape recorder in first class operating condition, you will have little trouble finding one that has been reconditioned to new, or better than new, performance. The second option is more difficult than it seems. Although analogue technology is more like tractor design than rocket science, a machine like the Studer A820 represents the pinnacle of the art. It might, who knows, be possible for a small company to negotiate a licence to use the designs, but the machine itself is an incredible piece of precision engineering and would be extraordinarily difficult to replicate without the resources of a company of a similar scale to Studer, who have allowed the machine to go out of production because they weren’t selling enough for it to be viable. This is a difficult problem to which I am not currently able to propose a solution.

In Conclusion: the Future

I will conclude my comments for now, but I hope this can be the start of a debate rather than a mere curiousity. Analogue has had a great past - but that really is the past and the sooner we forget about it and concentrate on analogue’s future, the better things will be. Analogue is without doubt a great way to record, and we can make it even greater. The Analogue Renaissance starts now, and with a little luck, nothing is going to hold it back.

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004

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