Analog Tape vs Digital Recording: Which sounds better?

Saturday, January 26th, 2013 | by

Which sounds better, analog tape or 24-bit digital recording? Los Angeles producer/engineer Adam Kagan set up a session to find out. Listen to solo’d bass, guitar, and piano tracks from session stars Carlos Rodgarman, Grecco Buratto, and Carlitos del Puerto; decide for yourself whether you prefer the pristine sound of digital recording or the “warm” tones of analog tape on electric guitar, bass, and piano.

I started my professional recording career in the early 1990’s, when 2-inch tape was the main recording format for all but the few who could afford a Sony 3348 digital machine. We recorded to either a Studer, Sony/MCI, Ampex or Otari tape machine and mixed through our analog boards to a half-inch tape machine, usually a Studer or Ampex.

JH-24 Tape Deck, from Flickr user Ronan_CEach tape machine had its advantages and disadvantages: the JH-24 (Sony/MCI) could punch like no other and sounded great, but alignment was a pain and the remote was little more than functional. The Ampex machines sounded fantastic, but forget about punching at all. The Studers had the best of both worlds, with good punching and great sound — at a very high price. In contrast, the Otari machines and Sony APRs had modern features, like auto-alignment and built-in synchronization, but were not considered great-sounding machines. You pays your money and takes your choice. [JH-24 photo from Flickr user Ronan_C]

Fortunately for me, I started right on the cusp of affordable digital multitrack recorders, in the forms of the Alesis ADAT and Tascam DA-88s. Pro Tools (then called Sound Tools) was in its infancy, but worked very well for two-track editing. A few esoteric digital workstations, like the NED Synclavier, AMS Audiofile and Fairlight showed up in post-houses and top-level composer’s studios, but were way out of reach for the average person.

For a little perspective, a decent Sony/MCI JH 24 machine could be purchased used in the early 90’s for around $15,000–not including wiring or required maintenance (e.g., several thousand dollars for a new headstack). At that time a reel of 2-inch tape cost almost $200 and gave you 14 minutes of 24 tracks, so a typical 48 track project (one to three songs) would set you back at least $400 in tape costs.

ADATS and DA-88s brought the cost of 24 track digital audio down to $10,000–15,000, and you could buy just one 8-track machine to start with for around $3000. Digital tape was cheap, with ADATs relying on S-VHS tapes and DA-88s relying on Hi-8 tape cassettes. Each one of those formats, and their various spin-offs, had sonic and functional differences, like synchronizers, remotes, sample rates, etc. These modular digital machines revolutionized the home recording scene before Digidesign (now Avid), EMagic (now Apple), Opcode (now gone), Steinberg and MOTU took the lead with computer based solutions.

So here we are today, with me feeling old and telling stories of yore, with everyone all a-flutter with renewed interest in getting back to the “good old days” of recording to analog tape and pressing vinyl. The changeover from all analog recording to mostly digital recording during the late 90’s brought with it lots of bias, superstition and just plain ignorance. It is true that the very first generation of digital recorders, like the Sony F1 and early DAT machines, didn’t sound as good as the state-of-the-art analog machines. However, the low cost and ease-of-use of the new digital machines guaranteed their success. Luckily, pro audio and audiophile users pushed manufacturers to create better sounding converters and better tools to process the sound (now known as plugins).

It is my belief that much of the pain of switching over to digital recording was due to the tools that engineers had mastered for analog recording. For instance, applying EQ and compression (or no compression) to tape to make up for the color that the tape added didn’t sound so great when recording to digital. Bright FET microphones and harsh transistor preamp tones became rounded off in a pleasing way on tape, and by the 100th mix pass, the high-end was rolled off and the transients smeared so much that the final mix sounded phat, warm and fuzzy. It took experienced engineers a minute (or years) to gather their thoughts, re-examine their tools and learn how to take advantage of the clarity, quiet, and unforgiving purity of digital recording. At that point recordists moved towards super-fast, ultra-clean and high-gain preamps and transparent compression. Low cost digital processors stopped using transformers and tubes, which lowered costs and also lowered THD, while widening frequency bandwidth specs from DC to light. We had finally found it: perfect, clean, sterile audio!

Fast forward to now. Today’s great equipment designers came up studying the fundamentals of analog design, and learned digital design and processing during the evolution of digital. This has led to a hybrid approach of using colorful transformers and tubes alongside super-clean analog and digital processing for the best of both worlds. Recording artists like Lenny Kravitz led the way to digital, and then reverted back to analog, showing us the extremes of each medium. I think almost everyone is now satisfied that by using good sounding analog gear and even affordable converters, digital recording is not only acceptable, but can sound downright amazing.

Humans just can’t let things rest, though. Now we want to re-integrate production techniques and sonics that can most easily be found or created using our old friend(?) analog tape, alongside our digital gear. Fortunately, tape machines have not been out of use for very long, and the techs and engineers at top studios still remember how to align and maintain analog machines. Unfortunately, the companies that made 2-inch tape have all closed their doors. Some new companies have done a good job picking up the pieces, and have been manufacturing analog tape for a few years. While the quality and sonics of the new tape is not exactly the same as the best tape of late 90’s, the stock is very good and totally useable. It is, however, expensive, with a reel of half-inch running about $100, and a new reel of 2” tape from ATR or RMGI fetching just over $300.

I, for one, was happy to see 2” tape slowly fade away, and early on I was toting my Pro Tools rig to mix sessions where the studio begrudgingly set up their SSL synchronizer to talk to my Pro Tools rig. Nowadays the Pro Tools rig has taken the place of the tape machines in almost every studio, and a premium has to be paid to use the analog machines, if they are even still available.

So, how do we know when the analog machine will add just the right amount of punch, warmth, fuzziness or just plain magic to our drums, vocals, guitar, bass? Recently, I worked on a project that was recorded at a few different world-class studios, using both analog and digital recorders and used the experience to document some notable differences in the sonics of each recording format. I will summarize each tracking session and give audio examples, where possible for each instrument and format.


Here’s the basic scenario: a Latin pop record with some great players, mostly recorded using acoustic instruments (or amplifiers) in great studios. The drums, played by Mario Calire, were recorded at Henson (formerly A&M) in studio A and were engineered by Elliot Scheiner. If you don’t know who Elliot is, look him up — he has recorded, mixed and produced most of your favorite records, from Steely Dan to the Foo Fighters.

The drums were only recorded to 2” tape, so no direct comparison can be given here, but I’ll include a sample that you can compare against your drum sounds. Keep in mind that Elliot’s drum sound will probably kill yours regardless of analog or digital, but it is a great benchmark to work towards.

Dry drum mix (analog tape)

Session Setup

The rest of the album was recorded at Ocean Way in Hollywood, using an Ampex 2” machine and their fantastic Focusrite console. The 2” tape we used was NOS 3M 996 tape stock that Henson Studios sold to us, and we recorded at a level of +5/185 at 30 ips, which is a quiet, but not overly hot level. For reference, most of the R&B stuff I recorded in the 90s was at +9/185, while a lot of rock stuff was recorded at +3/185. Basically, the higher the level, the lower the noise floor and the punchier the sounds. So, drum machines, synths and smooth vocals sound huge with very little tape hiss at a high level and a tape speed of 30ips, while distorted guitars, loud, live drums and screaming vocals sound huge, with a higher, but acceptable, noise floor at a lower recording level and lower tape speed (15 ips). No noise reduction was used on this project.

For the remainder of the instruments, all tracks were recorded buss out from the console and multed (split) at the patchbay to both the tape machine and the Pro Tools interface. The output of the tape machine’s repro head fed a Prism Dream converter and then went to Pro Tools digitally. After each recording pass, the tape tracks were nudged forward in Pro Tools by a bit over 9000 samples (about 10ms at 96khz), which was the delay between the direct signal and the output of the repro head of the tape machine. We recorded into Pro Tools at 96khz, 24bit. Vocals and percussion were recorded at our private studios, so there was no tape used, but the few synth tracks we used were recorded through tape. I didn’t print tape and Pro Tools for the synth tracks because I could spend time playing back midi instruments and adjusting the record level to get the desired tape saturation vs tone for the synths. For the live players, I didn’t have the luxury of time to experiment with tape levels, so I went with my experience for best practice.

WAV Audio Archive

[Download the 16-bit, 44.1 kHz WAV audio files here.]

Bass (acoustic and electric)

Carlitos del PuertoWIth drums out of the way, we were onto bass. First we recorded acoustic bass, played by Carlitos del-Puerto. I used a Neumann U47 fetFET 47 on the body and a KM54 on the neck, with both mics about 8 inches from the instrument. Both signals were mixed at the console and bussed to one output.

Acoustic bass tracks are the sum of the Fet 47 and KM54:
Acoustic Bass, 24-bit digital
Acoustic Bass, analog tape

Electric bass was then recorded using Ocean Way’s custom Jensen transformer DI box into the console and then through their respective tape and Pro Tools paths.

Electric bass (direct box):
Electric Bass, 24-bit digital
Electric Bass, analog tape

In both pairs of samples, listen for the difference in the low end response, apparent level (thanks to tape compression) and clarity of each path. During mixing, I used only the bass recorded onto tape for all the songs.

Guitars (acoustic and electric)

Guitars were next and the player was Grecco Buratto on both acoustic and electric. Acoustic guitar was miked with a Neumann KM 54Neumann KM 54 around the 14th fret. After a few minutes, I decided the analog tape was not the way to go with acoustic guitar, so we recorded only direct to Pro Tools. Electric, however, was another story. Grecco came to the session armed to the teeth with amps, cabinets and pedals. We set up four or five different pairs of cabinets in the live room and his pedalboard, amps and switcher were in the control room with us. Each cabinet was miked with three mics (isn’t a big studio wonderful!): an SM57, an Sennheiser Electronics Corporation MD 421-IIMD 421 and a FET47. I usually buss the 57 and 421 to one track and record the more distant 47 as a room mic onto a separate track. For the audio examples, there are a variety of styles and one example also includes the mix processing to show how different the guitar wound up sounding during the mix. For the most part, electric guitars on tape were used for the final mix.

All guitar tracks are the sum of an SM57 and MD421 close mics:
Funk Electric Guitar, 24-bit digital
Funk Electric Guitar, analog tape

Electric Guitar, 24-bit digital
Electric Guitar, analog tape

Electric Guitar, 24-bit digital
Electric Guitar, analog tape

Electric Guitar, analog tape, EQ'd for mix


Piano was interesting. We had two pianos to choose from and we went with the smaller, 7-foot Steinway B, over the 9-foot D. Piano was played by co-producer Carlos Rodgarman. I miked the piano with two Royer Labs R-121Royer R-121s in a sort of XY pair, right above the hammers and focused about halfway down the strings. The setup looks like a “V” with the point toward the strings. The backside of the mics point over the players shoulders. The live room in studio A is huge–over 2000 square feet with 23′ ceilings. With this mic setup, the piano sounded live, but not bathed in reverb. For this type of pop music, I like a bright, punchy piano with good stereo spread and the Royers provide that very well–and still fold towards mono without sound phasey. The ribbons also take EQ well, and I provided a sample of tape, Pro Tools and the processed version used for the mix.

Piano, 24-bit digital
Piano, analog tape

Piano, EQ'd for mix

The processed version wound up heavily EQ’d, but in this dense funk mix it sounded great. For some songs, the tape felt a bit thinner than the digital recordings, while for some songs, the mellower tape sound was just the ticket. Each version had its benefits. With the right compression and EQ, I generally find that even a poorly recorded piano can be made to sit well in most mixes–as long as the piano doesn’t have to be featured.


All-in-all it was a good experiment and well worth the extra mile. For the drums and bass, the tape certainly added a punchiness that would otherwise take a bit of processing to achieve. The electric guitars benefited from the rounding off that the tape provided on certain tracks and on others I like the clarity of digital signal.

Acoustic guitar didn’t really work for me on tape, and piano was a mixed bag.

For day-to-day recording I don’t have the luxury of tape, but for the important projects or the special case where a certain color is desired, tape can certainly add its sonic signature. As for printing my stereo mixes to tape vs digital… don’t get me started…

matthew mcglynn

Many thanks to Adam Kagan for conceiving and delivering this piece! Follow Adam online via

If you enjoy challenging long-held assumptions about whether vintage gear always sounds better, you’ll probably enjoy our most famous mic shootout, the U87 vs. the U87Ai.

Posted in DAW, Technique | 77 Comments »

77 Responses to “Analog Tape vs Digital Recording: Which sounds better?”

  1. Darren J. Morton

    January 26th, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Nice comparison and a good read. The results confirmed some long-held beliefs I have worked under the last 10-yrs or so. As much as I want a 2″-16trk for drums and bass, I think my limited, analog investment money is probably better spent on a good 1/2″ mastering machine…until I move into a multimillion dollar facility funded by a Powerball ticket…

  2. Zach Smith

    January 27th, 2013 at 9:41 am

    and what about printing to analogue vs digital? as wondered by humanity in general and in particular me.. I am from the digital age, having only been recording music since about 2005 when i managed to pirate an early copy of cakewalk sonar in high school (subsequently having bought logic). what does “+5/185 at 30 ips” mean? “the higher the level, the lower the noise floor and the punchier the sounds” is that relevant to digital recording? does your signal level really alter the sound in digital recording? I was under the impression that it doesn’t…

    Thank you for the article

  3. Zach Smith

    January 27th, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Another comment… analogue tape basically stores information as magnetic charge. Which is the same way that magnetic hard drives store information. Why is it not possible to record an analogue signal directly onto a hard drive, or a bank of hard drives?

  4. adam

    January 28th, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Hey Zach – In response to your question about what does +5/185…. mean. I was referring to the alignment level of the analog tape. When using different formulations of analog tape, different tape machines and different styles of music (not to mention different types of analog noise reduction) one must choose an operating level and tape speed. The higher the tape speed (ie: 30 inches per second vs 15 inches per second), the better the noise floor, but the poorer the low frequency response. The higher the recording level (expressed in a db value above a magnetic field leve – like +5 over 185 nanoWebers/meter) the lower the noise, but the more compression from tape saturation. These alignment decisions are part of the art of using analog tape and these settings, along with a few more, can subtly or drastically change the character of the recorded sound. Different brands of tape and different models of tape had different formulations to cater to different specifications. Some had lower noise, better high frequency response, lower print-through for higher levels, etc…

    You are basically correct that signal level doesn’t color the digital signal. Signal level is still important to understand, both going into the digital world and when using plugins and routing inside your DAW.

    With digital recording the analog gain staging of the preamp, compressor, eq, etc… are very important to the flavor and drive of the sound, but once you get into the A-D converter (assuming you are not pushing the level into distortion) the digital signal leve does not affect the sound. Some plugins model analog processors to the extent that a high-level input with generate harmonics, distortion or other anomalies, just like analog gear, In practice, you should keep your analog front-end signal in a reasonable gain range and hit your converters (especially going into USB audio interfaces) at moderate levels – like averaging 15 to 20 below full digital level to avoid distortion and other gain-stage problems.

    You need to understand your gear and how it operates at different levels, both input levels and output levels in order to optimise the sound of the audio. If you are using a high-end mic preamp into your DAW interface, you need to know the max output level (and what the meter means) of your preamp and the max input level of your A-D converter. If you are using a lesser mic pre you need to learn where it sounds best – probably mid-level gain settings.

  5. adam

    January 28th, 2013 at 12:53 am

    Hey Zach – in response to your question about recording analog signals to hard disk…

    I know that there is a lot of info here and it may be a bit more than you were looking for, but the question you asked is not just a simple yes, no question…

    Analog tape recording involved a physical process of magnetizing particles on the tape as it passes linearly across a head. The tape then passes over the playback head where the tape’s magnetic field is induced back into a tape head and reproduced through the analog electronics of the tap machine. The magnetic particles of tape travel at a user-determined speed and the level and frequency of the audio is transferred onto the tape through the tape head. A very low level analog signal would not impart much signal to the analog tape leaving a noisy, low level recording. Too high a signal would saturate the tape and distort the audio. Each instrument was recorded to an individual track and the record level of each track was optimized for that particular instrument. For example, a bass with lots of low end, but not a lot of transient information (high frequencies) could be loaded onto analog tape at a high level. The tape would saturate and compress the audio signal, but the result would be a fat, punchy bass sound without distortion. Conversely, a triangle or crash cymbal would have to have a very low record level to tape, since there is so much high frequency energy and would distort if loaded onto the tape too hard. Instruments like acoustic guitar, piano and voice have varying amounts of low frequency and transient content, so the level needed to be carefully tended to.

    Digital recording basically encodes an analog audio signal as a stream of 1s and zeroes at a specific frequency (44.1 khz, 96khz, etc…). You can imagine this by thinking about a light switch that is either on or off. If you turn it on and 100 times per second and use the pattern on, off, off, on, off, off, on, off, off…. you will create a light that is only one third as bright as full on. So a digital signal can represent a lot of “analog” values with only two states of on and off.

    There are only two common ways to record analog audio to digital tape or hard disk. The most common is PCM recording (like an audio CD uses) and the other format is called DSD audio. PCM audio uses a fixed bit depth and sample rate, like 24bit, 96khz or 16bit, 44.1 khz. DSD uses only 1 bit and a very high sampling rate of 2.8 mhz or higher. DSD is theoretically closer to a true analog signal (like the light switch example), but virtually all DAWs, CD, mp3, etc.. use PCM encoding to store digital audio. Since DSD requires an extremely high data rate, DAWs can’t perform DSP like eq and compression on DSD signals. Therefore, we use PCM recording for DAWs and then we can convert the final mix to DSD for mastering or final encoding.

    If you are interested, do some reading on both analog and digital audio and you will see that the storage of both types of recordings can rely on magnetic storage devices, the type of information stored on the medium are very different types of data and analog audio tape would not suffice for digital storage and hard drives would not record analog audio very well. Digital audio has been recorded to tape based recorders (ADAT, DA-88, DASH, etc…) These machines typically used record heads that rotated as the tape passed over them to increase the effective are and allow very high density of data. Also, the tape was formulated specially for recording the high frequency digital audio signal. Analog audio on tape doesn’t really go over 20 or 30 khz, while digital data streams can to from 44 khz up to several megahertz.

  6. adam

    January 28th, 2013 at 1:04 am

    Hey Darren – I’m glad you enjoyed the article. The thing I came away with from this experience is that while tape has a signature that it imparts on audio, it may not be the right sound for every source and the same would hold true for your final mix. In the 90’s I used to print my final mixes from an analog console to half-inch tape and also digitally to DAT at 16bit, 48khz (the best at the time). During mastering, I always liked the sound of the DAT, but sometimes the tape compression from the analog tape helped glue the mix together. The mastering engineer had to find the best repro settings for his tape machine (which was sometimes a different brand or model than the one I used to print the mixes) and there was a lot of room for error as far as noise, azimuth, repro equalization, etc… The DAT recording, on the other hand, sounded exactly the same as the console output (with the limitations of the A-D converter). These days, I don’t like the noise floor or low frequency response of half-inch tape, or the formulations of the tape that currently available and I would much rather use stereo bus processing to achieve the compression, eq and limiting for my masters.

    If your goal is to create the vintage sonics of the 70s and 80s, then tape may be a fun way to go. I just find the deficiencies of tape, along with the difficulties of sourcing tape and getting a proper machine setup lower the audio quality too much these days. It is just not practical to chase that anymore. That said, I do own a nice 2″ tape machine that I wish I had some use for!

  7. Tom B

    January 28th, 2013 at 7:18 am

    HI Zach-

    An overly simple answer to your hardrive question is the mechanism by which the magnetic info gets written. A tape being drawn across a head writes all of the information linearly. This is evidenced by how one has to rewind the tape to hear a song from the beginning, and it has to pass over the playback head in the proper direction to hear the song the way it was recorded. In addition, it has to travel across the head at the same speed.

    A hard drive has what is called random access. What this means is that the information is written to them in small blocks in random places on the actual platter. A hardrive can thus read from the inner-most circles for part and very quickly combine the information from a section on the outer most portion.

    The size of the blocks and how they are stored depends on your operating system and its filesystem, the hard drive type (SCSI, SAS, SATA, etc) and so on. The opposite scenario would be a vinyl record. A hard drive works as if the “needle” could jump around to random placed on the vinyl record. If so, your song wouldn’t play out very smoothly.

    I suppose in theory, one could write magnetic information linearly to a hard drive, but the size of the platter versus the amount of information that would need to be stored would likely not be optimal.

  8. David Beneke

    January 31st, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    Great article, brings back memories. When I was recording on tape in the ’70’s and ’80’s, the big debate was 30ips vs 15ips. 30 gave you a lot less noise, 15 more noise and more bottom end, needing noise reduction. The maintenance on the machines were high, and when running at 15 or 30, the reels and motors were noisy if you were in the same room, like radio production. Old tapes, mostly from the 70’s and 80’s have to be baked, because the plastic used absorbed moisture, unlike tape from the 60’s, which didn’t have that problem. And a tape degrades with multiple plays and just time. Putting all of this in perspective, makes me love digital, although analog does have that “sound”.

  9. Mark Chierego

    January 31st, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    The section below is most interesting to me along with listening to the acoustic bass examples. To me it is the Aural explanation for what is being said! it also enplanes why a lot of us are chasing warmer tones in microphones and pre-amps these days, as some older designs would have been created with in built compensation for losses of analog tape in mind…AKA overly bright condensers!!

    It is my belief that much of the pain of switching over to digital recording was due to the tools that engineers had mastered for analog recording. For instance, applying EQ and compression (or no compression) to tape to make up for the color that the tape added didn’t sound so great when recording to digital. Bright FET microphones and harsh transistor preamp tones became rounded off in a pleasing way on tape, and by the 100th mix pass, the high-end was rolled off and the transients smeared so much that the final mix sounded phat, warm and fuzzy. It took experienced engineers a minute (or years) to gather their thoughts, re-examine their tools and learn how to take advantage of the clarity, quiet, and unforgiving purity of digital recording. At that point recordists moved towards super-fast, ultra-clean and high-gain preamps and transparent compression. Low cost digital processors stopped using transformers and tubes, which lowered costs and also lowered THD, while widening frequency bandwidth specs from DC to light. We had finally found it: perfect, clean, sterile audio!

  10. adam

    January 31st, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Yeah – It is interesting that the condenser microphones that are the “holy grail” mics, like U47s, Church mics and even ribbons like the RCA 77 were originally designed as broadcast microphones. The later generations of recording microphones, like the U87, 414s (most of them) and the small diaphragm condensers had much more presence and pronounced HF response. When digital started to become the norm, we first went to mic preamps like Telefunken V72s, which are very creamy and rich, instead of using the console mic pres, which were bright, open IC designs. We naturally lean towards neutral sounds and seem to get the tone from one device to make up for another device’s color….

  11. Mark Chierego

    January 31st, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Ahhh …Very interesting observation Adam I think you just hit the nail on the head so to speak !!

  12. John McCortney

    January 31st, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Ah, the memories come rushing back… the weight of a reel of two inch tape, the smell as the tape got warm from the heat of the reel motors, the adrenaline surge (or terror) preceding a difficult punch in, the half hour spent aligning the recorder every few days or with each different batch of tape, trying to avoid using the edge tracks for anything except kick drum or time code and having to leave an empty cross talk buffer track next to the time code track, the time lost to fast forward and rewind even though the reels moved at alarming speed, and the amazement that the electro/mechanical monster, a Studer A-80 in my case, could overcome the folly of dragging a ribbon of glorified rust over a stack of electro/magnetic transducers and somehow record and play back that amazing sound. In spite of the difficulties I do miss that sound.

  13. Aaron Hodgson

    February 1st, 2013 at 9:09 am


    I was curious if you would be up to the idea of making the full resolution files available for download. I’d love to get the files out of the browser world for listening. I’ve also been working on an ABX Tester unit that I would be curious in subjecting myself (and possibly others) through using these files. Thanks for the article and the time.


  14. adam

    February 1st, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    The one thing I do miss from analog recording days is the wait time during rewind. Especially for vocal takes this gave the singer time to take a breath and gather their thoughts. These days I say “let’s do 8 passes, here we go” and there is no time to rest. The sessions go quicker, but the art is different… I don’t miss 16 hour days of punching vocals, saving safety tracks before doing a tight punch or offsetting machines to fly chorus vocals! I used to tote around a single ADAT machine and BRC solely to fly vocals towards the end of my 2″ days!

  15. Kevin

    February 1st, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    Analog samples sounds much fuller and warmer, sorta what we’ve used to hearing on old pre digital records. Digital sounds sterile/colder smaller then the analog samples. I mixed through digital mixers and I know that digital sound shrinkage anywhere. Til this day I will never mix through a digital mixer ever again, only analog mixers from hear on out after that experience. Digital is good where analog fatness isn’t necessarily required. For Jazz, Classical, Funk, Hip Hop I like to hear all the the instruments in their fat full glory. Digital is perfect if signal exits the mixer and ran through a tube compressor with EQ before going into the recorder. Recording In the Box ALL digital with the internal compressors and fx added to process the signals can yield incredible recordings equal to any analog processing I’ve found out after hearing some recordings. The way to equalize the sonic deficiencies of digital recordings is to Mixdown thru an analog mixer and apply tube compressors and processors. There are ways to use digital and totally eliminate any audio differences that indicates any digital equipment was used. In the old days I used to go straight to digital, but not no more without analog tube compressors or pre-amps between the chain. You can create saturation techniques that fattens the sound to analog like quality before going to digital and with a little knowledge of how processors work make any digital recording sound identical to an analog copy.

  16. adam

    February 1st, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    That’s an interesting take on that stuff. I get that you like tubes, but how about some transformers, like in Neve stuff? How about neither and mixing on an SSL? Which of those three sounds more “analog”? I think we are at a place where the storage and mixing medium has way less to do with the ultimate sonics and the real signature comes from the creative way that audio is recorded and mixed. Of course a high quality microphone, preamp and converter will ultimately sound better than a crappy chain, but that has nothing to do with analog vs digital. I have records that I produced and mixed in early days of Pro Tools, ITB, that sound fantastic and you would never know they were all digital. Conversely, I have mixed some terrible sounding records off of 2″ tape through an SSL J. “You pays your money and you takes your choice…”

  17. Greg Savage

    February 2nd, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Nice article Adam, thank you for posting audio examples. I wish more people did this.

  18. John McCortney

    February 4th, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    I’d like to add that I agree with Kevin in comment number 14 above. Tubes, transformers, and ribbon mics can go a long way toward reestablishing that beautiful fat and warm sound. My motto these days is “front end is everything”.

    I’d also like to thank everyone at recordinghacks and everyone sending in comments for making this website such a great resource.


  19. Mark Chierego

    February 5th, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    I agree with you John!!! “front end is everything” for me the digital recording of ribbon mic on piano has that warm smooth tape character all over it!!

  20. David

    February 6th, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Hey Zach Smith… if you’re asking about simply buying a hard drive off the shelf and putting an analog signal onto it, that would be a “no.” However, it would be possible to put analog signals on a magnetic disk rather than a magnetic tape, but I don’t think it would provide any advantage to do so– in fact, for many years after the consumer market had moved away from magnetic tape as a digital storage medium, large companies and governments continued to use tape to store large amounts of data because there was a price advantage. Hard disks have since come down in price, and it takes much longer for something to load from tape– though the latter is of no concern when working with analog recording.

  21. adam

    February 7th, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Thanks, Greg – I’m trying to push some of the bigger companies to post audio samples from their products, too. There is some resistance simply because this is art and one person’s “warm” is another person’s “dark”. I think comparisons are more fair than single examples, unless the example is of an effect or some other processing. Even then, the dry signal vs the processed signal is useful.

    I would love it if some people would post here what types of comparisons they would like to see other companies or reviewers post.

    For example, I have used simultaneous recording of a vocal performance on two different mics, but with the same preamp to show the differences in two mics, rather than the subjective quality of either.


  22. Mark Chierego

    February 7th, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    “Nice article Adam, thank you for posting audio examples. I wish more people did this.”
    For sure!! We now live in an age where is possible and easy to do yet so many companies are reluctant when it should be the norm. Thanks for doing it for us Recordinghacks!

  23. adam

    February 8th, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Hey Aaron –

    I do have 16-bit, 44.1khz aif versions of these files. You are welcome to have them – I can send you a download link. I don’t think this type of test lends itself to an ABX type examination. There is so much difference between the files that repeatability is not an issue – just personal taste and production needs. I am building a recorded library of microphone cables, low to high end, each recorded through transformer and transformerless preamp circuits. This examination would be great for an ABX test. I’ve been talking to cable manufacturers and some audiophile folks about recommended signals for listening tests for cable differences and I’m about to do another round of recording samples. I’m doing this in the LA area, where are you located?

  24. Tim Haertel

    February 11th, 2013 at 5:24 am

    I started recording in 1984 on a 2″ 16 track Ampex MM1000. We recorded mostly at 15 IPS and Mixed to an Ampex 440 1/4″ at 15 IPS also. We also had a 1″ 8 track for on-location recording. What I remember most was going through the 2 ” masters trying to find one to erase because the customer couldn’t afford a $400-$600 tape budget on top of the session time. When we moved to the Tascam DA88 format, we got our warmth through our homebrew Jensen transformer based console and by mixing to the 2 track. Now I have a Protools HD5 system and lots of tube gear and plugins and am completely satisfied with the sound I am getting and don’t miss the inconvenience, muddy sound and technical problems from the old days at all. Maybe if I had had a new Studer 24 and fresh tape stock for every session, the results would have been different. I have been thinking about aligning my 1/4 machine and running my mixes through it but I need to get a new alignment tape first :-(

  25. Ryan

    March 1st, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Very revealing article.
    Ultimately, both digital and analog versions sound great, demonstrating that the most important factors needed to get great sounds are good players, good equipment, and a good engineer with good ears.
    On a side note, an earlier conversation in the comments of this article talks about the function of analogue vs digital. Zach notes that “[ . . .] analogue tape basically stores information as magnetic charge. Which is the same way that magnetic hard drives store information.”
    This got me thinking. Digital is composed of discontinuous pieces of magnetically charged information. Analogue tape is exactly the same, as the particles of oxidized iron are actually discontinuous as well. The only real difference is that a disc’s magnetized information is accessed in a non-linear fashion, whereas tape’s information must be accessed in a linear order. I can help but think that one day it will be possible to combine analogue’s warmth and punch with digital’s precision and clarity on a new technology that blends the two sciences in one small, portable drive.

  26. Wendell

    March 20th, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    Hello. I enjoyed this article. Much to digest indeed.
    Analogue vs digital. Stereo vs Mono. Realistic vs Kenwood. Ford vs Chevy. Spicy vs Mild.
    Every camp has its boosters and detractors.
    Way back when, people engaged in performing art were the standard. The state of the art. Live performance was and is the apex of this medium.
    Capturing sound(recording) just as capturing light(photography) preserves a moment in time. A moment that can be revisited many times over.
    Photos of iconic moments can be recalled by everyone. So can iconic moments in sound.
    Naked Vietnamese girl with Napalm burns, “Houston we have a problem”, come to mind.
    Regardless of camera/lens/film used. Regardless of mic/pre/recording/playback media used. The content was the important article.
    Would the Eagles have sold fewer or more albums if the kick mic was a PL20 or D12 or M88 ??
    With that said, my opinion is: Microphones/preamps/EQs/media etc. that reproduce most faithfully what one hears is the one to use. No attention paid to who made it, how much it cost, blah, blah, blah.
    Use what you have at hand, be creative. That is what we do. Create.
    Technology marches forward. Experience is the best reference.
    Please don’t get so involved in gear that the sight of the performance is lost.

    (Sorry for the ramble. Whisky and open forum don’t mix)

  27. Dave

    April 23rd, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Interesting – thanks.

    I generally heard what the author also heard, but his conclusions are troubling because analog has sonic value but represents a “luxury” today, when years ago it was the norm. Think about what that means.

    If anyone doesn’t think reduced budgets, with attendant minimum standards, haven’t been brought by the ProTools generation, you ain’t paying attention.

  28. Scott Troyer

    May 17th, 2013 at 10:18 am

    To add to Wendell’s whiskey-fueled-but-valid-nonetheless point…
    Tape, computers, microphones, and tubes aside, *perhaps* the most important tool engineers and musicians need to make hit records is a good marketing team powered by a healthy budget.

    Still, I want to make the best sounding records I can, so thanks for the great article, Adam. I appreciate the time it takes to share insight and provide examples.

  29. adam

    May 17th, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Thanks Scott – I think most people have come to understand that the song, musicians and instruments make the record a piece of art – not the medium. A well engineered recording enhances the work, but if the substance isn’t there, the engineering won’t do much to improve the material. Even a poorly recorded fantastic performance will get a reaction from listeners, but a well recorded dud won’t get a second look. Marketing and funding are helpful to building awareness of a product, but ultimately the audience will make or break the success of any artwork.

  30. Nero Alvarado

    May 20th, 2013 at 7:06 am

    I would like to very much thank Adam for stoping his schedule to make such a informative and intellectual challenge of digital vs analogue showing us his audio tests, experiments and work. On that note, lets not under estimate what vintage tools can do in todays world of technology. There is a reason why famous engineer Bruce Swedien 5 time grammy winner has a arsenal of vintage equiptment. You can always get better sound if you fallow your ideas and your heart.

  31. Chris Wanta A.K.A. Anything But Broke

    June 22nd, 2013 at 1:52 am

    I have been recording sound for over ten years from bands to sound fx for film. I have listened to all of the audio samples of drums, bass, piano and guitar. I have to say that I draw a somewhat different conclusion. I believe ALL of the instruments benefited from the use of analog recording not just a few. Each digital recording in comparison sounds flat (the highs and lows are diminished in the EQ). I am not sure if the flatness is because the “click” tracks are in .mp3 format. I also believe that the acoustic guitar could have benefited from using a different microphone for recording and might solve the problems listed above by the producer. However, I completely agree that the analog recording added punchiness to the instruments as well as a richer sound. Its my personal opinion that the electric guitar might have benefited the most from the wider range of tonality in the EQ. The analog recording gives the electric guitar that gritty resonance that people want to hear. I am traditionally an electronic dance music artist and mainly use digital as a form of production. The experiment has completely changed my view on audio production. I can now see why analog recording has been used for such a long time. I have a new respect for analog. Thank you for putting this project together!!!!

  32. bern21

    August 31st, 2013 at 10:41 am

    So, now, all of my Ampex 456 tapes are unplayable! The Scotch held up a bit better. My ADAT tapes are all still OK. Aside from some problems playing older ProTools files or Cubase files, digital holds up better. BTW, Harrison’s MixBus is a good DAW for the ‘analog’ sound/feel. And, THEY ALL SOUND DIFFERENT. It’s up to you to make things sound AS YOU LIKE.

  33. JoeM

    October 28th, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    I have been recording instruments since I was 5 years old. Certainly has been a big passion hard to get away from. But we were poor. So I had to learn to tear my dad’s stereos apart and make recording gear out of those as well as re-engineering speakers to use as mics. Lol. It worked fairly well.

    My lack of fortune has made me very fortunate. Because I don’t need expensive equipment to make a highly impressive demo. Fortunately I have been around a good band for years. For years I recorded them live using only a 2 track cassette recorder. I began dabbling with hard disk recording around 2001. It was a learning curve. But computers are my other expertise. So I caught on quickly. It was clear to me that digital recording is a streamline to getting a result.

    But, in 2003, I decided to perform an experiment that I knew would create alot of work for me. The band was playing a gig down the road one weekend. I collected 5 cassette tape decks from family and friends. I stacked them at the gig and patched into the stage board. Routing instruments to their respective mono tracks. 2 instruments per deck. of course, using unbalanced RCA connections. It was completely against the rules. And they thought I was a little crazy for doing it. It gave me 10 tracks to work with.

    Of course, anyone who knows will understand that traditional cassette tape decks do not stay in perfect time. So you cannot simply sync them together. The next day, I uploaded each set of tracks to my computer. Cakewalk Sonar of course. Obviously I had to play back the tapes to get the tracks. So now I had a nice project with 10 tracks to work with.

    And of course I knew the nightmare was about to begin. A bunch of tracks that were way out of sync. Simply getting them lined up on the timeline wouldn’t work. Because like I stated, the playback of the tracks likely would vary. They were even out of tune with one another!! Sounded like guys in a band that couldn’t tune a guitar!!

    So I spent days performing microsurgery on each track. Dropping pitch correction on each track. Not Autotune. I hate that software. It completely destroys the raw quality of a track. Instead, I used a simple pitch shifter wherever it was needed in each track. That alone took days to apply.

    And then there was the speed issues. Sometimes the bass guitar sped up. Sometimes the drums slowed down. And the drums were on several tracks. So i continued splitting tracks in many places and dragging them to where they needed to be. Eventually I ended up with what a 16 track digital machine would have given me from the start. But this was better. Why?

    Because it was TAPE. many people do not know this. But there is a certain charm you get from cassettes that you don’t even get from high profile studio tape. Of course, from a technical point of view, cassettes are considered inferior for professional recording. But not in THIS case. What I was doing was capturing the best that could be gotten. A baseline foundation of raw recording that sounded quite different than any digital signal could give. Once that is established, than any digital processing done afterwards would not destroy what was captured from the decks. You could say the decks represent what a Tape Saturation plugin attempts to provide. But of course the plugin fails miserably.

    Once I spent the next week or two providing my magic touch with editing and composing, the results were quite astounding. Remarkable to say the least. The guys in the band were all in shock. I of course laughed it off at the way I did it. At the same time, proving a point. Not only does tape sound better. Any kind of tape. But you don’t need high dollar equipment to get a high dollar sound. Talent over-rides it. Because many engineers are taught by the book. Their abilities rely on only doing some of the work and letting “money” do the rest. And that is what is wrong with today’s media. Push button, out of the box techniques. Not originality or creativity that separates one from the rest. I can tell you without a doubt that NONE of my demos sound exactly the same. And they sound nothing like any other engineer. You can tell that I recorded it if you listened to them enough. Its like one could tell Eddie Van Halen mixed albums back in the 80s because he had a certain flavor that no engineer provided. We are all unique if we try to be.

    Anyway. 10 years later. And after dozens of digital demos, I decided to pull out that old cassette created digital demo and am still amazed by it. It sparkles and sings in ways that none of my recent demos ever could. Today’s generation needs to realize that nothing is “outdated”. The greed of money leads people to tell lies for the sake of selling “new and improved” products that aren’t improved at all. They can’t sell “cheap”. But it is usually cheap that makes something better. It might take some creativity to make it all work. And that is why music was once far better than it is today. They worked for it. And very hard. 70s and 80s music sparkles in ways that nothing modern ever could.

  34. David Jones

    October 29th, 2013 at 12:04 am

    Any chance of uploading it for us to listen to? Would love to hear it.

  35. bkbirge

    November 18th, 2013 at 9:42 am

    Pro musicians in pro rooms working with pro technicians and other creatives will get pro results. Digital vs. Analog doesn’t even enter into the discussion.

    It was true in the 50’s, and it’s true now, only the technology we nitpick to death has changed.

  36. AdamUp

    December 8th, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    recording student here, writing a paper on analog tape vs. tape emulation plugins. these were a great source for my paper in terms of analog vs. digital. I have also been doing some experiments for vocals that were tracked through a Wunder CM7 > API 3124 > SPLIT > 1.Pro Tools and 2. 69′ Ampex 440B using 1/2″ RMGI 468. The singer that was recorded liked the digital better because the high end was a little clearer but I think ultimately I liked the tape sound better despite the small amount of noise. I’ve also been experimenting with the amount of tape saturation by overdriving stereo mixes through my machine and seeing/hearing the soft compression that comes with it and I think hands down tape beats the emulation plugins every time. Though, I created a preset on the UAD ATR 102 (closest emulation to my ampex 440, with settings that closely represent my tape machine (1/2″, +6, 456 tape, same amount of noise and hum) and the results are surprisingly similar – minus the authentic wow/flutter/scrape drift/drift i get from the actual machine. From one Adam to another, thanks for the article/examples

  37. adam

    December 9th, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Hey Adam –

    Thanks for the input – I agree that vocals can sound great on analog tape. My old records and demos that were cut on tape certainly have a sound to the vocals that I don’t get anymore. That said, I couldn’t produce records the same way with tape that I can in a DAW. The process was just a different thing. For pop records with analog tape, even with great singers, I used to book a full day or two for lead vocals and another day or two for background vocals. With Pro Tools, I can get through a song much faster, simply due to the lack of rewind time, not needing to bounce tracks while the artist sits around, performing comps at a later time, etc…

    Overall, I am very happy with the sound of digital vs tape. They are simply different sounds and they both work well. For stereo mixdown, I was almost always disappointed with the sound of 1/2″ analog vs digital. Especially for bass-heavy R&B, hip hop and dance, the 1/2″ usually lost the bottom-most octave and a bit of the stereo imaging. Digital had its own issues, but usually sounded more like the console output. Although good mastering job could level the playing field between the formats.

    Glad you have the opportunity to compare the formats and see what works best for you!

  38. ?

    December 28th, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    digital sound killing your ears,if you are musical soul- long time session of digital can make you feel sick.
    (open reels sounds like waves all around. you invlving into the melody. you can listen to the Music,not just heard)

    digital is disharmony.

  39. Tom G.

    January 5th, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Great article/experiment! Thank you for posting the audio…this is what lacks often in other experiments. I’ve been recording for 20+ years and use a hybrid approach. I love the sound of my MCI JH24 and Neotek console and also love my DAW for editing and plugins. I have done plenty of work ITB too but still enjoy analog. In fact, I almost always mix down to my Sony APR 5002. In the end though, digital and tape sound different and it’s the SONG and performance that matter most of course!

    I think the most important detail for digital is knowing proper gain staging.


  40. Ian

    January 25th, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Over the years I’ve recorded to most formats, today mostly using PT and logic as that’s what my clients use. Without really thinking about it it’s amazing how my mic technique has changed from using mostly condensers, to more and more dynamics and ribbons each day. One problem I run in to is I have a client who often has very very quiet piano passages ie he plays ppp so I often have to choose to use a pair of condensers and ribbonify them because even a modern mic like the aea98 is too noisy – to the point of being distracting amidst the clean ITB generated stuff. I wonder if the whole project had been done with real synths to tape would this have been a concern or would the noise have got lost amidst the rest of the tape hiss? Despite reasonable budgets this is something I will probably never know as it’s all for tv and film so is much much easier to work in a DAW! Mind you with prospects of an album I may get to play with this…

  41. adam

    January 27th, 2014 at 11:36 am

    You’re right, Ian. Today we have to use different tools to record to digital than were used when recording to analog tape. We still need to worry about noise floor, but adding correlated noise, like real tube and transformer saturation and even plug-in generated saturation definitely helps musical instruments feel “bigger, fatter, punchier, more cohesive, etc..” Tape produces pleasant harmonic distortion, some dynamic compression and a limited frequency response. All these “filters” result in a colored signal that feels normal to our brain. Ribbon mics, lots of transformers, good A-D converters and clocking and the right digital (or analog) processing can get us there, too. I’ll trade the extra work in finding the right coloration over the hiss and work-flow problems of analog tape most every day!

  42. andrzej

    February 23rd, 2014 at 3:37 am

    hello from poland, i listen to both recordings and i think that is no difference, microphones used by recording do not let to hear what is better, mics have narrow frequency response and slow impulse response so high transient distortions, noone needs 24-bit dynamic range, human ear receives 70-80db dynamic range so 144db is circa 70db too much, but important is sampling frequency, higher sampling causes lower transient distortions, ear physiology needs lower dynamic distortions than static as thd and dynamic range, regards

  43. Shane

    March 8th, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    With due respect Sir… This so called test, or whatever you’re calling it, is fatally flawed due to the fact that ALL your audio samples are now digital. Even worse, the playback of ALL the audio examples are coming out of what???… you guessed it, most likely someone’s digital sound card.

    At this point, it’s nonsense to even make any claim as to which sounds best, as they’re both in the digital domain. I don’t care how you try to explain it away, it’s no longer an analog signal. You digitalized it. Therefore, your previous analog signal is no valid

    Speaking of which, anyone who has done a real-world comparison of Analog VS digital, using an actual Tape deck, it’s like as you stated, one can tell right off that analog vs digital have a VERY distinctive sound from each other.

    However, now that you digitized the analog versions, It sounds just as dead and lifeless like your pro tools version. In short, they sound rather average and no better, no worse then someone recording with a Home computer.
    IMO, Pro tools is no match against a good analog machine played back IRL . This pseudo Digital/analog is crap you have going on here is not a great example of what good analog sounds like. it’s just a cheap representation of the real deal.

    To close Here: Digital Vs “Online Analog”<— (that's an oxymoron) Or course they're going to sound very similar, that's because they're both digital now…

    Perhaps you shouldn't have faded away from analog…

  44. matthew mcglynn

    March 9th, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    @Shane, given that 99% of music listening today happens via digital sources, I suppose there’s no point in ever tracking sessions to tape? I mean, if the conversion to digital makes everything sound “dead and lifeless,” why bother recording at all?

    I find your argument nonsensical. Analog gear, including tape, adds harmonic coloration and saturation effects that are not lost in the conversion to digital. I can hear the difference.

    Your comment that this test is “fatally flawed” suggests that you didn’t understand it. The point of the test, I think, is to explore whether the use of analog media early in the recording process yields a sonic benefit during digital playback. The use of digital playback here is not a flaw. Rather, it was part of the design.

    Someday the world might change, and everybody will carry miniature multitrack tape players in their pockets. Until then, I’m confident that recordists and producers are best served by working hard to make their tracks sound great — including, possibly, the use of analog tape during tracking — despite whatever compromises might be built into modern digital playback devices.

  45. Tracy Eaves

    September 20th, 2014 at 6:16 am

    Analoge=benefits & problems, Digital=benefits & problems. Babyboomers were raised on analog. So we have an expectation and demand that sound. New generation is weaned on digital. In the years to come digital sound will be the norm because subsequent generations will identify and expect that sound. Can we see old digital gear become collectible? Because we want to go back to that sound we identify with?

  46. Dude111

    October 15th, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    I love analog….. NOTHING BETTER and im sick of digital garbage ruing music,movies,etc…………..

    Analog is pure,warm and beautiful…….. DIGITAL IS ARTIFICAL CRAP!!

  47. Brent F.

    October 18th, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    In January 2013 I made a HX Pro cassette tape of some Amiga Protracker modules that I found off the Internet and named the tape “Assassin’s Creed 3 Oldies—The Music That You Were Tired Of 80 Years Ago”. I was pretending the year was 1775 A.D. and the oldies music of that time was the wind-up demoscene music box sound of the 1680s which you were tired of in 1695. Anyway, I digitized it back to red-book CD-R and it’s got a sound all it’s own but in impressive fidelity. The secret is to set the azimuth screw on the playback deck not to a calibration tape, not to the test tones, but to the actual music you wish to digitize. You have to deliberately mis-align the playback deck to match the alignment of the recording deck the way it was when the tape was recorded. Don’t worry about making the sound sizzly or screechy. There is no azimuth setting that will make the tape sound brighter than the original recording. Anything but the proper setting will make it sound more like a cheap cell phone at the bottom of a well being piped through a drive-through speaker. Most complaints of lousy sound from cassettes are from a bad azimuth setting.

  48. Matthew

    October 26th, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Hey there. I was wondering whether you might be able to shed some light on an issue I have with digital recording: what I record and play back is not the same as what I monitor when recording. It’s most apparent with big guitar sounds. The rich harmonics of a distorted guitar fail to be captured properly. Also, too much of the signal resolves as rumble in the low end and, to a lesser degree, sizzle in the high end. I largely isolate my guitar sound and monitor the input with head phones, so it’s not the old problem and contrast of what’s heard from standing in front of a stack and what you here played back. I hear what the mic in front of the bin hears. I think I’ve had some minor improvements from updated drivers for the interface and moving from 44.1 to 96 kHz sample rate, but even on 96 it’s still not an accurate capture. I normally run the signal through a pre and outboard comp, but I’ve run tests direct in and it’s little different. Inboard plugins don’t solve the problem. I’ve tired all the mic positions, gtr types, and gtr and amp settings under the sun, too.

    I’ve recently read reports on discussion boards of people suffering the same fate and I’ve not seen anyone offer a solution. I don’t know if a 192 kHz sample rate would improve things. On the one hand, it maybe a fundamental limitation with digital recording. On the other hand, all studios are on Pro Tools these days. So, what gives? I thought I’d made some sensible purchases with hardware and software, but the results are underwhelming.

    Is there something I’m missing here?


    DAW: Pro Tools 10.3.9/ 11.2.1
    OS: Windows 7 SP1, 64 bit
    PC: ASUS G73Jh, i7 1.60 GHz
    DAI: Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
    HP: AKG 271 MkII
    Pre: ART TPSII
    Comp: DBX 266xs
    Mic: SM57/TLM102
    Amp: ’77 JMP/’89 JCM2550.?

  49. Alex

    November 11th, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    The point I think is that either signal could be made to sound like the other, with eq compression etc. I think what is exciting is less about the sonic differences but more about how the artist creates using the different technology. that is why the results are so different. Tracking, overdubbing and composing are so radically different that the music produced will always be different. No bad or good. Analogue Digital doesn’t matter its all music. Now we can choose, combine, whatever.. the possibilities just got more exciting!

  50. Matthew

    November 17th, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Hey Alex. At this stage and from my experience, I’m pretty underwhelmed by what I’m capturing digitally. I’ve hired a sound-treated room for the end of this week. If that doesn’t work, I’ll have to consult a professional. That, or give up.

  51. Leeland White

    November 19th, 2014 at 10:31 am

    There is a huge difference between digital and analog. While digital relies on double over sampling, 44.1 khz, the beat frequencies are horrible. The harmonics are reversed. The law of physics proves that, the fundamental frequency 4.1khz (approximately) beats with the 44.1khz, frequency creating a 10 khz beat frequency. Since 4.1khz is only 30% of the music spectrum within a controlled bandwith of 15khz, the harmonics via the beat makes up 60% of the entire digital signal, but worse is the beat frequency being 3rd harmonic echo, is at least 200% lounder than the fundamental that is detectable with anyone who has a hearing range above 10KHZ.

    For many musicians being hearing impaired, that can hear only 9khz or below, the second harmonic, frequency wise may appear to sound in tune, but for the rest of us, digital is sick. For editing and memory storage, however, digital time wise is a God send.

    Speed of sound in analog is superior, volumentric amplitude in analog is superior, resolution in analog is superior when referenced to tape. Noise is undefined in digital and is misleading. Mixing in analog is ultimately superior as it is almost impossible with the present technology to blend music instruments without phantom cookie cutter presence of only one musical instrument. While there is no floor which is untrue in digital, a presence that is noticeable at 120hzs and in analog at about 800 hzs in analog, analog gives remarkable strength pursuant to the human ear, while digital gives pre emphasized base, and a strong since of separation. This is why digital is psycho accoustic.

    This is what I perceive and hear. While one may enjoy hearing symbols playing backwards. I do not. I believe reversed harmonics are dangerous, and can cause epilepsy and perhaps autism in children. Many people who listen to digital and sing Karokee are beginning to sing the ending line without harmonic and quite, quite baratone, rather than tenor..

    All in all, the article is excellent. The ultimate result, is that everything boils down to digital. For a serious musician, going analog in the recording primarily and manipulating the signal to convert to real time of the analog is a worth while investment. This way resolution is preserved on tape.

  52. Justin

    December 9th, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    For years now I’ve been whinging about the sound of songs on the radio, and even been underwhelmed by the rock albums that I’ve purchased on CD. I started trying to pin point what it is that I don’t enjoy and have realized or pinpointed the culprit…distorted electric guitar sounds. They aren’t what they used to be in analogue eras. I find the digital recordings of distorted electric guitars harsh and abrasive on my ears…almost aggravating. Traditionally I love rock music and ever since the mid nineties I’ve not enjoyed listening to rock music. Is it just me that has a problem with the digital thinness or harshness or a distorted electric guitar. I want the sound to have depth and to caress my ears. I even if the digital media has been responsible in part for the demise of electric guitar driven music in mainstream pop? Digital sounds great for those light poppy tunes that dominant mainstream radio but in my opinion crap for rock music.

  53. Adam

    December 10th, 2014 at 1:19 am

    Hey Justin –

    I certainly agree that recording electric guitar to digital vs analog tape poses some challenges. Analog tape provides compression and saturation effects that sound especially pleasing on (possibly) hash electric guitars. I find that mixing music that is electric guitar heavy often requires the use of transformer bases processors, reamping or at least some kind of tape saturation emulation to tame the tones enough to fit into a well balanced mix. I can’t say I miss recording to analog tape, or that it sounds “better”, but I would say that analog tape provided signal processing that helped many harsh sources, including electric guitars, some vocals and drums. I used to call it “getting something for free” from analog tape. I have found my workarounds in the digital world, but many people have not. Further, digital amp modelers, while convenient, have their own issues.

    best of luck!


    February 25th, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    I love analog and always have….. I love my records,vhs and cassettes.. Analogue is warm and pure … Digital is a void with no warmth @ all………

    Digital has its place BUT NOT WITH AUDIO OR VIDEO!!

  55. Ran

    March 2nd, 2015 at 8:26 am

    Thanks for the audio samples. For my ears, the digital samples sounded clearer with more texture than the analog ones. Also, the hiss on the analog samples is pretty audible.

  56. Jim K

    March 7th, 2015 at 5:56 am

    Hi, Shane.

    > This so called test, or whatever you’re calling it, is fatally flawed due to the fact that ALL your audio samples are now digital. Even worse, the playback of ALL the audio examples are coming out of what???… you guessed it, most likely someone’s digital sound card.

    I hear the difference very clear
    on very simlpe gear
    as such
    1. Asus Xonar Essence ST card, slightly tweaked (op-amps changed etc)
    2. Topping TP41 “Class T” digital amp
    3. Magnat Monitor Supreme 100 speakers ($130 for pair!!).
    Tape sounds “slower” and warmer.
    I’ll take files to listen my reference home system, thanks.

  57. Brianj

    March 15th, 2015 at 8:51 am


    I agree with you completely. Todays rock bands sound different than those form the glory days of the 70’s and 80’s. Why?.. I would argue that alot of musicians that grew up on MP3’s use alot of digital music gear for their “tone”- digital amps, digit effects, etc.

    Most musicians back in the day were using tube amps and analog effects for their tone. Its all they had to work with and still sounds light years better than anything digital used today.

    To me, the argument of analog tape recording vs. digital can also apply to musical gear as well.

  58. scottsasonic

    June 6th, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Hi there, when you say the term “punching” or “punch” are you referring to hard overlaying a track into another track (done on mixing board) or are you referring to a dynamic in sound quality? (ie . punchy sound)

  59. scottsasonic

    June 6th, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    Oh wait – at the end you use another form of Punch.

    “All-in-all it was a good experiment and well worth the extra mile. For the drums and bass, the tape certainly added a punchiness that would otherwise take a bit of processing to achieve ”

    So now I really need clarification.

    My critique about this article. This was a fairly redundant article as this is basics in understanding what sounds best in the real world when merging technologies. Why all the hoopla ? Did you not do your research?

    And the ‘hawtyness’ and weird ego splashing by stating (among other fallatiouisnesses) ” Keep in mind that Elliot’s drum sound will probably kill yours regardless of analog or digital, but it is a great benchmark to work towards. ” –

    Yikes – how do we become a member of the self important club?

  60. Dave H

    June 10th, 2015 at 2:28 am

    Thanks for the comparison tests. Having cut my teeth on analogue tape since the ‘70’s, I have had a love/hate relationship with multi-track and half-track recording machines, where I seemed to have spent more time repairing them than making music.

    Nevertheless my all time favorite tape to record on was AMPEX 499 Tape, and the irony of this is that recently I have returned to mixing down on 499 tapes again. I felt for most of my life I had grown so accustom to analogue sound, (just as younger folks are used to digital), I thought now might be a good time to re-acquaint myself with magnetic tape…

    The second reason why I decided on the above action is that I am very sensitive to lower mid range frequencies, and continually struggled with Digital when trying to make instruments sit down in a mix. With respect, I found the above instruments you recorded to Digital had a hard mid range sonic cloudiness; in fact everywhere you go, you can hear the same problem with most digital masters… and it drives me crazy!

    In my opinion Digital tends to make instruments cling to one another, whereas analogue tape seems to have the knack of keeping them separate, though you would have thought the opposite since Digital has cleaner characteristics?

    However recently we did tests with a Soundcraft analogue mixing desk and found the same results as our analogue tape v. digital test, though it must be said Soundcraft always had this sonic attribute with regards to instrument separation in the mix, and a good match for recording directly to analogue master tape.

    Ironically when we sent a Digital recording through the same Soundcraft analogue mixing desk, we could hear improved separation around the instruments that was not evident on the original Digital Master, mmmm very interesting! That said digital did produce a marginally tighter bass sound when compared with analogue tape, so going forward the ultimate might be a combination of the two?

    In the final analysis, Digital and Analogue can be very subjective, and since your Ladyship is nowhere to be seen, I am quite certain this debate is far from over :(

  61. adam

    July 6th, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    Hey Dave –

    Thanks for the comments. Lately I find that running a few, or maybe even 6 or 8 tracks through some analog gear with transformers tends to help those instruments (mainly vocals and bass) sit better in my mixes. Could be the freq rolloff or phase shift or slight saturation that our ears like to hear.

    I’d love to hear some samples of your digital mixes vs mixed via Soundcraft mixes to hear what qualities you are hearing. Could you post them somewhere?


  62. Rick

    July 28th, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    I have always been a fan of analog over digital. One thing I have come to realize is that no two people have the same hearing accuracy. My trade involved working in a very loud environment but they gave us hearing protection and we had our hearing tested every year. My hearing has deteriorated to a degree but as we age our hearing naturally deteriorates. I came upon a sound test that measures what your hearing range is. There were two different tests from two different sources. One test starts in the high range and slowly drops all the way down to the lowest range of human hearing. The other test was completely opposite. I ended up with differing results. Starting low and going high subjects your hearing to loud sounds that fade to high frequency relatively quiet sounds. I found that to be rather destructive due to recovery time needed for your ears to stop “ringing” from the lower louder frequencies. The second test was much better starting high and quiet and getting ever louder and lower. The difference was around 5 KHz which is a very substantial amount. Human hearing range runs from 20Hz to 20,000Hz (20 kHz) approx. so 5 kHz is 25% of the hearing range.
    The most interesting part of the whole experiment was not so much the range issue it was realizing just how different each ear is. (I opted for the high to low test for the maximum range I can hear)
    I have a good quality Denon receiver and used a set of Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones. I went through the test using them instead of the speakers. I sat back and closed my eyes and was just paying attention to pinpointing the exact source position. (with computer gaming positional presence is a must) This was completely shocking to me. The test gives a perfectly equal signal to both ears yet with my eyes closed the positional presence went from left to right and back again as the pitch dropped from 20 kHz to 20 Hz. Under the speaker test I could hear 16 kHz and below which is above what the average range is for someone my age. Using the headphones really opened my eyes as to just how much difference there was between my left and right side.
    The point I’m trying to make is that the argument over analog vs digital cannot ever be fully quantified if you have not first had your hearing tested. The silent booth testing done at work only measured 8 specific tones, but the high to low frequency testing was more accurate. There they checked to see at what point your hearing drops off at both ends of the scale.
    You can find these tests on YouTube but you need to make sure you set the test to 1080p. Below that you won’t receive the full scale of sound. You need a good set of descent headphones. I highly recommend the closed eye positional test. It was a real eye opener for me. (pardon the pun)
    I’ve always had a better than mainstream stereo system with a higher end Garrard turntable back in the heyday of vinyl. I had 2 vinyl records and an exact cd version of the same music. I had Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons and I had Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances. There was no comparison. The vinyl records were full with rich tones while the equivalent cd’s were very flat in comparison. I knew then that music was taking a step backwards in digitizing sound. They had spent 50 years perfecting the recording processes of vinyl records from source master recordings done on 15 IPS and 30 IPS equipment. Now they discovered that what they touted as more accurate sound was in itself less accurate. If you have ever done any sound editing you can see the duplications of each sound as it traverses up the frequencies. There is a resonance that is repeated and reflected. In digital sound they had removed much of those resonances with the misunderstanding that they shouldn’t be there. These days they have come a long ways into bringing back the resonances between the frequencies but it still is not the same. You can see the difference much more when you look at the spectral frequency view of the music through high end editing programs. If I record to lossless wav format from an album and compare it to the same piece of music from a cd there is a lot of difference between spectral views of the identical pieces. Something is lost in the translation. I don’t know if that stands if the original recording was completely done in digital format because there is no analog version to compare it to.
    In my opinion digital is where it will remain but like the 50 years it took to perfect analog it will take roughly the same amount of time to perfect digital to the same extent. Up until now I don’t think digital has quite caught up completely. For all the technical discussions that I have just read it just backs up the way I hear and feel the music as it washes over me from my vinyl records.

  63. Neil

    August 4th, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    So far, the biggest complaint I have right now is lossy digital audio like MP3. It just sounds like total crap. Once you hear a completely analog mastered 30 or even 15 ips tape, everything sounds bad. It is like that sound you get from a good vinyl LP, only better and without all the mechanical noise, and the fullest low end and high end there is.

    One of the things you must remember about the CD is that many CDs were made in a hurry, and digital technology is not as consistent as analog. In researching why many CDs sound like crap compared to the record, you have to remember the 80’s, I did some assistant engineering on CD mastering for some major labels. For one, there was a time when you had to put the entire CD on one tape. Most albums have 2 reels, one for each side of the record. Often times, for longer CDs, you had to use a lower tape speed and copy down to 7 1/2. That isn’t too bad, but…

    Where records are cut when the album is new, the tape is fresh and the engineer that made it is available, you have proper calibration. In the 60’s and 70’s, you had to deal with Dolby A, and some DBX. Cutting engineers were used to dealing with this. But, wait 10 or 15 years and give a reel of tape to another engineer, who is pressed for time and deadlines, and is also told that some of these will be “destroyed” after you are finished, and things get digitized in a hurry.

    In the 1980’s we were thinking “it sounds better than a cassette” “it doesn’t have surface noise and crackle like a record” “you can scratch it and it will still sound the same” and “I can play it millions of times and it will never wear out”. It was very costly to press a CD versus a record, but the benefits of just having something on a CD were deemed very important.

    So, some CDs were issued without the Dolby A decoded, which has a tinny sound that ends up being 4 band compression. Sometimes, tapes were transfered using High Speed dubbing in digital, and some were played backwards to save copy time.

    Here’s 20 albums, I need them done by tomorrow! Sometimes heads weren’t perfectly aligned, there were even some that were digitized with DIRTY TAPE HEADS (I won’t name which album, but I watched one being run this way) and some were digitzed on unmodified PCM-F1 units.

    For artists, being issued on a CD determined whether you would exist in the future. And yes, folks, mp3 files come from where? They don’t use a master tape to make an mp3, the make a CD and then an mp3.

    It is interesting to note that beginning in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s there is “digital vinyl”, records that are cut using a computer that cuts the record much like a CNC machine. At one point in the 1980’s, this was the norm for making a record:

    To make a record, you must first make a CD. The CD is then read to a hard drive or drives, and those are used to cut the laquer. The CD is then used to arrange the Cassette and 8 track cartridge releases!

    In other words, many of your early 80’s records are actually cut from CD! JVC had been making small production CD pressings dating back to 1980.

    It is also very interesting to note that many newer issues of CDs are DA AD copies of the originals. I have met a few artists that use their CD to identify themselves! One has a 1980 pressing!. It sounds nearly identical to the analog record pressing of the album! But, you get the later west german and US pressings, and they don’t sound that good.

    Alias filtering and DA AD is part of the problem with the Compact Disc, as well as decoding Dolby A, (god forbid B!) Also, during the CD mastering era in the US (1984-1991) we all had to deal with Sticky Shed and Squeaky Tape. When you are in a hurry, this becomes an editing job for post production. If there wasn’t such a hurry to get CDs issued, things would have sounded better.

    Digital gear was very costly in the 1980’s. A cheap sound card nowdays is often better than some high end stuff we had back then. But realize that Digital in the 1970’s and 1980’s did have some advantages. Mainly, it had to compete against Analog!

    I should also point out that there are great variances in the sound quality of CD players! Seriously, I purchased a particular player at a thrift store, and then started buying CDs again! But there are very few that sound that good. Out of 100 different players I tested, I have 1 that I like that sounds comparable to vinyl. And it is from 1986!

    Analyzing the spectrum, the CD is inferior at 44.1 The resolution of analog is around 5X that of 44.1. But being said, the sound quality of a worn out record… not that great.

    In the 80’s in particular, there are some records that the first pressing is analog, and the second and subsequent pressings are digital. You can hear the loss of digital on the record!

    48Khz is superior to 44.1. Note that with ProDigi and DASH recordings, many albums are recorded multi-track in digital and mixed down to Analog. Analog 2 track tape is almost a mandatory format for any bigger album. As we said in the 80’s, if you are recording in digital, and using only one copy, you aren’t recording at all!

    Even in 2015, Digital recording is NOT as reliable as analog. Digital can degrade or completely disappear, on hard drives and memory cards. Analog can be damaged but is usually able to be recovered!

  64. Neil

    August 4th, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    I meant to say “everything else sounds bad” after listening to a 30IPS tape!

  65. Adam

    August 5th, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    Hey Neil –

    Excellent summary of the shortcomings of traditional music mastering and prepping for distribution. There has been room for error and improper handling for every type of distribution medium, from wire – to vinyl (in all its formats) – to cassette (8 track, too) to digital discs and mp3s.

    The process that I detail in my article was not to compare storage and distribution media, but to compare the analog recording format and digital recording formats used during music production and initial capturing of audio. For those who aren’t familiar, there are several stages of music production. The first “recording” is of instruments in their most basic performance. Sometimes this is the last time the recording is touched until it is duplicated for release, but usually there are many more steps and audio transfers/treatments along the way. After an instrument, say a vocal, is recorded to tape or hard disk, that instrument is processed using a variety of processors (analog and/or digital) to change dynamics, equalization, harmonic content, ambience, tuning, timing – whatever it takes to help fit the performance into the final realized production. Sometimes this is a pure art form and sometimes this is a complete bastardization of the original performance. Both are valid and I won’t even debate that.

    In the last decade or two, digital recording and audio processors have become the norm and many of those recorders and processors are audiophile quality and perform as well, or better than, their analog counterparts. Analog processors still exist and are commonly employed, but may be too expensive for many, or simply not convenient or accessible to many. The problem with many digital audio productions is a general lack of care or knowledge in the proper way to record and process the audio and also the abundance of poorly designed, inexpensive digital recording hardware and software. This is not to mention the poor quality microphones and poorly treated recording spaces where many modern recordings are produced using.

    Back in the day, if you wanted to record something, you secured funding and backing from a record label (or a benefactor) and hired a professional facility with professional staff and equipment. Today, many people use whatever software they can find cheap and whatever recording equipment they can beg, borrow or steal for the project. There is no professional oversight, quality control or even “pride in workmanship” for these recordings. But again, art is valid in whatever form the artist wishes to employ.

    I teach recording and music production and I surely point out the benefits of analog consoles, analog processors, analog recorders, but I also demonstrate proper use of digital recorders and processors. Analog and digital are both capable of the extremes of quality and garbage. I am confident that a skilled engineer in a professional setting can produce a recording using digital methods that would meet or exceed the quality of analog methods.

    Tape and vinyl certainly had their “thing” that colored our enjoyment of music, but I am glad to have left many of their shortcomings behind. 30 ips tape sounds great, but so does 24 bit, 96khz digital audio. Both have great qualities and ugly artifacts.

    Mp3 has become the defacto distribution format for convenience sake alone. Nobody will argue an MP3s inherent quality – although high bitrate Mp3 can be every bit as good as the original source – they are .wav files at their core. We need to push the artists and music distributors to uphold the quality of the source and let the artist chose how their music is presented…

  66. Rick

    August 6th, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    I think in today’s world there is one thing that I find consistently irritating. In the days of tape you recorded watching your levels to keep the at or below 0 on the dB scale to avoid oversaturation and clipping. Since digital has become mainstream they can take the levels higher with less distortion than its analog counterpart. Because of that there are no volume standards anymore. Even when I am watching movies on Netflix i am constantly adjusting my volume levels between movies. I used to get upset when commercials on TV jumped several decibels higher. Now there doesn’t seem to be any standard whatsoever. I will watch one movie and the next one I have to jack up my volume sometimes as much as 10dB difference just to make the levels equal.
    I have seen the same thing done on remastered to digital music. In fact when I play the digital album on iTunes which uses mp4 to achieve the 24-bit 96kHz or better quality I can see that each piece or song (I’m a classical music lover to a larger degree but I know my Zeppelin as well) had the volumes tampered with in regards to the original recordings done decades ago. Classical is meant to vary in volume. That is one of the fine points of classical music going from pianissimo to forte or grande forte. Why did they change the volume from piece to piece when they digitized it to mp4 standards? The entire recording is supposed to fluctuate that way. It’s different than playing Rock music where louder seems to be better more often than not. I have a particular recording of Handel’s Messiah done in 1958 with the latest and best recording equipment available in that era. If you look at the credentials of the people involved in creating it they all have doctorates in their fields. They spent months searching for the perfect settings that matched all the dimensions they knew had to be in place to produce something spectacular. The resonance of the chambers was measured, the distances from orchestra to choir had to be just so. The microphones were different and calibrated to record things like the soprano arias and each section of the orchestra was set up separately according to the string section versus the brass, drums oboes etc. It was balanced out perfectly. They had done such a great job preparing everything that the entire score was recorded in 8- 3 hour sessions. The results were so spectacular that they never had to redo a single part of it. They came, they saw, they conquered. They measured things that are no longer even attempted anymore. They had specialists with doctorates who has spent their life studying Handel’s music style and could reproduce it to near perfection. You don’t see that kind of research going into any of the music we listen to today. It is all synthesized, adjusted and mixed in later. Music back then was all they had. In retrospect you can’t find the quality of singers in such large numbers as you could back then. People don’t sing anymore. They compute, social network, face time on cell phones and in their spare time they will listen to some music but with all the gizmos and gadgets available today. Only the joggers and people in their cars take the time to listen. The audience has shrunk dramatically. I see teens doing nothing but playing video games every minute they have free. Music is no longer the sole entertainment anymore. People like us, who appreciate what was, are just a small minority today. We put music to movies and it is a large part of the effect but no longer the sole effect. Music can make or break a movie but if there is plenty of action and the plot and storyline was good, it will get 4 stars even with bad music in it. The music business survives but only just unless the artist is truly spectacular. What we call spectacular today would have been at best mediocre in the 30’s 40’s and 50’s. Your options back then were plays or music including operas which were a mix of both worlds. That was the only entertainment they had. Now it’s whatever the budget can handle, spend the large part on the special effects. Times have changed. Music will never again see a Beatles phenomena. There are way too many other distractions now vying for your time. mp3’s are great, they have never heard anything better so they don’t know what’s missing. They don’t really care as much either. If you can spend all day listening to mario brothers repetitive music while playing the game how much value does the music part of it carry overall.
    That my friends is the sad truth of the music business. Pirating songs hurt them but disinterest hurts them even more. I am not surprised when I see a classical singer win these American idol style various competitions. I find it so refreshing to see the looks on peoples faces when they hear a true soprano sing classical pieces. It’s still a show stopper every time I see it. People can’t believe what they are hearing. It’s exactly the same reaction the prisoners had in Shawshank Redemption.

  67. Tonmeister K

    September 7th, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    To quote John Watkinson (RESOLUTION MAG, OCT 2006 UK)…..”Today’s production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of COMPUTING, although it seems it can be operated without a passing knowledge of AUDIO” To continue, it is not the tools, it is the brains and the amazing amount of analog technology in the past century..all the way from vacuum tubes to transistors. Anyone remember the contribution of Blumlein, or the man behind Calrec Soundfield mic? How about the history of UREI or the story of Leo Fender of Fender Music Instruments, Music Man, G &L? Brains, creativity and the term ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ come to mind . The trouble with current cheaply made digital equipment is that they don’t sound good, or pleasing, or whatever. Also digital technology is all dressed up and looking for a party to attend. Now we know why Neve, Trident, and API analog desks are back. In the world of analog synths, Dave Smith (SCI), MOOG, ARP, KORG are back. It looks like we carbon-based humans prefer ANALOG audio to DIGITAL after all Analog in the studio always wins because there is more time spent on CREATIVITY as opposed to dealing with the MECHANICS (computer set-up time). of recording the sound/music. While current digital audio systems are convenient, fast and repeatable, it is also an unfinished WORK-IN-PROGRESS leading to constant updates and upgrades. And at the end of the day, creative people will deploy WHATEVER WORKS. Cheers.

  68. adam

    September 9th, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    I totally agree about the euphonic mojo of analog consoles and transformer and tube based mic preamps and compressors. However, the days of analog vs digital should be long gone. Except for dealing with unavoidable A-D-A conversion issues (bit depth, sample rate and latencies) the rest of analog vs digital is semantics. Both sound great and may excel at different things at different times.

    We certainly have a trend towards the top music creators of the day being young and “ignorant” (hyperbole) producers who use free (or cracked) software in a basic laptop to create pop music. Pop music, however has always been that way. I put music into at least two categories – pop music, which is a craft and based on fashion and trends and art music, which is in the mind of the creator and meant to stand the test of time and to be enjoyed and appreciated by a more sophisticated audience. Sometimes the two cross, certainly in the hey-day of analog recording that was much more the case, but both categories have their place.

    When I record a 30 piece string section using vintage tube mics and a 72 channel Neve console the feeling the music generates is wonderful. Also, when I put a subharmonic enhancer plugin on an 808 kick in a trap mix the feeling is just as exciting.

    I employ tube microphones, transformer based mics and transformerless, FET based mics all the time. All these mics have analog circuitry, but they sound completely different from each other. I also employ many analog and digital processors and all sound different from each other but equally as good and useful as each other. I wouldn’t have it any other way – I don’t separate analog and digital as classes of gear – just treat them as they need to be treated and find what you need to achieve what you want…

    As for wasting time with the mechanics of digital, that is not an issue any more than dealing with maintenance of any recording or playback equipment. I spend more time testing and (re)tuning my listening environment and maintaining analog wiring than I spend tweaking any of my digital gear, including my computers.

  69. Chris

    April 8th, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    I didn’t even bother reading this article. I only read articles hand written in analog.

  70. Adam

    May 9th, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Ha! So, how did you type this response? I assume you used longform ASCII code, not an analog typewriter…

  71. Ali

    May 31st, 2016 at 7:12 am

    I work for a radio company. There are 300,000 reel-to-reel tapes (600, 1200 and 2400 feet) of radio programs from 50 years ago (in 1 7/8, 3 3/4, 7 1/2 and 15 ips). we are capturing tapes to digital format (wave96000hz24bit) with studer A-807 , lynx two-B sound card and adobe audition 6 software. after capturing, pitching 96000 to 48000, because we capture it with double speed (for example if the tape recorded in 7 1/2, we playback it with 15 ips to capturing). i am an archivist and i don’t have any information about sound and capturing. is this capturing good or not? specially capturing with double speed and return it to normal speed with software. if possible for you, post answer to my email address. thanks a lot for your help.

  72. Howard Barnett

    July 16th, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Here’s the thing. It may sound better, but objectively, is compromised heavily, and not at all accurate. The goal of the recording medium is to be as accurate as possible, and not color the sound due to inherent limitations of the medium. The highest digital resolution is starting to heavily blur the line between recorded and live in A/B testing. My bona fides? I’m a master audio engineer who’s been recording/mastering/editing since 1978. The late 70’s was the pinnacle of 2″ tape and it had reached it’s technical limitations. It’s by far my favorite beyond hi-rez digital, but not it’s equal. Full stop. BTW, downconverting from 96 to 44.1 invalidates the test. I would like to see 320/24 go head to head as well, with full resolution playback.

  73. adam

    July 26th, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Hey Ali –

    I think the idea of running the tape at double speed is simply to save time during the transfers. It certainly won’t improve sound quality and performing a sample rate reduction is not a totally transparent operation in software. Since the recordings are old and probably not audiophile recordings, the transfer and conversion are acceptable. Later, noise reduction and restoration can be applied if the material needs to be used for something.

    In my experience, Adobe Audition is not a reliable audio workstation for professional use, as I have found sample rate/ time-base issues with projects recorded in Audition, which would be similar to long term pitch drifts in analog tape. Maybe you could use a different software – even some free solutions seem to be more stable, like Audacity or Reaper.

    Also, How are the digital files being archived? Are you keeping hard drives, tape-based archives (LTO) or DVD/optical media? Each of those has its own considerations for longevity and robustness. I would imagine stations like NPR and the BBC have published extensive recommendations for archival processes and methods…

  74. Tracey Todd

    September 25th, 2016 at 6:48 am


    My husband, who had early forced retirement from the music industry, (he’s a grand ol’ wizard at 46)…has been experiencing a lot of interest lately with an album he did with Roy Thomas Baker in the late 80’s. Although he owns the masters, each song requires the use of (2) 24-track 2″ reels, spinning in perfect quartz sync with a Sony 48 DASH Digi machine.

    Any decent studio should have a 24 Studer in a closet and can dust it off.
    But where in the heck can a person find a working Sony DASH??!!

    I’m assuming he won’t sync and will ‘eyeball” it in PTHDX –
    So, all the machines don’t have to be at the same studio.

    As his wife and former tour manager, it would be fun to see the old bird back in action.

    Thanks for any thoughts.


    PS – It looks like old 3348s are cheap online – can these things stand alone? And wasn’t there an Apogee upgrade required for this thing to sound decent?

  75. Adam

    October 16th, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    Hi Tracey –

    Sounds like a cool project. My first call would be to some of the big studios in L.A., Nashville, New York, Atlanta, Austin, or wherever is closest to you. Studios like Capitol, Record Plant, The Village, Henson Recording, Sunset Sound, etc… should be able to help you out. Many of the top studios still have older machines in good condition as well as techs who know how to align and set them up. It may not be inexpensive, but you could simply have all the tapes transferred to Pro Tools and line them up in the DAW. Each tape could also be transferred while Pro Tools is lock to the multitrack timecode, so the audio should all wind up in sync.

    Sony 3348s may be cheap, but shipping, setup and any repair may be way more than the price of the machine. Many 3348s were upgraded with Apogee converters, but that would be individual per machine. Even the stock machines sounded excellent, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Today’s converters are probably far superior to the late 80’s tech, and if you can get a digital signal out of the 3348, transfer to Pro Tools may even stay in the digital domain.

    Additionally, I hear that Iron Mountain (the data storage company) has a facility in Los Angeles where they maintain every professional recording deck for purposes just like yours. I’m not sure if they provide “retail” services, but it’s worth a call. I’m in L.A. and I’d be glad to facilitate the transfer if you are out of the area.


  76. Andy

    October 21st, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    Hey Adam, thanks for the article, nice read.

    My dilemma, or my story is that over the last year I have been busy getting a commercial studio built. – I had to make the decision early on to go with all digital (for speed) – or full analogue for sound (slower)..

    As a current Digital user (ProtoolsHD, Digital Desk etc, and analogue H/W units) running a hybrid setup, I figured this would be the way to go… – after-all, budgets these days are not as large or as lengthy as they used to be, and digital fills this gap so perfectly, and the option to just recall a session on the fly is an absolute godsend!. – but, (Having grown up with 2″ tape) I never could ever get the sound from digital as I did with tape.

    I Used to second guess myself always at mixdown. thinking WHY it was too “pure” – there was no dirt/grime/inconstancy. digital was just to clean/perfect for what I wanted to hear, and fake tapes/saturation never did ANYTHING for me in the digital world.

    Then I went to see a studio where they have a NeveVR, I mixed on it for a day, and immediately had that sound I had been searching for, as subtle as it is, and maybe only ever pleasing my own version of perfection, as clients possibly would never be able to tell.

    So needless to say, I went the vintage Neve route, but Just the console & its hardware, Tape machine is still digital (Protools) – but I think for me this is the best compromise, between fully digital or fully analogue.

    I dont think digital sucks like some suggest, I think its a medium of time/cost saving and moreover you can be mobile and still do it. – so the convenience factor is hugh!. – but there is still something grounded about a real analogue desk that plugins and a computer just cant capture.

    Thats my 2 cents anyway..
    be well.

    P.S I noticed in your tests you ran at 96k, doesn’t old tapes/gear work better at 44k for that sort of thing. (recording from..)

  77. Jon Sundell

    December 7th, 2016 at 10:05 am

    I’ve been working on a lengthy recording project off and on for the last twenty years with a small local recording engineer in Winston-Salem, NC. Everything is in 16 track format on ADAT` format. Several of the best songs are still waiting for a redo of the vocal lead or adding harmony. Since I finally retired from my day job/ career in July, I have been planning to finish the project and get it published. Unfortunately, I just found out that one of the 8 track machines no longer works and probably will not get fixed or upgraded.

    Do you know of any studios in my area that can play ADAT to either finish the recording or transform it to a current format like Protools, so that I can finish the project? Also, are there some bulletin boards or internet discussion groups where I could reach a lot of studios and engineers to find out?

    Thanks for any guidance.

    Jon Sundell

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