The Sound of Analog, the Sound of Digital

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

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

What do you think about this?

Is Paul correct in your view?

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

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
11,900
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#3
Basically, the more I've got my analog right, the more it's got close to matching the undoubted strengths of digital where digital is strongest.
The more I've got my digital right, the more it's got close to matching the undoubted strengths of analog where analog is strongest.
Now I listen to my analog that is way past any previous level I've had and don't think about digital.
Now I listen to my digital that is way past any previous level I've had and don't think about analog.
My current tt rig and cdp don't sound like any I've had in the past.
More and more I'm less and less sure that there is strictly an "analog" sound and a "digital" one.
But plenty of "good" and "bad" analog and digital.
 

cjfrbw

Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
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#5
Kinna interesting. I am probably one of the only people to wear out an SME turntable. The 30/2 has been sent to the shop, likely the main bearing is worn out. It started stalling and the platter holder scrapes onto the top plate. It’s likely 20 years old at this point.

When we got the Santa Cruz place, I got a Sony PS X70 DD from eBay for $250 (42 years old, all original). Never played it much over there due to neighbor proximity. eventually just brought it back to add to my audio warehouse pile. I thought about just giving it away. It was the second from the top down from the legendary Sony PS X9 (several on ebay now, still sell for thousands up depending on renovation and condition), and uses a curved micro seiki arm.

However, I decided to put PS X70 on the SME altar. I went into my ‘vinyl drawer’ a couple of weeks ago, there was a small oil spill, and while cleaning it out, I found my ancient Ortofon Kontrapunkt a, a cartridge that I used for a few months when I first got back into vinyl on an SME 10 turntable (almost 20 years ago??). I had completely forgotten about it. I paid $180 for it wholesale from a Hong Kong wholesaler and used it before ‘moving up’ in MC cartridge quality. They still make them, and they now cost $600 or so.

Anyway, I put the Sony PS X70 on the SME altar to have a placeholder, installed the Kontrapunkt a, plugged it into the Allnic head amp. Lo and behold, vivid, dynamic sound that is very high end. I was shocked.

The turntable arm is medium to high effective mass, the cartridge is low compliance, so the sound is ‘tape like’, dense tonalities. i am playing records that I haven’t for a while and shake my head at how good it sounds.

That’s what I think of as ‘analog’. It is unlike any digital type experience (not that there is ANYTHING wrong with today’s great digital), but it is rich, vibrant, detailed, dense, rocking midrange and lower midrange, huge imaging etc.

It’s also nice to have this kind and quality of vinyl presentation albeit with bargain vintage stuff while I await the fate of the SME 30/2 at the hands of the repair apparatus.
 

Al M.

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#6

Al M.

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If we are being objective it might be more precise to talk about the difference between the 'noise of analog' vs 'the noise of digital'...
Sure, this used to be a big issue, hence digital in the early days sounding so different from and so much worse than analog. Unlike with analog, the noise envelope considerably changed with the musical signal, with the culprit being substantial amounts of jitter and lousy filtering. In computer audio of course you can still have other problems of (RF) noise, but that way of playing back music has also become better and better.

Nowadays things are mostly fine to my ears on the digital noise level, at least when it comes to the better playback, so this whole issue more or less falls away, in my view.
 
May 30, 2010
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#9
(...) Is Paul correct in your view?

Are (the sound of) "analog" and (the sound of) "digital" antiquated terms?
Ron,

Unfortunately you are hiding the true sense of Paul words when you cut what I think is the essential part of his post. What Paul pretends to say is that modern digital is on par with or surpasses analog, something that many people will disagree. :oops:

“That sounds so…analog.” What does that actually mean? And what are we saying when we suggest something sounds “digital”.
I wonder if our terminology isn’t out of date. We offer praise when a digital reproduction sounds analog yet we know analog has limitations that digital does not.
I would never suggest that while listening to a live performance that it sounds either analog or digital. I might say it sounds natural, perhaps full and rich, but analog or digital? Never.
I wonder why then we cling to these antiquated terms. And I am not pointing the finger at anyone but me. I am a big offender and want to work on my language at every opportunity. "
There’s no such thing as the sound of analog and digital. They are antiquated terms and I can do better. (end of quote) https://www.psaudio.com/pauls-posts/the-meaning-of-analog/


Antiquated or not , the sound of analog and the sound of digital will always exist. They are different media, with fundamental differences in measurable (objective) parameters that result in different types of recordings.
 

ddk

Industry Expert
May 19, 2013
4,958
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#10
On his PS Audio blog today Paul McGowan posted a piece titled: "The meaning of analog." Paul writes: "There’s no such thing as the sound of analog and digital. They are antiquated terms . . ."

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

What do you think about this?

Is Paul correct in your view?

Are (the sound of) "analog" and (the sound of) "digital" antiquated terms?
I haven't read Paul's blog and don't know the context but going by your post that statement holds as much water as all amplifiers sound the same. The only instance I see that happening is when comparing equally crappy ones from each group, then it doesn't make a difference :).

david
 

Ovenmitt

Well-Known Member
Nov 21, 2017
181
242
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#11
If we are being objective it might be more precise to talk about the difference between the 'noise of analog' vs 'the noise of digital'...
I agree Erik. It comes down to a question of signal to noise; the absence of noise in nature doesn’t exist. Humans don’t perceive sound this way. If anyone’s ever been in an anechoic chamber you know how disconcerting and unnatural it feels.

I highly recommend the book “The new analog” by Damon Krukowski. It’s a great take on the subject: https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/11/14/book-review-new-analog-damon-krukowski/
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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#12
Ron,

Unfortunately you are hiding the true sense of Paul words when you cut what I think is the essential part of his post. What Paul pretends to say is that modern digital is on par with or surpasses analog, something that many people will disagree. :oops:

“That sounds so…analog.” What does that actually mean? And what are we saying when we suggest something sounds “digital”.
I wonder if our terminology isn’t out of date. We offer praise when a digital reproduction sounds analog yet we know analog has limitations that digital does not.
I would never suggest that while listening to a live performance that it sounds either analog or digital. I might say it sounds natural, perhaps full and rich, but analog or digital? Never.
I wonder why then we cling to these antiquated terms. And I am not pointing the finger at anyone but me. I am a big offender and want to work on my language at every opportunity. "
There’s no such thing as the sound of analog and digital. They are antiquated terms and I can do better. (end of quote) https://www.psaudio.com/pauls-posts/the-meaning-of-analog/


. . .
I think there are two points embodied in Paul's post. I did not include the point you are focusing as I wanted to be careful to give Paul the benefit of the doubt on that controversial view of his. I felt that was a related but separate issue, and I wanted to keep Paul's main assertion simple in an attempt to avoid re-litigating the conventional analog versus digital point on which you are focusing.

However, I would not disagree with the view that it is impossible to avoid collapsing these two points into one. :)
 
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Mike Lavigne

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 25, 2010
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#13
and an orange is just an orange.

i taste a good orange and it's great. then i have a good organic orange and it's on a whole different level. forget the chemistry, just from a sensual perspective they are really different.

would anyone disagree?

from one perspective they are the same, from another......completely different. the non-organic orange is likely to be more uniform, and maybe bigger too. the organic orange will have natural variances and differences in color and texture. some will have more seeds than others. that's nature for you. and if you never really had a good organic orange how would you understand what the significance might be?

Paul McGowan is running a business and he knows his customers, and what products they want from him. in that perspective it makes sense. it's not controversial, it's business. and that's about it about that.

if i were selling non-organic oranges i might be tempted to minimize the differences between what my customers buy from me, and alternative higher quality better tasting, healthier, products.
 
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tima

Industry Expert
Mar 4, 2014
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#14
and an orange is just an orange.

i taste a good orange and it's great. then i have a good organic orange and it's on a whole different level. forget the chemistry, just from a sensual perspective they are really different.

would anyone disagree?

from one perspective they are the same, from another......completely different. the non-organic orange is likely to be more uniform, and maybe bigger too. the organic orange will have natural variances and differences in color and texture. some will have more seeds than others. that's nature for you. and if you never really had a good organic orange how would you understand what the significance might be?

Paul McGowan is running a business and he knows his customers, and what products they want from him. in that perspective it makes sense. it's not controversial, it's business. and that's about it about that.

if i were selling non-organic oranges i might be tempted to minimize the differences between what my customers buy from me, and alternative higher quality better tasting, healthier, products.
Mike - that is a very compelling and clever analogy. I can imagine the retort: "if you take a chemical analysis of the two oranges, they are indistinguishable." Which wholly misses the point.

McGowan wants to suggest that the number of people who can tell the difference is dwindling and we no longer need words to tell them apart. But I wonder why this is important. Who is it that is compelled to make this case and why? You hit the nail on answering that. What is he selling.

The sort of technological overthrow that indicates a real change such as the downfall of the CRT in the television industry has not occurred in the audio realm, at least in the high-end region. But few tried to claim the CRT vs digital TV were visually indistinguishable. Which is what McGowan seems to try under the charade of talking about the antiquation of vocabulary.

When McG writes: "I would never suggest that while listening to a live performance that it sounds either analog or digital. I might say it sounds natural, perhaps full and rich, but analog or digital? Never." This the equivalent of the magician's attempt at misdirection while he swaps reality and reproduction behind his back.
 
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ddk

Industry Expert
May 19, 2013
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#15
Mike - that is a very compelling and clever analogy. I can imagine the retort: "if you take a chemical analysis of the two oranges, they are indistinguishable." Which wholly misses the point.

McGowan wants to suggest that the number of people who can tell the difference is dwindling and we no longer need words to tell them apart. But I wonder why this is important. Who is it that is compelled to make this case and why? You hit the nail on answering that. What is he selling.

The sort of technological overthrow that indicates a real change such as the downfall of the CRT in the television industry has not occurred in the audio realm, at least in the high-end region. But few tried to claim the CRT vs digital TV were visually indistinguishable. Which is what McGowan seems to try under the charade of talking about the antiquation of vocabulary.

When McG writes: "I would never suggest that while listening to a live performance that it sounds either analog or digital. I might say it sounds natural, perhaps full and rich, but analog or digital? Never." This the equivalent of the magician's attempt at misdirection while he swaps reality and reproduction behind his back.
It's actually simpler than that Tim, use one of his amps and run everything off the regenerators he makes and I guarantee that you wont hear a major difference between analog, digital, tube or anything else either. Those IRS's have their own massive coloration for a final topping :)! He's on the money in the context of his system.

david
 
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tima

Industry Expert
Mar 4, 2014
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#16
It's actually simpler than that Tim, use one of his amps and run everything off the regenerators he makes and I guarantee that you wont hear a major difference between analog, digital, tube or anything else. Those Genesis One's have their own massive coloration for a final topping :)! He's on the money in the context of his system.

david
ooooooh ... that's gonna leave a mark. ;)
 

ddk

Industry Expert
May 19, 2013
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#17
Likes: Alrainbow

Tango

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#18
and an orange is just an orange.

i taste a good orange and it's great. then i have a good organic orange and it's on a whole different level. forget the chemistry, just from a sensual perspective they are really different.

would anyone disagree?

from one perspective they are the same, from another......completely different. the non-organic orange is likely to be more uniform, and maybe bigger too. the organic orange will have natural variances and differences in color and texture. some will have more seeds than others. that's nature for you. and if you never really had a good organic orange how would you understand what the significance might be?

Paul McGowan is running a business and he knows his customers, and what products they want from him. in that perspective it makes sense. it's not controversial, it's business. and that's about it about that.

if i were selling non-organic oranges i might be tempted to minimize the differences between what my customers buy from me, and alternative higher quality better tasting, healthier, products.
Organic orange cannot taste as good as inorganic orange that uses my nutritional program sir. :D As far as orange concern, I have never tasted a good orange in US. They are too sour for my preference. From the way and style you described sound, you are a romantic Mike. You should like Mandarin orange. There is sweetness to it.
 

Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#20
Mike - that is a very compelling and clever analogy. I can imagine the retort: "if you take a chemical analysis of the two oranges, they are indistinguishable." Which wholly misses the point.

McGowan wants to suggest that the number of people who can tell the difference is dwindling and we no longer need words to tell them apart. But I wonder why this is important. Who is it that is compelled to make this case and why? You hit the nail on answering that. What is he selling.

The sort of technological overthrow that indicates a real change such as the downfall of the CRT in the television industry has not occurred in the audio realm, at least in the high-end region. But few tried to claim the CRT vs digital TV were visually indistinguishable. Which is what McGowan seems to try under the charade of talking about the antiquation of vocabulary.
You and Mike commit a genetic fallacy of argumentation, discrediting a claim based on its source (and presumed intent, following from that).

I never thought about Paul's business, I was thinking about the argument itself. Paul is right, in my view.
 

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