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

PeterA

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For what it's worth, here is a 1995 quote from famous jazz recording engineer Rudy van Gelder *) about digital vs. LP:

"The biggest distorter is the LP itself. I've made thousands of LP masters. I used to make 17 a day, with two lathes going simultaneously, and I'm glad to see the LP go. As far as I'm concerned, good riddance. It was a constant battle to try to make that music sound the way it should. It was never any good. And if people don't like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it. Blame the mastering house. Blame the mixing engineer. That's why some digital recordings sound terrible, and I'm not denying that they do, but don't blame the medium."

Source:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudy_Van_Gelder

_______________________

*) From Wikipedia:
Over more than half a century, he recorded several thousand sessions, with musicians including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver and Grant Green. He worked with many different record companies, and recorded almost every session on Blue Note Records from 1953 to 1967.
"For what it is worth" is an interesting way to put it, Al. I have no idea what this opinion is worth.

Van Gelder is telling us that some digital recordings sound terrible and that we should blame the engineer, the mastering house, and the mixing engineer, but not the medium. For a while now, at least on this forum, members who prefer digital have been trying to argue that the medium is not to blame for the sound being less than perfect, it is the flawed implementation. The implementation seems to be improving, so audiophiles seem to be increasingly appreciate the sound of digital, though no one has yet suggested that is lives up to the promise of being "perfect".

That is wonderful, but why are we being told to blame the professionals behind the digital recordings? Have they lost their skills from those of the past generation? Were the recording engineers, the mastering houses, and the mixing engineers, van Gelder among them, better during the analog era? We refer to that time as the "golden era" of recordings. Is that why some of us still prefer analog sources, despite all of its very obvious flaws, to digital with its now near-perfected implementation? Is it really just the professionals behind the recordings that make the difference? I do not understand the point of this quote nor its worth in this thread.

I happen to think some of those recordings for which van Gelder was responsible and that he now so easily dismisses with good riddance, sound awfully good to me. My ears must be faulty or I must be missing something.
 

marty

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Apr 20, 2010
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"The biggest distorter is the LP itself. I've made thousands of LP masters. I used to make 17 a day, with two lathes going simultaneously, and I'm glad to see the LP go. As far as I'm concerned, good riddance. It was a constant battle to try to make that music sound the way it should. It was never any good. And if people don't like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it. Blame the mastering house. Blame the mixing engineer. That's why some digital recordings sound terrible, and I'm not denying that they do, but don't blame the medium."
To begin, Rudy van Gelder is not the first to have said this. The last sentence is basically a direct quote from Ken Kreisel (of M&K fame) who I remember said this in the late 80's.

Rudy indeed has a good point about LPs but doesn't expand (at least not in the quote) as to a major reasons why LP's are a flawed medium which are namely, that the equipment to reproduce what's in those grooves is a nightmare waiting to happen, plain and simple. To begin, the pivoted tonearm is a distortion producing device, period. This has been discussed ad nauseum and no need to repeat it here. It is simply a fact. Tracking angle error produces distortion. It's not voodoo. It's science. For that reason alone, a straight arm design is advantageous, but how many of us are using one of those? (which also have potential problems since execution is just as important as theoretical considerations). But it's much worse than that. For example, if you think that the VTA is perfect for all record weights (i.e. thickness) then we are just going to agree to disagree. To me, it's actually one of the best reasons to use 2 tonearms on a TT. Set each one for different record thicknesses (i.e. reg vs 180 gm vs 200 gm etc). (Why have only one distortion producing device when you can have two!)

What’s worse, even for records of identical thickness, depending on the cutting head that was used, the optimum VTA can vary from record label to record label and from record to record. Strike two. Want more? Let’s talk azimuth, which has to take into account VTA, tracking weight, and believing that every damn stylus was mounted to perfection as to have the stylus aligned exactly 90 degrees to the top of the cartridge. If you think this happens with 100% certainty, I wonder how you feel about the earth being flat or climate change? The list goes on. VTA is sensitive to such incremental increments that adjusting it with 200 micron thick playing cards is sheer lunacy. 10 microns makes a very real difference! Not a believer? Well, then tell me what system you are using for adjustment to refute this. Some tonearms allow this sort of precision adjustment. Once heard, it's hard to refute. (And also, unfortunately, it makes your audio life much more miserable.) Even more pathetic, once you hear the difference that 20 microns might make, you might have to choose among two options of which neither might not be "perfect" ( a meaningless word in this case). For example, one setting may make bass a bit more robust, but you might lose a bit of air on the strings. So what then is the "right" setting for musical truth? I'll tell you this. Whatever it is, it is probably going to change for the next record you play. Want more?

Let’s talk about anti-skate. I almost don’t know how I ‘m going to live without finally breaking down and getting a scope and looking at distortion using test signals although for now I’m doing it by ear using some well-trodden test records (Hi- Fi News, Cardas, etc) and music. But a part of me knows the sound is probably not perfect and even worse, probably changes across the single side of an LP. Another small imperfection in a very flawed system.

Keep in mind we’re not even going to talk about wow and flutter, bearing noise, warped records, out of round records and host of other trivial and not so trivial matters (i.e. racks, footers, etc) that can wreck havoc on this beloved relic of a reproduction medium.

Here’s the bottom line. The first take-away is that if you think your LP set-up is perfectly optimized, you’re probably 1) generally wrong and/or 2) possibly correct for at least 1 LP. But for all your LPs? Almost certainly not. Next take away. I understand why many folks, particularly those that have a superb server/DAC, often defer to that medium more and more for their daily music dose. Simply put, it's just flat out easier, and if it's done well, can be both highly enjoyable and the far less anxiety generating medium especially if you have the obsessional/ compulsive gene as some of us do :eek:. Final take away. Yes, when there is perfect harmony in the universe and the stars line up just the right way and you say just the right incantation, you can achieve some magic with LP playback that may otherwise be elusive. But Jeez, what pain in the ass. Really.
 
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Al M.

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I happen to think some of those recordings for which van Gelder was responsible and that he now so easily dismisses with good riddance, sound awfully good to me. My ears must be faulty or I must be missing something.
The context is that van Gelder embraced digital, remastered digitally a lot of his catalog starting in 1999, and apparently thought that digital worked better for conveying his old analog recordings to the listener than the LP medium, on which the recordings were first released.
 
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timztunz

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To begin, Rudy van Gelder is not the first to have said this. The last sentence is basically a direct quote from Ken Kreisel (of M&K fame) who I remember said this in the late 80's.

Rudy indeed has a good point about LPs but doesn't expand (at least not in the quote) as to a major reasons why LP's are a flawed medium which are namely, that the equipment to reproduce what's in those grooves is a nightmare waiting to happen, plain and simple. To begin, the pivoted tonearm is a distortion producing device, period. This has been discussed as ad nauseum and no need to repeat it here. It is simply a fact. Tracking angle error produces distortion. It's not voodoo. It's science. For that reason alone, a straight arm design is advantageous, but how many of us are using one of those? (which also have potential problems since execution is just as important as theoretical considerations). But it's much worse than that. For example, if you think that the VTA is perfect for all record weights (i.e. thickness) then we are just going to agree to disagree. To me, it's actually one of the best reasons to use 2 tonearms on a TT. Set each one for different record thicknesses (i.e. reg vs 180 gm vs 200 gm etc). (Why have only one distortion producing device when you can have two!)

What’s worse, even for records of identical thickness, depending on the cutting head that was used, the optimum VTA can vary from record label to record label and from record to record. Strike two. Want more? Let’s talk azimuth, which has to take into account VTA, tracking weight, and believing that every damn stylus was mounted to perfection as to have the stylus aligned exactly 90 degrees to the top of the cartridge. If you think this happens with 100% certainty, I wonder how you feel about the earth being flat or climate change? The list goes on. VTA is sensitive to such incremental increments that adjusting it with 200 micron thick playing cards is sheer lunacy. 10 microns makes a very real difference! Not a believer? Well, then tell me what system you are using for adjustment to refute this. Some tonearms allow this sort of precision adjustment. Once heard, it's hard to refute. (And also, unfortunately, it makes your audio life much more miserable.) Even more pathetic, once you hear the difference that 20 microns might make, you might have to choose among two options of which neither might not be "perfect" ( a meaningless word in this case). For example, one setting may make bass a bit more robust, but you might lose a bit of air on the strings. So what then is the "right" setting for musical truth. I'll tell you this. Whatever it is, it is probably going to change for the next record you play. Want more?

Let’s talk about anti-skate. I almost don’t know how I ‘m going to live without finally breaking down and getting a scope and looking at distortion using test signals although for now I’m doing it by ear using some well-trodden test records (Hi- Fi News, Cardas, etc) and music. But a part of me knows the sound is probably not perfect and even worse, probably changes across the single side of an LP. Another small imperfection in a very flawed system.

Keep in mind we’re not even going to talk about wow and flutter, bearing noise, warped records, out of round records and host of other trivial and not so trivial matters (i.e. racks, footers, etc) that can wreck havoc on this beloved relic of a reproduction medium.

Here’s the bottom line. The first take-away is that if you think your LP set-up is perfectly optimized, you’re probably 1) generally wrong and 2) possibly correct for at least 1 LP. But for all your LPs? Almost certainly not. Next take away. I understand why many folks, particularly those that have a superb server/DAC, often defer to that medium more and more for their daily music dose. Simply put, it's just flat out easier, and if it's done well, can be both highly enjoyable and the far less anxiety generating medium especially if you have the obsessional/ compulsive gene as some of us do :eek:. Final take away. Yes, when there is perfect harmony in the universe and the stars line up just the right way and you say just the right incantation, you can achieve some magic with LP playback that may otherwise be elusive. But Jeez, what pain in the ass. Really.
That's all kind of depressing and misses the joy I find in records. But then, I'm pretty easily amused.
 

Al M.

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To begin, Rudy van Gelder is not the first to have said this. The last sentence is basically a direct quote from Ken Kreisel (of M&K fame) who I remember said this in the late 80's.

Rudy indeed has a good point about LPs but doesn't expand (at least not in the quote) as to a major reasons why LP's are a flawed medium which are namely, that the equipment to reproduce what's in those grooves is a nightmare waiting to happen, plain and simple. To begin, the pivoted tonearm is a distortion producing device, period. This has been discussed as ad nauseum and no need to repeat it here. It is simply a fact. Tracking angle error produces distortion. It's not voodoo. It's science. For that reason alone, a straight arm design is advantageous, but how many of us are using one of those? (which also have potential problems since execution is just as important as theoretical considerations). But it's much worse than that. For example, if you think that the VTA is perfect for all record weights (i.e. thickness) then we are just going to agree to disagree. To me, it's actually one of the best reasons to use 2 tonearms on a TT. Set each one for different record thicknesses (i.e. reg vs 180 gm vs 200 gm etc). (Why have only one distortion producing device when you can have two!)

What’s worse, even for records of identical thickness, depending on the cutting head that was used, the optimum VTA can vary from record label to record label and from record to record. Strike two. Want more? Let’s talk azimuth, which has to take into account VTA, tracking weight, and believing that every damn stylus was mounted to perfection as to have the stylus aligned exactly 90 degrees to the top of the cartridge. If you think this happens with 100% certainty, I wonder how you feel about the earth being flat or climate change? The list goes on. VTA is sensitive to such incremental increments that adjusting it with 200 micron thick playing cards is sheer lunacy. 10 microns makes a very real difference! Not a believer? Well, then tell me what system you are using for adjustment to refute this. Some tonearms allow this sort of precision adjustment. Once heard, it's hard to refute. (And also, unfortunately, it makes your audio life much more miserable.) Even more pathetic, once you hear the difference that 20 microns might make, you might have to choose among two options of which neither might not be "perfect" ( a meaningless word in this case). For example, one setting may make bass a bit more robust, but you might lose a bit of air on the strings. So what then is the "right" setting for musical truth. I'll tell you this. Whatever it is, it is probably going to change for the next record you play. Want more?

Let’s talk about anti-skate. I almost don’t know how I ‘m going to live without finally breaking down and getting a scope and looking at distortion using test signals although for now I’m doing it by ear using some well-trodden test records (Hi- Fi News, Cardas, etc) and music. But a part of me knows the sound is probably not perfect and even worse, probably changes across the single side of an LP. Another small imperfection in a very flawed system.

Keep in mind we’re not even going to talk about wow and flutter, bearing noise, warped records, out of round records and host of other trivial and not so trivial matters (i.e. racks, footers, etc) that can wreck havoc on this beloved relic of a reproduction medium.

Here’s the bottom line. The first take-away is that if you think your LP set-up is perfectly optimized, you’re probably 1) generally wrong and 2) possibly correct for at least 1 LP. But for all your LPs? Almost certainly not. Next take away. I understand why many folks, particularly those that have a superb server/DAC, often defer to that medium more and more for their daily music dose. Simply put, it's just flat out easier, and if it's done well, can be both highly enjoyable and the far less anxiety generating medium especially if you have the obsessional/ compulsive gene as some of us do :eek:. Final take away. Yes, when there is perfect harmony in the universe and the stars line up just the right way and you say just the right incantation, you can achieve some magic with LP playback that may otherwise be elusive. But Jeez, what pain in the ass. Really.
I enjoy analog in my friends' systems -- often very much so.

But all the above that you very well articulated, Marty, is one of the main reasons why I personally will never get into LP playback (or back into it again, having abandoned it in my twenties).
 

ack

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VTA is sensitive to such incremental increments that adjusting it with 200 micron thick playing cards is sheer lunacy.
Exactly THAT - the high-end world of audio playing cards... LOL
 

Solypsa

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Cutting masters is a terrible love affair for the mastering engineer. Fraught with difficulty and error. Mastering changed a lot going to digital (mostly a lot easier...although keeping up with software isn't always fun...)

I would say that digital capture and editing suffers from the homogeneity of a few dominant formats (aka protools) more than anything. Back in the day there was a lot of custom effort put into the recording and mastering chain. Certainly a few follow that path now...seems like a very few.
 

PeterA

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Exactly THAT - the high-end world of audio playing cards... LOL
So then what do you think about Fremer's advice to set VTA at 92 degrees with a USB microscope and leave it at that? I remember you telling me that that was your approach, at least back then. What method do you use now? I know you don't adjust for different thicknesses or cutting angles.
 

PeterA

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The context is that van Gelder embraced digital, remastered digitally a lot of his catalog starting in 1999, and apparently thought that digital worked better for conveying his old analog recordings to the listener than the LP medium, on which the recordings were first released.
I guess it is clear that there is a difference in sound. It might be fun to listen to analog and digital versions of some of his classics in the same system and decide for ourselves which we prefer. I guess he is telling us if we don't like the digital as much that we should blame the engineers and not the medium.
 

MadFloyd

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I guess it is clear that there is a difference in sound. It might be fun to listen to analog and digital versions of some of his classics in the same system and decide for ourselves which we prefer. I guess he is telling us if we don't like the digital as much that we should blame the engineers and not the medium.
Haven't we done that? :)

EDIT: Al and I have done that... not sure you were present.
 

morricab

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"For what it is worth" is an interesting way to put it, Al. I have no idea what this opinion is worth.

Van Gelder is telling us that some digital recordings sound terrible and that we should blame the engineer, the mastering house, and the mixing engineer, but not the medium. For a while now, at least on this forum, members who prefer digital have been trying to argue that the medium is not to blame for the sound being less than perfect, it is the flawed implementation. The implementation seems to be improving, so audiophiles seem to be increasingly appreciate the sound of digital, though no one has yet suggested that is lives up to the promise of being "perfect".

That is wonderful, but why are we being told to blame the professionals behind the digital recordings? Have they lost their skills from those of the past generation? Were the recording engineers, the mastering houses, and the mixing engineers, van Gelder among them, better during the analog era? We refer to that time as the "golden era" of recordings. Is that why some of us still prefer analog sources, despite all of its very obvious flaws, to digital with its now near-perfected implementation? Is it really just the professionals behind the recordings that make the difference? I do not understand the point of this quote nor its worth in this thread.

I happen to think some of those recordings for which van Gelder was responsible and that he now so easily dismisses with good riddance, sound awfully good to me. My ears must be faulty or I must be missing something.
IMO, this comes down to, yet again, the nature of the distortions themselves and not so much of he quantity. Digital has the kind of flaws that our ear / brain cannot readily mask as there is no evolutionary precedent for them. Even minute quantities are damaging. Vinyl, being largely a mechanical process creates distortions with precedence in nature that may be masked to a large degree. It all come down to psychoacoustics and what we are more negatively sensitive to. I think analog can sound better because it is more harmonious psychoacoustically.
 

ack

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So then what do you think about Fremer's advice to set VTA at 92 degrees with a USB microscope and leave it at that? I remember you telling me that that was your approach, at least back then. What method do you use now? I know you don't adjust for different thicknesses or cutting angles.
If you are going to adjust, like some do, do it in a reasonable way, not this laughable stuff with cards
 

wil

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Jul 22, 2015
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"For what it is worth" is an interesting way to put it, Al. I have no idea what this opinion is worth.

Van Gelder is telling us that some digital recordings sound terrible and that we should blame the engineer, the mastering house, and the mixing engineer, but not the medium. For a while now, at least on this forum, members who prefer digital have been trying to argue that the medium is not to blame for the sound being less than perfect, it is the flawed implementation. The implementation seems to be improving, so audiophiles seem to be increasingly appreciate the sound of digital, though no one has yet suggested that is lives up to the promise of being "perfect".

That is wonderful, but why are we being told to blame the professionals behind the digital recordings? Have they lost their skills from those of the past generation? Were the recording engineers, the mastering houses, and the mixing engineers, van Gelder among them, better during the analog era? We refer to that time as the "golden era" of recordings. Is that why some of us still prefer analog sources, despite all of its very obvious flaws, to digital with its now near-perfected implementation? Is it really just the professionals behind the recordings that make the difference? I do not understand the point of this quote nor its worth in this thread.
The point of the quote is just what it states. This is hardly a new or unusual perspective among people who live in the weeds of the recording business and who understand first hand a lot more about the process, and the myriad of factors that compromise quality, than most audiophiles (definitely including me).

Maybe his words are too harsh re vinyl which will naturally get vinylphile hackles up, but I think the salient point is that it is not the medium itself (vinyl or cd -- analog or digital) that really matters.
 

PeterA

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Haven't we done that? :)

EDIT: Al and I have done that... not sure you were present.
I don’t remember doing direct comparisons. It must’ve been in your system because Al and I don’t have both formats. If I was there I don’t remember the session and would be happy to do it again to understand what he is talking about.
 

PeterA

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If you are going to adjust, like some do, do it in a reasonable way, not this laughable stuff with cards
I used to adjust it for every record and the increments were about twice as great as they are now with one card thickness so I don’t understand why you think the card thickness is laughable. Much depends on the type of arm one has and how adjustable it is. The thickness of one card is a minute change in angle at the stylus.

Do you want to explain how you adjust for VTA? You used to just keep it at 92° or thereabouts. I remember actually adjusting your VTA by ear which you do not seem to be doing and we arrived at an angle that was close to 92° according to your calculations.

Rather than denigrating the process that others find convenient and successful, perhaps you should suggest a better way.
 
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Al M.

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IMO, this comes down to, yet again, the nature of the distortions themselves and not so much of he quantity. Digital has the kind of flaws that our ear / brain cannot readily mask as there is no evolutionary precedent for them. Even minute quantities are damaging. Vinyl, being largely a mechanical process creates distortions with precedence in nature that may be masked to a large degree. It all come down to psychoacoustics and what we are more negatively sensitive to. I think analog can sound better because it is more harmonious psychoacoustically.
I do agree that digital distortions can be nastier since they are unnatural.

On the other hand, lots of the distortions that I originally attributed to my current digital had their roots in room acoustics and elsewhere in the electronic chain. Nothing to do with the digital itself.

This is not to say that digital is blameless, and especially earlier digital had obvious problems. Yet I would say good modern digital can be rather free of 'nasties'.
 

marty

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So then what do you think about Fremer's advice to set VTA at 92 degrees with a USB microscope and leave it at that? I remember you telling me that that was your approach, at least back then. What method do you use now? I know you don't adjust for different thicknesses or cutting angles.
Totally worthless (the absolute 92 degree thing, not Fremer!), but a reasonable starting point. It really depends on your tolerance and what you are after. Once again, perfect can be the enemy of good.

BTW, I have a virtually new USB scope if anyone is interested. All that is required is that you pay the postage. Happy to donate it to anyone who would find it useful.
 
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IMO, this comes down to, yet again, the nature of the distortions themselves and not so much of he quantity. Digital has the kind of flaws that our ear / brain cannot readily mask as there is no evolutionary precedent for them. Even minute quantities are damaging. Vinyl, being largely a mechanical process creates distortions with precedence in nature that may be masked to a large degree. It all come down to psychoacoustics and what we are more negatively sensitive to. I think analog can sound better because it is more harmonious psychoacoustically.
It sounds nice and romantic, fortunately after we listen to these digital recordings filled with these "minute damaging flaws" in an appropriate system and discover that the flaws have completely disappeared we understand that may be the problem was in the reproducing system, not intrinsically in the recording. Since you address psycho-acoustics, can you refer to a serious study that reports that digital distortions are subjectively different from distortions induced by electronics? This argument on "non natural" distortions is exactly the same that was used on speaker distortions versus electronic distortions in the 80's!
 

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