Analogue vs Digital, the Great Debate

The analogue vs digital debate has been around for decades now. And there’s some promising news up ahead for the digital generation.

Since the advent of the T amp, digital amplifiers have really taken a step forward and progressed to proper audiophile territory. Never before have enthusiasts seriously considered class D amplifiers in the same league as class A, or even AB. Now, even the top brands are turning towards digital amplification and it’s not looking to stop. Given the massive power and cost savings, analogue amplification is finally at a stage where there’s serious risk of obsoletion (well, to some extent anyway).

But amplification tends to be the simpler (you can murder me later for saying this) stage in the sound reproduction chain. What about storage? Purists are still going at vinyl as hard as ever, even with the availability of what I’d consider “generation 2″ of digital audio storage in the form of SACD and DVD-A.

More surprising still, many purists are still sticking by a quality CD. (Well, perhaps this isn’t so surprising. Quality sometimes comes from quantity rather than technology. The argument is if we produce enough of it, for instance vinyl and CD, we get really good at mastering and recording for these mediums.)

So what about digital sources “gen 3″?

Blu ray certainly seems to be the next step. On paper the figures pack a punch. No longer can analogue worshippers make the “it’s just guessing” argument. The bit rates and resolution is now monumentally high, especially compared to CD. I must admit, upon my first listen it did sound like it could be the next revolution. A real revolution, that is, like the tape to CD revolution.

But then I had a thought about my experience over the years and how new technology has changed the audio industry.

Personally, I’m not certain we’re arguing about the right thing. For me, audio is, and was never about resolution or clarity. From the late 1950s onwards, we had more than enough technology to produce immensely realistic and detailed recordings. I still don’t think our ears discriminate sound by its accuracy, but much more by how it’s recorded.

In the heat of the analogue vs digital debate and in the wake of the digital blast-off, I really think we’ve forgotten about the fact that sound still cannot be recorded in same way that we hear things. Even the slightest microphone positioning mistake can greatly affect the quality of a recording. Yet, I’ve not read a single blog or forum post where someone has raved on about such an key stage in audio reproduction. There are endless posts on “digital cables vs analogue” and “silver vs copper”, yet very little on recording, microphone selection, placement, mastering techniques, speaker placement, room setup…just to name a few. We’re putting way too much emphasis on one thing, and ignoring the rest of the system.

Yes, vinyl does sound different to CD, and Blu Ray is unquestionably better than both. But I honestly believe that to achieve realism, you would need to consider many more factors than just the one thing.

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