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The Differences Between Analog and Digital Recording Part 2

By August 28, 2012March 16th, 2016Audio, Blog

Photo of analog audio recording console

This is part 2 of my 2 part blog about the pros and cons of analog vs digital audio recording. Let’s understand that to some degree, “analog” is in the signal chain in almost any audio recording, whether digital or analog. It is either going to start out that way, as with a voice, or acoustic instrument, or end up that way coming through speakers. This applies even if your recording is a “midi”, electronic direct in, or computer tracks which may be through a sampler or computer plug in.  Somewhere along the path, there will be an analog event.

For example: In the case of a vocal or an acoustic instrument with a mic, we have the diaphragm of the mic with a positive air pressure from a source, which will make the diaphragm move and then will transfer that movement into a voltage and thus start the analog path until we reach a point where the signal can then be transformed into a digital form by way of an “Analog-to-Digital” converter, known as an A-To-D converter. Once in the digital domain, it’s all 1’s and 0’s.

The signal does not necessarily have to be transformed to 1’s and 0’s to be “effected” by a digital path either. (That is a discussion for another time.)

Now, to hear an analog signal again (the first point our ears hear a sound), the reverse of this process must take place. Known as D-to-A….”Digital to Analog. Both A-to-D and D-to-A are designed circuits that are built into audio devices. Designers are getting better and better at this process and have been for many years now making A-to-D and D-to-A converters sound more natural sounds to our ears.

In any signal path of digital or analog recording and live sound, there are inherent anomalies that impact the signal and thus what we ultimately hear. These are basically, noise, distortion, wow flutter, jitter, dynamic range, and more.
The two formats, however, do not necessarily share the same anomalies. In other words, digital has its factors and analog has its factors. They both share Noise and Distortion, however, just differently.

Noise and Distortion is a very big discussion that lots of engineers debate about and understand that these are the factors of consideration when choosing between analog and digital. In either case, it all starts with how you capture the original signal in the first place. If you have poor quality cables, mics, micing techniques, or even a lack of understanding as to how to get the best sound from your equipment, it really won’t matter to much which format you go with.

I will leave you with this.

It has been my own personal experience, as well as others that I’ve spoken with over the years, that digital will reveal more accurate sound sources, such as room acoustics and so on. Digital can be less forgiving in many ways with recording and live sound.  Analog tends to be more forgiving. One quick example of this is digital audio recording in a room. You will hear more of the room sound depending on the mic’s placement in that room. This can be very useful when attempting to find a sound that provides a room or “air” type of sound rather than a close miced sound to drums or amp.

In live sound systems, it’s the same thing. Pretty much what comes in is what will come out. At times it can sound to be “too” accurate. So when using digital for recording or live sound systems, you must pay closer attention to your sound sources, the environment, the mic being used, etc. You should be doing this any way even if it is all analog.

Use your ears with critical listening.




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