It has been a subject of debate amongst engineers whether analog tape recording is superior to a digital recording or vice versa. In this article, we will compare analog vs digital audio recording, the two ways in which sound is recorded and stored. Before we jump into the discussion, let’s take a look at what makes a sound of digital and analog. It all has to do with how you record the sound.
Analog vs Digital Audio Recording – get to know them
Audio Recordings come in two types; Analog vs Digital audio refers to sound recorded using methods that replicate the original sound waves. An analog audio signal is an electronic copy of an original audio signal as found in nature. Analog copies of any original sound suffer some degree of signal degradation, called generation loss, and signal strength lessens. However, in the digital domain, this noise and signal degradation can be eliminated (Watkinson, 1988).
A Bit of History
The analog tape (reel-to-reel) recorder was invented in Germany in the late 1920s. Every professional recording made prior to the digital revolution in the 1980s was made on a form of reel-to-reel tape recorder. In the 1980s, digital recording methods were introduced, and analog tape recording was gradually displaced, although it has not disappeared by any means. Even today, there are many professional studios, particularly those catering to big-budget clients, use analog recorders for multitracking and/or mixdown.
Depth look into an Analog Tape
The most specific effect that an analog tape adds to the sound is called the ”warmth”, when we talk about analog warmth, we’re usually referring to the character that the analog processing/recording equipment and the recording medium add to the sound. The other factors can be harmonic distortion, bass can thicken up, creating a fuller-sounding mix.
Therefore, If you were recording onto an analog multi-track tape recorder, you will get a different result then recording into the box.
There are two ways of processing with an Analog Tape
- Recording process of the instruments
- Post-production mastering process – Stereo Mix
This is an example of a four channel analog tape recording machine (Sony TC-788-4).
What sounds better: analog tape vs digital audio recording?
There are no right or wrong answers. You need to decide yourself whether you prefer the pristine sound of digital recording or the ”warm” tones of an analog tape.
For example, you might get a better result when you record drum and bass into an analog tape. On the other hand, you may prefer the clarity of the sound of the electric guitar when it’s recorded into the DAW.
Advantages of Digital vs Analog Audio
- Space – Working in digital platform DAW requires less space in the studio
- Maintenance analog gear – It is harder to maintain an analog gear in the studio
- Reliability of the work – editing your work in the DAW
- Speed – quicker work process – export – send – receive in digital space
Amongst the major advantages is the phenomenal speed of operation, particularly the ability to jump instantly back to the start a take or session or around looped sections of the project.
Advantages of Analog vs Digital Audio
- That warm sound that cannot be created with digital recording
- Digital headroom – that thing that happens when you exceed the headroom of a digital recording device – can ruin the sound
- Tape colors the recording sound you’re recording, which sounds so much better
Analog Tape VST (Tape flavour)
There are plugins out in the digital VST market that can emulate analog tape recordings. One of the plugins called Kramer Mpx Tape Recorder. There are settings on the tape you can play around with, such as;
- Tape Noise; add a hissing sound in the background.
- Tape Speed; Faster tape speeds deliver cleaner sound quality and it increases the signal-to-noise ratio.
Here is an example – The first version is without the tape, and the second version is with Kramer Mpx Tape Recorder.
Digital recording is cheaper to work with and offers more over the finished product. Recording an album with analog equipment can require a studio, but with digital recording, it is possible to record an album in a bedroom. Although, even today, there are artists of all genres prefer analog tape’s “musical”, “natural” and especially “warm” sound. Which one do you prefer?.