Digital vs. Analog = TIRED…

Jeff Dorgay, Publisher
Digital vs. Analog = TIRED…

I can’t believe that in 2017 audio critics are still whining and complaining about whether analog sounds better than digital. Really?

It just seems like such a tired argument. Sure, I still remember the disappointment back in 1983 when I brought that first compact disc player home from the hifi store. It was kind of flat and brittle sounding, to be sure. But I bought one anyway, because I figured the brainiacs would make it sound better eventually, and it was a cool format. Sure enough, they did.

We’ve listened to so many great DACs lately, here at TONEAudio, I just don’t think digital is a disappointment anymore, no matter what the price point. As much as the used market for really good records has gone so far upscale, bargain analog finds are few and far inbetween these days. Crappy records from the thrift store played on a mediocre turntable that isn’t optimized isn’t the analog magic. Not for me anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, I love analog. I’ve got 11 turntables and three world class phono stages. I love listening to records. But I’ve got a couple of incredible digital front ends too, and it’s come to the point that digital just isn’t the redheaded stepchild it once was. Combine that with the convenience of Tidal, Roon and a few other great ways to catalog and play your digital files back, and the inherent fiddliness of analog isn’t always the way I want to roll.

There are still times when the lights are low, the planets line up, the tubes are warm, and there’s a perfect pressing on the table. That’s one of those magic moments where analog still gets the nod in the seduction department. It’s cooler than cool that analog is still alive, going strong and there are more great choices than ever. I listen to everything. And I mean everything. I’ve been known to bust out the 8-track collection now and then, not to mention the pile of minidiscs that are lying about. It’s all good. It’s all music.

I truly don’t understand the logic that listening to a record is so much more meaningful, because you flip through your stack of records and oogle the jacket, pouring over the liner notes. I didn’t do that much of that back in the 70s and 80′s, and I do it a lot more now with Google at my disposal. Or that because music is being played from a hard drive that I don’t or can’t listen to an entire album because digital has made me into this ADD person who can’t focus and only plays single tracks. Much as I used to love making mix tapes on cassette or reel to reel tape (I even made em on 8 track) I spend nearly as much time agonizing over what music to play for an afternoon or evening. And I still listen to albums all the way through, just like I did with records. Actually, I kind of like the seamless quality of digital where I can listen to both (or all four) sides of an album in it’s entirety. It’s not like I didn’t go through a pile of records, playing a track or two of this and a track or two of that back when they were the only way to listen.

If anything, having Tidal at my command has led me to buying more vinyl, and the records I do buy are keepers. But as TONE’s former music editor (and legend) Ben Fong-Torres used to tell me, “you don’t know what everyone is thinking because you don’t know everyone.” So rather than extrapolate and assume that everyone is doing or not doing this or that, I can only speak for myself and a close circle of friends that share my viewpoint and habits. Not to mention a few that are diametrically opposed.

I’m just as engaged with my music no matter what the format. And I truly hope you are too.

5 Responses to Digital vs. Analog = TIRED…

      Glad to hear that so many of you are just digging the music and not getting caught up on format... :)

    -toneaudio / May 27th 2017, 10:10 am

      Thank you Jeff! This needed saying. There's a lot of pleasure to be had from both analog and digital releases, if one is using a reasonable system. And though digital was once markedly inferior, it has come a huge way, and is a great way to reproduce music these days.

    -Mike-48 / May 26th 2017, 9:09 pm

      Jeff, Agreed 100%! Especially since so many turntables that I encounter in audiophiles' systems really are not set up nearly as well as they could be. How that can be more musically involving is a mystery. Best, Jim Smith

    -Jim Smith / May 25th 2017, 11:45 am

      Hey, glad we are on the same page for most of it. My job at Frequences le Disquaire is to maintain the blog, listen to vinyl records and say my impressions through reviews every single day. I've seen my share of good, bad and ugly vinyls, same as I got more than my share of unlistenable digital tracks. I whole-heartedly agree with you there's no real conceptual advantage to Vinyl. The only thing I can say is a vinyl is purely indestructible, unless they get physically damaged. But time will not affect them in any way. CDs are rotting. Streaming are to the whim of the producing place (I can't count enough people who are getting their combo broken while listening to their fave TV show on Netflix - and I always see songs going off-air on my playlists). Your audio collection on your computer gets broken, bad backups, file corruption. So all this is ephemeral. Even (alas) tapes have a shelf life before they stick or music punch through. Vinyls are for the long run. -- That's (IMHO) the only silver lining. However ... I will simply say this: the quality of the sound coming from a media, any media, is only as good as the attention to detail and passion that was poured into it by the different engineers. If your goal is to peddle a stream whose volume is high as f***, ribbon-like, meant to be played on earbuds while you take the subway station with high noise, then of course it'll sound like crap. If your goal is to stay in-line with everything else on the streaming market so your song isn't whisper-level while all the other songs are high-volumed, then of course, it will sound bad. That's only accounting for the loudness war as an example, but you get the gist. Getting a Tidal Master where most samples are -1.0 or 1.0 is not useful. Getting your kicks on a CD, where you take time to put it on your device and listen to it at the volume you wish is no useful. You only get bad quality. And this is where vinyl currently shines: for the previous crop (pre-2015), vinyls were either verbatim copies of CDs (which means the worse of both worlds - horrible quality) or were made with passion and details, usually sounding much better than the over-produced digital track. But sometimes the passion was made for the digital tracks (As it should IMHO) and the vinyls don't really get any love. I'm seeing them all sorts, and I don't see any quick winners. For the new crop, now producers want to maximize volume also on their vinyls. Whyyyy! Geez why?! So I'm hearing more and more vinyls that sounds worse than CDs. Great article :) Thank you very much!

    -Sakamura / May 25th 2017, 7:23 am

      my thoughts exactly, so sick of people taking sides instead of listening to music hi-rez music now can take you right into the studio and vinyl can take you back in time or where-ever you want to go!

    -Joules Kelvin / May 24th 2017, 6:43 pm

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