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It’s a battle of the recording titans!
Two audio recording types with a score to settle – it’s vinyl versus CD – computers versus… uh… not computers. Who will be the winner?
In the red corner we have Digital audio – the relative newcomer to the scene, appearing in the mid 1970s. Weighing in with its affordability, versatility and plenty of other words that end in the suffix “-ility”, it’s sure to be a tough contender.
In the blue corner we have Analog audio – the old school veteran of the audio reproduction world, having existed since about 1860 in the form of the snappily-named “Phonautograph”. Weighing in with its vintage style, warm sound and physically heavy devices, it’s not going down without a fight.
So with the introductions out of the way…
Let the battle commence!
In the beginning…
It all started with a clever man called Edouard-Leon Scott. He got tired of listening to music and decided he wanted to see it – his efforts produced the “Phonautograph”. This was technically the first ever audio recording device, as it transcribed sound, but it was quite a while before anyone got to hear it, since the first play back from the transcription as audio was in 2008!
But as you probably know, there were some advances in technology between 1860 and 2008. 1880 brought about the Phonograph, an evolved version of Edouard’s device thanks to all-around-genius Thomas Edison, giving birth to the recording industry.
As gramophone discs took hold in the 1920s, a convenient invention called a “microphone” came to light. People stopped having to record by shoving their faces into horns which cut directly onto the discs (The good old days, eh?) and also around this time, polyvinyl chloride began to take precedence over Shellac in the production of the discs and Vinyl was born!
From then ’til the 1980s, vinyl reigned supreme, undergoing several improvements such as stereo recording and the advent of High-Fidelity (Hi-Fi) sound systems making things sound more like a quality audio reproduction and less like a piece of crap.
But then disaster struck for Analog…
The first Digital Recording
The first ever digitally recorded album was “Bop Till You Drop” by Ry Cooder, a Blues-y Rock album produced in 1978 on a spectacular 2-track digital recorder.
Popular digital recordings took off in the late 80s, when Compact Discs decided to come along and try to take over Vinyl’s hold on the record industry. At first, the quality of CDs was, to put it bluntly, rubbish.
It was thin and badly distorted, since the recordings often came from vinyl, but as the technology improved and the creases were smoothed out, CD eclipsed Vinyl in popularity since it had none of the clicks and pops and you didn’t have to tread lightly when you were near a CD player.
However, some people still insisted, and still insist that Vinyl is better…
The attraction of vintage gear
The most commonly used descriptor is “Warmth”. Analog sound has a warm tone not found in Digital recordings, believed to be a result of signal compression which saturates the audio in a manner pleasing to your average audiophile’s ear.
There is also the novelty, of course – Analog recording equipment is big, clunky, ungainly and, as a result, horrendously fun.
In fact, some popular artists insisted on sticking to Analog gear – Lenny Kravitz recorded his tracks on vintage equipment until 1998, when he first succumbed to the siren-like lure of Pro Tools.
As the 90s rolled on and electronic equipment became more and more affordable, people found themselves able to record in their own homes for the first time without having to have the word “Baron” in front of their names and have the good fortune of a recently deceased wealthy uncle.
This was the final nail in the coffin for Analog – it just couldn’t compete with the size difference; a computer versus a room full of expensive, complex equipment – not a difficult decision. The affordability lead to accessibility; Digital recording opened up doors to millions of potential musicians, allowing them to produce music in their own time without Lenny Kravitz constantly telling them to hurry up (Quite possibly the biggest pitfall of Analog studios).
Oldies are Goodies…
Tape Saturation is one thing that Digital audio has been struggling to emulate for years – most people don’t seem to think any plug in can offer quite the same warmth in the compression that a traditional Analog compressor, but modern digital tape saturation plug-ins such as the brilliantly named “FATSO” by Universal Audio have got pretty damn close.
Popularity-wise, Digital has quite considerably killed the Analog Star… But which side are you on? Do you embrace the technological revolution and live for high-quality, low-priced, easy-to-use gear? Or can’t you live without the authentic warmth of a vinyl record?