BLOG: Analog vs. digital (and the reason why it matters)

Analog versus digital

slate vcc

Hello, you. 

The title is not clickbait. I actually want to talk about it. 

I missed the whole analog era, starting my journey with Logic Pro 9. 
You might say to yourself "what does a guy that hasn't lived through the analog age have to say about this whole A vs D debate, Steve?".

First of all, who is Steve?

Second, I started learning to become a producer/mixing engineer around the time when Slate Digital released their Virtual Console Collection, which is meant to emulate a few highly regarded analog mixing consoles, by makers such as SSL, Neve and API. This exposed me to the ever growing debate. 

Harmonic distortion

This means that people who crossed over from 'all analog' to 'all digital' noticed something was missing: they call it 'analog warmth', which is the harmonic distortion introduced by the circuits inside of the console. The harmonic distortion takes the edge off the harshness of the digital medium. Also, different desks' electronics affected the signal differently, resulting in different EQ curves. These all lead to vastly different sounding desks. 

People started looking for ways to re-introduce that warm, fuzzy sound back into their mixes, without having to shelve thousands of pounds on analog gear. Companies began developing software to emulate those sought-after qualities, with Acustica-AudioWaves and Slate Digital at the forefront of this segment of the industry.

There have been discussions, debates and arguments about how 'close to the real thing' the emulations sound. Marketing is marketing, so every company claims their take on the product is the best there is. 

It's all down to taste

In my book, this whole thing boils down to one point: do you, the buyer, like the effect these plugins have on your sound? If the answer is 'yes', hurray! You have a new tool. If the answer is 'no', then sell it and try another one. Or buy an entirely different product. Sure, there could be a point to be made about not-completely-accurate advertising, but that's not the subject of this post.

It doesn't really matter if Slate's "Brit 4k E" emulation sounds exactly like the SSL 4000 E series desk. What matters is that I like what it does to the sound. Does it enhance my bass track in a way that tickles my ears? Does it add anything I personally find valuable to the track? If 'yes', then hurray! I have a new toy. 

What really matters

In the end, what matters is the end result: a better mix, regardless of how you achieve it. No, really, nobody cares how you processed the vocals or the snare drum, other than your peers. And it's unlikely your peers will pay you to mix their music. 

Another opinion...

I'll do my best to have someone else's opinion on some of these topics as well. This time around Kevan Gallagher provides his views on the subject. 

Some of Kevan's credits include Ronan Keating, Annie Lennox and Elvis Costello. Click here for an interview taken by George Shilling over at RecordProduction.com at The Dairy Studios.

1. Would you say the Analog vs Digital debate has any real importance to real world mixing engineers? 
- Not really, great work can be achieved either way. 

2. Do you miss working exclusively in the analog domain? 
- I work in both analog and digital. Recording always involves outboard and processing on the way in, so I use both.

3. Do you use console/tape/tube emulations? Why? 
- Yes, I use Massey Tapehead a lot as I like how it changes the character of more strident sounds 

4. Is it important to you that the emulation sounds true to what it imitates? 
- No. It just has to have a pleasing effect. 

5. What are the biggest advantages of digital over analog? 
- Digital plug ins are cheaper compared to analogue outboard units. 

6. What are the biggest drawbacks of it? 
Some people don't know when to stop and can't make decisions which, when working with tape for example, are made for you.

Thanks go to Kevan for graciously taking time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.

Have a good one. 
- Tiki

I'd love to see your take on this, so let me know in the comments section below.