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Which is better - digital or analog recording? The definitive answer!

A Record-Producer.com visitor asks whether digital or analog recording is better. But is one truly better, or are they just different?

Question received from a Audio Masterclass visitor...

What's better Digital or Analog? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both of them? I love Pro-Tools digital because I can record, have the engineer edit, mix, cut, paste, and all that good stuff. Put that question in the next newsletter.


David Mellor replies...

It's not really a question of which is better, because you can use either, or both. It costs more to use analog, but you might consider that the points in its favor are worth the extra.

Let's consider the analog advantages...

  • The sound quality. The sound of analog is the sound of the history of recording, to which most of us aspire. With digital, it is common to try to emulate the sound of analog. With analog, it's there automatically.
  • An analog recording, in my experience, is massively easier to mix.
  • The linear nature of tape means you have to think in terms of a longer time scale. This leads to having to think about what you are going to play or sing before recording it, simply because it takes longer to do again.
  • Rewind time is thinking time.
  • Tape has a known archival longevity.

Now the digital advantages...

  • More accurate sound quality. The sound on playback is almost identical to the original sound recorded.
  • Much more flexibility in editing - in analog people would talk of 'laying down' a take. With digital you can 'throw it down' and edit out any mistakes. This can lead to greater spontaneity.
  • You can copy a digital recording through any number of generations without degradation.
  • It costs less. (Yes, even a full-blown Pro Tools system)

My feeling is that if digital recording had been invented first, and then someone invented analog, then analog wouldn't stand a chance.

But if you have never recorded on analog tape, I would definitely recommend booking a day in an analog studio, just for the experience. At the end of the day, transfer your takes to your preferred digital format for later editing, re-recording and embellishments.

I can guarantee that it will be a great experience.

By David Mellor Sunday August 21, 2005