The Sound of Music: Digital-y versus Analog-y

In a separate thread BadBeef suggested the sound of a recording referring to the terms Digital-y and Analog-y. It got me thinking on just what the terms mean and what our bas may be when reading about or using either term. he more I thought about it the more I considered the positive and negitative associations with each term regarding the the presentation of Music. Thus a new topic for us to consider:
The Sound of Music: Digital-y versus Analog-y.

Bear with me as I repeat my response below to that earlier post:

@Bad Beef
I think you bring up a good point. What does it mean when a recording sounds digital(ly) or analog(y)? Also, what is the reference. For insytance there is clearly a difference in analog LP sound recorded with tubes in the late 1950s to mid 1960s. Clearly analog was not at its best when recorded to 4-track on solid state mixing boards in the mid sixties. An example would be some of the British mid sixties recordings, The Kinks comes to mind here. Digital sound to my ears could be rather horrific from the 1980’s to very early 1990s. Especially considering the recording industry was reissuing just about anything they could get their hands on. Many, but not all of those remastered digital CDs just sound awful. Food for thought.

The first thing that comes to mind for me is the Digital sound is more edgy and jagged. The Analog sound is smoother and more polished. If those terms mean anything at all.
I like both edgy and smooth and really listen to the music more for its content than a particular sound.

Interesting question…and perhaps a big can 'o worms. Dirk had posted an old Dave Mason album on “Spinning Now” that I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Actually pretty sure I have never heard it in digital form.

On the cover it says, “Digitally Re - Mastered” (with hyphen). Which at this point can mean SO many things. And what decade it was Digitally Remastered could be an indicator, as you noted.

Either term can go either way - a digital remaster sourced from a master in good shape can be superior to the original in terms of bringing out clarity, dynamics and detail that might’ve been missing in the original, especially if it was originally mixed for radio. It can also be grating, harsh and flat-sounding…“jagged”, as Baldy put it.

Analog-y can mean (to me) more like the sound of real music, with a continuousness (lack of jaggedness)…or it can be mushy and indistinct.

Though - you were at RMAF and heard some of Mikey’s pressings…I just can’t imagine anyone hearing that and thinking there was anything missing or wanting. One of the things that was so striking was that some of them were tracks we’ve heard all our lives, and we were looking at each other going…"WTF!":man_shrugging:t2: Never heard it sound that good. Did not realize the original recordings were that good.

I guess I generally think of Good “Digital-y” as clear and clean, has the potential for high dynamics and so on. Can be very technically satisfying in an Audiophile-y way. Like looking through a really clean window.

“Analog-y” being more the sort of sound that makes you forget the technical aspects and how awesome some aspect of the reproduction or the system is. You’re outside the window in the world - and you’re in the moment listening to Music rather than Sound.


I was always told digital means hard and bright and analog means soft and mushy. It’s hard to label the best equipments nowadays as either, wither tube or solid states since the better components has evolved beyond such labels. If you were to listen to my digital system blindly, I’ll bet you probably can’t tell if it was digital because the PS Audio dac does not sound digital at all, it just sound like music.


Back in “my day”. I bought LP’s of new releases cause the CD counterparts always sounded harsh and brittle. But I’d buy remasters of my favourite albums always on CD. Sometimes new releases of Dolby S HX Pro Cassettes (don’t laugh) cause they too sounded better than their CD counterparts but always warm due to the too hot rec. levels.

Now that I’ve given up on Vinyl, DSD has been my “go to” and 192kHz or 96kHz PCM when the DSD/SACD is not available.

The great thing with the old Analog stuff and properly mastered DSD is you can “crank it” without the sound causing your ears to bleed.

Some great thoughts by all. I concur the vinyl Michael Fremer spun at RMAF was quite convincing on the capabilities of vinyl, and analog sourced vinyl at that. It’s a shame it has not made it to the market.

My initial thoughts on Digital-y: Temporarily correct, great dynamics (quite is extremely quiet and differentiated from very loud) strong clean clear bass. emphasis on leading edge, harmonics somewhat lacking, and threadbare. Sound emerges from a black dark space, or an aural void in a manner that is initially compelling but ultimately unfulfilling. Early digital to my ear could be harsh, edgy and coarse. Piano, vocals, and violins sound unnatural with a grit riding on top of the fundamentals. I find listening to more recent properly mastered digital to have less of the coarseness or edginess. In general digital recordings sound more like a facsimile of the performance when compared to analog. This is most apparent with digital remasters of analog recordings, say Blue Note Jazz of the 1950s-1960s. When speaking of Digital-y where one is on the timeline of its development clearly defines its sound. It’s come a long way, but still not there IMHO. I find digital to be a necessity in today’s music market. Most of the music I listen to is released in very small batches by the individual musician(s). From an economic stand point digital recording is their only option. Releases on CD or BandCamp downloads are the means of delivery. At times releases are provided on vinyl (LP), but it is still digital. Thus the need for a quality DAC. Look for an upcoming perspective on Analog-y.


How about this: pre-amplified, vs amplified? Digital components can help the analog sound so much these days that I no longer feel digitally helps describe the sound of music. So, can these better refer to pre and post(consider ubiquitous digital sources)? Given our varied associations, let’s just stop using them. IMO there are many more fun and understood sound “bytes”

Think digital as bits. 1s and 0s. Think of analog as vinyl - groove vibration. In the early years of digital, I thought digital sounded a bit antiseptic, and sometimes harsh. Now its so close I can’t tell the difference.

A few years ago over on the Devialet forum, I recall a report of an interesting digital/analogue test. Music from an analogue source was fed into a good quality analogue to digital converter and the output from that was fed into a dac. Experienced listeners were then invited to listen to the resulting sound with the both boxes being switched in and out of the line to the amplifier. Nobody could detect any difference.

A further not unrelated fact: a year or so ago, I read somewhere that most of the vinyl records now being purchased are played only once and that is to record them to digital format in which form the music is then listened to thereafter. The record then is kept in a pristine state with no risk of deterioration.

Some IMHO really bad sounding recording are from bands like Led Zeppelin, ELO, Yes. After watching some of Warren Huart’s entertaining Youtube video’s there’s an other denominator in this game: The mixer…! Some go so far that they completely change the environment of the track.

On the Devialet point, as a user, the issue arises as Devialet Expert converts phono inputs to digital, puts it through a digital phono processor, then the DAC back to analogue. You can record it via the 2-way usb socket. Store it on your streamer and it sounds exactly the same as if playing the record. The A/D conversion has no sonic effect, in the sense of making the sound any more harsh, and I prefer the digital phono amp to my previous expensive tube phono amp.

I listen to lots of classical and some of the best vinyl was digitally recorded, in the late 70s and early 80s.

Some of the very earliest CDs are my favourites and of reference sound quality. In classical I would refer to Kenneth Gilbert’s Well Tempered Klavier on Archiv (1983) and in popular Music Paul Simon’s Graceland (1985/86), the latter being a masterpiece in digital editing from tape transfers, that was ruined in a 25th anniversary reissue.

My view is that it is the use of a rock on plastic to get the data that gives the analogue sound, a pleasurable distortion. Some valve amplifiers, possibly most of them, will add distortion in limited bandwidth and non-linear output. You can still get that analog warmth from a good solid state and digital amplifier, and that’s been the case for decades.

I only go with the music… When I play my early Ry Cooder vinyl’s each album conjures up a magical quality and deep feelings within me that I don’t feel with the CDs. It’s like the soul of the music has been hollowed out! Digital is so - so but with the Ry Cooder vinyl’s they just play MUSIC….simple as! That said, I do have digital recordings that sound exceptional in their own right. I have over 5000 CDs and a few hundred SACDs and I play them regularly, and thoroughly enjoy them, heard through DMP & DS-DAC.

But with good analogue, the sound of bass guitars - hearing the old spring loaded reverb - the sheer physicality and size of the drum kit through my large Shahinian omni-directional speakers, is spell binding in it’s magnificence…. Then directly play the digital version and it’s like letting all the air out of a balloon.

Like I said I am pro-digital and I do see / hear digital does many things analogue vinyl simply cannot achieve but, digital doesn’t get under my skin like the groove measuring device does on regular basis…

And, there is just no comparison when I listen to the realism and spontaneity on my Jazz albums compared to the digital versions. Expensive digital SACD remasters - they are more two-dimensional with the musicians all tied-up together stuck over the other side of the room - whereas the room is fully alive and breathing with long time dead Jazzers playing “all over the room”… It is mind-blowing… I don’t know how loud it is until I check my phone feed and see the wife has left 10 texts to ((((“”TURN IT DOWN”” ))))

Playing Eleanor McEvoy – ‘Naked Music’ - on bog-standard CD as I scribble this down in a hurry having to be some place else in 40 minutes time and the CD sounds excellent, thoroughly enjoying the music!

It’s all in the music, it’s always the music that counts with me!

You either get your rocks off listening to music or you’ve bitten the big one but nobody’s told you yet!


As others have said in other forums - if a pristine vinyl can be recorded using a ADC/storage/DAC chain, and no-one can tell the difference (assuming really well implemented ADC/DAC), then the question is (to my mind) resolved.
Which leaves the cause of many CDs sounding pretty grim - the sourcing, “mastering”, and other provenance of the music.
This, I have always assumed, is sometimes bad due to poor mastering equipment or operator, or poor / careless sourcing, or insistent direction from “commercial interests” to “make it loud” to stand out.
the first is, I expect, rare, the latter two are basically driven by commercial interests.
Any time capitalism gets mixed up with arts, the arts suffer. (Note I don’t have a better option to offer than capitalism, apart from maybe genuine socialism, but that has never really been seen, and is probably not the answer either).
Nevertheless, “us lot” constantly arguing that Digital is inherently inferior (though generally cheaper) distracts us all from putting whatever pressure we can onto those commercial interests that do us a dis-service by lowering quality standards for the sake of more profit.
All in my (not so) humble opinion of course :slight_smile:

I get those texts too :wink:
along with “stop messing with the internet!”

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I don’t have any Vinyl playback equipment but do get the Analog feeling with correctly recorded digital files. Another description might be Analog sounds like you are in the recording venue listening to the track being recorded and digital might refer to how the track sounds after being recorded. If that makes any sense at all.
On my 2nd 20 oz. coffee for the day so some human jitter is involved. :slight_smile:

Is it live or is it Memorex for us old coots.

@ronaldwaters: I agree completely regarding the bands listed, which in one way or another resulted in the formation of Mobile Fidelity Records. Also, I completely agree the mixer or mixing board plays a large role in the sound, and not always for the best. Those who may have direct experience with the sound of mixing boards over the years may wish to share their thoughts as well.

Mixing desks - hmmm well yes - a recording can traverse so many op-amps etc. that it is almost impossible to prevent a mixing desk adding a sonic “signature”.
For “classical” and other such material that can / should be recorded “live” with a single pair of mics, then the desk should be avoided altogether, and I guess they are going to be the very best recordings (“documentary” recordings, you might say).
Recordings of such material that have been put through a mixing desk, multi-miked, and multiple takes edited together, would not be my choice, to say the very least.

I mostly listen to “modern, semi-electronic” music which covers just about anything multi-tracked and built up in layers, at which point the mixing desk is actually part of the greater instrument, and the listeners home system the final performance space anyway, rendering the mixing desk debate somewhat moot.
To blame digital for poor recordings and poor choice of mastering seems disingenuous, even if it is a fact that many CDs sound “worse” than some vinyl, assuming excellently implemented playback systems for both.
Once again, pressure on the labels is the only way to improve general release commercial recordings, but they only understand monetary pressure, and sadly the numbers who notice/demand better mastering/recording/etc. are small…

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I love both for different reasons. They are/can be both great and musical, and I freely use both daily. I work to try to keep them on par with one another.

I have however, not found an analog signal put through an ADC (at least that I’ve owned) to be the same as the analog signal. It always gets smaller and flatter in some way. I’ve spent a lot of hours over many years trying in vain to “archive” my vinyl collection by various means. Had I pulled the trigger on an 8-track Sonoma system a few years back (circa $30k) I’d likely be using that, and would be happy, as far as it goes, as that Does sound as close to the analog input as I’ve heard.

I’d still spin records.

I gave up trying to rip vinyl for a few reasons:

  1. It is a lot of work to do properly
  2. My analog and vinyl front end keeps improving - which makes me want to do it again, even if I had been happy with the result prior. This includes the source itself - getting a better record cleaner, cleaner copy, better reissue, pressing, etc.
  3. It simply is not the same “experience”. I happen to Like that Experience rather than find it an Annoyance or Inconvenience. Playing the record is like a live event. It is always only ever happening Now. There are Risks involved. If you or your guests start jumping up and down playing air guitar, it could skip ; )
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Baldy, would you be willing to elaborate on your views as to the differences between Digital an Analog. What is Digital-y and Analog-y to your ear. I find your comment that correctly recorded digital files can provide that “Analog feeling” interesting. Fundamentally gets at the reason the thread was initiated, thanks again to BadBeefs’s choice of terminology. As I hear it digital has evolved over the last 40 years. Albeit there wer some fine digital recordings in it’s earliest years, the majority of those releases left me wanting. At the same time Analog had matured. Improvements were more incremental in nature whether the medium was live broadcast, tape of vinyl. As for Dirk’s point it is All About the Music; I agree completely. We are fortunate that both digital and analog formats can at their best offer a pleasing sound. Now back to anyone’s thoughts on what Digital-y and Analog-y means to you.

@BadBeef; I like how you sumarize you experience. Especially the two dimensionality of digital. Harry Pearson would refer to it as card board cut-outs in the room versus three dimensional living beings. Regarding spinning vinyl, I just consider it a ritual, similar to your “Experience”.