Digital vs Analog Masters

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Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby dcharrison » Tue Dec 20, 2016 3:35 pm

I would be curious to know how many of your clients present you with masters that have been recorded digitally vs how many produce recordings that are all analogue.
A client of mine is questioning the wisdom of releasing work on vinyl when the original recordings were digital. Your thoughts?
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby Aussie0zborn » Wed Dec 21, 2016 6:30 am

I'll let the pro disc cutters answer the first question. As for the second question, what option do you have? Being recorded digitally is no reason not to issue the recording on vinyl. If that's how they recorded it, that's all you have to work with.

If you look at the introduction of digital in disc cutting, it went something like this :

1. Sony 1610 and then 1630 PCM stereo systems (3/4" U-Matic videocassette) used by big studios and large record companies.
Initially analogue multi-track recordings were mixed to digital. Analogue masters transferred to digital for distribution worldwide so that each country cuts from the same generation. No more 5th generation analogue tapes.

2. Smaller studios used the Sony F1 PCM stereo system (1/2" Beta videocassette) as the mixdown format from analogue multitrack masters. The idea of bypassing one generation of analogue tape and mixing to digital took the world by storm.

3. Large recording studios invest in digital multitrack machines.

4. DAT supersedes F1.

5. You probably know the rest from here. Analogue multitrack studios die, etc.

So, given that there a few analogue multitrack studios around today, the trick would be to make a digital recording that lends itself to the vinyl medium following the general recommendations such as no sibilance on vocals and hi-hats, no panning of low frequencies, etc. or you could just fix these problems when mastering.

Releasing digital recordings on vinyl doesn't necessarily show a lack wisdom and neither should the recording being digital preclude the release of a vinyl edition. It's just how recordings are made these days.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby Sillitoe » Wed Dec 21, 2016 9:00 am

Analog/digital talk (among lots of other things) in this great video with Pete Lyman and Warren Huart.

viewtopic.php?f=2&t=6651

Cheers
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby concretecowboy71 » Fri Dec 23, 2016 11:30 am

If we only cut analog masters, we would be out of business!

Personally I do not know many artists with the monetary resources to do an all analog project. I think we are well past the days of either/or...it is a digital world. You work with it or you get left behind.

It really boils down to how good the master sounds. A well recorded, mastered digital recording sounds very good on vinyl.

A crappy tape job with sound like crap on a record. The medium does not dictate the quality of the final product, the program material does.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby Greg Reierson » Fri Dec 23, 2016 12:06 pm

The problem with the analog vs. digital argument is that some take a philosophical view of it and then the sound becomes less important than the belief. Cognitive dissonance. "I like analog so this must the the sound I like" sort of thing. Tail wagging the dog, but it's their tail and their dog so they get to decide.

I cut from tape and many 100% analog projects would benefit from a digital process or two but I'll do whatever they hire me to do. What they think sounds cool could be great, could be terrible, could be over my head and I don't realize how cool it really is - or the exact opposite. Who's to say. There have been a few head scratchers but that goes for a good chunk of the musical content we all work with anyway. Not really our call either way.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby smithadamm » Wed Dec 28, 2016 4:10 am

Ultimately, that question doesn't matter. You should be able to cut from either format and the wisdom of cutting digital to analog has nothing to do with anything.

I'm a big fan of cutting from all analog mixes. When I was working as a recording engineer I made many recordings that were fully analog, so I would insist on a ME that could cut all analog, and wouldn't work with a ME that was going to digitize the mixes to process and cut. Not that I was a purist, but I was fastest working with tape and I didn't want the ME to put the mixes through any extra A/D-D/A processing so I would just hire a guy that wouldn't.

This is kind of beside the point, but I would push back on this some...
concretecowboy71 wrote:Personally I do not know many artists with the monetary resources to do an all analog project.


Total myth that analog projects are more expensive than digital projects. I've recorded and mastered many, many analog projects that were done on shoestring budgets. Analog is only more expensive than digital if the recording engineer is inexperienced in analog. Not going to say much more on that as I'm digressing into Albini territory.

As a mastering engineer, I've cut all analog masters that were done by engineers that I consider to be among the best I've ever seen, and I consider those to be some of my best work, I've also assisted on all analog cuts where the masters were a total mess due to engineers that were inexperienced in the process of analog (I once had to change the playback speed of an assembled analog master as the ME was cutting because the client didn't understand that different tape machines could record at different speeds).

So, what I'm saying is, all analog masters are great, but like any master, you can get into garbage in/garbage out territory and that gets more probable as people venture into formats that they don't know how to work with but at the end of the day the wisdom of the process of changing formats is in service of the art, sometimes the medium of the pre-lacquer material is the message and sometimes it isn't. So basically this...

concretecowboy71 wrote:
A crappy tape job with sound like crap on a record. The medium does not dictate the quality of the final product, the program material does.


and this...

Greg Reierson wrote:I'll do whatever they hire me to do. What they think sounds cool could be great, could be terrible, could be over my head and I don't realize how cool it really is - or the exact opposite. Who's to say. There have been a few head scratchers but that goes for a good chunk of the musical content we all work with anyway. Not really our call either way.
Last edited by smithadamm on Wed Dec 28, 2016 4:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby smithadamm » Wed Dec 28, 2016 4:26 am

dbl post
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby Gridlock » Wed Dec 28, 2016 4:48 am

Is Albini on the forum? See: Albini . there are a lot of really great analog folks out there cutting on stuff who have not heard of and thus take no advice from the forum. All hail the mighty forum. I'm actually posting this message from an old Winchester brand typewriter!
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby Phinster » Thu Dec 29, 2016 8:35 am

The industry at large adopted digital, mostly PCM 1630, from the late 80's. See Aussie0zborn's excellent post. All the engineers at the studio I worked in
loved it.

As I remember, it solved more problems than it created, until the 'loudness war' reared it's ugly head. This probably accounts for the digital backlash nowadays. :)
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby jesusfwrl » Thu Feb 09, 2017 12:03 pm

The loudness war has been going on since the early days of recorded sound, and more potent weapons kept on being developed... It is not DSP that caused this mess, it just seemed to lend itself to such uses.

In my view, the question would be what is the purpose of releasing anything in any format?

A digital master as a stereo PCM 192/24 file would need to be converted to analog, then the analog signal would have to go though some analog signal processing, amplification and transduction into mechanical motion, and then the reproduction system would try to trace the groove, transduce it back into an electrical signal, then more analog signal processing and amplification and then again mechanical motion.
Reproducing the PCM192/24 file directly would require a conversion to analog, amplification and transduction to mechanical motion in the loudspeaker. Shorter process, most likely better sound.

Applying this to an analog recording, cutting from a master tape to disk is a longer process than just reproducing the master tape, although the problem here is that you can not clone the master tape. Copying the master tape onto another tape would be the realistic way, but this will definitely have an effect on the sound, just as cutting it to disk will have some kind of effect on it. Following this concept, the ultimate form of analog recording would be going Direct-to-Disk and reproducing the resulting vinyl records, while the ultimate form of digital recording would be direct to the A/D converter and then reproducing the cloned digital file. This, from a purely theoretical perspective.

In practise, the A/D conversion and subsequent D/A conversion would always leave their mark and any cutterhead and reproduction cartridge or tape head would also leave their mark. There is no such thing as perfect recording and reproduction.

It is still important to not do unnecessary steps, to make the most of it.
If I get a master on analog tape I will cut it using an entirely analog signal path. If I receive a master as a digital file, I will take the output of the D/A converter and an analog signal path thereafter.

The PCM192/24 file would also get degraded when going to 44/16 for the CD version, and likewise with the master tape, if you are also making a CD version of that.
The equivalent of not cutting a digital master to disk would be not offering a digital version of an analog master!
Perhaps also not offering a downsampled version of a high sample rate master...and not offering a narrow track version of 1/2" or 1" master tape, and so on and so forth...
In most cases people also make an MP3 version of their master tape or high sample rate digital master, and it sounds horrible on my speakers, but it probably sounds good to those who will listen to it in the bus on a portable device with ear buds. I will never know, because I will never try this. But there is obviously a demand for it. Is there a point in doing this? Considering that the MP3 sales will significantly augment the income, that pays those who work on this album, I guess all possible formats are justified.
Each consumer can then decide on their own individual preferences based on their own biases and intended listening setting.
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