Analog Technology

Digitizing data in the music industry was merely theoretical before the 60’s. Since the rise of digitalization of data, a whole new era manifested. I am trying, to make you as the reader, to think about what the uprise of this intriguing phenomenon did to the music industry we know today. Many classic records were made in the analogue domain. However releases of new tracks coming from the digital domain are nowadays more in quantity and in higher quality then ever before.

Also the discussion about which music sounds better, coming from the analog or digital domain, has been going on ever since.

The first analog recording of audio was made by a device called phonograph. The process exists of 3 distinctive steps. First of all, sound needs to travel through a cone-shaped component of the device. Then a small needle connected to that device starts to vibrate. And lastly, the moving needle will etch a groove into a cylinder which was made out of wax. Playback of the wax cilinder is essentially the recording process but then reversed. These cylinders containing the original recordings could only survive playback around a dozen times of before it would wear out.

Later, after the invention of magnetic tape, it became more interesting to record audio because the quality was much better and the tapes did not lose there quality that fast. This is a technique called electro magnetic recording. This process was more nifty than the one described above. For this to happen, an electro magnetic charge was needed from the recordhead, that would align metal particles with varying magnetic polarity within the tape. To playback the electro magnetic charged tape, one needs to reverse the process. When the tape passes the playback head, the magnetically charged tape would create changes in magnetic flux at the playback head, which would be translated to electric current, and then when amplified, would be a replica of the recorded sounds.

A nice property is that, if there are not enough magnetic particles on the tape to store a stronger magnetic field, saturation compression occurs. In audio hardware, tubes and transistors that are used will cause hard or soft clipping of the waveform, if being overdriven. These components also have the properties to create 2nd and 3rd order harmonics. These harmonics that are generated are used in their advantage for musical purposes.
Enough about analogue for now, let’s dive a bit into the history of the digital domain.The first digital commercial recordings were made in the 60’s and were released in the 70’s. Sound from a source is captured with the use of e.g. a microphone. The current generated by the microphone is then being digitized by a ADC (analog to digital converter). If we want to play back that sound, the digital data is then translated to current through a DAC (digital to analog converter), which would then feed a speaker and will create a reproduction of the recorded sound from the earlier mentioned source.

In Japan, Unites states, and the UK developers were trying to make digital storage more customer friendly and therefore commercially accessible. Many different types of storage systems were accordingly developed over time. From DAT (digital audio tape), DCC (digital compact cassette), to CD (compact disc) and later even MiniDisc and Blu-ray. The capacity and quality of the different types of storage increased massively.
Now what I would like to point out in this blog is the convenience of one domain over the other. Nowadays in the music making world we are often hybrid users. We love to use analog hardware because of their saturating, harmonic and non-linear properties, yet we love multitrack recording in Pro Tools because it is easier to edit and the shelf life of the data is, if handled with care, much longer than any analogue storage media ever could.

We can tweak parameters of hardware emulating plugins with the touchscreen of our tablet, or we can use rotary knobs on the actual hardware. The ease of taking snapshots of the settings and recall them anytime, no costs on maintenance versus interaction with actual hardware, non-linearity, no digitalization, and the hardware’s aesthetics is something I can not choose from. My workflow will remain hybrid and I will use what is within my set of tools and never reject any kind of technology because we are innovating and it can only get better!! 😀

Reference list:

-Huber,D.M. Runstein, R.E. 2013. Modern Recording Techniques. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 182, 189, 416, 491.

-Waldfogel,J. 2015. Economic Analysis of the Digital Economy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 411.

-Case,F. 2012. 2. order and 3. order harmonic distortion?. Gearslutz. [online] Availale at: [03-02-2017]

-Robjohns, H. 2010. Analogue Warmth. Sound On Sound. [online] February issue. Available at: [03-02-2017]

-Daley,D. 2017. Off The Record: Analogue Technology. Sound On Sound. [online] January issue. Available at:

-Goodwin, A. 1988. Pop eats itself. Sample and hold: pop music in the digital age of reproduction. [online] September. Available at: [03-02-2017]

Published by Full Sonics

Audio Engineer | Composer | Sound Designer

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