Audio myth 2
Myth: Digital audio sounds worse than analog, and the lack of digital’s fidelity is revealed as a sterile and harsh sound that lacks warmth, depth, imaging, clarity, and any number of other vague and elusive descriptions.
Fact: Analog tape compresses dynamics and adds distortion, which can be a pleasing effect for many people (including me). But for pure faithfulness to the original signal, modern pro-quality digital wins hands down every time.
These facts were written in 1998 and I wonder what the author might have said on the subject today. Likely nothing more.
18 years ago this sentiment might have rung more true than it does today, though memories last a long time. Let’s examine what’s been claimed and what’s been said.
Digital audio has always been more accurate than analog recording mediums in several respects: dynamic range, distortion, noise, flat frequency response. Analog recordings have limited dynamics, background noise, and higher distortions than digital – even the earliest digital.
But, “faithfulness to the original signal” is another matter, and a very subjective one at that. When an engineer thinks faithful it is easy to quantify the elements that make it so: dynamics, frequency response, noise, distortion. Easily measurable guidelines.
When a music lover thinks faithful, she is more likely to find it difficult to describe, yet no harder to recognize: openness, musicality, proper tonality, rhythm, timbre, and space.
I think most of us would agree that from our viewpoint, the digital of 1998 was less faithful to the original signal than analog–vinyl or tape.
Today, the opposite has occurred. We can safely suggest that digital, properly done, exceeds both the engineer’s and music lover’s expectations of faithful reproduction, relative to analog recording mediums.
Take away: How we define our terms, and who is defining them, makes all the difference in the world. Faithful reproduction to one person may not be faithful to someone else.