Not soft, if it’s a good analog front end.
Is analog soft?
When we think of the analog sound we’re inevitably referencing a reproduction. This is because we experience analog sound through our stereo systems which, of course, are reproduction playback systems.
And every analog reproduction is either captured on vinyl or magnetic tape. This of course means everything we associate with analog has passed through analog electronics and analog storage mediums—all of which have an analog “sound” to them.
True analog sound is what comes directly out of the recording microphone. But, unless you’re at the recording studio at the time a record is being made your only means of hearing that analog microphone feed is after it’s been processed through the storage medium of vinyl or tape.
And if we dare to suggest capturing that feed with digital means, either PCM or DSD, we have then violated the analog label’s definition. By default it can no longer be “analog” (even if it sounds identical).
When I listen to music captured on pure analog means I hear a softness to it. Hard to describe, actually, but a softening of the original signal is about as good as I can come up with. And maybe the opposite is helpful. On many digital captures, there is a sharpness that colors the sound.
The perfect capture is when we can tell no difference between the source and the output.
Nice if we had a name for that.
It has been multiple decades—in fact, most of our adult lives—that neither Terri nor I have consumed meat or fish.
To many Americans we encounter we are an anomaly, a curiosity to be poked and prodded to see if we are real. We both giggle when we get that knowing wink of disbelief from a food server who figures we just say such outlandish things to be in vogue.
In their experience, one cannot live without meat. To them, we are either lying, delusional or that rare once-in-a-lifetime curiosity.
But this rant is not about being a healthy vegetarian or how a plant-based diet helps the planet. It’s about preconceived notions.
It’s about being convinced without listening to how digital versus analog sounds. Vacuum tubes versus solid state stereo equipment. Horns versus boxes. Measurements versus subjective. DSD versus PCM.
To some degree, we all fall into the same trap. We enter a new situation with a prediction of the outcome.
It’s just the way we’re wired.
One of the great joys of age is the freedom to let go of some of my preconceptions.
I no longer feel the need to protect and defend many of my long-held beliefs.
Lowering one’s expectations to the point of openness to new input is the quickest means I know of to advance and learn.
As you get older are you leaning towards becoming more set in your ways or less?
Opening up or closing down?
It’s something to consider.
Perhaps the most difficult technology to wrap one’s head around is digital.
Analog? Not so much. Consider that it’s not that hard to understand how the quality of a tape head or a phono cartridge has a direct and obvious impact on sound quality. It has to.
Digital is a whole different can of worms. 1’s and 0’s should be easy to maintain quality. It’s far more difficult to try and understand how bits on a hard drive or, for that matter, bits sent across millions of miles of space can be affected.
Inviolate performance. Perfect sound forever. That was the promise.
And yet, DACs and transports sound different. One USB cable vs. another makes the difference between good and great.
Over time we’ve been learning what makes digital audio sound different. We’ve come to recognize and own up to the fact bits are not just bits. That the timing, noise levels, and quality of those bits changes that which we hear in music.
We never perfected analog and I sincerely doubt we’ll ever perfect digital.
But, we’re moving forward in positive ways and music is getting better for it.
That’s got to be a good thing.
When I am working on a project and find myself consistently making mistakes I get angry and frustrated.
Fortunately, consistent errors are the easiest to fix. Repeatedly doing the same thing incorrectly is a pattern and patterns can be more easily dealt with than their sporadic counterparts.
Take for example an analog or digital circuit. If we find a consistent pattern of unacceptable performance it becomes easier to assign a fix to it: feedback, frequency compensation, even protection circuits.
It is the wild card, the maverick, the occasional gremlin that causes hair loss.
No, if we have to endure and then fix problems, give me the consistent variety.
Tracking down an occasional glitch is maddening.
My T+A MP2500R digital player sounds as good as an excellent Well Tempered Labs/Dynavector rig and factoring in convenience, where I can use it to play CD’s/SACD’s, my ripped music library of over 2000 WAV ripped CD’s, plus streaming via Qobuz, as well as Internet Radio, a lot easier than switching LP’S to enjoy a lot more music and do so quickly.
However, LP’s have their niche and I totally get it.
Complexity of sound
Thinking a bit recently about needle drops and the sound of vinyl (as I mentioned in my earlier post).
It occurs to me that if one can fully capture something without loss then logically the capture method is better than what’s being captured.
It’s only been recently that digital capture has gotten good enough to grab what’s on analog without much change, yet for some time now we’ve been able to capture perfectly the sound of vinyl (Fremer’s been doing that for years).
Which says to me that pure analog as captured by a microphone is far more complex than a vinyl reproduction of it.
As I write those words it seems rather obvious to me that of course that’s the case. That vinyl, for all its wonderfulness and loyal followers who prefer it to digital, could never capture and reproduce all that comes from a microphone.
Not to diminish the magic of vinyl because that’s obvious to anyone with a great setup.
No, this rant is just an observational rambling about what’s possible in the world of perfecting audio capture.
We’re so close.
analog vs. digital
We define analog as a continuous unbroken stream, while digital means it is built from discrete bits.
But, of course, our definition of analog is not accurate. Sound itself is made from bits called cycles per second.
Like the discrete pixels or grains of silver that make up a photograph or the electrons and quarks that formed those pixels and grains, at some level everything in our world is actually formed from bits.
If everything is made from bits does that suggest that the idea of a continuous stream is but a myth?
Perhaps, but then who cares? There’s the metaphysical argument and then there’s the practical. I may be made up of bits but I feel pretty solid.
For purposes of discussion let’s go with everything’s continuous at some level.
Could we instead suggest that analog is the stereo medium that requires no more conversion when recording it? That we ignore the conversion process of magnets and tape or wiggling needles in plastic because these do not further break down the cycles into smaller bits?
If that’s the case I wonder where DSD fits into all this. The fact we can take a DSD stream and inject it directly into an analog power amplifier and get music out the other end has to mean something other than simply categorizing i
I use vintage Urei 539 EQ’s, which are all analog and they sound great. So, while I get what Paul is saying, there are exceptions, like the Urei 539!
Conflating D and A
In yesterday’s post on tone controls, there were a number of comments about the use of DSP, yet few about the differences between analog and digital controls.
There is no question that if one is happy staying entirely in the digital domain, DSP EQ and correction is a near-perfect solution. We can design extensive tone controls that have zero phase shift and are sonically neutral.
The same cannot be said for analog. And therein lies the rub.
If you’re going to add tone or EQ controls to an analog preamplifier you are going to suffer added circuitry, phase shift, and sonic degradation. That’s just the cost of doing business in the analog domain.
As a manufacturer, we have to be sensitive to all our customer’s needs. We can’t, for example, produce an honest analog-based preamplifier with DSP for EQ. To do that would require the analog signal to first be converted to digital and then back into analog.
Which is why blanket statements about EQ and tone controls are difficult. We first need to set the ground rules of the playground before making blanket statements.
When Stereophile Magazine awarded Stellar Phono its coveted Analog Product of the Year award we were, of course, ecstatic. What an honor.
That award got me thinking about the near-impossible job of a phono preamplifier: to amplify without noise a tiny signal 30,000 to 50,000 times smaller than what comes out of your preamplifier.
I remember from 40 years ago my struggles to design without noise PS Audio’s first moving coil preamplifier. It felt impossible. How does one add, without additional noise, 30dB of gain in front of an already high gain moving magnet phono stage? Everything I tried came with unacceptable levels of noise. I searched, I studied, I consulted with experts. At the time, the general consensus was it couldn’t be done and we should instead do what everyone else was doing: use a step up transformer.
I own up to being a stubborn mule. Dammit! I was going to figure out an active solution and so I continued to slug it out with various schemes. Finally, after a year of constant failure, I succeeded. Low impedances and a single common base BJT amplifier were the answer.
One of the industry’s very first active moving coil amplifiers, the PS Audio MCA, was born.
That was four decades ago. Today, innovative bright young engineers like Darren Myers are blazing trails I couldn’t have imagined.
Progress. Breaking new ground. Moving forward. It’s what gets me up in the morning.
Good for PS Audio!!
Analog product of the year
“Wow!” That’s about all I could say when I learned PS Audio’s Stellar Phono Preamplifier had been named by the editors at Stereophile Magazine as their Analog Product of the year.
Congratulations to the entire PS Audio engineering team who worked hard to build this beauty. And a special shout out to the product’s principal architect, PS Audio’s own Darren Myers.
That an offering from our most affordable product line, Stellar, was chosen as the best analog product of the year from a crowded field of mega thousand dollar competitors makes this award even more startling.
Thanks to our HiFi Family for your support of this fine product. Also, thank you to reviewer Michael Fremer who was first to review the Stellar Phono and the editors of Stereophile Magazine.
We are honored.
Pedigrees authenticate bloodline lineage. They’re important for dogs, royals, and source materials.
If you’re hoping to purchase an analog recording, it’s not genuine if it was first recorded digitally. Which is why there’s often so much confusion around modern LPs or even remasters. I shake my head when I learn a particular vinyl LP released remaster was first digitally transferred from analog tape.
That’s a mutt.
In a similar vein, it’s unhelpful when labels offer us versions of their libraries in multiple formats without being clear as to their pedigree. First recorded in PCM then released in both DSD and analog does not a DSD or analog recording make.
Here’s a vote for transparency into proper breeding.
If I want to purchase only purebred DSD recordings, I want an accurate pedigree.