Live performance vs recording session - digital vs analogue recording

David Pinnegar

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Nov 26, 2010
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Hi!

Being fed up of tiny recording level meters on digital recorders, mics on Zoom H2 overloading below the 0dB level and memory cards evaporating their data, it was with delight that a donation of a Tascam reel to reel machine has opened up analogue recording for me again. The analogue mic is a JVC m102 stereo unit I picked up at a boot sale years ago.

compares the two.Is this an interesting comparison?

Best wishes

David P

 

f1eng

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Dec 13, 2009
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Hi David, I fear the difference in microphones will probably make a comparison difficult!

I have been making amateur audio recordings with tape and digital since the early 60s and data recordings too with both tape analogue and solid state digital since the late 70s.

Using off tape monitoring I would say that as time went on the recording became more and more like the input (mic feed). My first recorder was a mono valve reel to reel, the best reel-to-reel I used (and still have) was a Revox B77. I did use (and still have) a Nakamichi CR-7E and whilst surprisingly good results, considering, are possible it is so sensitive to getting the levels right that anything other than the least dynamic music is difficult to capture well. Next I used a Stelladat and with that I found the off tape to be pretty well indistinguishable from the mic feed. Now I have the best recorder I ever have had, Metric Halo, but my wife rarely performs any more so I have little opportunity to use it...

I worked in noise and vibration research early in my career and Formula 1 racing cars for most of it. Both required measurements to be made to understand and diagnose problems and developments. Using a huge 1" tape analogue machine the limits were dynamic range and I spent as much time checking calibration as measuring...

On the F1 car no analogue recorder was accurate and robust enough for anything other than the most basic measurements. I would say the only thing I measured using an analogue recorder which was useful was diff performance, one channel one rear wheel, one channel the other, one channel throttle opening and the last a reference channel to cancel out the common speed errors from the other channels.

Digital recorders came into their own fairly quickly, though cost, recording time and analysis were problems at first quality was not, what came out was the same as what went in. Nowadays with very cheap memory and computing a huge number of channels can be recorded with a level of accuracy way beyond that which is strictly necessary.

History shows that plenty of "inaccurate" recordings sound nice, and Sound-on-Sound magazine published an article on "analogue warmth" explaining what sort of distortions and other additions were added by tape recorders, analogue reverb units, analogue compressors and so forth and plug ins to emulate them if desired when doing a mix. Interestingly, some of these colourations were quite hard to model...

So, in summary, there is absolutely no doubt from my experience of both music and data recording that digital allows one to get out of the recorder what went in, whereas analogue adds and subtracts bits of its own. For data this means analogue is often pretty well useless, for music, where the modifications seem euphonic and "what we have got used to" (particularly us older ones) the fact that what we get out isn't what we put in isn't very important if we like it!

 
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themadlatvian

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Dec 28, 2008
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Hi David, I fear the difference in microphones will probably make a comparison difficult!I have been making amateur audio recordings with tape and digital since the early 60s and data recordings too with both tape analogue and solid state digital since the late 70s.

Using off tape monitoring I would say that as time went on the recording became more and more like the input (mic feed). My first recorder was a mono valve reel to reel, the best reel-to-reel I used (and still have) was a Revox B77. I did use (and still have) a Nakamichi CR-7E and whilst surprisingly good results, considering, are possible it is so sensitive to getting the levels right that anything other than the least dynamic music is difficult to capture well. Next I used a Stelladat and with that I found the off tape to be pretty well indistinguishable from the mic feed. Now I have the best recorder I ever have had, Metric Halo, but my wife rarely performs any more so I have little opportunity to use it...

I worked in noise and vibration research early in my career and Formula 1 racing cars for most of it. Both required measurements to be made to understand and diagnose problems and developments. Using a huge 1" tape analogue machine the limits were dynamic range and I spent as much time checking calibration as measuring...

On the F1 car no analogue recorder was accurate and robust enough for anything other than the most basic measurements. I would say the only thing I measured using an analogue recorder which was useful was diff performance, one channel one rear wheel, one channel the other, one channel throttle opening and the last a reference channel to cancel out the common speed errors from the other channels.

Digital recorders came into their own fairly quickly, though cost, recording time and analysis were problems at first quality was not, what came out was the same as what went in. Nowadays with very cheap memory and computing a huge number of channels can be recorded with a level of accuracy way beyond that which is strictly necessary.

History shows that plenty of "inaccurate" recordings sound nice, and Sound-on-Sound magazine published an article on "analogue warmth" explaining what sort of distortions and other additions were added by tape recorders, analogue reverb units, analogue compressors and so forth and plug ins to emulate them if desired when doing a mix. Interestingly, some of these colourations were quite hard to model...

So, in summary, there is absolutely no doubt from my experience of both music and data recording that digital allows one to get out of the recorder what went in, whereas analogue adds and subtracts bits of its own. For data this means analogue is often pretty well useless, for music, where the modifications seem euphonic and "what we have got used to" (particularly us older ones) the fact that what we get out isn't what we put in isn't very important if we like it!
Very :goodone:

Really enjoyed reading this.

 

SergeAuckland

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May 6, 2008
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Yes indeed, an excellent summary. As much as I enjoyed analogue tape as a medium, I was very happy to give it up for digital. As to data recording on analogue, I was involved in the design of an FM data recorder and apart from handling very low frequencies well (it could go down to DC), setup was just as complicated and variable as a conventional recorder, just a different set of difficulties.

S

 

f1eng

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Yes indeed, an excellent summary. As much as I enjoyed analogue tape as a medium, I was very happy to give it up for digital. As to data recording on analogue, I was involved in the design of an FM data recorder and apart from handling very low frequencies well (it could go down to DC), setup was just as complicated and variable as a conventional recorder, just a different set of difficulties.S
Hi Serge,

all the analogue data recorders I used were FM since accurate low frequency data is always crucial and audio type recorders neither go low enough nor are accurate enough at low frequency to be any use for measurements at all. On the racing car version we left one channel shorted then used its output as the FM demodulator frequency for the other 3 channels, thus cancelling out the speed fluctuation influence. I don't know if this is a frequently used technique but I thought it was good.

The big machine was a 14 channel recorder using 1" tape in a machine which was a two man lift and cost about 5 (of my) years salary at the time Ampex IIRC. The small machine was a 4 channel with Nagra transport. The racing version was a heavily modified Uher cassette machine with 4 channel heads and all the FM stuff. The demodulation was done in another box during playback for analysis to keep the main recorder small.

 

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