Can You Tell the Difference Between Digital and Analog?

RobertusMaximus

Electromatic
Gold Supporting Member
Aug 8, 2022
62
Missouri City, Texas
(Off Topic) When I read the title, I thought this was going to be about digital synth (or sampling) versus analog. I'll stick with analog every time. One of the reasons I sold the MPC X I bought in July. It seems to me you aren't really making music if you start by using someone else's music (wave files, etc.), then rearranging it. Unfortunately, I kind of figured this out after spending my money. That's why I've taken to the Moog Grandmother, DFAM, Mother 32, Minitaur. Analog, and experimental, I can run my guitar through some of them and do cool things (still in the learning mode). I did acquire a GR1 Granulat Synthizier (Tasty Chips Electronics) to make my own samples (a lot of fun, by the way) and do strange and aberrant things with the sounds. Anyway, just chiming in with my 2 cents on the "Digital versus Analog" argument. Lol.
Good Morning!
 

senojnad

Synchromatic
Platinum Member
Jul 13, 2008
810
Lehigh Valley, PA
I have no idea other than I began to question my ears when I started reading (and hearing) all the "experts" proclaiming the superiority of vinyl over CDs.

My only "reference" goes back to the mid-'80s when I first heard Dire Straits' "Brothers In Arms" CD. It was an immediate "WOW!!!!" for me. During me prior 4 decades I had only experienced vinyl (and whatever my parents' "78's" were made from -- clay, maybe...??)
 

MadKaw

Gretschie
Apr 17, 2020
264
Michigan, USA
The digital vs analog argument is a McGuffin. It's only purpose is to sell stuff. People who buy into it are just exhibiting confirmation bias.
If nothing else, all new music available today is mixed and mastered digitally. If it is converted back to analog during the final recording step rather than in the speaker... so what?
OK, having disposed of the vinyl record issue, let's talk about tube vs. solid state / analog vs. digital amps...
 

wabash slim

I Bleed Orange
Feb 10, 2010
18,795
lafayette in
I have no idea other than I began to question my ears when I started reading (and hearing) all the "experts" proclaiming the superiority of vinyl over CDs.

My only "reference" goes back to the mid-'80s when I first heard Dire Straits' "Brothers In Arms" CD. It was an immediate "WOW!!!!" for me. During me prior 4 decades I had only experienced vinyl (and whatever my parents' "78's" were made from -- clay, maybe...??)
78s were made of shellac. Quite brittle, we'd use unplayable ones as BB gun targets.
Vinyl held up much better than shellac, but still had lots of noise associated with it.
If it is converted back to analog during the final recording step rather than in the speaker... so what?
OK, having disposed of the vinyl record issue, let's talk about tube vs. solid state / analog vs. digital amps...
It's an analog world. Analog in, analog out. Everything can be digital in between, but the mike only picks up analog sound, and the speaker only reproduces analog sound.
 

dspellman

Gretschie
Jul 4, 2020
413
Los Angeles
I listen to music in my car on Harmon-Kardon audio systems. The audio systems are pretty good or at least as good as what BMW installs. Most of what I listen to is MP3’s ripped from downloads of YouTube videos. Most are excellent. The rest are good enough for listening to over the exhaust and road noise of a Z4 with the top down at 75.

I always have trouble keeping the needle from skittering during hard cornering.
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,685
Tucson
78s were made of shellac. Quite brittle, we'd use unplayable ones as BB gun targets.
Vinyl held up much better than shellac, but still had lots of noise associated with it.

It's an analog world. Analog in, analog out. Everything can be digital in between, but the mike only picks up analog sound, and the speaker only reproduces analog sound.
If you look at the signal, as it leaves the guitar, everything in the signal chain can only decrease the integrity of the signal. Your patch cable subtracts a bit from the integrity of the signal, as do any effects along the way.

A buffer can be used to condition the signal and to minimize the effects of capacitance in the signal chain. But even as innocuous and beneficial as a buffer can be, if you stacked ten buffers in your signal chain, something would be noticeably lost. Following that same logic, if you stacked several pairs of A-D and D-A converters, chances are that there would be some noticeable loss. However, one pair of A-D and D-A converters does not have to induce a noticeable loss, provided that the sampling rate is adequate.

Personally, I’m a big believer in results. There’s always another piece of gear out there claiming to be superior, but is there really a discernible difference, once you reach the level of professional quality equipment. In my humble opinion; no, there isn’t. I can plug a guitar with a nominal value of $2,000 into an amp with a nominal value of $600, with a $159 reverb pedal and a couple of $20 patch cables, and get a great sound. If I were to double the cost of everything, would the sound be noticeably better?

If I were playing Carnegie Hall, I would use the pedalboard with a Blue Nebula on it, one of my Winfield amps (probably the Tremor) and grab a Gretsch off the wall. Other than putting new strings on the guitar, I wouldn’t use anything different from the equipment I play when I‘m at home, and it would sound just fine.

Likewise, while my present vehicle has a very modest sound system, if I was taking a long trip in a rental car with a high end sound system, I would use the same AAC files, on my same iPhone. No big deal. Good enough is good enough.
 

wabash slim

I Bleed Orange
Feb 10, 2010
18,795
lafayette in
If you look at the signal, as it leaves the guitar, everything in the signal chain can only decrease the integrity of the signal. Your patch cable subtracts a bit from the integrity of the signal, as do any effects along the way.

A buffer can be used to condition the signal and to minimize the effects of capacitance in the signal chain. But even as innocuous and beneficial as a buffer can be, if you stacked ten buffers in your signal chain, something would be noticeably lost. Following that same logic, if you stacked several pairs of A-D and D-A converters, chances are that there would be some noticeable loss. However, one pair of A-D and D-A converters does not have to induce a noticeable loss, provided that the sampling rate is adequate.

Personally, I’m a big believer in results. There’s always another piece of gear out there claiming to be superior, but is there really a discernible difference, once you reach the level of professional quality equipment. In my humble opinion; no, there isn’t. I can plug a guitar with a nominal value of $2,000 into an amp with a nominal value of $600, with a $159 reverb pedal and a couple of $20 patch cables, and get a great sound. If I were to double the cost of everything, would the sound be noticeably better?

If I were playing Carnegie Hall, I would use the pedalboard with a Blue Nebula on it, one of my Winfield amps (probably the Tremor) and grab a Gretsch off the wall. Other than putting new strings on the guitar, I wouldn’t use anything different from the equipment I play when I‘m at home, and it would sound just fine.

Likewise, while my present vehicle has a very modest sound system, if I was taking a long trip in a rental car with a high end sound system, I would use the same AAC files, on my same iPhone. No big deal. Good enough is good enough.
That's the Law of Diminishing Returns in action. You can keep putting money into something, but, after a while, you will get less and less of a positive result for more and more cost. Consider using the top-quality music gear, in a top-quality studio that utilizes the best recording, mastering, and reproducing gear, then listening to the result on an MP3 played on a $50 Bluetooth speaker in mono.
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,685
Tucson
That's the Law of Diminishing Returns in action. You can keep putting money into something, but, after a while, you will get less and less of a positive result for more and more cost. Consider using the top-quality music gear, in a top-quality studio that utilizes the best recording, mastering, and reproducing gear, then listening to the result on an MP3 played on a $50 Bluetooth speaker in mono.
Exactly, and that law comes into play in all sorts of areas. One could claim that more advanced methods of encoding with higher bit rates might make for greater fidelity, but if only a dog could detect the difference, why spend the money. One upsmanship is alive and well, and people all over the place claim to have better taste, deeper knowledge, etc. but in reality, a lot of that is meaningless.
 

stevo

Friend of Fred
May 1, 2012
7,297
Atlanta
I’ve had a ton of choruses. I have never liked the digital ones I’ve tried. But I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison since the signals have been analogue with the digital portions doing the modulation. And I don’t think that digital chorus is of necessity bad, I think they’re just not designed right and I always go back to good old bbd analogue ones.

I have always liked digital since CDs first came out. But not all CDs were created equal. My dad had some of the DDD Deutche Grammaphone and Philips classical CDs that were amazing. Finally, we had a medium that reproduced the performance and it sounded like you were right there.

Heck, he even had some of the same exact vinyl versions that were (obviously) DDA and we thought those were incredible until the DDD CDs of the same came out. Could we tell the difference? No question - we blind tested it. The full digital were quieter, more realistic and just better sounding.
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,685
Tucson
I’ve had a ton of choruses. I have never liked the digital ones I’ve tried. But I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison since the signals have been analogue with the digital portions doing the modulation. And I don’t think that digital chorus is of necessity bad, I think they’re just not designed right and I always go back to good old bbd analogue ones.

I have always liked digital since CDs first came out. But not all CDs were created equal. My dad had some of the DDD Deutche Grammaphone and Philips classical CDs that were amazing. Finally, we had a medium that reproduced the performance and it sounded like you were right there.

Heck, he even had some of the same exact vinyl versions that were (obviously) DDA and we thought those were incredible until the DDD CDs of the same came out. Could we tell the difference? No question - we blind tested it. The full digital were quieter, more realistic and just better sounding.
Digital effects are a whole new quagmire. My chorus pedals, and my Boss DM-3 delays are analog, and they do a great job. I also have a Boss DD-5, which sounds great. I have several digital reverb pedals, and no complaints there. I also have.a Stanley FX Blue Nebula, which I use for Plate Reverb and a wide variety of Delay emulations. It’s great sounding, and I have no concerns about the fact that it’s DSP powered.
 

stevo

Friend of Fred
May 1, 2012
7,297
Atlanta
Digital effects are a whole new quagmire. My chorus pedals, and my Boss DM-3 delays are analog, and they do a great job. I also have a Boss DD-5, which sounds great. I have several digital reverb pedals, and no complaints there. I also have.a Stanley FX Blue Nebula, which I use for Plate Reverb and a wide variety of Delay emulations. It’s great sounding, and I have no concerns about the fact that it’s DSP powered.

Digital delay and reverb are fantastic. There might be a digital chorus out there I like, but I've not found it yet. Most of the time, there is a kind of "whoop whoop"/sharp cycle tone that I don't like. No reason it has to be there by virtue of being digital but it has been in all the ones I've owned.

Here's an interesting overdrive that I assume is DSP in some way:


Yes, they say "pure analog clipping flavors" but I'm sure it has some DSP to get there. Analogue signal path maybe.
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,685
Tucson
Digital delay and reverb are fantastic. There might be a digital chorus out there I like, but I've not found it yet. Most of the time, there is a kind of "whoop whoop"/sharp cycle tone that I don't like. No reason it has to be there by virtue of being digital but it has been in all the ones I've owned.

Here's an interesting overdrive that I assume is DSP in some way:


Yes, they say "pure analog clipping flavors" but I'm sure it has some DSP to get there. Analogue signal path maybe.
I would agree. Digital Reverb and Delay pedals seem to work quite well. Even mechanical reverbs, such as Spring Reverb and Plate Reverb, are themselves emulations. Both are great sounds, and I don’t mean any insult to either Spring or Plate, but if you want real reverb, it requires an echo chamber and some creative microphone placement.

When I become the richest man on earth, I intend to buy my old grade school, and convert the gymnasium to my own personal echo chamber, complete with trained chimpanzees who will be paid in the best bananas available, in return for placing microphones. :) OK, I’m not holding my breath on that one, but that Gym had echo like I’ve never heard elsewhere. With a variety of source speakers and microphones, it would have been the best reverb chamber I could have imagined, with lots of interesting collisions and interference patterns to choose from.

I have good digital Chorus in the Blue Nebula, and I also have a couple of Boss CE-2W pedals. When it came to Chorus, I wanted simplicity. The CE-2W has a rate and depth control, plus a switch to go between a CE-2 sound, a CE-1 sound, or the sound of a CE-1 in vibrato-only mode. For my purposes, it pretty much perfect.

Likewise, for generic Delay, the DM-2W works nicely. In this case, I use it as an expander of sorts, to add a bit of depth to the sound, sort of like the sound you hear on some Pat Metheney recordings. As it turns out, if you couple this sound with Reverb, and mute the strings, it makes for perfect drip.

However, if I want slapback, or any sort of Delay that is more complicated, I go straight to the Blue Nebula, which can capture the Roland Delay sound, the Echoplex sound, the Binson Echorec sound, and a number of other tape and drum Delay sounds, using DSP powered emulations, and the sweetest JFET preamp I’ve ever heard.

With regard to that overdrive, I’m at a bit of a loss. They seek to strongly suggest that the overdrive itself is analog, but their choice of wording could be a creative way of describing digital emulation. It’s not impossible that they are combining approaches. It’s definitely digitally controlled, which I see as a good thing.

I‘ll go out in a limb and opine that it is probably an analogue signal path, clipping through diodes. They refer to a 30 VDC operating voltage, from a 9 volt input, which means that they are using a Charge Pump, which gives a bit more headroom to the internal amp stages. I doubt that they would have bothered with the expense of a Charge Pump, if they were just using a DSP.

As I read through the manual, they describe the Mood control, they describe this as controlling the “Analog Morphing Core”, which controls clipping levels and clipping types. Soft Clipping involves clipping diodes in the feedback circuit of an IC OpAmp, while Hard Clipping describes clipping diodes that follow the output of the OpAmp. Soft Clipping is typical of Overdrive pedals, while Hard Clipping is typical of Distortion pedals.

The Boss OS-2 uses a potentiometer to select between Hard and Soft clipping, and this actually controls the blend between signals recovered from two OpAmps, the Distortion signal path being a hard clipper and the Overdrive signal path being a soft clipper, with asymmetric diodes, which makes it somewhat like a Boss SD-1. I own one of these, and to my ear, the main difference is that the Distortion side sounds more compressed, while the Overdrive side is more dynamic. Again, to my ear, in Overdrive mode, this pedal sounds like a higher gain version of an SD-1 while the Distortion mode is probably more like a DS-1.

The other Overdrive I am familiar with, which uses both soft and hard clipping is the Nobels ODR-1. This pedal uses one OpAmp for the clipping stage, and uses fairly high forward voltage diodes in both the soft clipping and hard clipping positions. The result is a pedal that has an airy, soft-clipping sound at lower drive settings, much like a Deluxe Reverb at 4, but then morphs into a homogenous, higher gain sound when the drive control is set higher; sort of a Santana sound. For such a modestly priced pedal, it sounds very good in a variety of situations.

Returning to the Ridge, they seem to suggest that they are somehow altering the clipping character of the diodes. Various types of diodes each have their own clipping characteristics, which are pretty much fixed. Diodes clip when the signal reaches forward voltage, and their characteristics beyond the clipping point will be determined by the type of diode. For example, a Schottky diode is a bit more abrupt, if you push it hard, than perhaps a Germanium diode.

So, without seeing schematic, I’m not sure just what they are doing. Their descriptions mention both soft and hard clipping, so that may explain a lot. My Mark IV, hyper accurate guess, is that they are using two OpAmps, and perhaps clipping diodes of very different characters, but that is merely a guess on my part.

The sound samples I heard lend credibility to their claims. This thing really does seem to have multiple characters, and the transition between these characters seems linear. I‘d love to see a schematic.
 

stevo

Friend of Fred
May 1, 2012
7,297
Atlanta
I would agree. Digital Reverb and Delay pedals seem to work quite well. Even mechanical reverbs, such as Spring Reverb and Plate Reverb, are themselves emulations. Both are great sounds, and I don’t mean any insult to either Spring or Plate, but if you want real reverb, it requires an echo chamber and some creative microphone placement.

When I become the richest man on earth, I intend to buy my old grade school, and convert the gymnasium to my own personal echo chamber, complete with trained chimpanzees who will be paid in the best bananas available, in return for placing microphones. :)
Didn't Simon and Garfunkel us a stairwell or bathroom once?
With regard to that overdrive, I’m at a bit of a loss. They seek to strongly suggest that the overdrive itself is analog, but their choice of wording could be a creative way of describing digital emulation. It’s not impossible that they are combining approaches. It’s definitely digitally controlled, which I see as a good thing.
Exactly.
I‘ll go out in a limb and opine that it is probably an analogue signal path, clipping through diodes. They refer to a 30 VDC operating voltage, from a 9 volt input, which means that they are using a Charge Pump, which gives a bit more headroom to the internal amp stages. I doubt that they would have bothered with the expense of a Charge Pump, if they were just using a DSP.
It seems perhaps more trouble to have a digital signal path when it comes to overdrive. I just wonder exactly what they're doing. It's a pretty cool pedal no matter what.
The other Overdrive I am familiar with, which uses both soft and hard clipping is the Nobels ODR-1. This pedal uses one OpAmp for the clipping stage, and uses fairly high forward voltage diodes in both the soft clipping and hard clipping positions. The result is a pedal that has an airy, soft-clipping sound at lower drive settings, much like a Deluxe Reverb at 4, but then morphs into a homogenous, higher gain sound when the drive control is set higher; sort of a Santana sound. For such a modestly priced pedal, it sounds very good in a variety of situations.
It's most always smooth and lacks fizzyness that is so hard to avoid. I have an ODR1 mini but also got a kit to build an ODR clone that has a bass cut - perfect.
Returning to the Ridge, they seem to suggest that they are somehow altering the clipping character of the diodes. Various types of diodes each have their own clipping characteristics, which are pretty much fixed. Diodes clip when the signal reaches forward voltage, and their characteristics beyond the clipping point will be determined by the type of diode. For example, a Schottky diode is a bit more abrupt, if you push it hard, than perhaps a Germanium diode.
Maybe they have a little remote controlled pair of tweezers inside that squeezes each diode as you rotate the dial. We all know how well that works.

What they might be doing is blending with that dial. Either digitally controlled blending or a multi gang dial. Maybe?
So, without seeing schematic, I’m not sure just what they are doing. Their descriptions mention both soft and hard clipping, so that may explain a lot. My Mark IV, hyper accurate guess, is that they are using two OpAmps, and perhaps clipping diodes of very different characters, but that is merely a guess on my part.

The sound samples I heard lend credibility to their claims. This thing really does seem to have multiple characters, and the transition between these characters seems linear. I‘d love to see a schematic.

Me too. Chances of that...? About zero at the moment.
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,685
Tucson
Didn't Simon and Garfunkel us a stairwell or bathroom once?

It seems perhaps more trouble to have a digital signal path when it comes to overdrive. I just wonder exactly what they're doing. It's a pretty cool pedal no matter what.

It's most always smooth and lacks fizzyness that is so hard to avoid. I have an ODR1 mini but also got a kit to build an ODR clone that has a bass cut - perfect.

Maybe they have a little remote controlled pair of tweezers inside that squeezes each diode as you rotate the dial. We all know how well that works.

What they might be doing is blending with that dial. Either digitally controlled blending or a multi gang dial. Maybe?


Me too. Chances of that...? About zero at the moment.
I would venture that a lot of recordings have used both bathrooms and stairwells, over the years. There’s nothing quite like 70 year-old bathroom tile for that vintage sound. :)

My current theory is magic miniature monkeys inside the pedal affecting the diode characteristics. :)

One if my first questions is just what that pot is, under the case. the idea of a ganged pot had occurred to me, too. I guess that it’s even possible that the pot is connected to some digital control circuitry.
 

wabash slim

I Bleed Orange
Feb 10, 2010
18,795
lafayette in
I would venture that a lot of recordings have used both bathrooms and stairwells, over the years. There’s nothing quite like 70 year-old bathroom tile for that vintage sound. :)

My current theory is magic miniature monkeys inside the pedal affecting the diode characteristics. :)

One if my first questions is just what that pot is, under the case. the idea of a ganged pot had occurred to me, too. I guess that it’s even possible that the pot is connected to some digital control circuitry.
Earliest version of a bathroom reverb I know of is when Orson Wells did "War of the Worlds". They used the men's room at the radio studio, and opened a rusty Mason jar lid as an FX for the Martian ship opening. Duane's water tank is another version.

I've been lucky (?) enough to have worked with a huge reverb room. 3 channels-- left center and right--Altec A-4 Voice of the Theater speakers and Altec mikes, in a 2 story W shaped room. There were curtains set up on tracks to adjust the reverberation rates. Digital made it SO much easier.
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,685
Tucson
Earliest version of a bathroom reverb I know of is when Orson Wells did "War of the Worlds". They used the men's room at the radio studio, and opened a rusty Mason jar lid as an FX for the Martian ship opening. Duane's water tank is another version.

I've been lucky (?) enough to have worked with a huge reverb room. 3 channels-- left center and right--Altec A-4 Voice of the Theater speakers and Altec mikes, in a 2 story W shaped room. There were curtains set up on tracks to adjust the reverberation rates. Digital made it SO much easier.
If you look at recorded reverb from a historical perspective, a lot of progresss has been made. Recording studios, at one time, were known by their echo chambers. Nowadays, we can model the characteristics of various studio reverbs. My personal favorite is an emulation of Abbey Road’s reverb, made by Stanley FX, in the UK. I have this in my Blue Nebula, which has a number of vintage delay emulations, but they recently released the same effect in a standalone miniature pedal.

But it goes far beyond that, because these days we can make convincing emulations of Spring, Plate, Hall, Room, or any other form of reverb. Mix a somewhat subdued Hall Reverb with a little Delay, and you have a great, usable, gentle slapback, that fits lots of places. The Spring emulation in my Catalinbread Topanga is more pleasing to my ear than my Fender Tank.
 


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