Can You Tell the Difference Between Digital and Analog?

MadKaw

Gretschie
Apr 17, 2020
282
Michigan, USA
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 consider the quantization of matter and energy, you could make the argument that the world is actually digital. We just lack the sensory ability to distinguish the digital world.
Which is just a restatement of my original point... it doesn't matter.
 

drmilktruck

Senior Gretsch-Talker
Double Platinum Member
May 17, 2009
20,416
Plymouth, MN
Didn't Simon and Garfunkel us a stairwell or bathroom once?

They put Hal Blaine's drum kit in a hallway beside an elevator for The Boxer:

  • The legendary session drummer Hal Blaine created the huge drum sound with the help of producer Roy Halee, who found a spot for the drums in front of an elevator in the Columbia offices. As recounted in the 2011 Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water documentary, Blaine would pound the drums at the end of the "Lie la lie" vocals that were playing in his headphones, and at one point, an elderly security guard got a big surprise when he came out of the elevator and was startled by Blaine's thunderous drums.
 

stevo

Friend of Fred
May 1, 2012
7,317
Atlanta
They put Hal Blaine's drum kit in a hallway beside an elevator for The Boxer:

  • The legendary session drummer Hal Blaine created the huge drum sound with the help of producer Roy Halee, who found a spot for the drums in front of an elevator in the Columbia offices. As recounted in the 2011 Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water documentary, Blaine would pound the drums at the end of the "Lie la lie" vocals that were playing in his headphones, and at one point, an elderly security guard got a big surprise when he came out of the elevator and was startled by Blaine's thunderous drums.


Ah yes - that's it. I watched one of those videos on the making of the album and it was a great story overall. I love that drum strike.

I work in a downtown building in Atlanta and when I came to the parking deck one day, I heard the sounds of intermittent automatic weapons and when I got to my car, a movie was being filmed in the deck below. A cop strolled up and we asked him, "did they tell you this was going on?" He said, "no, and that's never a good sound around here..."
 
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Seamus

Country Gent
Gold Supporting Member
Feb 25, 2011
1,155
New England
Good enough is good enough.

I totally agree. I think the trouble comes in when you decide you can hear things that others claim to hear, and you want to hear, too. I love vintage stereo equipment, and there really are clear differences between, say, the modern receiver I use for movie sound, and the Marantz receiver I use for listening to music. But then I go take a test comparing a .wav file and a high-quality .MP3, and I do terribly and have to face the truth: I may pay more attention to sound, but it doesn't mean I have the magic ears.

I still do what I can to preserve quality -- I plug my phone into the stereo instead of using Bluetooth. I use .wav or ogg vorbis files. My theory is that enough of those tiny differences probably add up to something audible to me. Or not.
 

Craig Encinitas

Gretschie
Gold Supporting Member
May 3, 2021
420
Encinitas, Ca
I still do what I can to preserve quality -- I plug my phone into the stereo instead of using Bluetooth. I use .wav or ogg vorbis files. My theory is that enough of those tiny differences probably add up to something audible to me. Or not.

You know what’s odd?
Any audio from my iPhone sounds better played via my car’s bluetooth versus the phone plugged into the USB port. 😦

When a good song comes on, sometimes I’ll unplug the phone and really turn it to 11.

🤷🏻‍♂️
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,743
Tucson
I totally agree. I think the trouble comes in when you decide you can hear things that others claim to hear, and you want to hear, too. I love vintage stereo equipment, and there really are clear differences between, say, the modern receiver I use for movie sound, and the Marantz receiver I use for listening to music. But then I go take a test comparing a .wav file and a high-quality .MP3, and I do terribly and have to face the truth: I may pay more attention to sound, but it doesn't mean I have the magic ears.

I still do what I can to preserve quality -- I plug my phone into the stereo instead of using Bluetooth. I use .wav or ogg vorbis files. My theory is that enough of those tiny differences probably add up to something audible to me. Or not.
One of the results of our Information Age is Information Theory, which tells us that information itself can be quantified. There are a certain number of bits involved in seeing, a certain number of bits involved in hearing, etc. I’m not suggesting that seeing and hearing are digital, but if you take anything you can see, or anything you can hear and capture that digitally, there is only so much information to be gathered.

With vision, that amount of data is very high. Imagine looking at the sky, from under a Poplar Tree (small leaves) and the thousands of gaps where you could see the sky, and the thousands of leaves, moving with the breeze. Not to mention the numerous variations of color. Our eyes take in a lot of data, yet we can detect relatively minor changes, and direct our attention, thusly.

Hearing is complex as well, but not nearly as complex as vision, because the amount of information is restricted to a fairly narrow band of frequencies. We can’t hear above roughly 20 kHz below 20 Hz. There are physical mechanisms involved in detecting sounds, and these have their mechanical limitations, but they are capable of detecting any sounds we need in order to function, as well ranges well above and below normal experience, which allow us to appreciate the finer points of music, or to recognize voices, even to the point of hearing the similarity of voices shared by people who are closely related.

Converting sound to digital data is relatively straightforward. It happens on virtually every phone call, these days, and there are several encoding methods, which can be employed. G.711 has been around for 50 years, and works well. There are better standards, such as G.722, which is both high quality and bandwidth-efficient. G.729 is used in low bandwidth situations, and is surprisingly good, considering how little bandwidth it requires. There are others, as well, such as SILK which is used in Skype and is incredibly good.

Encoding music is more challenging, but the advantages of higher sampling rates tend to be lost when the music is converted to 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz for delivery to commercially distributed music or movie soundtracks, respectively.

Further compressing, such as MP3s or AAC, can only take away, but it probably doesn’t take much away, for run of the mill stuff. If I’m riding my bike, and listening the Yes, with the wind whipping past my ears, the losses of an AAC are not much of a factor. Considering the limitations of ear buds, Bluetooth, etc. I doubt that MP3s or AAC are the weakest link in the mobile-device audio chain.

I use AAC (iTunes encoding) and have no complaints. I have literally been listening to Yes on my last few bike rides, which is pretty intricate, very detailed music, and it sounds great on my iPhone, with a wired set of ear buds.
 

Seamus

Country Gent
Gold Supporting Member
Feb 25, 2011
1,155
New England
Encoding music is more challenging, but the advantages of higher sampling rates tend to be lost when the music is converted to 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz for delivery to commercially distributed music or movie soundtracks, respectively.

Something I always wonder: I certainly get the idea of pixels in the visual, and sampling rates in audio, but is there truly an audible difference between 44.1 kHz and even 96? I know that technically there certainly is a difference, but can you really hear it at, say, 10 kHz? I'm pretty sure I can't, even though it makes sense to use higher sampling rates when recording, just for information preservation through all the processing, so I do. Maybe the only way to tell is to put test files through a full recording/mastering process, then compare.
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,743
Tucson
Something I always wonder: I certainly get the idea of pixels in the visual, and sampling rates in audio, but is there truly an audible difference between 44.1 kHz and even 96? I know that technically there certainly is a difference, but can you really hear it at, say, 10 kHz? I'm pretty sure I can't, even though it makes sense to use higher sampling rates when recording, just for information preservation through all the processing, so I do. Maybe the only way to tell is to put test files through a full recording/mastering process, then compare.
Once you get past a sampling rate that is double the highest frequency a human can perceive, than there is no more information to be gained by increasing the sampling rate. Think of it like this; if a report on some important business metric was released once per day, at precisely noon, your time, you wouldn't gain any more information by checking for updates more often than once per day. You could check once per day, once per hour, once per minute, or once per second, and it would not affect the volume of useful information you gathered.

A higher sampling rate would make the data files larger, and might make the digital representation of the waveform track more closely as to the shape of the analogue signal, but our senses can't detect those differences. Humans have a hardware limitation of 20 kHz, and only the youngest, healthiest ears can detect frequencies that high. My hearing is pretty good, but I don't buy into claims of "golden ears", because we all have the same physical mechanisms detecting soundwaves, and no matter what, we can't power past the physical limitations of our auditory systems.

Perhaps there is some value to higher sampling rates, at the level of raw recordings, and mastering, but eventually, it will be dithered (that's a real word, with a definite meaning) into 44.1 kHz, so the ne result is probably not all that great.
 

drmilktruck

Senior Gretsch-Talker
Double Platinum Member
May 17, 2009
20,416
Plymouth, MN
Once you get past a sampling rate that is double the highest frequency a huan can perceive, than there is no more information to be gained by increasing the sampling rate. Think of it like this; if a report on some important business metric was released once per day, at precisely noon, your time, you wouldn't gain any more information by checking for updates more often than once per day. You could check once per day, once per hour, once per minute, or once per second, and it would not affect the volume of useful information you gathered.

A higher sampling rate would make the data files larger, and might make the digital representation of the waveform track more closely as to the shape of the analogue signal, but our senses can't detect those differences. Humans have a hardware limitation of 20 kHz, and only the youngest, healthiest ears can detect frequencies that high. My hearing is pretty good, but I don't buy into claims of "golden ears", because we all have the same physical mechanisms detecting soundwaves, and no matter what, we can't power past the physical limitations of our auditory systems.

Perhaps there is some value to higher sampling rates, at the level of raw recordings, and mastering, but eventually, it will be dithered (that's a real word, with a definite meaning) into 44.1 kHz, so the ne result is probably not all that great.

Back when CDs came out, I wondered why they couldn't be used to record as well. (I should have patented the idea!) My comp sci friend said the files would be so massive that no computer could handle them, except a big mainframe. Now my phone has more capacity and speed than the entire computer center in 1984.
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,743
Tucson
Back when CDs came out, I wondered why they couldn't be used to record as well. (I should have patented the idea!) My comp sci friend said the files would be so massive that no computer could handle them, except a big mainframe. Now my phone has more capacity and speed than the entire computer center in 1984.
Storage capacity has gone off the charts since the ‘80s. There were technical limitations which prevented drives even as large a 1 Gig, into the ‘90s, and now, 1 T is easily attainable, and has been for years. An entry level computer can store a lot of uncompressed audio.
 

drmilktruck

Senior Gretsch-Talker
Double Platinum Member
May 17, 2009
20,416
Plymouth, MN
Storage capacity has gone off the charts since the ‘80s. There were technical limitations which prevented drives even as large a 1 Gig, into the ‘90s, and now, 1 T is easily attainable, and has been for years. An entry level computer can store a lot of uncompressed audio.
It has led to software bloat though. It used to be there were limits on how big program could be, so programmers had to be parsimonious. I remembers stacks of floppies to load a program.
 

Mr Twangy

Gretschie
Dec 27, 2020
213
Canada
Your last point about guitar amps being an outgrowth of radios is really a great insight.
If you like the analog recording, you can be comforted in knowing that it can be reproduced digitally since that is what you listened to.

@emgee254, how can you tell that the digital version added frequencies, and not that the analog version lost frequencies?

Also, "best" does not mean "most accurate", which you would only know if you were present at the recording and have perfect memory, which no one does.

These are all recording processes, i.e. the sound has been processed, i.e. CHANGED. Whether one is better than another is subjective.

This reminds me of the old TV commercials for HDTV. They show you a bad picture, then show the picture in HDTV and it looks better. But I can already see the better image on my non-HDTV, so why would I need HDTV?

This reminds of people looking for the "natural" electric guitar sound. Everything about electric guitar is artificial. There is no book written by the Creator that says THIS is what a natural electric guitar sounds like. The sound we hear is the result of choices made in components, design, etc., most of which were created before the electric guitar (I understand Fender amps were
 

audept

Senior Gretsch-Talker
Platinum Member
Dec 1, 2010
30,238
Sydney, Australia
True Story:

A few years ago the sound company that I was working for was making decisions about which new Digital Audio mix consoles we should buy. We asked all the staff to gather together to help us make the decision. We set up the 3 mix console candidates in a separate room with a switcher and ran cables out to our best speaker system at the time. Everyone was asked to write down their choice of 1,2, or 3 based on the blind listening tests only. The content played was Diana Krall and K.D. Laing for vocals, Steely Dan for band tracks, some heavy metal track that fortunately I can’t remember, and a full Symphony Orchestra track as well.

The listeners were asked to write their choice on a piece of paper to keep it all honest. Nearly everybody chose mix console #3 to be the best-sounding across all the music types.

After the test we unmasked the competitors. #1 & #2 were both expensive digital consoles worth more than $100,000 each. There was shock all around when #3 was revealed to be a budget analog console over 30 years old which sold new for less than $3,000. People were throwing these things away at the time so that they could change up to digital.

The “golden ears” slunk away with red faces ……..
:oops::rolleyes::eek:
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,743
Tucson
True Story:

A few years ago the sound company that I was working for was making decisions about which new Digital Audio mix consoles we should buy. We asked all the staff to gather together to help us make the decision. We set up the 3 mix console candidates in a separate room with a switcher and ran cables out to our best speaker system at the time. Everyone was asked to write down their choice of 1,2, or 3 based on the blind listening tests only. The content played was Diana Krall and K.D. Laing for vocals, Steely Dan for band tracks, some heavy metal track that fortunately I can’t remember, and a full Symphony Orchestra track as well.

The listeners were asked to write their choice on a piece of paper to keep it all honest. Nearly everybody chose mix console #3 to be the best-sounding across all the music types.

After the test we unmasked the competitors. #1 & #2 were both expensive digital consoles worth more than $100,000 each. There was shock all around when #3 was revealed to be a budget analog console over 30 years old which sold new for less than $3,000. People were throwing these things away at the time so that they could change up to digital.

The “golden ears” slunk away with red faces ……..
:oops::rolleyes::eek:
Great story. theres a lesson to be learned.
 


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