Forum Feed:Analog V Digital, Take 12

Anderton MusicPlayer.com posts: At some seminars we did in Mexico a few years back, you [producer/engineer Bruce Swedien] mentioned your aversion to signal processing, but also how you liked to capture to analog tape for its qualities, then transfer to digital to preserve. Do you still feel the same way about analog
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Anderton MusicPlayer.com posts: At some seminars we did in Mexico a few years back, you [producer /engineer Bruce Swedien] mentioned your aversion to signal processing, but also how you liked to capture to analog tape for its qualities, then transfer to digital to preserve. Do you still feel the same way about analog vs. digital?

Bruce Swedien: Looking back now, it seems that as soon as the newness of digital recording had worn off, we found that sound quality was still a very key issue. The quality of the sound of digital recording was, and still is, measured by how close it sounds to analog recording.

Five years ago I would have said, “Digital recording is sharp and clear, but by itself, as the primary recording medium, it’s a bit harsh to my ear.” At that time, digital recording sounded as if part of the sound was missing. Low volume level dynamics were shapeless and fuzzy. Those criticisms are now a thing of the past, at least for me. However, there are still a few sonic issues when recording music 100% in the digital domain that bother me.

A couple of years ago I would have answered, “I don’t think either is better, merely different.” Well, digital sound, as it applies to music recording, has made tremendous progress in the past year or two. For instance, with the introduction of high-resolution 24/96 digital recording, or Sony/Philips’ DSD technology, the sound of digital recording has improved drastically.

Today I’d say I’m using digital as a primary recording medium almost all the time. Please note I said, “almost all the time.” I found out long ago that, as an engineer, producer, or artist, you cannot impose your intent over a piece of music’s sonic personality. I do occasionally find a song that would actually prefer to be recorded or mixed to analog than digital. You cannot record or mix a song to a particular medium just because you want to. The music always wins out! Let the music tell us what it wants.

Here’s a story that I think really illustrates that point. I was working with Michael Jackson on his Epic Records album Invincible. We were mixing the song “2000 Watts” at Hit Factory/Criteria Studios in Miami, Florida. As Michael, Teddy Riley, and I often do on these high-energy, funky, dance songs, we asked Teddy Riley to sit down at the console and kick-off the mix. Teddy’s concept of the mix values of the basic groove cannot be denied, and after a day or so, he had the groove absolutely kickin’.

Then Teddy and Michael asked me to take over and complete the mix. I worked on the mix for a day or so by myself, and planned on recording the mix on a highly respected, high-resolution, digital recording system. Michael, Teddy Riley, and I listened to the mix. All three of us thought it sounded really great.

I don’t know why, but I kept thinking to myself, “I wonder what this mix of this song would sound like, stored on analog.” So, after a bit I said to Michael and Teddy, “I absolutely must try a mix on analog!” Of course they were both eager to hear it.

I had the technicians set up my Ampex ATR 102, one-inch, two-track master mix machine at 30ips. The result was astounding! Everyone loved the sound of “2000 Watts” mixed on my two-track analog machine…a perfect example of the character of the music declaring its personality.

The bottom line in any music recording or mixing situation is to listen to the sound of the music with your ears first, but then ask your heart, “Is this the way I want my music to sound?” Or better yet, ask your heart, “Is there any way I can make it sound better?”