Is it Analog?

analog is better

Analog.

This is becoming one of my least favorite words1.

You see, folks that have no idea how electronics work use “analog” as a synonym for “good”.  If you don’t brand your gear as analog, you’re obviously peddling a load of crap.

Quick.  Name the best delay pedal in production.

Strymon Timeline?

That’s digital.

Name the delay pedal that has an 80% chance of leaving people with buyer’s remorse2?

Definitely the  Carbon Copy, which is analog.

And while we’re at it, look at how a Carbon Copy works… a whole buttload of capacitors clocked at a specific frequency to set the delay time.  If your argument against digital delay is that it messes with your signal, how is this different?  Because a sound wave changes shape?

I call bullshit.

If you played through a really crappy DOD delay 15 years ago and are using that experience to judge all digital delays, then you’re an idiot.  That’s the same mindset that keeps white supremacist groups running3.  Seriously though, you really haven’t tried much of anything that’s out there for delay.

If you think there’s an inherit tonal difference between the two, you’re right.  Digital sounds better.  Tapes, tubes and capacitors all have a lot of unavoidable flaws that lead to degradation of sound quality.  Can these be interpreted as charming or interesting?  Definitely!  I love the decay and timing issues that come with tape echos, but I would never say the sound quality is better than a digital counterpart.

“This guy has an agenda!” you’re saying.  Alright, maybe I do.  So let’s look at a more neutral source.

Check out the sound clips on this GuitarPlanet article.

Can you tell which clips are analog vs digital?

Waiting…

Got it yet?

Still waiting…

The easy answer is that it’s really really hard to tell them apart.  The sneakier answer is that they are ALL digital.  No, not the delay units, but the recordings themselves.

And that kind of presents some challenges to your belief system.  I’m not going to be one of those people that says “recordings are all digital anyway so who cares” – but instead, recordings are all digital anyways, so as long as you’re using high quality equipment, the extremely subtle differences will get lost for most folks streaming your music into their crappy earbuds.

And for the folks that have some serious listening rooms with great quality systems?  I’d almost lean toward those folks deserving an even better quality experience.  For example, we can accurately recreate the fun little warble from a tape delay, in digital form, but without the extra hiss and squeak that the analog version provides.  Doesn’t that offer a better listening experience for most music fans?  Don’t we want to get rid of imperfections that are unrelated to guitar playing?  I mean, I’ve never heard a single person say that tape hiss is an essential part of their tone…

Sorry for the venting and lecturing.  I really do like a ton of analog gear.  And “like” is understating it.  But I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the folks that just blindly write off anything digital and treat all things analog as some mystical entity that causes you to shell out tons of money for gear that will only be heard on youtube clips.

  1. Others include, “epic”, “dubstep”(remember all those “Dubstep isn’t a fad” discussions 2 years ago?  Whoops.  Still hate the word though), “game-changing”, “twerking”
  2. Based on completely scientific random forum sampling
  3. Yeah, I just made that comparison, I already regret it, if only there was a way to delete what I type