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Digital vs Analog: Our Obsession with Formats and Forums is Really Bad

Instead of debating whether analog or digital music is better, why not just listen to more music?

Records vs. CDs

The argument for analog being better than digital goes something like this. Digital utilizes sampling so no matter how many times a second a sample is taken, there are always those spaces between samples where information is lost. That same information is available on analog recordings because it is a true continuous capture. 

The argument that digital is better than analog goes something like this. Digital is better because there is no such thing as an analog recording with anywhere near as much dynamic range as a digital one and the noise floor on analog is horrid. Even the best analog gear in the world has about 60 dB of usable dynamic range and introduces some hiss that then must be removed (usually digitally at that).

Proponents of digital audio would counter their analog counterparts with the following:

“Digital samples at a rate so high that any information not captured was inaudible anyway. With the shortest tone a human ear is capable of hearing being somewhere around 70ms, even a 44.1kHz sample rate is well below that threshold. Analog lovers are just nostalgic and not objective in their analysis.”

Proponents of analog would respond to their digital counterparts with the following:

“While we can argue that the shortest tone one can hear is somewhere around 70ms, any impulse above the threshold of hearing is audible no matter how short it is. So while one may not be able to say that a 1 nanosecond sound is an A-flat, it doesn’t mean they didn’t hear it. Dynamic range and noise floor have both improved over the years and comparing a 50 year-old analog recording to a digital recording made yesterday isn’t a fair comparison either. How good is your 50 year-old digital recording?”

Our group here are a very diverse lot; some only listen to vintage audio equipment and vinyl, while others are obsessed with digital music streaming, network amplifiers, and DACs. Many of us utilize both tube amplifiers, turntables, hi-res streamers, and a mixed variety of loudspeakers and headphones.

I think what is lost in all of the arguments regarding digital vs analog, MQA vs FLAC, tubes vs solid-state, and all of the other daily audiophile battles fought on Facebook, Head-Fi, and other forums, is that this hobby is supposed to be about a love of music and enjoyment of sound.

Music. Remember that?

Why are audiophiles so obsessed with formats and having to be right?

I had to special order a lot of records in my youth because they simply were not available at the local record stores (and I lived in Chicago which had a lot of great record stores). Things like Rose Tattoo (pretty much all of them), Peter Criss’ Let Me Rock You,  Frampton’s Rise Up,  Supertramp’s Slow Motion, ELO’s The Night the Light Went On in Long Beach, Joan Jett’s Naked and countless others.

I learned about all of these wonderful albums by hanging around others who loved music, going to hear live music whenever I could and hearing people say “If you like that, you should hear this.” Sometimes, it was direct conversation, sometimes it was something you overheard others talking about, but each new album was a new story to learn and a new hour of listening to enjoy.

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Only audiophiles waste breath arguing over digital vs analog when it comes to recordings.

Today, we have access to an unprecedented catalog of music with the swipe of a finger and a lot of those hard to find treasures of the past are now much easier to get in digital format.    

For me, this is the real reason to love digital even if you are a diehard analog person. Digital removes boundaries; I no longer have to special order an album, pay a hefty fee, and wait 6-8 weeks for it to arrive because it was only released in Australia.   

Websites like Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and Funkwhale offer access to new music that still might not be available on the mainstream streaming platforms. Streaming services like Spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz create playlists the offer a mixture of older and brand new artists that allow listeners to cast a much larger net when it comes to discovering new music.

Wouldn’t the audiophile community be much better off if it spent its time sharing music as opposed to all of the chest-beating and screaming about digital vs analog?

One of my favorite things to read about on this site (and others) is all of the new music that gets released every week on multiple formats. I spend time every weekend listening to new music which only encourages me to seek out new or similar artists that may not have been on my listening radar.

I would much rather do that than waste valuable hours on audiophile forums.

What has happened to audiophile forums and why has the feeling of community and camaraderie died such a horrible death?

We’ve created a monster that is obsessed with fighting over cables, Harman curves, and component measurements.

I’ve largely quit reading many of the forums as I have no interest in the ongoing wars. Every once in awhile I think about writing a response to something in a forum or on Facebook and usually I delete it before hitting submit as I simply don’t want to be dragged into the mud.

There is a twisted degree of narcissism that is pervasive on some of these forums and I’m starting to question if any of these people actually listen to music. It’s not a good look for the audiophile community at a time when we are trying to welcome the next generation.

So the next time you are tempted to type something that only pushes the conversation further into the mud rather than create positive discourse — log off and go listen to some music. You’ll be happier in the end.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jean-François Héon

    August 27, 2021 at 2:25 pm

    Well said!

    Off to listen to “Learn to Fly,” by FKJ.

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