Digital vs analog: our obsession with formats and forums is really bad

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The argument that analog is better than digital goes something like this. Digital uses sampling, so no matter how many times per second a sample is taken, there are always gaps between the samples where information is lost. This 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 analog recording with as much dynamic range as digital and the noise floor on analog is horrible. Even the best analog gear in the world has around 60dB of usable dynamic range and introduces hiss that then needs to be removed (usually digital).

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

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

Analog proponents would respond to their digital counterparts with the following:

“Although we can safely say that the shortest tone you can hear is about 70ms, any pulse above the threshold of hearing is audible, no matter how short it is. So even if the ‘You can’t say a nanosecond sound is A-flat, that doesn’t mean you haven’t heard 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 is also not a fair comparison. How good is your 50-year-old digital recording?”

Our group here is very diverse; some listen only to vintage audio gear and vinyl, while others obsess over digital music streaming, network amplifiers and DACs. Many of us use a combination of tube amplifiers, turntables, hi-res streamers, and a mixed variety of speakers and headphones.

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

Music. You remember ?

Why are audiophiles so obsessed with formats and must they be right?

I had to special order a lot of records in my youth because they just weren’t available at local record stores (and I lived in Chicago, where there were a lot of big record stores). Things like Rose Tattoo (almost all), Peter Criss’ Let I rock you, from Frampton Rise up, Supertramp’s Slow motion, ELO The night the light came on in Long Beach, by Joan Jett Naked and countless others.

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I discovered all of these wonderful albums by hanging out with other music lovers, listening to live music whenever I could, and hearing people say “If you like this, you should hear this”. Sometimes it was a direct conversation, sometimes it was something you heard about, but each new album was a new story to learn and a new hour of listening to enjoy.

Only audiophiles lose their breath arguing between digital and analog when it comes to recordings.

Today we have access to an unprecedented catalog of music at the swipe of a finger and many of those hard-to-find treasures of the past are now much easier to obtain digitally.

For me, that’s the real reason to love digital, even if you’re an analog fanatic. Digital eliminates borders; I no longer have to specially order an album, pay high fees and wait 6-8 weeks for it to arrive because it was only released in Australia.

Websites like Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and Funkwhale provide access to new music that may not yet be available on mainstream streaming platforms. Streaming services like Spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz create playlists that offer a mix of older and newer artists that allow listeners to cast a much wider net when it comes to discovering new music.

Wouldn’t the audiophile community be much better off if they spent their time sharing music rather than beating their chests and shouting about digital versus analog?

One of my favorite things to read about this site (and others) is all the new music that comes out 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 precious hours on audiophile forums.

What happened to audiophile forums and why did the sense of community and camaraderie die such a horrific death?

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

I have largely stopped reading many forums as I have no interest in the ongoing wars. Every once in a while I think of writing a reply to something in a forum or on Facebook and usually delete it before hitting submit because I just don’t want to get dragged into the mud.

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

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So the next time you’re tempted to type something that’ll just push the conversation further into the mud rather than creating positive talk, tune out and go listen to some music. You will be happier in the end.

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