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Old 19th May 2018
Lives for gear
IanBSC's Avatar

It can be a bit Apples to Oranges. Do digital emulations of analog gear sound as good? Not to me. That they sound different at all tells me there is something imperfect in the process. But there is some processing that is done better by digital and is quite, advantageously transparent (within a digital environment). What seems clear is that both technologies dont excel at the same things.

What that means is there are two seperate issues at play:
1. Does the absence of digital conversion or processing equal a more pleasing sound l?
2. Does the presence of analog distortion equal a more pleasing sound?

To the first point, my external point of reference has been DSD and very high sample rate PCM (384 and 192khz). Both of these are digital, but sound closer to what I like about analog. It sounds more natural to me, but is because some flaw or coloration that emulates analog is being added? Compared to a live source, these formats sound more transparent, rather than less, and dont add noticable harmonic distortion, compression, frequency rolled, or tape artifacts.

That leads me to believe that what sounds more natural and realistic, actually is, and often "cold" or "clinical" sound is also a distortion of reality. Things sound unnatural or unrealistic, because they are, not because we crave distortion.

So in really loose terms, the answer to the first question seems to be yes: the absence of digital conversion or processing artifacts tends to equal a more pleasing sound.

To the second question: You can make a case that stuff like tape compression, harmonic distortion, roll off, etc. are things we are habituated to. On the other hand, harmonic distortion enhances detail, compression and rolloff reduce sharp peaks and sibilance. We might just like them because they are easy on the ears. I would lean towards the later, the type of inefficient transmission of some analog equipment makes audio easier to listen to.

In either case, the answer to the second question tends to be yes as well, although it is also a matter of taste. However, when people talk about "analog" sound they aren't usually talking about class AB clipping and nonlinear distortion that cheap analog systems have.