Meanings, Messages & Signals

Comprehending the Differences Between Analog and Digital Recording Media

by Franklin Ellsworth Clarke

Edison Idealia Phonograph, circa 1907

Edison Idealia Phonograph, circa 1907

ONE of the most conspicuous conquests of the world market this century took place during the 1980’s. Corporate promotions managed the complete turnover of a market already saturated with numerous successful recording media. Several major electronics megaliths thus stimulated an unnecessary techno-revolution while demonstrating a deadly proficiency in social manipulation. The CD mindwar swept the working class world in an aggressive plague of conspicuous consumption. In the opinion of some notables digital recording is a completely unnecessary and over-rated technology. It is not enough to mention the consciousness-damaging effects of the CD “revolution” on human sensibilities. Digital technology, and its glaring failure to deliver promised objectives, provokes clarified scientific comment


With the appearance of the CD systems came a concurrent tide of resistance among afficionadi of the existing recording media. Conspicuous differences between analog and digital recording media were wholly qualitative in content, a sizable population expressing the commentary of dissent. This was an affront which corporate controllers would not tolerate.

Remarkable cohesive unities appeared among widely separated and independent audio industry commentators. Based on sensations and “feelings”, media experts the world over complained of the “harsh edge”, “sharp attack”, and “cold atmosphere” which characterized CD sound. The “soft warmth” of both phonographic and magnetic recordings, became part of an established lexicon among CD critics.

Audio engineers recalled this very same commentary when transistor technology was socially deployed. While germanium transistors produced truly wonderful results in radio or television reception, they failed in audio applications. There were those who deplored the “cold hard sound” of transistor stereo amplifiers, preferring the “warm soft sound” produced by vacuum tubes. Certain companies continued manufacturing vacuum tube stereo amplifiers, classics in the collector’s art today.

Musicians of the late 1960’s recall when transistorized guitar amplifiers were first introduced, discovering for themselves the very same “hard, edgy, cold, and unresponsive” sound. Those who enjoyed the use of distortion and natural feed-back effects were shocked to discover that transistorized amplifiers would not function in either capacity. Further changes were recognized when the germanium of early transistors were replaced by silicon. The large germanium transistors produced radio tones which were “clear and deep” when compared with the “thin and shallow” tone of silicon transistors.

Quantitative studies of the phenomenon produced intriguing results. Audio engineers found that vacuum tubes best amplified all the even harmonics, while transistors best amplified all the odd harmonics of input signals. It was assumed that the “warm” or “cold” sensibility was the result of these overtone differences.

Believing that the transistor trend would dominate, many engineers continued designing transistor stereo amplifiers. These were abysmal failures in the market. Vacuum tube stereo amplifiers maintained their status as preferred components among stereo enthusiasts, while older and yet-thriving companies dominated the stereo scene.

The “warm-soft” awareness persists today, evidenced in the extensive market sales of trendy tube-driven amplifiers for both stereo systems and musical instruments. The market on trendy vinyl disc systems continues to evidence a new analog renaissance. Casual visits to local art districts reveal the growing preference. Nouveau analog showrooms grant no standing room on certain days. Recording Industries, dispassionately watching this social phenomenon, are supplying new vinyl pressings in anticipation of the new movement back to analog.


Provoking a stale and caustic response by SONY and other foreign flags, reasons why the Industry attempted dissuasion of all such “feelings oriented” arguments or assessments were all too obvious. Heavily invested in digital, the Industry theme had nothing to do with aesthetics.

SONY soon sponsored and propelled its own propaganda, a vicious and derisive inference which focused on the “fallibility of human discernment” and the “infallibility” of digital performance. Inventing and pronouncing its own conclusions on Western aesthetics, this tide of counter-commentary reviled the human sensorium as exercised in the West. What the Industry effectively demanded was a conversion of Western aesthetics to Eastern ones, a conversion which is innate in the very nature of CD sound.

SONY called on consumers to “improve and modernize their audio discernment”. Demanding that consumers accept the digital sound as “audio perfection”, the industrial response was typically unyielding and dictatorial. Critics of digital were accused of failed discipline, inadequate qualification, and antiquated sensibilities.

Industry engineers stopped listening to the complaints of consumers now. They persisted in their own kind of silence, satisfied that the technology had its own “proven success”. The consumer field studies further evidenced the correctness of their pride. Control of the market alone would now stifle all complaints. But despite the authoritative stance, SONY had no power by which to dissuade the Western population which clearly “felt the difference” between analog and digital media-SONY failed to realize and calculate that purely ethno-racial sensibilities will continue to dominate market preferences; an obstacle which they had failed to calculate in their extensive market surveys. Technology is thus innately biased, an ethno-racial suffusion which tints every new production.

Music is music, so they thought There were those emotionless foreign “classical” artists whose performances were eminently suited to the digital technology; impossible to discern whether live or recorded. But discerning Western listeners persisted in sensing the vacuousness by which compact discs have yet been characterized.


For a short time, sizable consumer populations suddenly began preferring analog. Vinyl “throw-away” houses began experiencing voluminous sales, often selling out their stock in a few hours after opening the doors. As CD houses began reporting this market drain, industry manipulators began withdrawing vinyl from the streets. But even while vinyl discs were being taken away, magnetic tape was selling as never before. Here was an amazing persistence in which social preferences defied the manipulative machinations of foreign business. The Industry observed these aesthetically propelled trends with concern. Could they fight an aesthetic which was purely ethno-racial in nature?