What if digital had never happened

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Giacomo Belbo, Sep 12, 2017.

  1. Claude Benshaul

    Claude Benshaul Forum Resident

    To say that this article isn't biased is worthy of the horse blinder's award of the century. Still it did accomplish to generate a bit of a stir so perhaps it's worth a serious discussion.

    "What if music lovers worldwide had rejected the shiny new digital format because they thought LPs sounded so much better?"
    Music lover's didn't think LP sounded better and years before the launch of the CD revolution they made it pretty obvious by buying compact cassettes that they were fed up with handling LP records.

    "What if, to this day, music had remained blissfully all-analog?"
    Except that it wasn't all analog even before 1983.

    "The remaining big studios with great-sounding rooms should be placed on the list of endangered species. The engineering knowhow that once passed from one generation to the next is fast being lost. I blame digital."
    Strangely enough I believe that the very same big studios are the one to blame for the dreadful crap mastering of modern records which is unsuitable for HiFi listening. It is perfectly suitable for on the go listening in noisy environment, thought. So perhaps the engineering know-how wasn't lost at all but just shifted its focus to make music enjoyable when and where people are listening to it today.

    "Thanks to streaming, we can now hear more music than ever, but so much of that music is overcompressed and mixed to sound "right" in the car, or through earbuds while listening outdoors, or in trains, planes, and buses. The Loudness Wars, which have been so incredibly destructive to the sound of music, might never have happened had music remained analog and more people still sat down to listen at home. We might even have had time to read album liner notes. Remember liner notes? Another casualty of digital. [sigh]"
    Actually he is 100% correct here.

    "John Schaefer, host of WNYC Radio's New Sounds program, took the opposite view: "Seems to me that digital had a leveling effect on the music industry. So if the industry [had] stayed analog, it would be hard to imagine the indie scene thriving the way it has."
    This is also correct in my opinion.

    "I'm still not sure how or why, but for me, a stylus tracing a groove brings music back to life more completely than does even the very best DAC processing zeros and ones. It's a magic trick that never gets old."
    It's really magical how holding a record makes you forget that it too needed a DAC and processing of zeros and ones at some stage before it became a lump of plastic.
    crooner, basie-fan, crispi and 4 others like this.
  2. The FRiNgE

    The FRiNgE Forum Resident

    On this point I'd like to comment, the cassette was a mainstream format, not as much for the audiophile. Records had always been the mainstream format on all levels until 8 tracks, then cassettes took over. Convenience reigns in the mass market, records are not as portable. New technology is always tantalizing and exciting. The cassette was user friendly, immune to ticks and pops, a convenient portable package. Maybe people were tired of the larger format, in this regard I think you're correct. The audiophile was never fed up with handling LP's, well, many audiophiles. In my experience, the earliest CD players and CD's were a disappointment. Their sound was thin, strangely dull during softer passages, then shrill during louder passages. No amount of bass or treble compensation could correct that. At least a record sounding too warm or bright could be compensated and sounded very good. At that time, I continued to listen to my LP's.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2017
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  3. The FRiNgE

    The FRiNgE Forum Resident

    If digital never happened, analog would have continued on the trend of smaller, more convenient packaging. The cassette was by far the most convenient package by the time the CD was introduced. Would the cassette have been improved for better sonic performance? Yes but mostly no. For example metal formulation improved cassette performance on par with 7.5 ips reel to reel. But I am certain engineers would have soon utilized the improved formulation, for a smaller micro-cassette, slower speed, and acceptable sound for the mainstream consumer. The mass market always favors convenience over highest performance. The quality and sonic performance only needs to be acceptable. If engineers could make a cassette the size of a button, the consumer would be amazed, then go out and buy it. They wouldn't need to sound better.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2017
  4. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident

    Hong Kong
    All of existence is digital - everything that exists can be broken down to binary bits of 1 and 0. Life = 1, death = 0. Light = 1, dark = 0. Notes from a piano can be broken down to binary - and that included all sound from a turntable etc. Everything is a series of on/offs - the electricity inside your brain and Myelin Sheath is firing in binary offs and ons.

    The question about quality generally comes down to the quality of the recording to the given media disc AND the quality of the playback device to deliver the content of the disc. And you can add the sensitivities of those individuals doing the listening. You have to factor in the listener.

    Two people can listen to Tupac and one person will jump around the room gyrating to the songs and another person will want to run away screaming because he can't stand rap music. They both hear the exact same thing at the exact same time and the reaction is bliss for one and vomit inducing for the other. Apply Opera, Classical, Jazz. My dad hated improvisational jazz (the likes of a Coltrane, Davis etc). He wanted melody and much preferred big band - something you could get up and dance to.

    It's amazing that people still argue about vinyl versus CD versus Hi-Res digital. Music coming out today is coming out on all of these formats. All the major pop/rock artists have their new current albums available on CD, Vinyl and downloads. All the machines are cheap - $400 gets you a pretty decent turntable which is not an outrageous price. I find computer audio to be an abortion on quality music playback but hey if someone else likes it go for it. And it's CHEAP. Good CD is a bit tougher to find cheap in my view but can be found if you look.
    H8SLKC, nosliw and The FRiNgE like this.
  5. The FRiNgE

    The FRiNgE Forum Resident

    Absolutely correct on the quantum level. But we are talking about stair-steps of 1's and 0's so infinitesimally small, no electronic sound measuring device we have comes close to detecting it. So, analog sounds infinitely continuous, but in reality it is not. Human hearing is both analog and digital, digital at the inner ear and processing in the brain, yep!
    Richard Austen likes this.
  6. Sark-asm is the lowest form of wit.
  7. missan

    missan Forum Resident

    What if Homo Sapiens haven't wandered out of Afrika 50 thousend years ago.
  8. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    8-Track (?!?) was never a mainstream format. Ever. Except possibly in the minds of some very tiny percentage of consumers whose interest music happened to coincide with the appearance of the format. It was never meant to replace LP, rather it was designed for portability and ease of use/storage. It failed, quickly. On all counts. Somebody looked at the dump loop in a radio control booth one day and said, "Whoa! What if we made the loop r-e-a-l-l-y long?" 8-track certainly had its following, but it never came even vaguely close to displacing LP.

    Cassette was designed to approximate reel-to-reel quality in an easier to handle, easier to store format. Fidelity of pre-recorded cassettes was good but rarely great. The public embraced cassette for its portability though, and its versatility (mix tape gifts and trades, car use, easier storage, copying LPs, etc.). According to Sam Sniderman (Sam the Record Man, in Toronto, one of the top five retailers in North America for several decades), cassette tape sales only put a dent in LP sales. There was never any real displacement.

    CD initially faltered because a lot of recording and mastering engineers needed a couple of years to sort themselves out. The massive public demand for digital and a new technology era (a technology sea change being heavily promoted by IBM, Sony, Xerox and dozens of other big, global companies) helped drive consumers to CD even while it was still finding its legs. It was inevitable that LP would be replaced, and even with its teething problems CD initially rang all the bells (high fidelity, portability, durability, ease of storage) except one - recordability. However, copyability and recordability showed up quickly at the consumer level. That coincided with the recording industry realizing that it had put a copyable master in the hands of every single consumer who owned a computer. Anyway, LP rapidly dwindled after that.

    As physical media is being further displaced, the only way for digital to go is higher resolution. Problem is, the best LP recordings years ago already bumped into at least a few of the limits of human hearing and dynamic range. CD largely exceeded the limits of hearing and audible dynamic range.

    Now, we're getting into higher resolutions that attempt to lower the recorded noise floor still more in order to eke out the last possible bits of audible detail and dynamic range that healthy hearing in 20- or 30-somethings might be able to hear.

    Noise floor in your listening room of 35-40 db or more though? Don't waste money on ultra high-res files. Over the age of 45? Don't waste your money on ultra high-res files. Actually, you'll probably thoroughly enjoy your LPs absolutely as much or more than any other format.

    With my own hearing currently topping out at about 15K, my doctor telks me I'm in the top few percentile for my age group. Excellent. All the music exists still well below that. I've noticed though that my listening room has to be a bit quieter in order for me to clearly hear the softest passages that I used to hear more easily. So, depending on your age and hearing health, be careful what you wish for (and spend money on).

    Digital is great. If digital had never happened, the main benefactor would have been the recording industry because they'd never have let the illegal copying cat out of the bag. The industry would still have a stranglehold on musicians/bands/composers, and music consumers would be the poorer for it. Progress, for all its fits and starts and occasional dead-ends, is good.
  9. swvahokie

    swvahokie Forum Resident

    8 track sound was highly dependent on setup. Its sound depended on the quality of the comb stuffed under the cartridge to make it play. I found that black combs seemed to rob the sound of its life. I preferred blue ones. :)
    I did enjoy the unique track mixing on some of my tapes though. They were fun to listen to stoned.
    audiomixer and timind like this.
  10. nosliw

    nosliw Forum Resident

    Ottawa, ON, Canada
    I can't say I'm surprised that Steve Guttenberg continues to post anti-digital diatribes. He really comes across as a bitter curmudgeon in the article.
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  11. Higlander

    Higlander Well-Known Member

    Florida, Central
    audiophiles were fed up with a lot of the analog issues though.
    Warps, noise, scratches, tracking issues, alter bass to make it more trackable and so on.

    Audophiles were the one wanting something that would not have noise, better channel separation, flatter frequency response, and no IGD.
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  12. Dennis0675

    Dennis0675 Burnout from the smoke pit

    If digital never came along people would still be buying music
  13. GroovyGuy

    GroovyGuy Well-Known Member

    Halifax, NS Canada
    If digital never happened .... I'd have a LOT more money in the bank lol. Seriously. In my world I have places for both analog and digital. Some recordings I have sound better on analog sources and some sound better on digital sources. While that article is a decent read, it's quite obvious it's not a truly balanced piece.
  14. Apesbrain

    Apesbrain Forum Resident

    East Coast, USA
    If digital never happened, I'd listen to a lot less music than I do today.
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  15. Brother_Rael

    Brother_Rael Forum Resident

    Scottish Borders
    Some audiophiles forget that all too often.
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  16. Robert C

    Robert C Forum Resident

    London, UK
    If the writers of articles such as the one linked here, or the ones praising an expensive cable, or the ones claiming that this amp sounds different to that amp without providing any evidence actually invested their time and energy into lobbying the record companies to stop the loudness war and calling out the majority of high res masters for the rubbish that they are audiophillia would be in a better place and we might actually have some more young people wanting to invest their time and energy into getting the most out of their new music purchases. Articles like this are a distraction by an incompetent, incapable, naive, and ultimately scared hi-fi press with nothing useful to print and no relevance to the millions of today's music fans.
    Dax_Frost, basie-fan, timind and 2 others like this.
  17. Whoopycat

    Whoopycat Forum Resident

    Des Moines
    I defended Steve in a different thread a couple weeks ago, but he deserves the 20-page roasting he's going to get here for this turd of an article.
    crooner, basie-fan, Robert C and 3 others like this.
  18. acdc7369

    acdc7369 Forum Resident

    Pittsburgh, PA
    Well I tried.
    timind likes this.
  19. Jack Flannery

    Jack Flannery Forum Resident

    Houston, TX
    Not to mention a killer pressing.
    timind likes this.
  20. nosliw

    nosliw Forum Resident

    Ottawa, ON, Canada
    On the other hand, Guttenberg has been singing praises for the really poorly made Audio Technica LP60 (very well-known to have skipping problems, speed inaccuracies, inconsistent built quality, etc.) on his CNet article. I had the misfortune arguing with someone claiming that the LP60 is a perfect player and uses Guttenberg's and even Fremer's brief review as his argument. :doh:
    timind likes this.
  21. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident

    Pretty much agree, having witnessed some of this first hand as a lawyer who did a lot of work in the field and having friends who were engineers. When did Protools really take off? That helped kill the traditional studios, as did an anti-establishment bent that was pretty characteristic of both punk and rap culture. I didn't listen to much '80s pop but it was slick, overproduced, and as I recall very much dependent on electronic drum sounds and Yamaha synths. (I guess all 'pop' is sort of establishment mush and the edgy 'new' music is pushing back against it).
    Punk, and later, rap, a/k/a "hip hop" with DJ'ing were about "no" production values or sampling and took the "creative" work away from the traditional studio auteurs, like Phil Ramone, and put the reins in the hands of folks like Rick Rubin, who was working out of his dorm room.
    Not sure that consumers adopted the format immediately- recall it was classical that first got issued (or reissued), but it didn't take that long for the records to get pulled from Tower--they weren't restocking deeply anyway- and replaced with the CD.
    I don't think there was any 'love' for the LP by the majority of people- even though I was buying and had a lot of records by that time, I didn't really start to focus on the format as something "special" until after it was declared dead-- that's when I'd make those trips to Princeton and other record stores searching out the last surviving copies of things, or used records.
    My first impressions of CD were pretty bad- whether it was the machines, the way the stuff was mastered or other factors. I'm not sure the vinyl-heads were pre-disposed against it- I wasn't; at the time, I didn't think it lived up to the hype, and just started to go survivalist on vinyl. Digital today is, I think, a different matter and my views have also changed.
    I think Steve G. likes to write provocative stuff for mainstream readers. It isn't necessarily fact-based; the rhetorical question reminds me of a book I once picked up in a supermarket and brought home-- "What if the South had won the Civil War?" only to be surprised by the premise when I looked more closely: "because aliens had landed and supplied them with AK-47s." True fact (that this book existed, not the premise). I read the book. It was a waste of time.
  22. audiomixer

    audiomixer As Bald As The Beatles

    Beyond music? No Hi-Def TV,no streaming, no cell phones,no computers, no DVDs, no Blu-Rays, no 4K...Shall I go on?
    nosliw likes this.
  23. audiomixer

    audiomixer As Bald As The Beatles

    Boy, I sure don't...
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  24. audiomixer

    audiomixer As Bald As The Beatles

    And loved those track changes right in the middle of a song. Classic!
    timind likes this.
  25. acdc7369

    acdc7369 Forum Resident

    Pittsburgh, PA
    Yep, all the inherent problems of analog were immediately solved when digital came along. Some people just have bad tastes in their mouths about it due to a combination of record companies poorly mastering a lot of CDs and misinformation.

    "Blissfully all analog" is such a crock.
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