START ON THE RIGHT TERMS In this first instalment we bust a few analogue vs digital myths on our way to baking a digital cake that tastes pure analogue. Tutorial: Dax Liniere
For a long time, there was a clear and undeniable winner of the analogue vs digital, OTB (outside-the-box) vs ITB (in-thebox) debate. Digital technology just could not match the euphonics (those tonal harmonics we find so pleasing to the ear) we’d grown used to in the analogue domain. But as the understanding of digital signal processing has advanced and processing power became faster and more affordable, ITB has found firm and equal footing with what was once only achievable in the analogue domain. A FIRE WITHIN
This series of articles is not intended to throw fuel on the fire, but help you blaze your own trail. While the rest are busy arguing, we can work to better ourselves at our craft and get out-of-thebox results from within it. To really understand how to get a rich, full sound in-the-box, we need to know what’s really happening to our signals as they pass through analogue consoles and outboard gear. You often hear people say that songs mixed on an analogue console have more ‘depth’, ‘width’ AT 50
and ‘punch’ than ITB mixes. As a scienceminded person who understands electronics, I’ve always found some of these descriptions to be a little dubious.
WIDTH — A LEAKY DEFINITION
DEPTH — DOWN TO THE FLOOR
Analogue equipment has an affliction called crosstalk, which is where signal from one signal path ‘leaks’ into adjacent signal paths. This can occur when one or more tracks on a printed circuit board are in close proximity. In a DAW or
Analogue consoles, as much as we love them, are imperfect. They have background noise, present as hiss, and although a professional console will have an acceptably low noise-floor, it still has more noise than well-designed digital audio workstation (DAW) software.
The term ‘depth’ describes how far into the soundfield you can hear, or the contrast between the closest and farthest sounds. The impression of distance or depth is caused by the psychoacoustic properties of volume and delay, hence reverb. As the tail of a reverb decays, it becomes exponentially quieter until, at some point, it drops below the noise floor, becoming masked. It’s true that the human brain is capable of discerning sounds below a constant, steady-state noise floor, but it also stands to reason that we could hear ‘deeper’ into the soundfield with less noise present.
‘Width’ is even easier to define and can be used to explain away another one of the myths surrounding analogue consoles.
digital mixer, crosstalk cannot naturally occur since each ‘signal path’ is a separate stream of data.
In a stereo mixing scenario, a mono sound that’s panned centre is obviously not coming out of the centre, since there is no centre speaker. It’s created in what we call the phantom centre. This is simply the psycho-acoustic phenomenon where an identical sound of the same volume and phase arrives at both ears at the same time. This gives the impression that it originates from directly in front of us. When you pan a sound hard left, none of that signal is routed to the right channel and viceversa. If you adjust a pan control away from