A big thanks to Karl Barnes of Loom Sound Studio for this article. To learn more about Karl, check out his Q&A with Access Analog.
In today’s digital era, it’s easy to get lost in the endless array of plugins and software that claim to bring your music to life. But sometimes, it’s worth taking a step back and exploring the unmatched charm of analog recording.
In this blog post, we’ll dive into five timeless pros of analog recording that every audio enthusiast should know. From its warmth and richness to the immersive soundstage, analog equipment has a magic that just can’t be replicated.
So, whether you’re a seasoned professional or an aspiring audiophile, join us as we uncover 5 analog recording pros and discover why analog recording is still a vital part of the audio landscape.
Analog Provides Natural Warmth
The warmth, richness, and “vibe” of analog equipment are some of its most defining characteristics. This warmth is due to the non-linear harmonic distortion that occurs naturally in analog circuits. This adds a tasteful saturation and unique character to the sound, making it a useful tool for the discerning engineer looking to inject some life into the more clinical and colder-sounding digital recordings of today.
This natural warmth makes the sound far more pleasing to the ear and helps glue elements of a mix together organically or stand out boldly with personality. Personally, I find this is the department that digital emulations of analog gear can’t come close to nailing.
Don’t just take my word for it. Try putting a harmonic distortion device like the infamous Culture Vulture on your Bus/Group Channel today and see for yourself. For the Mix Bus, I recommend light settings in Pentode Mode for a thick and rich tape-esque sound; for everything else, no rules apply, drive the snot out of it and have fun.
“I could play you tapes of recordings I made at Lansdowne in the 1960s, all through valve equipment, valve compressors as well, and it sounds so warm and natural.” – Vic Keary of Thermionic Culture (Culture Vulture, The Phoenix Compressor, Fat Bustard)
Analog Imparts Improved Soundstage
First off, what is a soundstage? Well, In the fantastical world of audiophiles, a soundstage is an imaginary three-dimensional space created by the high-fidelity reproduction of sound in a stereo speaker/headphone system. This allows the listener to hear the precise location of instruments when listening to a given piece of music.
Most analog equipment has a far wider and deeper soundstage compared to the average digital processor, giving the engineer a bigger canvas to design and control the dimension of the music. This improved soundstage can make the mix sound far more spacious and immersive, resulting in a more engaging listening experience.
This is particularly useful when mixing complex multi-layered tracks, where the improved soundstage can push each track to stand out while feeling like it lives inside a real breathing space, drastically improving intelligibility and cohesion. Anyone who has mixed or mastered flat-sounding projects will understand the importance of the above to the critical listener, and in my opinion, these can be improved with judicious amounts of analog circuitry magic.
Often I am mastering such projects that are fantastic songs but have unfortunately been layered with poorly sounding plugin after plugin, resulting in a very static and 1-dimensional listen. If I had the mix at hand, a creative dose of automation across the tracks might bring me closer to the results I desire above, but in mastering this often is not possible.
To solve this issue, I tend to employ the trusty Fairman TMEQ. This all-tube 6-band equalizer immediately delivers that desired separation between instruments and helps naturalize over-processed and “fake” sounding mixes with its seated-sounding tone control. The whopping 12 tube circuits deliciously packed inside are no joke and will bring back any mix from the land of the dead that I throw at them.
Pairing this with a more forward-sounding analog equalizer like the Focusrite 315 Mk2 helps me redesign the front and back side of a mix, adding the much-needed sonic contrast to deliver a deep 3-dimensional, and engaging soundstage. I have been hearing whispers from the elves at Access Analog – you may get to try this wonderful combo yourself one day.
PRO TIP – If you don’t believe the whispering elves in my head/can’t wait that long, I recommend trying out the Rupert Neve Designs Master Buss Processor. Not only does this device have a cracking compressor and transformer saturator, but it also has a unique set of M/S controls (Band specific width and depth control) for adjusting the soundstage and “V” of your mix. I like it very much; you will love it!
Analog is More Intuitive
Analog equipment often has a more intuitive user interface showing arguably less information visually than their digital counterparts, allowing the engineer to make real-time adjustments with a more natural, focused approach to processing.
Less time staring at a screen and letting your eyes/pesky YouTube influencer tutorials inform your decisions, and more time feeling the music and adjusting with your ears.
In my opinion, this injects as much vibe into the sound as the actual processors themselves.
Analog Encourages You to Commit
In an age where every engineer can instantly recall their digital sessions for infinite tweaks inside the box, there is a certain catharsis of fully committing to recorded sounds.
Before Pro Tools, sculpting on the way in and printing is practically how every classic album was created. I believe this “old school” method holds up even stronger today. Why? Well, the power to easily recall and adjust every single parameter of your digital project comes with one major disadvantage, creative paralysis.
Recall is great in certain situations, especially if you need to take a break from a session. But overthinking is not, which often happens with digital plugins.
How can anyone confidently finish anything if it costs nothing to load up all aspects of a mixing session for endless last-minute changes? Working engineers and artists will know well the anxiety-inducing effects of this creative indecision – bad vibes.
In this era, most clients have unfortunately come to expect this type of service from their engineers. I would rather convince them of a far better sound with analog printing and commit confidently and boldly to our musical ideas – for everyone’s sanity! Win your clients over with a killer chain on Access Analog’s platform and never look back.
But if you do need to make changes and print again, it is nice to have the robotics do the recall for you when using Access Analog.
Analog Allows For Consistent Professional Sound Quality
Analog equipment may have fewer options on the market but often has a more consistent high-quality sound compared to the nearly infinite number of digital plugins available, which can be infected with nasty aliasing, coding, and odd latency, ruining your sound without you even realizing it.
The consistently high sound quality of analog equipment makes it a reliable choice for working professionals who require only the finest tools used by the top percentage of engineers. You can really trust your music is in good hands with time-tested hardware manufacturers like Neve and SSL. Hence the reason most of your favorite records/studios use stacks of the good stuff.
Now, here comes the big con that I have held off mentioning until now that you are likely well aware of – It’s all so bloody expensive.
Unfortunately, this is the high bar of admission into the world of analog that puts off a lot of engineers, and understandably so. Most of us in this day and age are used to getting digital products for much cheaper or free if we dare to sail the high seas of Pirate Bay.
This is why platforms like Access Analog have, in my opinion, come at the right time. In an era of enough replications (Waves..Yawn), remakes, and reissues to make your eyes bleed, there is certainly a universal yearning for authenticity that real analog hardware delivers with gusto. Thanks to companies like Access Analog, that bar of admission is lowering dramatically, and future engineers can only benefit.
In conclusion, the timeless allure of analog recording remains alive and well, even in an age dominated by digital technology. As we’ve explored, the warmth, improved soundstage, intuitive workflow, and consistent professional sound quality of analog equipment are just some of the reasons why many engineers and musicians continue to cherish its presence.
So, why not take a leap of faith and experience the captivating world of analog recording for yourself? With innovative platforms like Access Analog making this exceptional technology more accessible than ever, there’s no better time to unleash your creativity and rediscover the authentic magic that analog has to offer. Don’t just take my word for it; dive in, experiment, and share your remarkable discoveries!