The Myth of Analog Superiority by Guest Writer Vojtech Meluzin
Vojtech Meluzin, the man who is MeldaProduction, offers some very compelling arguments why digital is really a superior medium for modern music production.
SoundBytes Magazine, March 2016
Vojtech Meluzin is the prolific software developer who is responsible for all the many offerings of MeldaProduction. We recently interviewed Vojtech in these pages:
Vojtech is also a very active participant in his MeldaProduction forum at KVR:
In a recent thread, one of Melda’s users expressed his gratitude about the clean sound of MeldaProduction software gear. Vojtech responded with an uncharacteristically long post that was both compelling and entertaining. We asked if he would be willing to adapt it for publication in SoundBytes and he graciously assented. So, without further ado, take it away, Vojtech …
My dad is in the electronics industry, and I was playing with electronics many years ago myself, so I know a little about it. But that was then – not much anymore, so don’t start testing me 😀 . One of the biggest problems is that nothing is even close to being perfect in physical electronic components. A condenser marked 100uF is more likely to be in somewhere between 98 and 102uF and that can vary with temperature, etc. Transistors/valves don’t have linear response. So I can only imagine how hard it is to make something at least close to perfection. My dad actually develops things like that for measurement technologies and it’s sometimes really funny what needs to be done … it’s often more like a probability game.
So in the end the poor analog engineers just must cope with all that and survive the fact that you cannot achieve perfection in the analog domain. But with digital evolution they faced the big trouble: the only remaining advantage of analog is the fact that there is no latency. That’s not much of an advantage really, considering that we can easily get latencies below 10ms these days, even with very complicated processing in digital; that equals being just 3 meters from the monitors, so it’s almost irrelevant even for live mixing.
So, the corporate PR had to come up with some serious marketing. One thing you need to realize is that fact that the companies that develop hardware gear are MUCH bigger than any software developer. They need to be. Developing software is much cheaper than developing hardware, there’s no doubt about that. I just don’t envy them 😀 . So the fight between us developers and those giants is like fight between a garage inventor and the car industry. The inventor just doesn’t have a chance. That’s why we still rely on fossil fuels despite the fact that it has long been proven that it destroys the planet … big time!
The general customer typically does not have sufficient knowledge and it becomes all about money. Fortunately the question of analog vs. digital isn’t that serious. You simply have to choose between spending lots of money for ancient hardware crap that looks good in your studio (or its digital clone 😀 ), or embrace the digital domain, save money, make your life easier, and get more functionality.
So what are the “advantages” of analog that these marketing experts and dinosaurs stubbornly insist on filling you with? Let’s enumerate …
– It adds analog warmth. What is that? It’s just the never-ending nonlinearities. Just use some saturation … ahem, like the Melda MMultiBandSaturator or the saturation knob we have in many other Melda plugins. It creates some higher harmonics, and, yes, it can make it sound slightly richer, but also somewhat distorted – that’s how it works after all. What the analog engineers tried to do is to remove these nonlinearities! But they cannot, so the PR turned it into something awesome by using these great words – classic Freudian persuasion, but there’s really no big magic behind them.
– It adds some random imperfections. First of all, analog gear is mainly used on acoustic music, where imperfections are done by the musicians themselves, so you really don’t need any more supplied by technology. And if you do, just use the modulators in any of your plugins. You can randomize just about anything, if that’s really what you need. For the record, these imperfections are generally inaudible on the high end stuff. It’s just another manufactured “positive” inspired by the fact that every time you process sound with analog using the same settings, the output will be slightly different, which isn’t a positive really (probably not a negative either, though, except for scientific pursuits where it is a problem).
– It has been used for many decades now, so it must be great. Now every time I hear this nonsense, I’m losing hope for humanity 😀 . And it’s actually the most-used argument for analog. “The big guys are using that, so it must be awesome …”. Seriously? That’s like saying that since my great-great-grandfather was travelling in steam-engine-powered trains, then I should too. Obviously nobody does that, because that would just be stupid. We have much more powerful and effective technologies today. And the same is true for audio processing. You can stay in the past and use steam-engine-based audio processing, or embrace solar-powered-based ones and go into the future.
I actually think it’s all about the fact that human capability to learn reaches close to zero after the age of 30. Sadly I’m guilty of that as well, but I’m trying to stay open-minded.
– If we don’t have analog gear, we need simulations. [Expletive deleted] … 😀 . The important question is why we need analog gear in the first place, and I summed that up above. But if you are not convinced, and many of you are not (especially those of you after 30 – no kidding, that’s a scientific study), let’s see …
Why should it sound exactly like that?? Maybe it can be better! Who says that the way particular analog equipment sounds is the best it can ever sound. I would assert that if anyone says that, then he’s just way too close-minded to even talk to, because saying that something cannot ever be improved is just silly.
Circuit modeling – that’s another thing that’s just beyond me. It’s like asking: why should we make it simple, when it can be complicated? Isn’t it enough that something sounds as good as, or even better, than the original? Who will judge that anyway? Trying to model flawed electronic circuits is just wrong, period!
In the end, it’s just the lack of knowledge in normal people – that’s not a criticism. You should create music, not study things about audio processing and ingest the marketing hype of the big dinosaurs.
So it’s all up to you. But I’m going towards the future as quickly as possible, and the future is digital processing. That’s just how it is. Everyone will have to embrace that one day, and I guarantee there will be a day when all things analog will be considered retro (like vinyl is these days), and will be used only by extremists 😀 . And there won’t be any analog simulations … it all just awaits an open-minded generation to start dominating. But that will take a long time as I see it.