4 reasons why digital could never replace analog

vinyl

4 reasons why digital could never replace analog

vinyl

There’s a debate about analog-versus-digital over the past few decades and it seems like it will go on and on.

This debate has been discussed in photography for years and the end result is on digital’s favor. Even the most professional photographers are using digital cameras (DSLR), digital editing softwares like photoshop, digital galleries like Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr these days and nobody’s complaining.

What about the music?

Do pro-musicians prefer digital or analog while crafting their art?

What is the most common medium to consume music?

And finally, how far can digital go?

I broke this debate down into 4 categories for the sake of being just.

Spoiler alert, “Digital is taking over, will took over more areas and I’m very happy with it as an Audio Engineer”.

Here’s why

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Tuner ・ What, Why, How, Which?

Tuner What, Why, How, Which?

Let me answer the missing questions first.

Who ・ Everyone should use a tuner to tune their instruments.
When ・ All the time. 

What is a tuner?

A tuner is a device used by musicians and technicians to measure the pitch of a musical instrument to adjust or correct the input signal to the desired pitch. It basically shows how far you are from the nearest musical note.

Why should you use one?

Whether you are practicing yourself or playing live with a band, your instrument must be in tune with other instruments in order to sound in harmony and musical. If you’re not in tune with others even if you play the right notes on the fretboard you won’t be playing the right song. You are playing something different.

How to tune?

Tuning means adjusting the pitch (tension) of every string on your instrument to a reference point (reference frequency). Reference points of musical notes can be seen here Note Frequencies.

While tuning, you will see a needle that shows your current distance to the reference pitch. You have to tighten or loose your strings accordingly. When done, start over at least 2 times for all the strings. If you have a floating bridge like a Floyd Rose, you may need to do this a few more times and this is perfectly normal.

 

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Which tuning suits best?

There are plenty of tuning styles in the guitar world. Almost all of the guitars pre-set to “E Standard” before you buy them because it’s the standard tuning.

But there are alternative tunings too and you heard them in a lot of records.

Here’s the most used tunings. These tunings are named after the note of the thickest (lowest) string.

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Anatomy of a Compressor – What is what, do you need one?


Anatomy of a Compressor – What is what, do you need one?

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-6-45-20-pmCompressor is a limiting amplifier. It limits the volume of the louder parts of a signal according to some setscreen-shot-2016-11-03-at-3-50-32-pms of parameters.

Threshold This is the point where compressor starts to compress (attenuation) the magnitude of signal. When your signal reaches to that level, it starts to get louder lesser than the original signal. If signal does not reach to that threshold, the signal isn’t compressed.

Ratio This parameter determines how much compression will be applied to the signal that exceeds the threshold. Some typical ratios are 1:1 , 1.7:1 , 2:1 , 3:1, 4:1 , 8:1 , 10:1 , 20:1 ..

The first number is the amount of dB that exceeds the threshold

The second number is the amount of dB that will be added after the threshold.

1:1 For every 1 dB above the threshold, the output will be 1 dB. No compression.
1.7:1 For every 1.7 dB above threshold, the output will be 1 dB. Mild compression.

4:1 For every 4 dB above threshold, the output will be 1 dB. High compression.

8:1 and above is practically limiting the signal to a ceiling level (threshold). Limiter.

Attack Is amount of time in milliseconds that has to pass for the compressor to kick in after the signal hits the threshold. Let’s say you’re dealing with a guitar strum. The initial part of uncompressed signal will be loud and the rest will be quieter. High difference in volume.

If you set your attack to the minimum (near 0 ms), initial part of the signal will be attenuated immediately. So there will be less difference in volume between the initial part and the rest (sustain).

If you set your attack rather high (20ms and above), initial part of the signal will be attenuated slowly. Some of the first waves will pass through without compression until the compressor kicks in. So there will be some difference in volume between the initial part and the rest.

Release Is the amount of time in milliseconds that has to pass for the compressor to let signal go without compression after the signal drops down the threshold. In other words, the recovery time of a compressor, the next transient will be affected as if attack was 0ms unless it’s fully recovered.

Gain (Make-up Gain) This is the last stage of a compressor. It boosts the overall volume so the compressed signal can be loud again.

Meter/Graph

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-3-50-32-pmThis meter shows the amount of gain reduction, GR (compression/time). When it sit on 0, the compression is 0dB. When it moves to the left side at a certain speed, the compression is what the needle shows. The time that the needle reaches to the far left is attack time. The time that the needle goes back to 0 is release time.

Sometimes it can be used to monitor input and output levels. Its purpose is to compare GR to Make up Gain amounts. Ideally you don’t want a compressor to affect your perceived volume, no boost, no reduction. So you first look at the input meter, see the peak value then you look at the output meter. If there is a difference (there always will be), you compensate it with make-up gain.

Block Diagram

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Visualizing the impact

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Do you need one?


A compressor is a dynamic range processor. If you want to reduce your dynamic range then yes, you need one.

Meaning, if you want your quieter parts (sustain) louder while not boosting the transients, a compressor is all you need.

It can be used on solos to have longer bigger notes like violin or on funky rhythms and chicken picking to beef it up.

But don’t forget, it reduces your dynamics. You will sound less punchy with a compressor. You can’t have punchier sound with a compressor ON than without it. And also a guitar signal will always run in some kind of compression along its path. Overdrive pedals (diodes, buffers), valve  amplifiers, speakers will always compress your signal anyway. Use it with caution 

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Parallel Processing Explained

We use our effect pedals consecutively, side by side in real world. But it doesn’t mean that they are in series, sometimes. And it doesn’t mean that we can’t use them in parallel fashion, in digital world.

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What Causes Latency

“The sound is coming too late”

“There’s a delay when I play guitar”

These are the most common reactions when a guitar player tries to play the guitar using a software effect processor either on a computer or a mobile device.

It’s like the ping in a multiplayer game. There’s a delay between your inputs and results depending on how much ping you have. Same with the music related softwares. Especially on mobile platform.

So, what causes this latency?

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Sample Rate | Bit Depth

We try to paint the digital world with analog brushes. Our instruments generate analog signals and we want them in our smart devices. These signals must be converted to numbers.

So how much number we must use and what is the biggest number we can give to them?

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USB Audio Interfaces

Recording on a computer or a digital system is a standart for a while instead of recording on a tape. As technology advances, making records gets easier. Anyone can record his/her idea in just a few minutes to a computer, using an “Audio Interface”.

So, what does it do? Do you really need one?

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The World of MIDI

“MIDI is a technical standard that describes a protocol, digital interface and connectors and allows a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers and other related devices to connect and communicate with one another. A single MIDI link can carry up to sixteen channels of information, each of which can be routed to a separate device.”

There’s a misconception about the use of MIDI. It is often referred to describe 8-bit video game sounds, artificial drums etc. But the truth is that MIDI is just a language not a sound.

This language may enable the communication between a tube amp and a DAW such as Cubase. Even between your smart phone and your soft synth inside the DAW.

So, what can this language convey between devices?

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Signal Chain Explained

signal chain

Guitar signal travels a lot before it hits your ears.

Guitar signal is generally picked by guitar pickups. Here, physical movement of the strings are transformed to electrical signal by pickups. This signal is very weak. Either it is a passive pickup or active, this signal is not audible or in other words it cannot drive a speaker cone.

This signal needs to be amplified by amplifiers in order to drive the speakers. So that we can hear it. But is it pure amplification what we need? What we got used to hear on all those great records?

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Impulse Response for Cab Simulation

“The impulse response (IR) of a dynamic system is its output when presented with a brief input signal, called an impulse. More generally, an impulse response refers to the reaction of any dynamic system in response to some external change. In both cases, the impulse response describes the reaction of the system as a function of time.” says Wikipedia.

But what do we -as guitar players- do with this information?

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