The debate over using analog tape, warm tube compressors and enhancers vs. precise, high-performance digital recording equipment will likely continue to be a hot topic. I submit that nothing can perfectly reproduce the exact character and noise generated by analog recording equipment. There are those who would claim they can easily tell the difference between a digital recording and an analog recording. Double-blind side by side comparison of tracks mixed by professionals from each camp (digital – vs – analog) has yielded virtually indistinguishable results. The other part of this story is that modern digital recording has come so far that it is now possible to make warm, analog-sounding recordings using high-quality Digital Audio workstations and nothing but “inboard” gear.
Gone are the days of the “Sterile and cold” sounding digital recordings. We’ve learned to add in the tape-saturation and transformer thickening that was missing before. There is a growing list of top producers, engineers, and mixers who are now working strictly “in the box”, having as good or better results with digital, and loving it!
Many of the industry’s leading mix engineers are working exclusively “in-the-box”, e.g.: Justin Niebank (Taylor Swift); Robert Orton (Lady Gaga); Charles Dye (Bon Jovi); Ken Gioia (John Wozniak); Dave Pensado (Black Eyed Peas, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Destiny’s Child); Joe Carrell (Newsboys, Michael W Smith, Thousand Foot Crutch, many others); and the list goes on!
Many other top producers, engineers, and mixers are taking a hybrid approach. Wanting the recall capabilities, quick set-up, and ease of revisions that comes with recording in a DAW, but preferring the familiarity of their analog EQ’s, compressors, etc., they simply use both.
The good news is, if you’re making an album or an EP, we can utilize digital equipment, great sounding plugins, and modern recording and processing techniques to give your recordings a warmth like that of analog equipment, without the unpleasant hums and crackles. (I didn’t even mention the ongoing expense of analog equipment, the repairs, tube replacements, high electric bills, etc.)
Whatever the project you decide, modern recording and mixing results are not limited by the old analog-vs- digital arguments anymore. I suggest we cease arguing about the tools, find what sounds best to our ears, and make it work in our studios.