You are here

Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

All about the tools and techniques involved in capturing sound, in the studio or on location.

Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby Ariosto » Sun Jun 09, 2019 1:50 pm

On Monday (10th June) on Radio 4 at 4:30 pm there is a programme about how analogue may be preferred over digital. Looking at the programme website it would appear that some people (or at least the programme makers) think that background "noise" and some distortions, as well as tape editing, all add a certain "something" to the sound.

My own (somewhat biassed) opinion is that what I have heard and read so far, makes me think that it's all BS and they just want some excuse to make a radio programme about it. "Let's all go back to LP surface noise and tape hiss and that's all part of the great sound of the 1980's and before," seems to be their mantra.

The programme may be interesting however, just to hear the arguments, and I will be listening at some point on iPlayer.

I'm sure there are lots of opinions on SOS and I'm equally sure they will surface quite soon. I'm trying to keep an open mind, but finding it a bit of a challenge! Personally I prefer silent backgrounds to interviews, and music recordings, and hate added "effects' to dialogue, including distracting music (muzak) unless it has a real relevance and is mixed well, which often it is not.

We had the transition from 78 records to LP's which was wonderful (around 1956) and then in about 1983 the transition from LP's to the silence and dynamic range of digital, and I for one wish never to go back, even though the old tape machines (which I still have) had ertain visual magic about them.

Any strong opinions regarding this subject?
Ariosto
Frequent Poster
Posts: 876
Joined: Sun May 04, 2008 12:00 am
Location: LONDON, UK

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby blinddrew » Sun Jun 09, 2019 2:51 pm

My strong opinion is that, whilst there are clearly certain pleasant effects that can be obtained by using (or emulating) tape saturation, there is a huge proportion of absolute nonsense spouted on this topic by lots of people who have even less knowledge on the topic than I do! ;)
Starting with, but not limited to, the whole 'stepped waveform' thing. :headbang:
User avatar
blinddrew
Jedi Poster
Posts: 10463
Joined: Sun Jul 05, 2015 12:00 am
Location: York
Ignore the post count, I have no idea what I'm doing...

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Jun 09, 2019 4:58 pm

Ariosto wrote:... it would appear that some people (or at least the programme makers) think that background "noise" and some distortions, as well as tape editing, all add a certain "something" to the sound.

I think noise and distortions _can_ add a "certain something" to the sound, just as film grain can add a certain visual something to a programme/film. But it's all about the context and the nature of the noise/distortion involved.

The important point is that such contributions were inherent (to varying degrees) in analogue systems like vinyl records and couldn't be removed. With digits we have the option of adding desirable noise/distortion only if we want or need to...

But appropriate musical distortions have always been considered beneficial, and some static background noise often preferred to total silence in some contexts.

I'll listen out for the programme, though. Could be interesting.
User avatar
Hugh Robjohns
Moderator
Posts: 27498
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Worcestershire, UK
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby Mike Stranks » Sun Jun 09, 2019 5:25 pm

I heard an extended trail for this a couple of days ago.

Seemingly the whole production process from start to finish will be done using non-digital technologies - tape-cut editing and multi-tape machines mixing down to the final (tape) master.

By initial thought was, 'why bother?' Been there. done that, got the T-shirt. Yes; of course we produced perfectly acceptable programmes and were able to edit (almost) as tightly as we can today using ITB technologies. But the fuss and faff to produce the programme compared to how we do it now means I for one would never go back. For radio the listener won't care - they just want an enjoyable, coherent programme. But maybe it's a history programme about technological days gone by... :)

The 'Gillards' are BBC Local Radio's equivalent of the Oscars. The have a national bash where there's a bit of a show before the awards are announced and presented. A few years ago there was an excruciating segment where the newbies had to edit a piece using tape and blades and the oldies used ITB technology - probably 'Radioman'. Of course the oldies won hands-down. All it proved was that the new way is easier, faster and more accurate - which the seasoned hands knew anyway.

That said, it was a wonder to behold an experienced person editing tape... reels rocking to and fro, chinagraph marks, the flick of the tape into the block, slice-slice with the blade, some dexterous joining of the gap and the quick application of the editing tape. Almost quicker than you could comprehend.
Mike Stranks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 7331
Joined: Fri Jan 03, 2003 1:00 am

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby blinddrew » Sun Jun 09, 2019 6:00 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:That said, it was a wonder to behold an experienced person editing tape... reels rocking to and fro, chinagraph marks, the flick of the tape into the block, slice-slice with the blade, some dexterous joining of the gap and the quick application of the editing tape. Almost quicker than you could comprehend.
Something I love to watch but I'm glad I will never have to do! :D
User avatar
blinddrew
Jedi Poster
Posts: 10463
Joined: Sun Jul 05, 2015 12:00 am
Location: York
Ignore the post count, I have no idea what I'm doing...

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby Ariosto » Sun Jun 09, 2019 6:23 pm

I used to edit audiobooks for the blind (when I had time) in the late 1970's.

Copied to reel to reel and then edited - what a huge and frustrating job. i got pretty quick at it - but could not contemplate ever doing that again. Editing my own recorded audiobooks now is so easy. I've just almost completed a 20 chapter book which will be around five hours duration and it's taken three weeks and that's not even doing more than two hours a day recording and editing on about five days a week. It would have taken twice as long to do that with cutting and splicing.
Ariosto
Frequent Poster
Posts: 876
Joined: Sun May 04, 2008 12:00 am
Location: LONDON, UK

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Jun 09, 2019 6:55 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:I heard an extended trail for this a couple of days ago. Seemingly the whole production process from start to finish will be done using non-digital technologies - tape-cut editing and multi-tape machines mixing down to the final (tape) master. My initial thought was, 'why bother?' Been there. done that, got the T-shirt.

Yep... But we stopped editing on tape over 30 years ago now, so there's an entire generation of radio producers calling the shots now who have never made programmes on tape, so its probably all a bit of a romantic mystery for them.

Added to which, the best programmes made back then were so much better than so many today, naturally, ;) and that must be because they were all analogue, right? :headbang:

Maybe this programme should have used analogue typewriters for the script just to complete the fantasy! :lol:

I'm still a reasonably competent tape editor but, compared to my former colleagues at the height of their game in 1980s and early 90s, atrociously slow! Watching a skilled radio Studio Manager at work was mind-blowingly impressive.

Health and Safety requirements would probably outlaw the practice today! Exposed cutting blades left lying about on tape decks with fast rotating spools, operated by people wearing ties? Lethal! We'd probably be told to fit covers over the reels and wear chain mail gloves.... :lol:
User avatar
Hugh Robjohns
Moderator
Posts: 27498
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Worcestershire, UK
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby Ariosto » Sun Jun 09, 2019 7:33 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
Added to which, the best programmes made back then were so much better than so many today, naturally, ;) and that must be because they were all analogue, right? :headbang:

Maybe this programme should have used analogue typewriters for the script just to complete the fantasy! :lol:

Love that!! Yes, they were so much better at programme making then, even if the technology was hard work.
Hugh Robjohns wrote:I'm still a reasonably competent tape editor but, compared to my former colleagues at the height of their game in 1980s and early 90s, atrociously slow! Watching a skilled radio Studio Manager at work was mind-blowingly impressive.
Yes, it was very impressive, they had a whole programme edited just about as the session ended. Maybe just finishing off the last splice as you entered the control room. (Or fishing out that up beat semi-quaver accidentally thrown into the waste bin and hurriedly attaching it again - as the wind player who had got to the control room first and heard a replay had just pointed out!

Hugh Robjohns wrote:Health and Safety requirements would probably outlaw the practice today! Exposed cutting blades left lying about on tape decks with fast rotating spools, operated by people wearing ties? Lethal! We'd probably be told to fit covers over the reels and wear chain mail gloves.... :lol:

Yeh - we are wimps these days - can't get away from the rules - even though these rules do protect us from ourselves.
Ariosto
Frequent Poster
Posts: 876
Joined: Sun May 04, 2008 12:00 am
Location: LONDON, UK

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby James Perrett » Sun Jun 09, 2019 9:09 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:I'm still a reasonably competent tape editor but, compared to my former colleagues at the height of their game in 1980s and early 90s, atrociously slow! Watching a skilled radio Studio Manager at work was mind-blowingly impressive.

I had to edit some tape the other day and I was amazed at how tedious it seemed. I've only done a few intensive editing projects in my time but I'm sure I used to be better at it. I've been in sessions with a skilled editor when I've seen them mark the tape, move it to the block and then almost instantly the splice was done.
User avatar
James Perrett
Moderator
Posts: 9322
Joined: Mon Sep 10, 2001 12:00 am
Location: The wilds of Hampshire
JRP Music - Audio Mastering and Restoration. JRP Music Facebook Page

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby Sam Spoons » Sun Jun 09, 2019 10:45 pm

Ariosto wrote:Yeh - we are wimps these days - can't get away from the rules - even though these rules do protect us from ourselves.

Happy with H&S rules that protect us from others but rules that protect us from our (rational) selves are a step too far IMHO......
User avatar
Sam Spoons
Jedi Poster
Posts: 12704
Joined: Thu Jan 23, 2003 1:00 am
Location: Manchester UK
Finally taking this recording lark seriously (and recording my Gypsy Jazz CD)........

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby Sam Spoons » Sun Jun 09, 2019 10:47 pm

James Perrett wrote:
Hugh Robjohns wrote:I'm still a reasonably competent tape editor but, compared to my former colleagues at the height of their game in 1980s and early 90s, atrociously slow! Watching a skilled radio Studio Manager at work was mind-blowingly impressive.

I had to edit some tape the other day and I was amazed at how tedious it seemed. I've only done a few intensive editing projects in my time but I'm sure I used to be better at it. I've been in sessions with a skilled editor when I've seen them mark the tape, move it to the block and then almost instantly the splice was done.

I could edit tape with a razor blade (¼" and ½". 2, 4 and 8 track), I was very slow but got the job done back in the day. Mostly it was just leaders and such like though, tape was far too expensive for us amateurs to cut up 'willy-nilly' :blush:
User avatar
Sam Spoons
Jedi Poster
Posts: 12704
Joined: Thu Jan 23, 2003 1:00 am
Location: Manchester UK
Finally taking this recording lark seriously (and recording my Gypsy Jazz CD)........

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby MOF » Mon Jun 10, 2019 2:54 am

Tape wasn’t exactly cheap and digital technology allows the storage space required to be a fraction of the space required for tapes.
I did enjoy editing tape but wouldn’t want to have to do it now, random access and non destructive editing plus no tape hiss are definite pluses.
I used to find dubbing sessions to be tedious; my sound supervisor would ask me to get “door slams” for example and then I’d have to lace up two reels of the relevant sound effects on the two available machines and play them, then wind them off and put on other examples from the library until the “right” effect was found to copy onto a track on the multitrack dub’ tape (often the first one I’d played so I’d have to lace that one up again).
What was particularly satisfying was “gashing” an old tape to end up with just the spool, you forced the editing blade through the layers of tape and it all fell into the bin. Happy days.
Oh did I mention the smell of fresh tape? Mmmmm, as addictive as vinyl.
MOF
Frequent Poster
Posts: 999
Joined: Thu Mar 06, 2003 1:00 am
Location: United Kingdom

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Jun 10, 2019 9:49 am

MOF wrote:What was particularly satisfying was “gashing” an old tape to end up with just the spool, you forced the editing blade through the layers of tape and it all fell into the bin. Happy days. Oh did I mention the smell of fresh tape? Mmmmm, as addictive as vinyl.

Ah yes... :D
User avatar
Hugh Robjohns
Moderator
Posts: 27498
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Worcestershire, UK
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby Arpangel » Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:05 am

Well, if people like noise and distortion "all the time" then that's easy. Hang on! is it?
How much would a modern tape machine cost? To get good FM reception you've got to climb on the roof, wrestle with an aerial, and a good FM tuner won't be peanuts.
But we get used to things, I hated CD for ages, it clearly was a joke compared to vinyl, anyone could hear that. FM too, was lovely, digital sounded awful, but as usual I adopted these new things and got seduced by the convenience of CD and the more reliable reception of DAB radio. It's not about ultimate sound quallity in a lot of mediums these days, it's all about being seduced by convenience, and ease of use, and having less "stuff" around.
The BBC used to use the Coles 4038 microphone a lot for R4 presenters, when they stopped using it people actually rang in asking why the sound of R4 had changed, what had they done!
User avatar
Arpangel
Jedi Poster
Posts: 4201
Joined: Sat Jul 12, 2003 12:00 am

Re: Analogue versus Digital - Radio 4

Postby Kwackman » Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:11 am

Arpangel wrote:FM too, was lovely, digital sounded awful,
Wasn't FM distributed digitally? Nicam? From (a hazy) memory, it wasn't even 16bit?
Could be wrong though.
User avatar
Kwackman
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1784
Joined: Thu Nov 07, 2002 1:00 am
Location: Belfast
Cubase, guitars.

Next