Analog Versus Digital: The Never-ending Debate

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Analog Versus Digital

When setting out to put together a comprehensive home studio, every musician, whether they are amateur or professional is faced with a complex range of options with wildly varying price-points. In the year 2018, there are many affordable options for musicians who only have a modest budget. You could purchase a digital keyboard with an inexhaustible slew of sounds and beats, and if you have a program like Logic or Ableton, you can access even more sounds to work with through the software.

If you go the full-on digital route, you could actually put together a little home studio for a modest price (relatively speaking), and have it all fit into a fairly compact space without a problem. And while there’s no reason not to save money and space, some purists and musicians with a keenly trained ear would argue that by embracing digital equipment you lose the richness and warmth produced by tube amps, analog synths, and live drums.

The progressive, forward-thinking artist might adopt the viewpoint that it’s not necessarily one or the other: you can integrate digital equipment with analog equipment and get the best of both worlds. One of the reasons it might a bad idea to pour everything into digital equipment is that while digital equipment works well in a home studio setting, it does not lend itself as well to the stage. If you have to rely on software and drag your computer onstage, you’re opening to yourself up to a higher margin of error, and if you’re just getting started, you don’t want to disappoint your audience.

Another thing to keep in mind is that no matter how great your gear is if your chops as a musician aren’t up to snuff, it’s not going to matter whether you have a $3,000 Moog synthesizer or a $100 M-audio MIDI trigger. If you’re a bit rusty or just starting out, you may want to consider taking music lessons this summer and consulting with your teacher to decide what gear will work best for you.

If you’re wondering what the actual difference between digital and audio is, here’s a simplified version: analog equipment is built for a specific purpose – while you can manipulate the tone to a degree with a tube amp or an analog synth, the sounds you are able to make fall within a pretty specific range. The tone, however, will be full of warmth and depth. Many touring rock bands with money to throw around and roadies to move their gear favor analog equipment because it makes every part of the mix pop with a certain richness that is extremely impressive, making the best use of a large venue’s sound system.

large venue's sound system

Page McConnell of the band Phish (one of the wealthiest touring bands in the world) has a monster collection of keyboards and synths that he uses in addition to a real piano that the band lugs around with them on tour. In interviews, he’s expressed the sentiment that playing digital pianos with dozens of presets sounds cheap and cheesy. Easy to say when you’ve got millions of dollars to blow on great gear!=

If you’re just starting out, don’t be self-conscious about using digital gear, but consider a future analog purchase to work up to when the time is right and you feel like you’ve earned it.

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