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Part 5: Analog vs Digital

Back to Exploring Analog series

Analog Myths

Analog equals true, alive and appealing. Digital equals fake, sterile and oblivious. That was the group mentality of the maniacs who attacked computer shops in the Seventies. Analog is good, digital is evil. That notion is at best ignorant, at worst dangerous. As for sound: claims of one being intrinsically superior to the other needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. We’re close to the realm of psychoacoustics, here. Each of our individual brains makes unique sense of identical external stimuli. Yanni vs Laurel, anyone?

Leonardo da Vinci may have wrestled this issue as well. Just look at his second most famous work: The Vitruvian Man. Sure, it’s a tribute to the master architect Vitruvius, a study of ideal male body proportions and all that, but what if there’s another message there, too? Clearly, that renaissance hunk is stretching and straining to fit inside both circle and square, like he wants to embrace the analog and digital world at the same time. Well, if he could pull it off, so can we!
“That seems to be the question of the music universe, too! Analog versus digital.”
Simonne Jones on whether the universe, ultimately, is digital or analog; made of particles or waves.
Read the Elektronauts Talk

What’s the Difference?

Like a photographic image, pretty much any analog synthetic sound can be rendered digitally, to a very high resolution and with very convincing results. However, there is a fundamental difference between analog and digital synthesized sound. An analog sound is continuous and generated by components such as diodes, resistors and capacitors, a digital sound is discrete, generated by computer software.
“There’s a layer of noise in our lives that we filter out, but if it’s not there it freaks us right out. Analog mediums retain this layer of noise, digital mediums strive to destroy it.”
Tom Furse of the Horrors ponders the reasons behind the analog revival.
Read the Elektronauts Talk

Seeing is Believing

When we watch a movie, we see a discrete representation of reality: a series of still photos shown in quick succession. Shown at the right frame-rate, it looks convincing enough, but slow it down or speed it up and it becomes less realistic. In film, dynamic properties like spatial movement, focus and depth of field sets it firmly apart from the real experience, besides the obvious: representing something three-dimensional on a two-dimensional surface.
“It sounds more three-dimensional when you mix analog and digital. That's why I always have analog and digital together. If you have only analog, or only digital, somehow it's more flat.”
Timo Kaukolampi of K-X-P — Not afraid to get his hands dirty while digging deep into modulars, samplers and drum machines.
Read the Elektronauts Talk
“It doesn't really matter. It's just the way you use it! I prefer analog, right now, because it gives me more inspiration at this moment in my life.”
Lokier — Fearless techno conjuror.
“I love analog because of the warmth and the life in the sound, that fizz of a sawtooth or the hollow thump of a square wave bass. It has a place in the palette of electronic music that nothing else quite can get to.”
Tom Furse — The Horrors’ stylish keyboardist.
Read the Elektronauts Talk
“For me, analog is more intuitive. I started out using analog and learned to use the computer later on. I like both! With the Analog Rytm, I can make my own drum sounds, I can make it as crazy as I want to, do the percussions like I want to, even layer it with samples, and every different kit is like a totally different drum machine.”
Animistic Beliefs — Zesty take on techno.
“I would describe analog in three words: Exact, fixed, and rare. Digital would be described by: free, open source, and ubiquitous.”
Simonne Jones — Scientist and musician.
Read the Elektronauts Talk
“Tokyo is synthesizer heaven. I started out using software, but the more people I met, the more hardware I was introduced to. With software, I need to think, with analog, I touch and feel. It's a really nice way to explore yourself, and explore music.”
Machìna & Reo Matsumoto — Textural, vibrant flurry of electronica and hip hop.
“You can just touch the button and turn it. Like a piano, you press the key and there is a sound. On stage, you don't want too complicated an instrument. We need to have easy, good sounding, accessible instruments. Our digital equipment just adds confetti on top!”
Skinnerbox — Vintage and new, analog and digital, all beautiful. They made West Coast, a Sound Pack featuring some great sounds from the first golden age of analog.
“Analog means animated heartbeats and endless self-dynamic manipulation.”
Headless Horseman — Mysterious rejuvenator of techno.
Read the Elektronauts Talk
“Analog is continuous. It is the expression of love without the mediation of the church or caution. Both a state of being and a means by which to be. Vesica Piscis.”
Inhalt — Masculine IDM with a message. Matia did two great Sound Packs, Codex for the Analog Four and Curcussion for the Analog Rytm.
Read the Elektronauts Talk

Go With the Flow

Similarly, accurate emulation of movement or modulation in an analog sound, like a resonant filter sweep, is hard to achieve. Movement, dynamics and sensation of space. The ear is more sensitive to minute changes than the eye. We’re more likely to get digital movies approaching the detail and definition of analog ones like the 70 mm widescreen spectacular La La Land from 2016 than a perfect digital emulation of an analog synthesizer.

Round Enough!

Forget all the above: it’s not an engineering issue, it’s fundamental. Fitting a square peg in a round hole. We won’t be able to digitally draw a perfect circle until we’ve found all the decimal values of π. Who’s finicky enough to care? Musicians, probably. Dealers in the slight and subtle. The more nuance and variety we have at our fingertips, the better. Analog is awesome for subtractive synthesis. Digital synthesis is convenient for linear FM, additive synthesis or time and space manipulation of complex sounds (sampling). Who’d prefer an analog tape machine over a powerful digital sampler? Someone, surely, because it’s all a matter of using the tool that best suits our creative need.

Now, at the end of our tether, what did we learn? It seems we’re left with more questions than answers at this point. Did the Eighties kill analog or not? Can a modular synthesizer save the whales? Was the Analog Heat responsible for the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows bridge? Well, that’s Exploring Analog! Okay, but who won, then? Analog or digital? The game is on, and the only way to win is to play. If there is anything we know for certain, it’s that the exploring has only just begun, and that we embrace happy hybridization and remain cautious of analog (or digital) purism. Like a great philosopher once said: Only a Sith deals in absolutes.

Wherever there’s curiosity, a spirit of adventure and musical experimentation, we’ll be there. With the Elektron Analog series, a world of wonderful exploration awaits.

Analog Four MKII

The Analog Four MKII represents the best of two worlds. Inimitable analog impact combined with razor-sharp digital accuracy. This is an analog synthesizer for the creative artist.

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Analog Rytm MKII

Fuse distinctive analog percussion with samples. Bring in the power of sequencing and performance controls. The Analog Rytm MKII is a one stop solution beat machine.

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Analog Heat MKII

Add sparkly brilliance, or grimy roughness, to any sound source. Samplers, drum machines, synths, the master bus, you name it. Analog Heat MKII is a fiery furnace destined to make your music glow.

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Analog Drive

Analog Drive gives you eight analog distortion types in one box. It is the ideal pedal for guitarists who want to wreak havoc to signals and tones in the most diverse and characterful way possible.

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