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Author Topic: Analog Processing in the Digital Chain...so what?  (Read 2085 times)


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Analog Processing in the Digital Chain...so what?
« on: October 17, 2004, 10:28:38 am »

Mixing & Mastering Peoples,

I recently performed a line input gain characteristic test on my newest piece of project studio gear (the dbx 386 Dual Channel Vacuum Tube Preamp), by which I compared the quality of a synth module piano program preamped via both the analog & digital sections.

[A good number of my multitrack projects contain MIDI sequences I either played or composed in SONAR XL; & my previous method for boosting the (typical) line level outputs of my synths/synth modules up to a decent level...was to record directly into the DAW through an ISO Xformer; & then normalize the track to between -6dB > -3dB.]

(I know, I know.)

For the test, I selected a full sounding piano MIDI sequence & recorded/processed it per the aforementioned old method...then amped several takes through the 386 to the same level using it's various functions.  I then compared all the tracks for overall Gain, RMS & Signal-To-Noise Ratio in WaveLab.

The results were such that the gear actually improved the S/N Ratio of the program material.  

But the most interesting observation was that the analog preamplification outshined the digital...causing the piano to sound more realistic, with natural harmonic overtones & better overall EQ & clarity!!!  

Now, even though you can almost expect this kind of sonic character from a tube-based preamp, the result of not having the tube presence duplicated by the digital section could be the result of the piece simply having higher quality tube drive & associated analog circuitry than it's A/D converters [the digital section of the 386 is output only; & derives it's input from the analog section (tube output.)  The analog section is discreet (i.e., the internal digital processing is output-based only.)]

But...bear in mind that the nature of my test was such that precipitated the dreaded double conversion...digital tracks from the DAW, D/A converted by the PCI Audio Interface (Layla 24/96) & output as analog, processed via analog by the 386; & fed back through the AI's A/D converters into the DAW.

Despite all this...


So, here's the question (& I apologize for such a long post):

Since the analog sounds better AND has less noise, shouldn't that dispel any fears over the multiple layers of conversion that takes place with analog processing in the digital chain???

How do tracking & mixing engineers resolve this so-called problem?  Aren't vintage analog hardware processors in use in recording studios & mastering facilities everywhere?  What happens when they need to be inserted in the digital chain? (& I know mixing/mastering studios have better quality converters than the typical project studio)...

...but what is really so bad about this process?


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