Bruce Aisher explores the effects of analogue recording methods, explaining why they might be beneficial to your production process.

On the face of it, there’s an interesting conundrum buried in the suggestion that analogue recording sounds better, most recently debated by Gregory Scott in his Attack column on ‘the love of tape’. All kinds of technical expertise has been utilised to improve the technical performance of audio recording formats over the last half a century or more, but more than any other point in that period we’re now looking back to older hardware to deliver that elusive bit of extra vibe in our music. So what’s really going on? What is it that makes these apparently less accurate recording techniques so appealing?

Noise

Before we dive into specific testing, it’s worth considering one of the most important ways that analogue recording can alter the sound. Tape in particular is associated with noise in the form of hiss. This varies in terms of its frequency content between tape machines, and dependent on the type of tape used. Many people consider hiss to add character, but it’s generally considered a problem, though better machines tend to have increased headroom (see our examination of levels for an explanation), minimising the issue.

Here’s an analysis of the frequency spectrum of white noise:

Pic 1a

For comparison, here’s a recording of white noise at 15 ips (inches per second):

Pic 1b
And at the less noisy 30 ips:

Pic 1c

Before we even think about hitting the record button, tape guarantees an element of colouration in the form of hiss. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s take a closer look at additional ways analogue recording might colour our sound.

6th March, 2015

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