I’m not going to open a can of worms here; I’m just going to explain the basic differences between analogue and digital audio.
Attack of the clones
OK, so the signal that comes from your electric guitar and microphone is analogue. It’s just voltage. So the signal can come directly from the microphone, down a mic cable, and be recorded straight onto an analogue recording format, such as magnetic tape.
A digital recording is a copy of the original signal. It reads the analogue information and stores/transmits this information as 0s and 1s.
Analogue = original
Digital = copy
In terms of sound, a CD is digital and a vinyl record is analogue. There’s your reference.
Live forever, or die gracefully.
People say that analogue is warmer, has character, is more ‘real’. So the positive here is that analogue audio recorded onto tape produces a more organic sound. But, it also degrades over time. So, like us, it will get tired, go a little slower, get all wobbly when it’s really old, and eventually it will die.
Digital is different. It will never leave you, and it will never hurt you, never shout at you, or get drunk and hit you, or say it’s too busy to spend time with you. It will always be there…no, wait, that’s the Terminator. A digital recording does not degrade over time. You will always get exactly the same sound at exactly the same quality.
Another time saving analogy!
Analogue is like a photograph printed on photographic paper. In time, the picture will fade into obscurity. A digital photograph will remain as perfect as it was the day you took it, forever. The paper photograph is warmer and more organic. The digital copy is pristine, but kind of sterile.
Analogue cables and digital cables are not interchangeable. I won’t go into details because frankly it doesn’t matter – you cannot send digital signal through analogue cables as they are physically incapable of carrying digital information.
Which is better? (my opinion)
Digital is the smartest way to record, all things considered. There are now hardware units and even plugins that emulate the warmth of tape, and you can always mix down stems or the entire master to reel-to-reel tape from your DAW if you want a truly authentic tape sound.
If you have ever tried to edit something recorded to tape, you’ll agree that digital recording is a time saving, money saving, sanity retaining modern solution.
There, I did it, and all without starting a war between keyboard players of different factions.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to my vinyl records.