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Tech Tip Of The Day: Analog v. Digital Record Levels

Do higher recording levels in digital systems really sound better?

By PSW Staff July 23, 2010

Provided by Sweetwater.

Q: I’m what you would consider a rather seasoned home studio owner.

However, I’ve been clinging to analog until even this year.

No, seriously, I just wouldn’t let go, and I’m still not 100% comfortable with using “digital” gear, no matter how irrational it may sound.

I’ve generally been happy with the results so far, and I do hear a quality difference between the two, but frankly I think my analog gear sounded a little better overall (not that I’m gong back).

Anyways, I’ve read a lot about recording levels in digital and how one is supposed to record as hot as possible for the very best fidelity.

I’ve messed with my system a while now and I really don’t hear any difference when I record at fairly low levels compared to hot levels, at least not a difference like I would hear on my analog recorder.

Why does everyone think it’s such a big deal?”

A: First, congratulations on making the digital jump!

I know it can be a very difficult process, however rest assured that your analog gear can remain useful, even if it’s not your primary recorder.

As to your question, in the very early days of digital recording the converters simply weren’t very good by today’s standards. Plus, most of the systems had a maximum of 16-bits to work with.

The maximum dynamic range a 24-bit system is capable of capturing is substantially greater (greater even than the analog gear connected to it), and this does have an impact on the recording quality, particularly at lower levels. If you were to try your experiment with an old DAT machine made in the mid-1980’s you would definitely hear the difference.

We still say recording at higher levels is generally a good idea, but with a 24-bit system it is nowhere near as critical as it was back in the early days, so don’t sweat it.

As always, we welcome input from the PSW community and would love to know your thoughts on this topic. Feel free to let us know in the comments below.

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Bob says

I believe you mean 32 bit processing by the audio editing software. I don’t know of any real 32 bit Analog to Digital converters. 24 bit with its 120 dB dynamic range is the industry norm…

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