There are bullshitters amongst us

One thing I’ve noticed about humans is that when they get ‘into’ something, they will pretend that every little tiny thing actually matters because they can totally tell the difference between X & Y, even though 99.9% of everyone else can’t. Doesn’t matter what it is, it could be food, wines, beers, or audio.

This particular instance, I’m talking about audio. It’s funny to read message boards & comment threads where people can just swear that Old Analogue Synth X sounds SO MUCH WARMER than the digital one. It’s like a Pavlovian response except instead of salivating, people just scream WARMER! when presented with digital vs. analogue.

Here’s the thing, technically speaking you can digitally recreate any synthesizer to perfection. Realistically, the amount of effort it takes to do so is prohibitive. Analogue circuits have different timing, the oscillators will go in & out of sync, as the units heated up they would sound different. You can simulate much of this (and many of the synths I have actually do this) but eventually the ROI on the effort you put in becomes less & less, especially when you get close enough so that 99.9% of people can’t hear the difference.

A good example of this would be a guitar. There are many synths that try their damnedest to sound exactly like a guitar. If you just hit a note or two, it’s passable, but the problem is that a guitar is more than just the note it’s playing. The guitar’s body interacts with the vibrations, the angle of your fingers as they press on the fret board & the amount of pressure you apply, the angle of the pick or if you use fingers (and then, the amount of callousing that you have), etc. You can simulate any of these points, but eventually trying to get the digital to sound like the analogue becomes harder than actually playing the guitar itself.

It’s the interaction that I think many people confuse as analogue’s ‘superior’ sound. Just like the guitar example, it’s easier to decide to pull off a pinch-harmonic during a solo than it is to dynamically set one up on a synth, and thus you have a bit more creativity to play with on some analogue systems. It’s not that you can’t recreate the pinch harmonic so well that the human ear cannot hear, but since there are literally thousands of variables in creating one, it’s not as feasible.

The other funny thing is that when things like Moogs first appeared on the scene, they were amazing because they were doing sounds that most people had never heard. The people who used Moog synths were happy they could do it, but I’m sure a lot of them bitched & moaned because the damned oscillators kept drifting. They dealt with it because they had no option, but as soon as a better synth came around that promised “No Oscillator Drift!”, people probably flocked to them. All the sound degradation from patch cables and wires were an annoyance to many but definitely were part of ‘the sound’.

So when better, more easily controlled systems became available, people moved to them. Then they started pining for the days when they weren’t sure what sound they were going to get, and complained that the digital world was too sterile. So they added randomness into the digital, and then the complain became ‘warmth’.

$5 says I could shove a PC in a Moog shell, give these self proclaimed audiophiles a set of cheap headphones and they’d SWEAR the sound was just so much warmer than the other PC to the side they can see, even though they’d be running the exact same software.

People have always split hairs throughout human history, the Interweb Tubing just allows us to slice it ever so finer.

I just wish people would put as much effort into making their music GOOD as they do making sure the lead synth is as ‘warm’ as possible.

posted by by Robb Allen @
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