The Rebirth of Analog
‘Analog Sound’ is natural sound, just as we hear each other, sounds from our surroundings etc. Analog sound is not processed by any binary codes, unlike digital sound. Even in the digital domain, it is analog sound which is processed digitally and then re-processed as analog, so that sound can be registered by the human ear. Therefore, sound in its original state is Analog Sound.
In the early days, sound was recorded on to a wax cylinder by cutting grooves onto it by a steel needle. This needle was fitted on a diaphragm which was mounted in the narrow end of a horn. The horn would act as the microphone. Reproduction of sound from this device was the by same needle tracking the grooves made by it which would reproduce the sound through the horn. This device was called the Edison Phonograph.
Later on the cylinder was replaced by a shellac disc, which became popularly known as the ‘Record’. Shellac disc reproducers came to be known as a ‘gramophone’. These devices were acoustic, no electronics involved whatsoever. Post the Second World War, many companies, especially in Europe, involved themselves into intense research and development, and improved the Record format in the way of recording, manufacturing and reproduction. Adding electronics was the biggest change that drastically improved this format. Since the early 1950s, the gramophone started being replaced by turntables. The basic principle of the turntable is similar to the gramophones, except that the turntable contains electronic components. The turntable has gone through extensive improvements over the last 4 decades. The gramophone would turn records at 78 RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) only, whereas the turntable had the option for four speeds – 16, 33, 45 and 78 (RPM).
Introduction of multiple speeds for record reproduction gave the consumers a lot of choice for music, also through extensive laboratory tests, it was concluded that High Fidelity reproduction is possible only if the record was turning at 33 or 45 RPM. The 33 RPM disc came to be known as the LP (Long Playing) and the 45 RPM disc, the EP (Extended Play). In the early 1960s, 16 RPM discs were available in the market, but they didn’t do too well. They were known as ‘Super Long Play’.
Another very interesting method of recording sound was with a Wire Recorder. This device involved a steel wire which passed over a head that magnetically charged the wire with the audio information.
Reproduction of sound was the reverse process. This method obviously didn’t produce high fidelity audio and was replaced by magnetic tape which gave promising results. Tape was used as a professional recording standard all over the world till the late 1990s until Digital Recorders took over.
Both formats of Tape and Disc worked hand-in-hand as they were somehow dependant on each other, especially during the manufacturing process for Discs.
Over the years, the analog formats of tape and disc have been suppressed by the introduction of the CD (compact disc) in 1979. The development of the CD was the joint effort of Sony and Philips. It is true that the dynamic range of the CD is superior to tape and disc, but several loyal consumers have kept the analog formats alive. Well, it has been said that analog formats sound more natural and true than the CD.
Listening tests have been performed for several hours comparing an album released originally on an LP to one also released on a CD. The results were that the LP sounding more natural and pleasing to the ear. There are several points to be considered while performing such a comparison: the quality of the CD and LP reproducers, the quality of hardware like amplifiers and loudspeakers. The difference is more apparent on a higher, audiophile quality system, compared to a cheaper system.
DJs (disc jockeys) performing in clubs remained loyal to the LP format. They find that ‘scratching’ and ‘beat-matching’ have always been easier to perform on an LP. Many audiophiles and audio enthusiasts still prefer
listening to LPs over CDs.
Many companies manufacturing audio products have restarted the production of Turntables. The popular ones are Clearaudio, Pro-Ject, Linn, Music-Hall, J.A. Michell and Thorens. LPs are being manufactured once again on a high scale.
Some large and famous Music Companies are releasing new albums and reissuing popular albums on LPs.
LPs are resistant to the risk of piracy. CD to CD or Tape to Tape transfer processes are far easier to perform; even one can do these at home. But, transferring an LP onto another LP is a difficult task. The whole process of cutting an LP involves very expensive machines like Lathes and Stamping Plants. There is a strong possibility that the LP will be one of the future consumer audio formats.