Perhaps the first question you should be asking is, “Do I need that analog warmth and sparkle in my songs?” Many artists, engineers and producers send me tracks for mastering. One of their most frequent requests is, “Can you make this sound like it was recorded on an analog studio?” The answer is usually yes. But then I pose the suggestion, let’s take a listen first to see if it truly needs it. Whether mixing or mastering, the fewer and subtler steps you take to get to your finished mix the better it will sound. This is true almost every time.
If you want that analog sound in your recording, it’s not that hard to achieve. There are a number of plug-ins available. Some are really good. Perhaps we will delve into some of those in another post. For now, let’s just talk about the decision to use those plug-ins or not.
I guess the first question that we have to address is whether recording in analog is sonically superior to digital recording. The answer to that however is completely subjective. Recording on analog preamps or using magnetic tape does not necessarily mean that your recording will be warm and sparkly in the high-end. Often times, it’s quite the contrary. In fact, a lot of analog recordings sound dull and lifeless. This is somewhat the nature of the compression that accompanies analog circuitry.
One of the reasons digital recording equipment became popular is because of its clarity and accuracy. Where as tube or transistor powered preamps and channel strips colorized the sound, and not always musically, a good quality digital recorder is nearly transparent. So what does that mean for your recording? It means that if you’re using a digital recording system, which I’ll bet most of you are, the first place you need to focus your attention when looking for the best sounding recording is the tracking process. Since the nature of digital recording is to enhance precision, every mic choice or mic placement choice that you make will also be enhanced. Starting off with a good recording technique always has been, and always will be the most important first step to getting a great quality final recording. And that’s regardless of what kind of equipment you are recording on.
Another thing to consider is the nature of the material that you’re recording. Is it soft and melodic? Is it fast and harsh? Is it somewhere in the middle? These are all things to ponder when making the decision about whether to use analog emulation on your recording or not.
I know this post is getting a little long, so I’ll try to wrap it up with this. Listen to lots of music, both old and new. Pay attention to the sonic nuances of some of your favorite recordings. If they sound more analog than others, and that’s the sound that you want to emulate, then by all means do so. However, if you don’t, that doesn’t mean that you’ve produced an inferior track. A digital recording done right will still sound warm well balanced. The one suggestion I would make in closing is that if you do decide to use an analog emulator, subtlety will always bring you better results and allow your listeners to pay more attention to your music rather than how you recorded it.