Pro Audio Files

Analog, Tubes, Vinyl and the Future of Retro

I grew up in an analog and vinyl world. I witnessed the rise and fall of the cassette, the rise and fall of the CD, and recently, the rise of vinyl and the cassette again! I was there for the digital revolution, the birth of the digital preset and the reign of the DX7. It seemed we were always moving forward in terms of technology. Of course, there were debates along the way. CDs sounded brittle and lacked warmth. The solid state guitar amp never really replaced the deliciousness of that tube sound, but digital reverb and delay pedals seemed like a blessing. Modular analog synths never took hold due to the excessive cost (until recently). Perhaps the lure and versatility of digital technology also helped with their early demise.

Today we are in the midst of several rebirths. Vinyl has made an astounding recovery. Cassettes are being made again. And modular synthesis is exploding thanks particularly to standardized formats like Eurorack, which has resulted in hundreds of new companies entering the market with innovative and unique approaches to synthesis.

All this within the context of a world which is experiencing exponential growth in new technology, processing speed, inexpensive storage capacity, and evermore powerful software. Digital streaming has surpassed downloads as the most popular means of music dissemination. Digital technology and online accessibility has never been greater or more powerful than it is now. The world of iOS Audio Production continues to expand with more and more apps being offered every day.

So why is old technology being resurrected like never before? What is the attraction? Is it based on anything substantial that can be audibly discerned or are these the passing fads of a bored generation, tired of the omnipresent technological wonderments that pummel us on a daily basis from every corner of our consumer society? Is it nostalgia? For some maybe, but how can you be nostalgic for things that occurred before you were born? Does it have to do with a fetishistic appeal to the object itself or some sort of hoarding mentality? Consider the resurgence of Vinyl (and even cassettes). Jeff Ehrenberg from Vintage King Audio observed, “…there is a huge vanity and ego aspect to music, whether you’re a rock star and you want the spotlight on you, or you’re a music fan and you want to show your friends or your social circle that you’ve got great taste…by displaying your record collection”.

Having internally considered these issues for some time, I was curious to hear what others had to say. So I solicited input from experts in the field: practicing musicians, producers, studio managers, developers, manufacturers, distributors, and engineers. I came up with four open-ended and provocative questions that addressed subjective preference, as opposed to technological superiority.

The feedback was overwhelming and I’m happy to share the responses I received below in alphabetical order. With the exception of my phone interview with Jeff Ehrenberg, which I took the liberty of paraphrasing and editing to some degree, all responses have been included unedited, in their entirety. I have also included my own responses to each question last. Please see the end of the article for contributor bios and links.

Do you believe analog audio sounds better than digital?

Augustus Arnone: I wouldn’t say that as a blanket statement. I do use a multi-bus analog summing system, and I use a mixture of analog and digital processors for mixing and mastering. So there are analog tools that I use because I like them better than other digital options, but I would not want to part with the digital tools I use either. I did a direct comparison of an SSL SuperAnalogue dynamics processor against the Softube emulation of that same unit and the hardware had a more exciting snap to its action and imparted a very appealing color to the timbre that the software was missing. I use a hardware mastering compressor that has a very euphonic sound that I have not heard any software able to achieve. But the ProAudioDSP DSM compressor plugin can do some things better than any analog tool I have. In general, I like the volume responsiveness of analog. I like how gain-staging becomes a creative endeavor, the circuitry takes on a different quality depending on the signal presented to it, which makes it feel alive somehow and often enhances the dynamic impact of the music.

Christopher Bailey: Analog synths sound better than digital synths, but I’m not sure if that has anything to do with them being analog. In other words, if I created those synths in MAX, would they sound worse? I doubt it. There are some instances, for example in Babbitt’s synthesizer pieces, there is a lot of stuff in the extreme high range. I’m guessing those sounds would be better off of analog tape than on a CD, where some of the harmonics would be either filtered out or aliased.

Jim Coker: …for the first three items [referring to the first three questions], the best I can say is that it depends on so many other factors (equipment, engineering skill, etc) that I can’t give a firm yes or no in any of those cases.

Dieter Doepfer: The answer to all these three questions [referring to the first three questions] is the same: The sounds are DIFFERENT but not better or worse. Both worlds have their advantages and disadvantages. And I’m quite sure that in the future both worlds will exist side by side.

Ryan Gaston: Analog and digital audio are every bit as good as one another—they each have their own unique charms. These charms branch even further when we look at individual media: vinyl sounds different than a cassette, but they each have a different charm and different amount of nostalgia baked in (despite them both being analog!). I think that we’ll learn over time to appreciate the unique qualities of digital media as well. Maybe our children will look back on the sound of hyper-compressed internet streaming services the same way that we currently fetishize the warmth and crackle of a spinning LP.

Darwin Grosse: I think analog sounds different, which isn’t the same as ‘better’. My preferences in music-making technology change all the time – last week, I really preferred working with analog, but I’m really digging digital sampling this week. In general, I tend to prefer the things that analog does best, but it isn’t a strict thing. As for my personal listening, I generally prefer analog – from both the way the music was created, and the way I listen to it (i.e., I like vinyl).

W.T. Nelson: Within the confines of the currently predominant idea of audio synthesis (let’s call it the Harald Bode model of subtractive synthesis) it’s probably a draw though you could make multiple arguments for digital in terms of control, stability, accuracy & potential for nearly endless means of interfacing with the process.

But when allowed a wider gamut of more organic/complex/higher-order analog artifact signals into the idea of audio synthesis (be it technically additive, subtractive, both or neither) there is no comparison whatsoever as I’ve never heard a digital system generate these signals.

That said, digital means of reproduction have no problem whatsoever recording & RE-producing these uniquely analog sounds.

So obviously the issue here is not “which means of synthesis sounds—or even works—better”, but rather which one has or lacks the structure for a given task.

Robert Rich: “Analog vs. digital” is a false dichotomy, because digital is also analog, and bad analog can sound as bad as bad digital (but different). Good digital requires good analog to sound good. They are not opposites, just tools in our toolbox. For my own music, I am very satisfied with 24 bit digital through modern clocking and converters. It sounds better for my needs than the analog tape I was using for my first 15 years of recording.

Tony Rolando: No. Analog certainly can sound better, but it can also sound worse and the same is true of digital. Today we have sufficient technology to do digital very well in most cases, and in a few cases better. For some things, analog just makes sense because it is easier and a lower cost to do it better. In other cases digital makes more sense, and for the same reasons. In other words, don’t use a stick of dynamite to open a can of beans. Although dynamite is certainly louder than a can opener, so it might actually sound better! Forget everything I’ve stated above.

Dave Rossum: Theory tells us digital processing can simulate any analog phenomenon with arbitrary accuracy. Today’s powerful chips make this practical. But any sloppiness or shortcuts taken in digital audio processing produce unpleasant distortions such as aliasing, while analog distortions often add warmth or brilliance. So a thoroughly well designed digital system will sound equal to or better than any analog equivalent, but if not very well engineered, is likely to sound worse. Professor Antonio Rangel at Caltech has shown through fMRI studies of brain activity that wine believed to be more expensive actually tastes better; he and I both strongly believe the same applies for audio: if you believe the audio is produced by a more expensive or otherwise superior system, the sound it makes will be more pleasurable. Since analog systems tend to be more expensive and revered, they probably are indeed more pleasurable for the audiophile to hear.

Dave Smith: In our products, specifically analog polyphonic synthesizers, analog has a huge advantage over digital. Every voice is a completely separate circuit, so they are never exactly the same. When combined with the sound of analog voltage-controlled filters, the instruments have a transparency and ability to blend in a very acoustic manner. Digital synths can (and do) sound very good also, but musicians always tell me how much better the analog instruments fit in the mix.

ME: I believe in the realm of synthesis and Eurorack gear in particular analog circuits in general sound better. That being said there are now many hybrid modules with digital and CV capabilities which sound great. As others have said, there is a warmth, richness, and sometimes juiciness to the analog sound. I’m sure it has to do with harmonics and the nature of the distortion inherent in the system itself. Also, the potentiometers that control an analog circuit react very differently than digital controls. There is a sort of sweet spot that you can ride with an extremely subtle variance that I have not experienced in the digital world. As a guitar player, it reminds me of how a great player can forge a unique voice with the use of vibrato and dynamics.

There is a responsiveness and tactility that is attractive and infectious. As Curtis Roads observes, “Modular synthesizers sport dozens of knobs that allow immediate access to synthesis controls. This stands in contradistinction to some poorly designed digital devices that present a series of nested menus with a single multifunction control knob, permitting manipulation of only one parameter at a time out of dozens of parameters that can only be accessed on other submenus.” (Composing Electronic Music: A New Aesthetic – p.88)

Do you believe tube-based electronics sound better than solid-state?

Augustus Arnone: Again, I don’t think blanket statements like this are helpful. I certainly would not say that tube electronics are better in every case, it depends on the device and also on the program it’s being used on. My mastering compressor has a switchable tube circuit, so I have a choice of tube or solid-state circuits for the output amplifier. I would say I switch the tubes in about 40% of the time. They do make the audio somewhat bigger sounding, and subtly inflate the mid frequencies, and also soften the timbre somewhat. Sometimes this is desirable, but sometimes I feel the transients come across more clearly without the tubes. Sometimes I feel the mids get a bit too tubby and the audio loses a touch of excitement. Since I produce primarily acoustic classical music, my preference is for fast, responsive amplifiers with a minimum of distortion, so the vast majority of my analog gear is solid-state, but I do enjoy having the option of triode tube character, if I feel it enhances the music.

Christopher Bailey: I’m sure some are, but I haven’t heard clear evidence of that. And I have heard tube amps that I thought were kind of crappy.

Jim Coker: (see previous answer above)

Dieter Doepfer: (see previous answer above)

Jeffrey Ehrenberg: “I think there is a lot of marketing hype regarding tube vs. solid-state”. (paraphrased from phone conversation): Manufacturers of tube-based electronics in the late 50s and early 60s, like the UA 610 console that the Beach Boys recorded Pet Sounds on, were trying to maximize fidelity with the available technology at the time. It wasn’t until later that the distortion and overdrive characteristics of tubes began to be marketed as a desirable sound. “In the thousands of mic preamp shootouts I’ve done at Vintage King over the years, where a singer or producer is trying to find the best mic pre, 19 times out of 20 they choose the Neve 1073, which is a solid-state piece of gear. And you can also get consistency much easier with solid-state”. “Not considering guitar amplifiers, I would have to say that in the professional recording world solid-state consoles are preferred”.

Ryan Gaston: Tube-based electronics definitely hold a secure and unique place in the boutique audio world. The nonlinear behaviors of a driven tube circuit are very distinct from solid-state effects. There’s a reason companies like Metasonix (or Thermionic Culture, on the opposite end of the tube-based spectrum) stay in business: tube-based electronics have a woolly and sometimes downright rude sound that other technologies struggle to meet.

Darwin Grosse: My only significant experience is playing guitar through both tube and solid-state amps, and I do prefer tube amps. They seem to be playable and ‘alive’ in a way that I don’t get with many solid state devices.

W.T. Nelson: Here is what is obvious to anyone with ears & brain enough in between them to actually listen and articulate (especially apparent in the higher audio frequencies):

When applied to the above established concept of “wider gamut” audio signal generation (including electro-acoustic means of guitar/amplifier wherein feedback/overdrive/distortion of signal is implemented), the most readily obvious difference is:

”Tube” analog artifacts are rendered with specular/more sparkly attributes. 

“Solid-State” analog artifacts are rendered with a harsher/starker/more menacing presence.

Perhaps this is PART of what is commonly characterized as “warmth vs. cold” (or in a more scientific discussion “even vs. odd” order harmonics). But, I’m not a scientist.

Weighing which color I judge to be my favorite OF colors when considering which part of the palette to paint with is a mistake; As an artist I’m simply pragmatic about which color to use when. Red is no “better” color than blue, black or white. In other words sometimes we want to enchant, and other times we want to horrify. Clearly there is no reason to say that one is “better” than the other when BOTH have their own inherent “sound”.

Robert Rich: Tubes can sound better or worse, depending upon the topology. At their best, high voltage tube circuits have very high dynamic range and low distortion. I love the sound of tube microphone preamps, and certain vintage tubes are magic (Telefunken in particular). But many tube-based products sound mushy and dark. Those are bad circuits. People often have a skewed sense of what a tube should sound like. Also, people forget that transformers (common in tube circuits) have as much, if not more effect on the sound. Likewise, solid-state can sound warm and silky, dynamic and even interestingly colored. It all depends on the topology, the components, the power supply, the gain structure.

Tony Rolando: No. As with any circuit topology, it depends upon the end use. For some things, such as guitar amps, tubes might be better. But for other things, such as a VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier), tube circuits offer very poor performance compared to their solid-state counterparts and at a higher cost. Perhaps that poor performance has a character you desire, if so, you should use the tube circuit or perhaps embark on recreating it with digital signal processing.

More important than tube vs. solid state or digital vs. analog, you should always have a deep relationship with the instruments and equipment you utilize.

Dave Rossum: Tube-based circuits add warmth and a nostalgic color to sound; I find this pleasant for quite a bit of program material, but not all. But if I want a transparent reproduction, I avoid tubes.

Dave Smith: Funny, since all our analog instruments are solid-state, and everyone accepts them as pure analog. A tube-based poly synth would be way too extreme to build!

ME: I believe most guitar players would agree there is no comparison between tube-based and solid-state amps. Maybe it has to do with the way the instrument itself creates sound before being transduced. The subtle variations that can be achieved just in fingering and plucking a string in a certain way is perhaps better translated with a tube-based amplifier, giving the player immediate feedback that is pleasing and inspiring.

I have less experience in other outboard gear, but I am equally impressed with tube-based synthesis modules. My Trogotronic m/679 device is somehow able to achieve a simultaneous warmth and grittiness. There is a responsive yet chaotic nature in a tube-based system, giving it a sort of fickle humanity that is endearing on some level. The circuit needs time to warm up, it reacts to its environment and it can misbehave. It has personality.

Do you believe Vinyl sounds better than CD or Hi Rez audio?

Augustus Arnone: Absolutely not! Terrible, in fact! Noisy, bloated low mids, compromised transients, terrible bandwidth extension at both ends of the spectrum. I personally believe that actually nobody prefers the sound of vinyl, but some people are influenced by their own nostalgia and kitsch biases, so they ‘think’ they enjoy its sound more than digital media.

Christopher Bailey: Even when audiophiles have played me vinyls I remained largely unimpressed. When I first heard a digital recording, I was amazed at the clarity and beauty.

Jim Coker: (see previous answer above)

Dieter Doepfer: (see previous answer above)

Jeffrey Ehrenberg: (transcribed and paraphrased from a phone conversation) “From what we’re seeing now [vinyl] is kind of plateauing based on a recent article in the Wall Street Journal…for the first time in about 10 or 12 years”.

“Whereas in the 80’s a plant may have produced 200,000 copies for a single client like Bruce Sprinsteen’s Born to Run for three weeks, now we might have 200 clients printing 1000 copies.” This creates more change-over costs in the plant and more management logistics which increase costs overall. This increases turnaround time to as much as 6 to 12 months, which causes problems for bands that want vinyl in time for their tour or synchronized with a digital release. Instead of waiting, some bands are opting out, which might have something to do with the sales plateau.

“In terms of listening, I’m often using high rez audio because I’m evaluating a project that’s in that stage, so that’s where I’ll do a lot of critical listening. At home I have a large vinyl collection and if I just want to sit down and get the most out of the experience I’ll listen to vinyl. But if I want to have some music on while I’m cleaning the house I’ll have Spotify on…because of the convenience”.

Ryan Gaston: As stated above, I think that the difference in sound between different music media doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with qualitative judgments like “good” or “bad.” We form relationships with different media, and a unique form of nostalgia winds up embedded within each one. Modern producers use the “sound” of each medium to conjure up particular associations and broad sweeps of memory. In an era where CDs, vinyl, cassette, and digital media are all viable means of distribution, the sounds of different recording media no longer have to be measured against one another; they’re all just individual colors in the broader palette of music production.

Darwin Grosse: I think that there are things about vinyl that work for me. The listening time is a discrete duration. The subtle surface noise has, I believe, a psychoacoustic effect that works for me and engages my brain. And I like the physical interface with albums, turntables, and audio receivers that I generally don’t get when I’m listening to a digital stream or download.

W.T. Nelson: The ONLY thing the vinyl format does better technically is its visual presentation, wherein the format is superior at displaying written information and/or visual information the musical artist/publisher has provided with a recording.

But it’s not as simple as that.

In the great cola wars of the 1980s, both Pepsi & Coke learned that in the context of a “blind taste test” (& Pepsi began to relentlessly and sensationally advertise these tests for good reason) punters picked Pepsi most often over the original “Georgia junkie juice” formula.

So Coke came up with a new formula that WON blind taste tests… they called it “New Coke” and they released the crap with much fanfare and ended production of the original formula like it was last year’s Chevy.

Anyone who actually enjoyed the stuff for generations freaked out because they don’t drink cola with a blindfold on & with the blindfold off the new formula tasted like candied ass.

Arguably one of the biggest marketing failures in history.

So, sounds better? Or IS better? And for WHOM?
For me it comes down to what WORKS better. But that’s ONLY what works better for ME”.

Robert Rich: “No, vinyl sounds worse, but it sounds worse in a way that we like. To master a vinyl LP we need to remove everything under 40 Hz or so, we need to compress the dynamic range more to overcome surface noise, reduce stereo width. The inherent pops and clicks, rumble, narrow stereo image make LPs technically inferior. However, we interact with LPs in a physical way, and the human brain is a projecting system, not just a receptacle. When we impart value into a listening experience, we get more pleasure from that experience. Every time we listen to a record, we wear it down. So, we pay attention. We need to get up and flip it over every 20 minutes. So, we pay attention. When we pay attention, we listen better, we like it better, we remember it better. It has little to do with audio fidelity”.

Tony Rolando: No. Especially not when most people rarely clean their records or calibrate their turntables. What’s worse, I’ve pulled brand new records out of the sleeve and played them on my system and had an alarming amount of surface noise, clicks and pops all due to a dirty production environment at the record pressing plant.

The reason I still buy vinyl is that I like the large covers, the arrangement of the music across two or more sides and most importantly, I’ve been buying it since the 80s so why stop now. Younger people probably do not feel the same way. So once my generation dies, vinyl might finally die as well.

Dave Rossum: Like tubes, vinyl can add nostalgic coloration. But the vinyl medium is fragile and when damaged by handling without ultimate care or by overly frequent playing, I find the distortions and artifacts unpleasant. Also, while I can appreciate that some audiophiles take pleasure in the ritual of handling vinyl and this might add to their listening pleasure, I find those tasks annoying. I would choose well engineered CDs or other lossless digital audio medium over vinyl in virtually every instance.

Dave Smith: I recently set up a nice turntable and dragged out my vinyl from the 60s/70s/80s, and while it’s fun to revisit them, I find I don’t have the patience for pops/snaps/cleaning, and worse having to get up every 15 minutes to turn them over. Good vinyl certainly sounds better than bad MP3s or CDs, but with good digital audio it becomes a non-issue for me.

ME: No. The medium is not as reliable and is prone to damage and noise. The dynamic range is limited as is the bass response. But I admit I miss the albums that I sold years ago, mainly based on nostalgia, because my system back then was terrible in terms of fidelity.

Do you have a prediction for where things might be headed and what music production will be like in 10 years?

Augustus Arnone: I think it depends on the genre, with retro methods being more prevalent for rock than music with more electronic sounds. Generally, I think we are going to continue to see more of the same trends that are evident now. There is far less money in selling recordings, so small project studios with a minimum of gear will produce more music than giant studios with expensive upkeep. People will continue to work hybrid, digital will never completely supplant analog technology, but it will continue to have an edge because it is much more affordable, and solves issues like channel matching, and settings recall, as well as offering decimal point control of parameters. However, retro gear nostalgia, if anything, seems to be increasing. We look back at prior decades as a kind of golden era for commercial music, because it had a much bigger impact on the world and sold many more albums. Both gear manufacturers and software developers seem more interested in offering still more clones and emulations of classic units than inventing a new product. I think in 10 years, if there is further development in DSP processing or analog components, it is more likely to be used to produce *another* better, and cheaper, 1073 or 1176 emulation, than a new, better mic amp or compressor. This is an unfortunate situation.

Christopher Bailey: I’m guessing there will be more and more hybrid situations, analog working next to digital in various combinations. I’m all for exploring these things, and especially seeing what weird sounds and artifacts we can come up with when we push these “hybrid” situations to their limits.

Jim Coker: …I can at least say that I think hardware in general, and especially boutique hardware, at all price points, will become more dominant — but that doesn’t mean computers are going away.

Dieter Doepfer: Difficult to answer. I have been asked the same question about 10 years ago and I was totally wrong when I answered that I suppose that the fully analog sound generation has reached it’s maximum. It has also to do with temporary fashion rather than with objective facts only (much more than I assumed). And temporary fashion is hard to predict. It’s a bit similar to the question which clothes and shoes will people wear in 10 years.

Jeffrey Ehrenberg: “We see things go in cycles. Outboard gear seems to be on the decline, but I think there will always be a niche for it. That being said, we have sold more analog consoles this summer than we did all of 2016. There definitely seems to be a sort of herd mentality regarding producing in the box or out of the box at any given point in time.”

“Streaming will get stronger. We’re seeing hi-rez streaming right now with Tidal, and other platforms like Spotify and Pandora are not far behind. As member of the Recording Academy and AES, I see discussions and movements to prep the technology and the talent, and ultimately the consumer for these new delivery methods.”

Ryan Gaston: I think that music production will become an even deeper labyrinth in ten years, and that forms of musical dissemination will continue to multiply. All current media will remain valid—people will still print vinyl, cassettes, and CDs—but we’ll also accumulate more options for dissemination. VR, evolving internet databases, telematic performance, interactive computer programs, site-specific installations, and even musical instruments themselves will develop into viable and vital media by which producers and composers can share their ideas. The mode/media of dissemination will become more project-specific as even more means of distribution develop.

Darwin Grosse: I think that music production will continue to move into the hands of the small producer, and that marketing through nano-cultures (for instance, not just analog purists, but analog purists that recorded using Earthquaker pedals, or Make Noise modules, or MPC samplers) will become even more important. Similar to the way that politics has gone, most people will surround themselves with creators that exactly echo their interests, and it will be increasingly hard to have a ‘popular’ music that is either generational or broadly cultural.

So get ready for that next “Philadelphia+Minecraft+Digitakt+Eventide+Soundcloud” hit that really nails it for 175 true believers!

W.T. Nelson: The psychology of market forces/market cycles, wherein scarcity commands interest, while familiarity breeds contempt will continue due to those consumers who think more about the means of making music & reproducing music than actually making music & actually listening to it.

And there will continue to be the others: artists focused on the challenge to produce/document their vision & music patrons who are focused on hearing it however possible within their means.

These artists will simply use the most direct & pragmatic means available. That could be anything from the latest software & interface (on a computer of some sort), the most arcane patch-cord rats nest, or even some junk they found at a thrift store—to make whatever sound they are “painting” with.

And these patrons will view music however possible from the lowly smart phone speaker to a pair of MC30s. Who knows, maybe even via wifi direct to the grey matter.

And these folks will continue to be the trend setters as they have always been with precious little regard for what “sounds best”.

Robert Rich: All formats ever made will still be alive (to someone) and collectors who miss the days of physical media will still collect old things because they like to hold them in their hands. Someone might as well come up with a way to send all the music ever made, for free, directly into our brains; and that will inspire some audio geeks to experiment with recording un-amplified acoustics directly onto Edison wax cylinders because it’s fun. I mean…really…people are releasing cassettes again for some mysterious reason. Near-perfect audio reproduction is already achievable yet people still want color and attitude. Those trends won’t go away, they will only shift to counterbalance whatever new technologies make music more ubiquitous and more trivial in our lives.

Tony Rolando: I don’t think music production will change much in the next 10 yrs. People will continue to make records in their bedrooms, on the school bus, in the basement and for a few lucky folks, in a recording studio.

What I do think will continue to change is the way we consume music. The way find music, learn about music, pay for music and experience music will change a great deal over the next 10 years. Musicians will find new ways to make a living perhaps collaborating with other artists (sculptors, film makers, painters) and engineers to create new experiences that people are willing to pay for.

Dave Rossum: Like all pendulums, the current fascination with vintage equipment will swing back to some degree. On the other hand, the phenomenal technological advances in areas like digital processing power and machine learning will, I believe, bring a broader, more easily applicable form of “vintage processing” to the world, allowing those who truly appreciate vintage audio to have a greater access to it.

Dave Smith: I believe analog synthesis is here to stay; it’s been around for 50 years and passed the test of time. I think all compressed music will eventually go away and the default will be hi-rez digital, once bandwidth and storage is plentiful.

ME: I think the age of streaming is not to be denied. Internet speeds will increase, streaming protocols will improve, the audio object (record, CD, cassette) will continue as a niche market. What is more likely (perhaps beyond 10 years) is some technology that delivers audio on demand directly to the listener wirelessly and without an intermediary device. This is already happening at silent dancing events. Instant and random access. Concerts may become silent and wireless events with each person receiving their individually adjustable mix via headphones or brain implant.


The consensus seems to be that there is no consensus. Even regarding the questions themselves, respondents naturally tended to interpret what was being asked through the lens of their own experience or a particular technical preoccupation. While having a preference toward anything seems natural and easily communicated, it is also true that our tastes, likes and dislikes evolve over time. I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the resurrection of vinyl, let alone cassettes, back in the 80s when sales started to plummet. As Dieter Doepfer observed, “It has to do with temporary fashion rather than with objective facts only (much more than I assumed). And temporary fashion is hard to predict”.

If there is any agreement, it’s that retro gear and technology will always be around in one form or another and that technological progress is inevitable. As futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil has expounded, technology increases at an exponential rate, “So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress”. (source) Who knows? Maybe in 2117, the wax cylinder market will be the fastest growing sector, making Robert Rich’s offhanded prediction a reality.

Thanks again to all the contributors for their thoughtful insights! Please visit their links below for information about their work and backgrounds. I invite comments and feedback to keep the discussion alive!

Contributor Bios and Links

Augustus Arnone serves as Executive Artistic Director of Collide-O-Scope Music, a contemporary music ensemble that he co-founded in 2009 and co-directs. He holds a Doctorate in Musical Arts from Cornell University and is an accomplished pianist and audio engineer.

Christopher Bailey studied electroacoustic composition at the Eastman School of Music, and later earned a D.M.A. at Columbia University. He is currently based in Boston, and frequently participates in musical events in New York City. His music explores a variety of musical threads, including microtonality, acousmatic and concrète sounds, serialist junk sculpture, ornate musical details laid out in flat forms, and constrained improvisation.

James Coker holds a Masters of Science degree from Stanford University and is the developer behind Numerology, described as “The Mother of All Step Sequencers.” by In 1993, he became a member of a San Francisco-based startup company called jGuru, focusing on the then-new programming language called Java. He is currently developing a new Eurorack sequencer module through his company Five12.

Dieter Doepfer is known as the founding father of Eurorack, the most ubiquitous format currently available for modular synthesis (source). He is the founder of Doepfer Musikelektronik GmbH which currently offers over 125 different modules with new products in continual development. He was active in the early development of MIDI and in 1992 “released the MIDI analog sequencer MAQ16/3 which was designed in cooperation with Kraftwerk. (source)

Jeffrey Ehrenberg is currently Sales Manager at Vintage King Audio in Los Angeles and the President of Infrasonic Sound which specializes in mastering for audio and vinyl. He is active as a musician, producer, and audio engineer.

Ryan Gaston is a composer, synthesist, and sound artist based in Los Angeles. Gaston’s current work centers around custom software design, modular synthesizer performance/improvisation, and strategies for notation and analysis of electronic and timbre-based music. Gaston regularly performs as half of the electroacoustic improv duo Burnt Dot and works by day as a technical and sales associate at Perfect Circuit Audio. Gaston received his MFA in Experimental Sound Practices at the California Institute of the Arts.

Darwin Grosse is Chief Learning Officer at Cycling ’74 (makers of Max/MSP). He is active as a producer, mix and mastering engineer, software developer, author, composer, and performer.

W.T. Nelson is a self-described “creative mercenary” and founding partner of Trogotronic, a company specializing in handmade Eurorack modular and standalone synth gear, including tube-based devices. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree from California Institute of the Arts where activities and societies included: “The High Art of Bullshitting, Nude Sunbathing, and Tolerating Numbskulls”.

Robert Rich is a musician, composer, synth programmer, and instrument builder based in California. “Across four decades and over 40 albums, Robert Rich has helped define the genres of ambient music: dark ambient, tribal, and trance, yet his music remains hard to categorize. Part of his unique sound comes from using home-made acoustic and electronic instruments, microtonal harmonies, computer-based signal processing, chaotic systems and feedback networks. Rich began building his own analog synthesizers in 1976 when he was 13 years old and later studied for a year at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).

Tony Rolando is the founder of Make Noise (2008), a company specializing in Eurorack modules and semi-modular synth gear. He is a “self-taught electronic musical instrument designer,” whose devices can be found in just about every modular rig out there. The Make Noise Maths module is particularly omnipresent in the modular world, thanks to its chameleon-like multi-functionality.

Dave Rossum is an electronic music pioneer and Rossum Electro-Music is the culmination of Dave’s 45 years of designing industry-defining instruments and transformative technologies. Starting with the co-founding of E-mu Systems, Dave provided the technological leadership that resulted in what many consider the premier professional modular synthesizer system. The E-mu Modular System combined superlative analog design, innovative use of digital technology, and unparalleled physical construction and reliability. Reflecting Dave’s belief that both analog and digital technologies each have their optimum roles, the E-mu Modular System featured rock-stable analog oscillators, exquisite sounding filters, the first digital polyphonic synthesizer keyboard, the first modular digital sequencer, and the first microprocessor-based polyphonic keyboard/sequencer (among many other innovations).

Dave Smith is a pioneering engineer and musician responsible for the first polyphonic and microprocessor-controlled synthesizer, the Prophet 5, and later the multitimbral synthesizer (source). He founded Sequential Circuits in 1974 and Dave Smith Instruments in 2002 (source). In 2013, he and Ikutaro Kakehashi (founder of Roland) won a Technical GRAMMY Award for their collaborative development of MIDI in 1983.

Missing our best stuff?

Sign up to be the first to learn about new tutorials, sales, giveaways and more.

We will never spam you. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit
Philip Mantione

Philip Mantione

Philip Mantione is a composer, synthesist, guitarist, educator and sound artist active in the LA experimental music scene. His music has been presented in festivals, museums and galleries worldwide. His current project is TriAngular Bent, an electroacoustic trio featuring Don Preston (founding member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention) and circuit bending virtuoso, Jeff Boynton. Details at

FREE Max for Live Device

Download a free random envelope generator from Phil Mantione.

Powered by ConvertKit
  • Terry Henry

    1. Great article, thanks. 2. My answer to this very broad and hard to answer question is simply: yes. 3. The gap is getting closer but I don’t think it’ll ever close. I just think hybrid is the present, and possibly the future.

Recommended Courses