Analog vs. Digital - a neurologist's take

Interesting take on things. The upshot being that timing is everything. And it reminds me of the time-shift stuff we’ve heard from MQA…


Isn’t this claim based on a flawed assumption that the time resolution of CD sampling is 23 microseconds (the inverse of the 44.1 kHz sampling frequency)? As I understood it - not that I’m by any means an expert - the time resolution of digital audio depends on the bit depth rather than the sample rate.

Totally out of my depth, but from the article:

"The guiding principle of a nervous system is to record only a single bit of amplitude at the exact time of arrival. Since amplitudes are fixed, all the information is in the timing.

On the other hand, the guiding principle of digitization is to record variable amplitudes at fixed times. For example, sampling with 24-bit amplitude resolution, every 23 microseconds (44 kHz). Since sample times are fixed, all the information is in the amplitude.

So unlike digital recorders, nervous systems care a lot about microtime, both in how they detect signals and how they interpret them. And the numbers really matter: Even the best CDs can only resolve time down to 23 microseconds…"

Shocking that tens of thousands of professional audio engineers got it so wrong for so long. Glad Softky is around to set them straight.

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Shocking that tens of thousands of people think that something developed in the early stages of digital audio development is so perfect that it cannot be improved upon with any new insights into how we hear.

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Probably closer to millions think it’s perfect.

But Softky, unfortunately, has been floating these ideas for a while now. And if you like that paper, check out this one:

Something of a non-argument there, @Bill_Janssen. Millions think mp3’s over phone earbuds are more than good enough.

There is a difference between analog and digital, though. Take Dark Side of the Moon for instance. About three quarters into the Great Gig in the Sky, Clare Torrey whispers a sentence. It’s audible on my old lp. It’s not there anymore on my lp rip. It’s not there on the first CD issue, it’s not there on the 2011 remaster, it’s not there on the SACD. It is there on the Quadraphonic DVD though.

Detail and resolution are sometimes superior on vinyl in my experience, especially when it comes to sophisticated recordings like the Floyd and other prog rock.

Why is this? A neurological explanation seems to make more sense than an engineering one.


Interesting. I’ll have to try that my lp vs digital and see what I hear.
On the digital side I have a PS Audio Directstream Jr. Recently they released an update (for the FPGA) and after updating I listened to a few things to gauge a before/after. The surprise was, listening to a track from King of America (E Costello), I could understand a lyric that before was just too garbled/mumbled. I suppose it makes sense, but it was startling to hear it.

It certainly is there on the 2011 remaster at 3 minutes 30.

Not on my Discovery set CD, Ged.

It’s there on Tidal and Spotify. I’ll listen to my discovery rip tonight if I get the chance.

We’re digressing, but what the hey… (Sorry @Greg_Hill1) :disappointed:

Tried Tidal, turned up volume, got maybe the quietest hint. Lugged out the lp, turned down volume to normal listening level and there it was.

So is this confirmation bias, psychoacoustics or what?

The DSOTM whisper is a bit of an ongoing experiment amongst my friends. We’ve been trying this out on different equipment for a few years now. The biggest surprise we ever had was that we could even discern the whisper on a lo-fi system (AT lp60 tt, entry level Yamaha integrated amp and crappy Bose speakers) from vinyl.

It’s pretty clear from Spotify through my phone to Bluetooth in ear headphones.

Not a good example. I have about 10 versions of the album including original vinyl and CD, SACD/DSD, hires PCM, various CD remasters, needle drops, etc. I can hear the sentence on all of them, even the LP being converted on the fly to digital. Even streaming on Qobuz the Redbook PCM over bluetooth.
So it’s not the format, it’s your playback and or recording chain. Sorry.
My digital setup reveals more detail than any analog setup I’ve ever heard. Many undecipherable lyrics are some clearly understood, where on other setups they aren’t.

Like @danny2 I also have around 10 versions of this album and I can hear it on all of them (@ 3m 32s or thereabouts) but I don’t think this has much to do with the system it’s played on - I can hear it quite clearly on all those albums through the Sonos One on my desk, and the Sonos isn’t renowned for being particularly revealing.

Maybe, maybe not. As I mentioned we’ve been running this experiment for some years now. There’s five of us. One of us is a hifi gear reviewer so we get to play with all sorts of setups. Our results are consistent throughout configurations, so we’re either all biased towards analog (which is a possibility of course) or there is something to the analog versus digital story. Could be we’re all going deaf, we’re all getting a bit long in the tooth after all.

Just listened to my discovery version on loudspeakers rather than headphones and it’s still there quite distinctly.

Once you know it’s there, you will hear it on anything. The brain is funny like that and that makes quick AB testing questionable.

It’s this old chestnut again!
I had a bit of a surreal experience last night. I installed my newly-purchased Chord M Scaler into the chain, ahead of my Hugo TT2, and it sounds completely ‘analogue’. Amazing!
Rob Watts at Chord has always stressed the importance of timing and transients in digital audio, and I think with the M Scaler he’s probably cracked it! Until the next generation of Xilinx FPGA comes out…

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Not intended as an argument, Frank. Just a different guess.