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After 15 years of great discussions, the Sweetwater Forums are now closed and preserved as a "read-only" resource. For discussions about current gear, check us out on Facebook, YouTube, inSync, and our Knowledge Base.

What is Warmth?

bound

What is analog warmth? Is it distortion? Bass boosting? Decreased high frequencies?
What is cold? Sterile? Thin?
I often hear the term "warm" used over and over to describe these things but I personally disagree. Not that these things don't sound good in the right context, but I think a pure digital sine wave sounds warm. Which brings me to my next question.
Are cold and sterile the same thing?
As a I said I think pure sine waves sound warm, but also sterile.
It's difficult for me to define what warm is I think because unlike most producers I prefer analog equipment NOT because it has subtle imperfections (although in the right situations they can be nice), but because they're lossless. No digital compression, but analog has a host of other problems, that it seems some people prefer. In my personal opinion I think the ideal situation would be absolutely lossless, characterless recording. No digital compression, no tube-distortion, no vinyl noise, nothing. Just crystal clear sound that can be molded with these imperfections as desired. I don't want tube-warmth unless I want tube-warmth if that makes sense.
So why do people prefer theses things?
May 30, 2012 @12:03am
bound

I've also noticed that to me going from a high note to a low note sounds warmer than the opposite.
I think to me warm has something more to do with the pure tone and the overtones rather than distortion.
May 30, 2012 @12:08am
jpleong

I know you're trying to have a philosophical conversation but I need to address some factual issues...
I prefer analog equipment... because they're lossless. No digital compression

Analog is inherently lossy. Take a passive electric guitar, probably one of the most pure examples of analog technology. Magnetic pickups convert the movement of the strings into electrical energy. The "sound" of those pickups, however, can vary (that is, degrade) greatly depending on any number of factors including the length of the internal wiring, the length of the external wiring (cables), the resistance of the wiring used, etc... That original signal is also susceptible to outside interference that further degrades the purity of the sound. The primary strategy to fight signal loss is to use active circuitry to boost, buffer, and/or balance the signal. This introduces its own problems including the potential of added noise.
That's why digital exists, to fix the loss problem. Uncompressed audio is quantized. Digital compression is only used when trying to achieve an extremely small file size (and digital compression comes in two forms, lossless and lossy).

In my personal opinion I think the ideal situation would be absolutely lossless, characterless recording.

To truly achieve what you have literally written, you need a digital recorder with high bit-depth and high sampling rate. The conversion from analog to digital must also be made as close as possible to the sound source.
To your comments about warmth... This is a problem when trying to use descriptive terms from another sense to describe sound. Everyone's sense of warmth (touch) or brightness (sight) is subjective.
JP
May 30, 2012 @03:54pm
bound

Thanks for that reply. I don't know to much about gear as you may be able to tell. For example, why is it that every va synth I've ever heard has this sound like someone is dampening it by putting a towel over the speaker or something? On the other every analog I've heard sounds both brighter AND darker at the same time.
So is digital audio only compressed in the final stages of production (when you convert it into an mp3)?
I guess I assumed that analog audio was lossless because vinyl and tape have been described as infinitely uncompressed audio. Since digital data is expressed as bytes and essentially a series of switches couldn't analog equipment be theoretically made to be infinitely more hifi than digital since analog signals are expressed as voltages which can vary rather than switches which are only on or off?
Thanks for the help :)
May 30, 2012 @04:19pm
jpleong

Hah... so this conversation is getting a little more complicated and beyond the scope of what I can say (or even claim to know) in short sentences. There are, literally, books on the subject.

So is digital audio only compressed in the final stages of production (when you convert it into an mp3)?

PCM digital audio is compressed at the A/D conversion (quantization) to fit within its bandwidth restrictions. This is done at a very high level and is theoretically un-noticeable to the human ear. Certainly not as heavy handed as the data compression later used to create the small file-size of mp3s.

I guess I assumed that analog audio was lossless because vinyl and tape have been described as infinitely uncompressed audio. Since digital data is expressed as bytes and essentially a series of switches couldn't analog equipment be theoretically made to be infinitely more hifi than digital since analog signals are expressed as voltages which can vary rather than switches which are only on or off?

Analog is superior, in theory, because it doesn't sample and doesn't quantize. When you record a sine wave in analog, you're getting a sine wave. In digital audio, you're getting a stair-step representation of a sine-wave. As you increase to higher resolutions, those stair-steps look more and more like a sine wave until they're nearly indistinguishable; however, you're never getting *exactly* that sine wave. So, yes, in theory analog is potentially more hi-fidelity. But, as I tried to illustrate in the earlier post's guitar example, you're not really getting the whole sine wave in analog recording either.
You can read more about the nuts-n-bolts of common digital audio here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PCM
and the more-perfected version of your ideal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_Stream_Digital
For example, why is it that every va synth I've ever heard has this sound like someone is dampening it by putting a towel over the speaker or something? On the other every analog I've heard sounds both brighter AND darker at the same time.

I'm not a connoisseur of synths so I can't speak to that specifically. I will say that I've given up on the debate between analog and digital. I think what we hear and like has a lot more to do with the quality of the programming/construction/design of the object in question, than it does the "type" of object it happens to be. A lot of early digital technology (and current "cheap" digital) suffers from poor design. The same can be said of a lot of analog gear. My twelve-year-old TASCAM digital mixer sounds better than any current Behringer analog mixer, for example. The Behringers are "warmer" than the sterile TASCAM (how I would describe the preamps of the TASCAM) but it's a bad warmth, lacking clarity and definition.
JP
May 30, 2012 @06:07pm
bound

Thanks for such a great reply! That really helps. I admit I've also given up on the analog digital debate along time ago. There's too much good on both sides. Analog does have a certain sound (I'm still not sure if I'd characterize it as warm) that can be really great when you want it. I try to compose movie score type music so for me "analog warmth" and tube distortion can be as good as they can be bad. If I want to try to compose a horror score I obviously might really want feedback distortion, or some tape noise and scratches, but if I where to compose a more orchestral geared score I would want it to sound as much like the human ear hears it as possible. You're replies really helped me though, because as of yet I haven't really composed anything I think is worth much and partly because I was still trying to work out what kind of gear I need and a workflow. Unfortunately I was never really sure of what kind of music I wanted to create until recently and I now have some useless gear :(
June 2, 2012 @01:56am