What does analog have that digital doesn't?
I saw another Tildes thread that was discussing radio stations, and it threw me back to when I was very young and not totally digitized - the tactile feel of the dial as you click-click-click your way to your desired radio station, or the kind-of-subconcious-but-not-really memory you have of which buttons to press to jump to a saved frequency.
What do you miss about analog controls and devices? What do you think we're missing out on in the digital age? If we're missing out, did we still make a leap forward into the digital age?
I have no nostalgia for analog media. As a media format, vinyl records are inferior to pretty much everything, and I can't wrap my head around the modern hipster LP scene at all. Cassettes are making a bit of a comeback, and likewise I can't understand the appeal.
Books, I get. It's a tactile thing, there's a smell to old books, a certain weight to them, etc. For me an e-reader is close enough, but I get that some people can't replace the physical object.
What I actually miss most is physical buttons, switches, dials, and sliding potentiometers. I miss being able to control things without looking, just by feel. I miss tactile feedback where at least I can bottom out the pot to know where the end of travel is instead of dealing with rotary encoders or worse yet, touch controls.
I fully support any future hipster movements that try and bring back tactile controls in lieu of touchscreens. If any of your friends are trying to bring back 8-tracks or something, remind them how cool analog, tactile buttons and switches and potentiometers used to be. Try and make this a movement. Call it the "Kinetic Movement" or something. Tell people that touching switches grounds you or something. I'll bet we can make it a thing.
On top of what others have said about vinyl, there is a legit claim to fidelity within a certain context.
Full analog stacks. Audio that was recorded, mastered, and pressed on analog formats will sound best on a stereo system that is also fully analog.
Does it have as high fidelity as a modern digital recording? Of course not. But it does sound just as good, and the reason is a human one.
When those records were recorded, they listened on analog gear to master. When they pressed the records, they were tested on analog gear. Every step in the process was analog, mastered to those limitations to produce what sounded best, regardless of how accurate it was.
I used to think it was all bullshit too. Then I met my father in law, a certfiable audiophile. Playing an old mint record on his all-analog setup sounded 10x better than the exact same record from a flac of the same album on the same gear.
There were no cracks or pops, thanks to needle and record being immaculately cleaned. Just a small hum before the needle was fully in the groove.
I think one thing we forget in this quest for perfect digital fidelity is that we are analog beings, living in an analog world. Everything about us is, and when we strive for perfect reproducability something gets lost, something human. Concerts are better because they are raw, unedited, and live. Being in unaltered wilderness makes you feel far more connected with our environment than sitting in the middle of a city, or even a planned forest. Our universe was not planned, it is wild and chaotic. We strive as humans to build structure in that chaos, but in doing so we abstract ourselves from our natural birthplace. If we don't maintain that structure, it will collapse back into that natural chaos.
And I think that's what analog has that digital doesn't. That kind of raw connection to the world around us.
To be fair, even in the 60s most studio tape was far higher quality than vinyl. Things get mixed down to vinyl quality and pretty much always have done. A CD from the original master tapes, mixed well, contains more information than the vinyl mix, let alone the actual record, which has less again. The "mixed well" bit is important there because so much stuff is not, and that's a human factor which is independent of storage media. Whether a track was recorded or mastered on digital or analogue equipment doesn't really make any difference because the significant losses are all in the final medium. Vinyl masters are often done better because the engineer doing them is an audio nerd (and you really want an audio nerd on your mixing desk) doing it for love rather than just kicking out yet another CD. Also the labels generally give zero fucks about the vinyl mix so they won't send it back saying "it's too quiet" (this is one reason vinyl avoided the loudness war, which another comment in this thread alludes to). It's not the format which sounds better, it's the obscurity of the format which lets better mixes be released.
Just as an aside, one of the issues extreme audiophiles have is that their equipment is often better than studio gear so the weakest link in their system is the studio at which the recording was done. There was, back when I was into this stuff, only a handful of CDs which were recorded/mastered on super high quality gear and by skilled sound engineers, which actually benefit from playback on audiophile equipment. Morcheeba's Big Calm is one of them, and that will sound better on CD (or flac or mp3) than on vinyl on a good enough system. I have heard both mediums on very high end systems and CD is very clearly better.
Audiophilia is almost entirely bullshit, btw. It's like wine and steak and all those other things people love to fetishise. Good wine is worth buying but good wine is relatively cheap and there's no real benefit from spending crazy money. Same for hifi gear. I used to sell tens of thousands of pounds worth of the most ludicrously overpriced crap which did essentially nothing whatsoever to middle-aged men (always middle aged men) who thought it made their hifis sound fractionally better. The only way most of this stuff works is via placebo, blind ABX tests prove this time and time again. My father use to work in high end signal processing (he designed power amps used on radio telescopes) and he's baffled by it all. His speaker cables are the same as those used to connect ultra-sensitive radio receivers to their amps and cost less per metre than mid-range audiophile speaker cable which is carrying a signal several orders of magnitude more powerful.
 256kbps+ mp3 is indistinguishable from wav to human ears and frankly to most oscilloscopes too.
This here is the truth. No, analogue does not sound better than digital. Yes, records and tapes do sound different from digital recordings, but the reason why people say that analogue formats sound better is entirely because of human preference, not because of accuracy.
Here’s the simple truth of the matter; if you sample a sound at the same rate as CD audio and play it back, the wave that comes out will be exactly the same as it was coming in. CD audio actually oversamples audio just to be sure that it also catches the harmonics you can perceive from the higher frequency sounds, which is something consumer grade analogue formats cannot do.
So yes, the reason why a lot of music sounds bad right now is bad mixing. Pop music is going through something of a retro revival right now where artists are looking to other genres, so you can listen to them and hear the difference. Look at Demi Lovato’s latest album; it’s the perfect example. I listen to it and I think it would be so much better if she weren’t screaming the lyrics the entire time or the music just had a second to slow down and breathe. But that’s just how music is being produced today.
And for the record, I did a brief stint doing apprentice work for an independent recording studio, so I do have some real-world experience to back this up.
Kind of reminds me of discussions surrounding translation, where the question is whether the translate work should strive to be faithful to the wording and structure of the original, or to the emotion and style. For example, when translating a poem should the translation have more freedom in word choice in order to maintain the same rhyme scheme, or should it copy the original words exactly despite that ruining the poetic structure. Here of course we're talking about whether "to sound better" means to more faithfully reproduce the original sound, or to more faithful reproduce the emotional interaction that original sound was meant to elicit.
As someone who owns a record player and a modest handful of vinyls, the bit of ritual in playing (and cleaning) them is a large part of the charm; and quite the tactile endeavour besides.
I do get that, and I suppose it's the same as reading physical books versus e-readers, but to me the loss of fidelity, the finicky, fragile nature of the media, needles, etc is in no way worth it.
It's just, when cassettes became available I ditched my 8-tracks and records. When I found a fancy Technics cassette player at a garage sale in the late 80's that had auto-reverse and could automatically fast-forward to the next track I could never use another tape player again. I did enjoy interacting with these old clunky machines, but I feel like the formats of the day did interfere with my enjoyment of the music.
Which is one reason I sold all my Nikon camera gear and bought Fuji. Sure, you can't put all the controls of a modern digital camera into physical form but having the most used ones as dials, knobs and switches is such a joy. Honestly, joy. My first cameras were entirely manual and to go back to something approximating that, a setup which I can change EV/shutter/etc without looking, by touch alone, was wonderful. I can still remember how excited I was to take photos with an X100, an excitement I never really felt with a Nikon DSLR. Admittedly most of the controls in question aren't technically analogue and they never really were anyway, but it's the principle of the thing.
One thing with physical books is that for whatever reason I can navigate them much more easily than ebooks. This never comes up when reading for entertainment, since I'll just read linearly forward, but when you need the book for reference (i.e book essays back in university or more often now textbooks and other instructional material), I at least am much more able to flip to the approximate location of something I know is in the book.
Now, there's no reason this should be true; you can cmd (or ctrl) f in a ebook. You can do the pseudo-binary search that you do with real books just as easily. You can place infinite, labeled bookmarks. But I'm still just less accurate (or it feels less accurate).
I think it's because with a physical book, you can get a full picture of it in your mind with one glance. This makes it feel like the whole of the book is in your grasp. You can't really perceive it that way with an ebook, since you only get a snapshot at a time. Getting only snapshots makes it feel nearly infinite.
There actually is something to vinyl: the very physical limitations of the format led to different mixing processes which meant vinyl records both sound somewhat different from digital media, and they were never subject to the loudness war. Which means that even though it's technologically possible to achieve better fidelity in every regard on CDs and streaming audio, oftentimes vinyl will have better dynamic range due to digital audio being subject to bad mixing practices.
This one rings particularly true because I own the phone that they tried that exact interface with - thankfully it didn't catch on.
I comfort myself by thinking that we now have more tools for a good designer to play with: where once you had no choice but to have an expanse of rarely-used clicky switches to cover every eventuality, we can now have a touchscreen plus a handful of switches and dials for the key details. We just have to hope that the people creating the product understand this.
for me I am just a huge fan of my vintage turntable. The media is more expensive, the needle has to be replaced, there is more that can go wrong with it. But I am just fascinated by the mechanics of it and watching the vinyl spin. Its definitely a niche hobby but I love it.
I'm in exactly the same boat. I can come up with a few copyright issues but as for "feel" and general quality, digital media is superior in every way. And yes, I do remember lot of types of analogue media, I feel no nostalgia for them.
However, I also notice the trend of goddamn touch screens being tacked onto everything and it makes no sense for the same, practical reasons. I don't get why Tesla hides most of its car controls in a giant-ass touch panel. It's a horrible UX decision, especially for a car where you want to be able to control functions without looking. Physical buttons and switches absolutely have a place. Tactile feedback is a thing.
I believe with the mass production of smartphones, touch screens simply have become the cheaper alternative for a lot of use cases and companies get away with using them everywhere because they still feel vaguely futuristic. I can easily see a trend back to physical buttons. Like Apple doing some ASMR style video praising the return out the home button in 2023 or something and everyone is like, "oh wow, that click feels so good!".
I remember something called "Dial a Disc". In the UK you'd get (books of local area dialling codes)[https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/British-telecom-Vintage-Dialing-code-Book-Stoke-on-Trent/274716126812?hash=item3ff65b6e5c:g:9iQAAOSwnXJgSj5N] for the telephone. In the back there was a list of special numbers you could dial to get services. One of those was a number you could dial, at great expense, to listen to a pop song. Over analogue POTS, with carbon earpiece on the phone handset. It was weird - the white heat of technology (this was the 1980s) but really terrible and expensive experience.
But I agree with lots of people here: analogue was often worse.
Cassette tapes making a comeback is just baffling. They have limited frequency response, they're fragile, they're so mechanical, they're not convenient. The only good thing about tape was building a carefully curated mixtape for someone else.
I did like vinyl, but it was bulky, and delicate. And most people had terrible turntables, with no ability to calibrate speed or level the surface or correctly balance the tone arm. The cargo-culting of a two-pence piece blu-takked on the end of the tone arm. But there is something there about selecting a record, pulling it out of the sleeve and dust jacket, putting it on to play and then sitting and listening while reading the sleeve notes. It might be possible to recreate the sleeve-note experience with RFID cards and a PC, or epubs on an e-reader.
I miss the continuous nature of analog controls. Just about every digital device I own has some function where the resolution just isn't fine enough. Listening to music, I want it just a little louder, but not 1 digital notch louder. But I have no choice. I want the saturation on my TV turned up just a smidge, but the control for that is too coarse. And what's stupid about that is that you can get the same thing with a digital control. You just have to put some thought into it to figure out the least noticeable change and make your digital control's virtual notches never bigger than that.
I will say, my car's audio does seem to have nailed this one. It's a Mazda 3, and while it does have a touch screen, it also has 2 knobs in the center console. One is for navigation, and the other is dedicated exclusively to volume. I love it, and it increments in the tinyest fractions. I usually find myself adjusting by 5s, and appreciate that the increments in perceived volume are so small.
Yeah, I've heard good things about Mazda's UIs. Good to know!
Planned obsolescence is a thing for both analog and digital times but what I miss most about analog is how it was easier for the average non-tech-enthusiast to get things to work.
I say this from a place of frustration because in recent years i have had to replace more "analog" appliances like televisions, printers, washing machines, and refrigerators that lasted my family for decades with their "digital" counterparts - and within maybe 2-4 years the computer inside the appliance gets wet, gets bugged, gets updated, gets whispered to by the holy spirit - whatever it is - and suddenly companies are telling us "you need to get a whole new machine".
Once they say that, there's no way to DIY yourself out even if the main functioning parts in the appliance such as the motor etc etc is working fine. It's probably bigger than just a digital vs analog issue but I can't help but miss the days when i could open something up and see how it worked - and how to fix it. Maybe it's just a sign of the times.
You remember things much differently than I do. My father ran an electronic repair company and even so far as the beginning of the century he was still getting phone calls from people who just wanted him to go out to plug in their stereo or tv systems.
That being said, planned obsolescence is
largely a mythless common than most people think. The reason old appliances seemed to last longer is largely because of survivorship bias. You think “all this stuff from the 70’s lasts forever” because you only have examples where they survived; the cheap stuff that broke down was scrapped long ago.
Sure, planned obsolescence exists, especially when it comes to software. Cell phones are probably the most obvious example.
That being said, software and electronics do not automatically make things more prone to failure.
In the 90s, the hot tub industry abandoned their old electromechanical controls to all-digital systems. And sure, many of those digital systems have failed, overall digital systems have outlasted every electromechanical one. Some of the earliest digital systems are still running today.
As a counterpoint, HotSpring spas actually does build failures into their system. Their high-end spas actually have three main points of failure: a mechanical jet that will eventually break, and a circulation pump and relays that will eventually burn out. The real audacity is that they know that those relays will fail, so they put it on a separate board to easily replace it. And there is a microchip on it acting as DRM so you can’t buy third party replacements. Literally everyone else simply uses higher quality relays that will not burn out.
I guess I’m going off on a tangent, but what I am trying to say is that if you are buying something that is an investment into how you live and want something that will last, do some good research first and buy quality goods, but don’t be afraid to buy something just because it’s digital.
(Though probably avoid anything that touches your network - those need constant security updates, and I can assure you no appliance company is going to give those to you for free forever)
This reminds me of one of my favorite blog posts ever, where Shamus—who was born in the '70s—takes a look back at the '70s that's somewhere between clear-eyed and jade-tinted, and incredibly contrasted to the usual nostalgia-bait. Relevant to your point about survivorship bias, he says:
Oh man, this reminds me of the day I drove out to Dearborn, MI to interview for a programming job at Ford headquarters in the early to mid 1990s. I walk into their huge building and of course, they've got some mint condition classic cars in the lobby – a 1960s mustang, a classic Lincoln Towncar, and ... a mint condition first generation Ford Fiesta. My first thought was, "Really Ford, that's what you want to show to the world?" and my second thought was, "Holy crap that's in good condition. I don't remember ever seeing one on the street that looked that new, even when they were new!" The receptionist told me that they rotate them every few months, and that they have one of almost every model they've sold over the years.
I have a washer from Whirlpool like that. Was about $450 Just near the end of the 2 year warantee, like < 2 months left, something in the circuitboard dies.
Call out certified technician, they try to spin some bull about how I installed it wrong (was done by certified installer) and that it wouldn't be covered. If I didn't have the reciept with the install listed, I woulda had to pay full price for the repair.
$150 for the circuitboard itself. $50 for the labor, to open the front panel and unhook wires and rehook new board. Oh and an extra $80 fee if I wanted to keep the board to see if I could figure out what was wrong.
So almost half the cost of the entire washer to replace what appeared to be one of the simplest circuitboards I've ever seen. So even if it's not planned obsolecence, it's certainly neglectful design obsolecense.
Honestly, if it looked like a really simple circuit board you should consider yourself lucky because that’s a sign that it should be easily repairable.
Possibly, assuming it wasn't a fried IC. Probably would do so if I had more time.
But I'm not your average Joe either. Not an EE, but I know my way around a soldering iron.
Doesn't change that for an average person, It basically comes down to 'pay half the cost to repair once,' often resulting in device churn.
I blame exploitation of other county's labor. It artificially depresses the cost of the item, so repairs are disproportionately expensive.
I think that software/network bit is the real killer - even if it's not explicitly planned obsolescence, there are so, so many things out there now that tightly couple a piece of long-lived hardware to a server somewhere that may or may not be taken down, or an app that may not load on your new phone, or an ecosystem that'll just drift away from working with your other devices.
Technically not an analogue/digital divide beyond the fact that analogue devices are inherently immune, I know, but it is one that I think is becoming an increasing issue.
That's food for thought. For sure nostalgia is a big factor as well. The network advice i'll definitely take note. Thanks!
The slow but steady tide of digitizing appliances seems to have caught me in the middle. I guess I know less about the process and that's what makes me wary to deal with it. I would say I do my research but that marketing oftentimes has a better understanding of the digital side than I do. Then some comments here bring up a good point in that its likey the corporate/legal end with a problem, vs the digital arm per se. My country has consumer protection laws but only just.
Now I just kind of wish I could take your father or you with me the next time I shop for appliances :))
P.S. Unrelatedly, the nostalgia/ biased recall angle reminded me of a nice old memory: We used to have appliances that we called "may amo" (in english, "knows only one master") such as the washing machine that would only work when my mom kicked it in a certain spot.
By most people's standards my home contains an entirely unreasonable amount of automation and general tech, but I have a firm rule about separating the computer parts from the moving parts. I also try to stick to large appliances from manufacturers who made their name in things that go clunk rather than things that go beep.
It's definitely something that I'm only able to do thanks to the dual luxuries of having my own place to fit out as I choose, and of paying more up-front where necessary, but it's been an absolute joy so far. The stuff with a 20+ year lifespan is all built like a tank, and the stuff that makes it smart lives in separate, cheap boxes that can be replaced if they die in year two.
Can you give some examples? We're probably going to replace our fridge and stove in the next year or two, and I absolutely refuse to have any appliance connected to the internet. Preferably because it's incapable of it.
We went out of our way to purchase a slightly used TV from an estate sale specifically because it was a brand and model that is really "dumb". It shows the signal sent to it and doesn't try to do anything else.
As a rule of thumb, I'd say go for Miele or Bosch.
Miele have a reputation for incredible quality which is entirely deserved, and a reputation for being expensive which is... sort of deserved*. They don't make anything cheap, but in my experience that means even their base models outperform the top of the range from pretty much everyone else, so you need to compare accordingly. The entry point might be twice what you'd pay for a low-quality budget option, but it's often actually cheaper than something flashier from, say, Samsung while doing a far better job of its core task.
Even so, I've limited myself to just the more complex items from them: oven, washing machine, and vacuum cleaner. Those are all things where I'll actually appreciate real precision and attention to detail: the heft and balance of the oven door and shelves, the consistent power of the vacuum, the quietness of the washer even when it's spinning fully loaded (turns out the thing literally weighs twice as much as most on the market - the delivery guys put in an absolutely heroic effort when they found that one out). There's just a genuine joy in using something that's been built to serve a purpose and serve it well, and it's a powerful antidote to all the little daily frustrations from things that were built with the bare minimum care and attention needed not to physically fall apart.
Fridge and microwave, for me, are just a box that gets cold and a box that gets hot, respectively. I want them to work and be built well, but they're too utilitarian to spark that kind of joy in me. I went with Bosch for both, the pricing was good, and they do their jobs with no sign that they'll ever stop. The fridge has a single set of buttons that I've never needed to touch, the microwave has six power settings and a physical dial to spin the time up or down. I couldn't give better praise than that.
*This is all from a European point of view, so US pricing may be higher. We should be talking hundreds here, not thousands - although it's easy to stumble into their high end sections and see the latter: in my opinion that's far into diminishing returns.
We bought a Meile canister vac 5 years ago. People scoffed at us paying $1,100 for it.
It works better than any other vac I've used. We've abused the hell out of this thing, dropping it down stairs multiple times. Only one part has broken, and it was due to a guest brute-forcing an latch instead of pushing the button.
It has opened my eyes to jist how junk most other vaccums are.
Good advice! That's the kind of place I'd eventually like my home to become in the future. Not there yet but its good to know that a best-of-both-worlds scenario is possible.
When I was a kid in the '70s, we moved, bought a house from an old man who left a lot of furniture and stuff behind when he left.
That included, among other things, an ancient antique radio, the size of a large dresser, beautiful varnished wood and full of giant old vacuum tubes inside. Vaguely, my best recollection is that it looked something like this. I don't recall if it ever worked for us, if we even tried to get it working or what. But I do remember how fascinated I was by it, that "back in the day" radios weren't just tiny tinny little boxes in our cars and clocks, but actual giant, decorative pieces of furniture.
Another thing he left behind was a huge pile of really ancient vinyl records, all 78 RPM, many only having grooves on one side, some dating back to the 19th century. That was another thing that was fascinating -- as was playing them ... and having the ability, right there in our house, to play music through our record player, from a record that was made almost a century earlier.
There are no 100-year-old CDs or DVDs, and there never will be (not regular ones, at least). Even more, there will never be antique ".mp3" files unearthed in someone's basement dating back a century.
I don't know what, exactly, I'm trying to pin down here, but there is something missing from the modern digital toolset, longevity or history or continuity across generations ... something, apart from the content itself.
I get what you're saying...I can't pass down my mp3 collection to my children or grandchildren. I think physical objects are something that humans like and intrinsically understand. Purely mechanical machines are wonderful - you can take them apart, see how they work, fix them, modify them, and literally feel them. They can be repaired, refurbished, and passed on to the next generation.
Now, I'm not a luddite - I have smart lights in my house, I love tinkering with computers, and I'll spend 10 hours coding to automate something that will save me 10 minutes, but there's still that certain something from the mechanical world that the digital world just can't capture.
I suppose that's my long winded way of saying I agree with you.
There's something visceral about having physical media that you can collect, hold in your hand, and give to others. When I was a kid we had our small collection of VHS tapes that we watched countless times. If we wanted some variety we would either rent a movie or borrow one from one of the neighbors' collections. Those movies meant a lot to us.
And yet today, thanks to digitization, we can access media from across the whole history of media. There's a lot to say for that. Your children and grandchildren will have access to countless songs, including the ones you love. What got lost is a good way to say "These particular songs are the ones that mean something to me".
Oh man, I'm old enough that when I was born my parents TV and I think stereo both used tubes. I remember going to Radio Shack as a kid to buy new tubes for them. It was a huge pain. They contained about a billion tubes all just slightly different so you had to take the burnt out one with you to make sure you got the right replacement. They would get hot as heck when turned on. Oh, and they took a good minute or two to heat up when you first turned the device on. The radio, for example, would start out whisper quiet and slowly come up to the volume it was set at over the course of about a minute. I don't miss that!
Ditto. We had a TV from Sears that had some kind of really long-term (lifetime?) warranty, and the Sears repairman (I'd say 'person', but who are we kidding? Back then, they were all men) would come out every year or so to fix it, usually just requiring the replacement of a burnt-out tube.
That TV lasted something like 20-25 years. Parents bought it before I showed up, and I graduated high school (at least) before we bought a new one.
In terms of formatting discrepancies, probably a fair assessment. In terms of the longevity of the disc itself...well. Suffice to say there's a lot of debate on the lifespan of CD and the answer isn't really clear yet. The first CD-ROM meant for a digital computer came out in 1984, and the first IBM compatible (basically the architecture that went on to become the PC standard we use today) CD-ROM came out a few years later sometime around 1986-1987.
Microsoft Bookshelf was actually one of the first well known pieces of software to come out for early CD-ROM, and copies in good condition still work if you pop it into any run of the mill CD or Blu-ray player under the appropriate (real or emulated) environment. Much like Vinyl, CDs only last as long as they're cared for. If you get it dirty, bang it up etc it will stop working. And it's pretty well accepted that eventually CDs will start degrading from age, but we don't really know when that will start happening, because even the oldest discs haven't started suffering from this yet. This is opposed to basically all forms of magnetic media, which have half lives which are not only measurable but easily observed.
I was reading about this the other week, and it turns out the Library of Congress has done a bit of research [PDF] on real and simulated CD ageing. It's still kind of a best guess, but it was cool to see some numbers either way.
They calculated a mean expected lifespan of 776 years at room temperature, which is much higher than I would have expected, although there's significant variance there and they pointed out that batch and manufacturing process have a huge impact on longevity: certain discs from a specific factory and time period are likely to have oxidised within 30 years, and they're already seeing that in their collection.
It also turns out that storing them in a normal fridge can apparently extend the lifespan by a factor of 25. Keeping them in your car over summer does the exact opposite. I'd probably have been able to intuit that heat makes plastic go bad faster, but the difference between 5°C and room temperature being measured in centuries is way outside what I would have expected.
One thing I love about analog signal processing is the lack of latency!
As soon as you insert a digital component, you have to deal with A/D converters, buffers, fast processing units and finally another D/A converter to hear the resulted signal.
It really hurts me to know that analog phone calls had lower signal latency than we now have when using VoIP over the internet. Having to wait a second just to hear the reaction of the person I am talking to just doesn’t feel very "high tech" or "modern" at all.
So much this! It seems like in the early 2000s, everything started getting huge amounts of latency. Light bulbs moved from being incandescent to fluorescent. It used to be you'd walk into a room, hit the switch, and BAM! instant light. Then it was walk into a room, hit the switch, and wait 1-4 seconds. It has improved. It's now closer to 1/2 second for even cheap bulbs, but it's still noticeable to me, and still a pain.
TV was the worst. Back when the only way to know what was on was to flip through channels (or read a dead-trees media magazine), I could go through 2-4 channels per second with my Sony Trinitron flatscreen TV. Then I got a TiVo and digital cable, and it was 1-4 seconds per channel. Luckily, though, once things went digital, it meant a lot less channel surfing because you could record things by name and have them always ready. I actually hate channel surfing, but there was a time when it was the only realistic option.
Wow, I had totally forgotten about this, thanks for bringing this up: Zapping through analog TV channels was a totally different thing! 😃
Even without channel surfing, my 'smart' tv, with 0 smart functionality enabled, takes 10x longer to start up, switch inputs, or adjust volume than one from 20 years ago.
Yes, it's nice having higher fidelity screens, but I hate how we've basically had to rewire our brains to cope with incredible latency embedded in everything.
I've repaired my Mits WD-73733 several times at this point just to avoid dealing with newer televisions. There's nothing even close to smart about these overpriced toasters. I'd rather have the 'smart' part as an attached computer, not embedded where it's slow, limited to manufacturer-approved functionality, hard to update, and generally a pain in the ass.
I'm curious, how do you attach smart functionality to devices like that? Like a smart TV, sure, devices like that are everywhere. But a toaster? Or a thermostat? Washer/dryer/any other appliance? How do you outsource the smarts for a dumb device whose interfaces are primarily physical without basically building a robotic shell around the original object?
Most of them? Just do without, because smart functionality offers nothing substantial.
I turned my washer/dryer into a smart one my adding a heavy-duty smart switch. Just had to monitor power consumption for a while to figure out the cycles.
I scrapped that entirely when I realized I gained nothing over learning the cycle times, or failing that, checking in 1.5 hours. This applies to a whole lot of stuff. I have a bunch of smart stuff that I'm not going to rebuy when I move or it dies, simply because it offers no advantage over dumb stuff.
I have no need for a smart toaster, because I add toast and I'm still there when it is done.
I have a smart coffeemaker, but I just need a timer, a safety to skip timer if no water, and an insulated caraff. Stuff that was perfectly viable 50+ years ago.
The only things I can't see as easily separatable are termostat, blinds, and locks. Even blinds could be done if there was a simple disconnect at the motor. Thermostats are purely electronic these days, so failure there is normative. Locks there isn't really a good way to separate the motor from the thing that controls the motor.
That's generally my attitude towards smart appliances, but I see people like @Greg in this thread talking about just buying solid, reliable appliances and then attaching cheap, separate smarts to them and even just purely for curiosity's sake I wonder what in the world they're doing over there and how.
I might have to disappoint you a bit on this one - I got sidetracked into rhapsodising about kitchen appliances, and I'm definitely a proponent of not having the network or complex software tightly integrated with the machinery, and especially not coupling hardware functionality to third party services or proprietary protocols, but then adding the network separately is something I only go to the effort of doing when I think it'll really help me.
If I need to touch the appliance as part of the process anyway (food into the oven, clothes into the washing machine, etc.) then I probably won't feel a benefit from remote control. That said, if I did have a reason to really want a smart washing machine, I'd probably be looking for a commercial model with a serial port or similar and then hooking that into the network with a Raspberry Pi.
The irony here is that a lot of the things I'm in favour of (simple, modular, wired or line-of-sight interfaces) were standardised decades ago when they were the only option. All I'm really advocating for is to keep using them rather than moving to integrated proprietary systems.
Some of the things I do have set up that I'm really happy with:
High quality fitted unit, networked IR blaster to control it. Totally straightforward, with exactly the separation of concerns you want.
It's interesting that you guys were talking about how to separate out the thermostat part from the smart part. For me, the thermostat is the comparatively cheap, replaceable interface to the much larger and more expensive heating system. I've got a solid combi boiler which is wired directly in to the underfloor heating pump - the thermostat then just wires in to the boiler the same way whether its networked or self-contained.
I'm seeing more proprietary fittings and switch replacements and integrated spotlights come on to the market, especially as LEDs give the ability to play around with the format more - pretty much all of them come with a total vendor lock in. I've got modular power rails so I can move things around, standard E27 fittings just like we've been using for over a century, and all the smart tech constrained to the bulb itself.
Oh god, speakers. A good set will last a lifetime, but we're bundling them with voice assistants in the cloud and hoping those servers don't get turned off. These are probably the easiest to keep separate, and a lot of people do it without even thinking: two wires to the amp, a 3.5mm jack to whatever electronics your heart desires.
It's technically smart because they all are. Ignore the smart part, run everything through a computer plugged into the HDMI port.
Not to put words in @Greg 's mouth, but here's what I do.
A lot of smarts can be covered just with temp, humidity/moisture, pressure, motion, and light sensors. I have a few around my house that do all but pressure. Smart switches often also capture info about electricity usage.
Instead of a smart fan, buy a high-quality fan with manual switches and dials for same price or cheaper, plug into smart switch. Have sensors in room to see if fan should be turned on.
If any of those components dies (fan/switch/sensor), it's far easier and cheaper to resolve.
You've put words into my mouth far more succinctly and clearly than that giant ramble I posted below! Totally with you on this.
I’m somewhat amused to be reading this because it makes me think of my grandmother and her set of 2-3 kitchen timers that she would always set to remind her to check the laundry, dishwasher, or even sometimes TV programs.
Easily accomplished with 1 smart display now :)
We just adjusted our laundry cycles so a load goes in in the morning, swapped in the afternoon, and put away the next morning.
Ditto for dishwasher. Empty morning, put in detergent and set a timer for 20 hours. It now runs no matter what.
I learned smart appliances were a crutch preventing good habits to insure stuff gets done, at least for myself.
No joke this was my main concern when buying a TV 10-15 years ago. Channel switch time.
I miss hand crank car windows. I used them when I was a kid, and now I have a car where the drivers side window sometimes bugs out and won't work unless I SLAM the door really hard. I feel like I could fix it myself if it was a hand crank, but now since its electrical I don't want to touch it.
I use some very old speakers on my pc since I don't give 2 shits about audio, and I love the bzzzt sound they make when I push the button to turn them on.
Funny how as a digital artist I feel like my work has so little value when its digital. I'm slowly reacquainting myself with traditional media since digital made me forget why I even like art. Its hard though. We've traded a chunk of our humanity for convenience. The combo of the 2 is a fine line you have to learn to walk, and younger folks will have less and less to compare it to.
Come to Brazil my friend, we still make a lot of those. If you also enjoy manual transmission you'll be a happy camper.
I never liked crank windows, being able to open/close every window in the car from the driver's seat has always been great.
However I hate the auto up/down functionality. Up when switch held up, down when switch held down, and don't move it otherwise.
I love the auto-up functionality, but they are also famously unreliable, and I abhor that part. Literally every car I have come into contact with that feature has had it start to fail after 3-4 years.
I miss the analogue experience more than anything.
Digital is all about convenience, or so we are told. Music, movies and TV have reached the point where pretty much everything is just a search away (if the Gods of Licensing and Rights Management permit), whether it's the newest show/movie/album, or a classic from 80 years ago. This is, by any reasonable metric, incredibly convenient. Think of something? It's right there! Or maybe it is but you can't have it because of geoblocking, or it's exclusive to a service you're not subscribed to. But for the vast majority of "things" that will not be a problem. The same deal applies to video games: if you have the money, you can get basically any game you want from the comfort of your PC, phone, or gaming console. Books? Yup, those too.
It would be silly to try and deny that the way things are with digital everything are not more convenient. For the past year I've been building a playlist on Spotify, and I'm quite sure I would've never found 99% of the artists in it without a convenient digital service that looked at the music I was listening to, and went "Hey! You might like this similar thing!". I'm currently watching The X-Files on Prime Video. I didn't need to track down tapes or DVDs of it. One day I just felt like watching it from the beginning, and I did because it's on a digital service. I sometimes listen to an old radio show from the 90s and early 2000s, and I'm able to do it because someone kept digital copies of hundreds of episodes.
This quasi-sci-fi level of convenience notwithstanding, I find myself missing analogue media quite often, and sometimes straight-up rejecting the digital alternatives. I simply can't deal with a digital book, for example. The experience of having a book in my hands and finding a comfortable spot to read for a few hours is not something I can duplicate with a phone, a tablet, or an e-reader. Feeling the weight of a big book, or a small one. Being able to tell, just by looking at the book, how much progress you've made. Its physical presence, the colour and design of the covers, the binding... The smell of a book, new or old, is unlike anything else. Staring at the screen of yet another electronic device (or the same bloody device that does everything) just doesn't cut it, no matter how many neat customisation options or how convenient an e-reader app might have.
When it comes to music, the discussion seems to get stuck on the issue of fidelity, which to me is rather unimportant. In general, I care very little about quantifiable metrics like fidelity or resolution for audio and video. I knew a self-professed audiophile back in the day who refused to listen to anything that wasn't in FLAC, and thought even 320kbps MP3 was rubbish because it wasn't "pure and uncompressed". They listened to their collection of pure, uncompressed music on a set of thoroughly average speakers that made everything sound super boomy because the subwoofer was just insane, and they had to spend time messing around with the bass and treble controls to make the music not sound offensively bad.
Even without the hilarious snobbery, obsessing over fidelity is a bit nonsensical since, for a lot of music, not even the mixing engineer is going to care about making the perfect mix, or have access to ultra top-quality audiophile gear. So there is quite literally no benefit to be had from high fidelity past a certain point.
I feel the way we experience creative works in general has been negatively affected by the all-digital world. I made a comment in a different thread a while back, about the experience of listening to music on physical media. The act of listening to a CD, or a vinyl record, or a cassette, is a deliberate one, that requires a certain level of committment. While the record is inside the player, that's all there is. You don't have 50 other playlists demanding your attention. No ads are popping up between songs. You are engaging with the work because you chose to do it. You went to grab the album, open it, place it inside the player, press "Play". You hear the machine moving for a bit before the music starts to come out. You have the record sleeve, or the CD booklet in your hands while the music plays. You listen to the tracks in order, the way the artist decided to arrange them. Sometimes this doesn't really matter, but there are times where the album itself has a deliberate flow to it that's completely gone if you listen to just one track or have "shuffle" on. Track 6 skips a bit around 2 minutes because the disc got scratched once 10 years ago. The physical object itself tells you things about your own life: that shop where you bought the record 18 years ago, or that friend who gave it to you as a birthday present, or that day you heart one of the songs on the radio and rushed to the record shop as soon as you could to find the album. Hell, these days it'll remind you of that day you were just pissing about inside a thrift store and saw the CD case on a random shelf.
Does anyone remember the first time they played any one song on Spotify? The day they added it to a playlist? The day they bought the digital album (does anyone still buy music?) while sitting on the toilet? I'll take the analogue experience, and the reduction in fidelity that comes with it, every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
This has turned into a mini essay, which was not my intention. I could go on about other forms of digital "things", but the argument would be pretty much the same. The digital, while more convenient and higher quality, lacks the personality of analogue media for me. It's cold, impersonal, abstract, and too perfect. It's there all the time, a couple clicks away, and so it demands nothing from me, which makes me feel less invested in it. It's like talking to someone in person vs texting. One requires your attention, the other is just one of the dozen things you're doing at any given time.
I'm in a strange place when it comes to digital vs analogue. I'm a fan of technology, and the transition to a digital world has given me a lot of things. But I'll cling to the clunky, bulky, inconvenient world of analogue and physical media for as long as I can. Because, to me, it just feels better.
We have loading to switch channels on the TV, and also loading to play streamings. There's loading in games, programs, everything. I must load an app if I want to call someone, listen to music, read a book. Sometimes the delays are small, but they are always there. They're not predictable or under my control.
I miss a world without loading.
I do have some heavy duty electrical equipment we just replaced at work that replaced all the physical switches with touch sensitive buttons (like the ones on a PS3). I miss the solid THUNK that the physical switches made when we flipped them. It took a decent amount of force to flip them on and off, but it was extremely satisfying, like flipping the breaker on a circuit.
It's not a button or control but I miss the way analog content signals can come and go. With digital signaling and devices (especially radio and TV), it's all or nothing. There's no sort of fuzzy picture or static-y radio broadcast. I miss that. It was a lot harder to troubleshoot but it also meant you could sometimes get channels you weren't supposed to, if they were right next to the ones you got.
This is one of those threads where I could have a small comment on lots of folks' contributions - but after thinking about it, I think what appeals to me about many analog or older formats is the lack of expectation for things to be available on-demand.
If you liked a show, it was on a schedule. You'd tune in on a particular day and time to watch it, you'd watch it without being able to pause it, and you'd get up to pee when there was a commercial (which you couldn't fast-forward through). God help you if two shows you were interested in were on at the same time!
Same goes for the evolution of music storage and streaming. Vinyls, you pick a record and listen all the way through it. With cassettes you can fast-forward to the song you like, but it would take a bit of guesswork. CDs gave you the ability to skip among tracks on an album, although you'd need to pop in another CD, have a fancy multi-CD player, or later, burn your own to get a good playlist going. With computers and MP3 players you could have tons of songs with you everywhere, although still a bit of restriction relating to having to upload them to the player before you go out. Finally, with streaming, you can get any piece of music you want with virtually no delay provided you have internet access.
I don't miss paying for a whole CD that I only liked two tracks on, and I'm not a big fan of commercials or anything. It's hard for me to explain, but I do feel like there was something lost in the process of more and more media becoming on-demand as it got digitized.
My first reaction when I read this was, "Why on earth would that be a good thing?", but as I read the rest, I was like, "Oh yeah, I kind of agree."
For example, the album example you give makes me remember albums where there was a particular song that I didn't like at first, but after listening to it a bunch of times while listening to the whole album, I'd realize that it was actually a better song than I realized at first listen. It just took sitting down and actually listening to it a few times to realize it. So I can see ways in which that was a good thing.
I can't say the same thing about ads, though. They are a blight on society.
The flip side of that though, is that the always available, skip to wherever you want model is a boon to people with disabilities or even just abnormal schedules. Can't catch the latest episode of your favorite show? No problem, it will be there when you have time.
For sure there are huge benefits to streaming! The main ones to me are that there's no need to have space for the physical media, and no worries about missing a show or having to track down a box set. I'm not sure I'd go back!
But at the same time I find the pattern of my media consumption sometimes doesn't feel great as a result of just being absolutely saturated with choices. Like in the past I'd watch a show just because it was playing on TV at the time, but now I can queue up a show and bail to track down another if it's not interesting to me in the first few minutes. And that'll repeat itself for a while, leading to an overall worse way to spend a half-hour.
Of course, that's on me, but I don't think it's uncommon! It just feels like a natural consequence of an environment where there are so many options. It's like choice fatigue, I just have the pull to "watch whatever's on" for a little while like I did when I was a kid.
Yeah, with my spouse and I, instead of putting something on and deciding not to watch it after 5 minutes, we sit there looking through all the possible options like we used to in the video store. "How about this?", "No, that's too <violent, silly, whatever>.", "Let's try this one?", "No, I heard that was terrible.", etc.
Analogue can be super precise in a way that discrete digital steps can't be. But also it can be imprecise because it's using tech that's inherently unreliable. I have analogue kitchen scales that are 1) dirt cheap and 2) use a spring connected to the dial.
Knowing that my scales are not accurate is somewhat freeing. For careful baking I'd probably try to calibrate them, or get a digital scale. But for general cooking it's allowed me to learn that close-enough is good enough and that most recipes need me to taste them as I cook and it's this taste - adjust thing that's important.
I mentioned this a bit in the other analog-related Tildes thread:
Playing a physical piano is whole other experience than playing a digital piano or keyboard. Naturally, this matters more to (or is noticed more by) advanced piano players. With a real acoustic piano, there are several physical factors and elements involved: weight, momentum/inertia, resistance, resonance. Here is a pic on Wikipedia of the physical mechanism of a typical grand piano key/action. (Upright pianos have a different action, but my point still stands.) The difference in feel between a digital and an acoustic is like the difference between swinging a Wii controller around and swinging a real baseball bat or tennis racket or bowling ball. The tactile feel and feedback you get from the physical object you are interacting with is very much a part of better performance and musicianship. Higher-end digital pianos are designed to simulate much of this physical feel, by way of literally introducing weight into the device, in the keys. Some even construct similar piano actions into their digital pianos (example from Kawai "to create digital piano actions that provide the same exceptional level of responsiveness and nuance found in our fine acoustic pianos")
Furthermore, there's the factor of piano tuning (or lack thereof -- sometimes intentionally). Individual pianos have their own personality and character, both in sound and feel, because there are many variables involved in producing sound: the shape of the piano, the nature of the wood, the design and construction of the strings, the size of the piano and length of its strings, the material and construction of the hammer heads, the age and maintenance of the hammer heads, the action (the key-hammer mechanism), the presence or absence of double escapement action (to allow playing two notes in rapid succession or not) -- and more.
Digital pianos and keyboards serve a purpose, no question, but even intermediate piano students would be well-served by practicing often on acoustic pianos whenever possible.
Honestly, having played piano for 40+ years, I find the action on my Yamaha P-115 (a $650 digital piano) to be incredibly good. A used upright will cost you somewhere between "free but you have to move it" to around $2000 and will be of questionable quality. I grew up playing an almost-broken upright for several years, and it taught me some bad habits. If digital pianos had been as cheap and good as they are today, it probably would have been a better choice for me at the time. My inexpensive digital piano has a similar feel to the Yamaha baby grand my parents bought later in my life. It's not 100% perfect, but it's really really good. Better than most uprights I've played, honestly.
And it should be noted that “free” also means paying anywhere between $500-1000 for moving and tuning the piano
I agree with both of you though. Playing a good full-weighted keyboard will physically feel nice, and the sounds they make are waaaay more rich and realistic than they used to be. But at the same time, you simply cannot beat the experience of the real thing. A tiny speaker is never going to reproduce the vibration in the air that you can feel with your whole body that a real piano creates.
I think it's probably related to older keyboard designs. Modern pianos are very resonant and sustain notes for a long time; on older instruments the effect is more subtle (aside from the sustaining).
Many pianos have a center "sostenuto" pedal, which sustains only the notes currently pressed.
Their marketing materials say that they do! :-)
Apparently some fancy ones try to simulate each string individually. I haven't played any of those in person, but I've heard virtual (MIDI) instruments that do something similar, and it's very convincing.
The biggest difference for me playing electronic pianos is in the key touch. The force through different heights on a piano key is nonlinear, and it's quite distinctive. I know that recent electronic keyboards have more accurate mechanisms than just levers but I haven't tried one in a while.
That's a fair question. I don't think mine does. Or at least I haven't noticed it. And that's a fair point, though if we're talking about beginners, I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference. (I don't think I even learned to use the pedals in my first year of lessons, but it's been over 40 years, so I could be remembering wrong.) I think the feel of the keys is much more important at that stage.
However, I've been playing around with my DAW which includes samples of lots of other instruments. I was shocked to hear some of those sounds you talk about while playing them on my keyboard. With a guitar, you get the sound of fingers sliding across strings between notes! With the sax patch, after you let up, it plays the sound of the key pad gently hitting the body as it returns to its resting position! It really does add some realism to the sound.
I've been wanting to learn to play the piano for a long time. I have a a low-end digital Yamaha keyboard. Every time I've tried to do anything with it, the stiff nature of the experience turns me off. It doesn't sound or feel anything like what I expect from a piano. My grandpa had an upright piano that I messed about with when I was very young, and the feeling of it was really something else.
Just yesterday, my I helped my grandparents clean out their garage. My grandfather gave me his old slide rule, since I showed interest in it. It is a SIC model 1510 slide rule, and the first one that I have ever seen and used in real life. I have slowly been learning to use it (mostly basic multiplication for now).
I don't think that a slide rule provides anything substantial that a modern calculator (or phone app) doesn't do significantly better. But it does provide a hands-on experience with logarithmic scales. I felt like I understood what logarithms were before, but using a slide rule has given me an example of how logarithms are useful. Previously, they only felt like a technicality of mathematics, and now they seem like an actual functioning tool of math.