As an audio engineer and college professor I am often asked the age old question... "Is analog recording or digital recording better?" This leaves many students and fellow engineers confused and rightfully so. Audio equipment is costly. To best address the issues it is important to understand the hidden costs and limitations of both analog and digital recording workstations before making any decisions.
By know we all know the legends about how analog offers added warmth and character that is difficult to reproduce in the digital realm. True, analog does offer a certain vibe that is often described as character. This typically is due to the non-linear characteristics of electrical variance of analog hardware. In fact, it is the lack of predictability that often allows certain pieces of audio equipment to become so coveted. The small differences added across a recording or mix often add up to become that added magical sonic glue that holds mixes together. However, we must also remember that analog hardware is costly and requires maintenance occasionally. It is also often cost prohibitive to purchase. This all makes the case for software being the savior.
Relying entirely on digital is also problematic. First there are the never ending software and computer hardware updates. Let's not forget about software subscriptions that are becoming increasingly common and costly. We must not forget that someday our trusty computer will no longer be able to support our software and newer operating systems that arrive almost daily. This becomes a real challenge when working with digital. I often hear people tell me that they have no intentions to update. This does work for a certain amount of time, but ultimately you will have to replace or update to remain competitive. The other problem is plug-ins and software too have become rather costly. Yes, we can use as many plug-ins as our computer can run and this may be one advantage over more traditional analog gear, but updates and plug-ins are still costly.
Diversifying in a "Hybrid Studio" is probably the best way to develop a collection of hardware and software that will hold some real value. We very much live in a digital world and non-linear recording won the war over tape editing a long time ago. Like it or not the computer is very much here to stay as it functions as the primary recorder in the modern studio. However, when it comes to additional hardware/software we have more choices than ever. All engineers use plug-ins to some degree. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this technology, but occasionally adding some real analog hardware into the mix can also make long term financial sense. Yes, analog gear can be costly to integrate, but a certain amount of analog hardware in the studio can be a good investment. Over the life of the product the analog hardware will almost certainly outlive the computer and software versions that you have. Aside from some of the sonic joy that can be created with analog gear we must remember that it often looks pretty cool too.
Next time you go to purchase some recording equipment consider if your studio is diversified. Could you benefit from incorporating analog into your digital studio to create a better hybrid environment?