Reel-to-reel is the gold standard of analogue sound reproduction. Until the mid to late 1980ies all recordings were done on analogue tape. From the mid 80ies the industry switched to digital recording technology first on video tape, later on hard drives.

We love analogue sound and wanted to get a better understanding of the differences between analogue and digital sound reproduction – not from a technical perspective, but to get more details on “what are the sonic differences?”. To this end, we compared the same 1st generation master tape copies on a DAS HD-Player Model 2 and a newly refurbished Revox PR99 MKII.

Not surprisingly, there were clear differences:

  • The tapes sounded a bit fuller, more substantial – very pleasing
  • The digital files sounded lighter, but also with more detail and precision. The digital files had a more airier treble and mid range. They also had more precision in the bass.
  • The tapes had a smaller dynamic range than the digital files, but the background hiss was never a problem, not even in the quietest passages. It was just noticeable, but did not bother anyone. On the contrary, it had a relaxing effect.
  • The tapes had beautifully open sonic space. The instruments were nicely spread out on the sonic stage. The sonic stage of the digital files was not quite as open as that of the tapes, but the spacial precision was better. With the digital files one could precisely pinpoint the location on the sonic stage; with the tapes it was a little less clear.

To sum up: The differences were small and along the lines of the expected. In general, the presentation with digital files sounded lighter, airier, also cleaner and at the same time more detailed and complex. The presentation with the tapes sounded a bit heavier and coarser and at the same time simpler. Both had serene open space.  The differences were not of the kind “better” or “worse”, but rather differences in taste. So depending on the types of music, those characteristics made sometimes the digital files and sometimes the tapes appear preferable.