Book Review: The New Analog

Recently, I became interested in old stereo equipment. I blame this new obsession… errrr… interest … on YouTuber Techmoan, and his videos on vintage audio equipment and old recording formats.

As with any new interest, I seek out anything I can to read regarding it. The general interest “vintage audio equipment” has surprisingly few results. So I spread my search a bit wider and found The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World by Damon Krukowski, a former member of indie rock band Galaxie 500.

This is definitely not a book about vintage audio equipment, though you do get some of that throughout the book. This book can be summarized with a single word: Noise.

Noise is all around us, every day, everywhere. You are never free of it, even the deaf pick up noise as vibration. Visual noise surrounds us.

How does this affect the music we listen to? According to Krukowski, the conversion from analog to digital did away with what a lot of people would consider noise. The noise that many people may interpret as part of what made analog recordings superior to digital.

Be it tape hiss, wow and flutter, bandmates talking in the background during a recording, all sorts of things can be considered noise, and can be mostly eliminated from digital recordings. Whether this is a good or bad thing is completely up to the listener.

However, Krukowski argues that we lose something as an audience this way.

When we listen to noise, we listen to the space around us and to the distance between us. We listen below the surface. We listen each to the limits of our individual perceptions, and we listen together in shared time.

I am not an audiophile. I have no horse in this game other than a sudden interest in vintage audio equipment. You put me in some double-blind test and ask me if the song I just listened to was a MP3 or a cassette, and I will likely have trouble coming up with the correct answer.

The first compact disc I ever listened to blew me away – because of noise. The recording was so clear that I could hear musicians flipping sheet music. This was not something I had heard on my cassettes or records of classical music. This is likely something, so many years further down the line, that an engineer would find a way of editing out now.

When you get down to it, I really liked this book, even though it was not specifically what I was looking for. And while I do not entirely agree with the premise, I can understand how someone, particularly someone in the industry, would feel this way.