A milestone in the history of recorded music was marked on New Year’s Eve when Quantegy, the last company in the U.S. to manufacture the magnetic tape used for studio analog recording, shut its doors.
Analog recording has fallen by the wayside since the mid-Nineties, when faster, cheaper digital recording and editing programs such as Pro Tools became the norm. Still, die-hards — including Neil Young, Jackson Browne and producer Rick Rubin — swear by the natural sound of analog. “Digital has gotten really good, but it’s never going to be analog,” says Lou Reed. “People who want a vintage sound are going to have a problem.”
Quantegy’s closing caught most by surprise. “The news really freaked me out,” says Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes, whose band’s current album, Deja Voodoo, was recorded almost entirely in analog. “There’s no other way to get that warm sound.” The Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch worries that a valuable way of thinking about music will be lost. “With digital you might look at the sound waves and see that the bass player is a little behind the drummer and move some of those notes to make it look tighter,” he says. “But with tape you might listen to that same performance and just think, ‘That bass player has a nice feel.'”
As the news spread, analog tape reels hit eBay, and tape vendors were besieged with phone calls. ATR Services, which makes and services analog gear, has plans to launch a line of tape by summer. “There’s still a solid base of customers for analog,” says Michael Spitz, ATR’s owner. “But any company making it needs to realize it’s not the de facto recording choice anymore.”
In addition to concerns about digital music’s sound quality, questions have been raised about archiving it. “I get folks coming in here with waterlogged boxes of analog tape where there’s actual mildew on the reels, and we can still clean them up and get them to sound great,” says John Nicholson, owner of Hilltop Studios, the longest-running studio in Nashville. “You show me a hard drive that can handle that.”