Engineers go Bach in time for a superior sound to digital

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The Independent Culture

One of the world's leading classical labels has admitted for the first time that analogue recordings outshine digital ones.

One of the world's leading classical labels has admitted for the first time that analogue recordings outshine digital ones.

Sony Classical has decided to dust down an archive analogue tape recording of a historic session by the pianist Glenn Gould because it is superior to the digital version.

Technicians working on a reissue of the 1981 performances of Bach's Goldberg Variations made by the reclusive Canadian musician found they preferred the analogue tapes to the digital recording made at the same time because they were "more natural", giving the lie to the idea that technological advances have superseded traditional techniques.

Digital recording was in its infancy when Gould did the session, so it was also taped as a "belt and braces" exercise.

Producer Louise de la Fuente said the technical team listened to the analogue tapes to see if they could identify out-takes that would be worth including on the reissue.

"Soon after this process began it became apparent to us all that the analogue tapes sounded far superior to the digital tapes," she said.

Gould, an enigmatic figure who retired from public performance at the age of 31, died in 1982 at the age of 50 after a stroke.

He had originally recorded the Goldberg Variations in 1955, his first major recording, and although he disliked re-recording material, Gould returned to them in 1981. The sessions are among his most celebrated work.

Sony executives felt it was worth the extra studio costs involved in working on the analogue tapes to get a superior recording.

Alun Taylor, the general manager of Sony Classical (UK), said: "I have always had a soft spot for the warmth you get from an analogue recording. It has a much greater sense of humanity than the digital recording. It has organic warmth - you know that at no point has a computer reduced it to a stream of zeros and ones.

"I can't think of any other example in the classical world where the analogue has been chosen over the digital, although it was quite a unique circumstance that it was recorded both ways at the time."

The recordings will be released tomorrow, along with Gould's 1955 version of the Goldberg Variations.

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