Gear Announcements The Digital Age

Buy gear based on sound, not numbers!

Digital gear is here to stay and I am not one to argue that. I do not mind and use plenty of digital gear. What I don’t understand is why so many people are obsessed with making gear buying decisions based on the numbers. It seems like there are always people out on the message boards and forums asking for, and comparing, specs. “Buy product A because it has a higher sample rate,” “Buy product B because it has more DSP horsepower,” “Buy product C because it has higher internal bit depth.” Rubbish. What ever happened to the good old days of buying a piece of gear based on the sound. Is this an antiquated concept? I have been using Line 6 gear since the original POD came out. When Line 6 announced the POD XT, people started to get royally ticked off. “I just bought my POD two months ago and now Line 6 announce the XT. My POD is useless!!!” As if the existence of the XT somehow ruined the sound of their POD. Microsoft have ruined us all into thinking you have to upgrade to the newest, shiniest, most updated whatever in order to keep up with the proverbial Joneses. Forget it. Stick with what sounds good and if it sounds good today, it will sound just as good five years from now no matter how many updated versions come out. People still use vintage gear because it sounds as good today as it did thirty or forty years ago. Thirty years from now, your POD will still sound the same as the day you bought it. You don’t need to upgrade just because you think a newer POD has a higher internal bit depth. Higher internal bit depth does not help you play any better. If you A/B the units and the new POD has a more inspirational sound, then you are getting somewhere.

A story

This concept is not strictly limited to the digital domain. I once fell prey to Groove Tubes’ advertising practices. They used (and still might) run these ads about how a Marshall or some other prominent amp got 6dB louder when equipped with Groove Tubes. I thought that sounded pretty cool and when time came to retube I decided to use all Groove Tubes. Sure enough, my amps got louder and I knew the wool hadn’t been pulled over my eyes. Finally, truth in advertising. One day while having lunch with a local amp guru the topic of Groove Tubes came up and he said Sovtek were better sounding tubes. I related my story to which he responded, “But why is louder good?” I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. Why is louder better? If you are having a hard time being heard over the band then louder might be better for that reason, but does louder equal better tone? I knew in that instant that Groove Tubes certainly wasn’t making false claims, but their claims had little to do with what really mattered. I don’t want to slam Groove Tubes, some people still prefer their tone to Sovtek or other brands but the bottom line is to make sure you prefer their sound because of their actual sound and not because of some arbitrary measurement.

The same is true of any number on a spec sheet. It might be higher, but how does that affect tone? When it comes time for your next purchase, do yourself a favor. Don’t even look at a technical spec sheet. Just listen to the darn things!

  • Related article: Digital is supposed to sound better than analogue. The numbers say you should keep your signal in the digital domain as much as possible and every additional A/D or D/A conversion irreversibly damages your tone. Is this true? Find out for yourself