What Sample Rate and Bit Depth Should I Use?

 

What Sample Rate and Bit Depth Should I Use?I have been encountering questions about sample rates and bit depth a lot recently and been looking into the topic in the past week. I have been reading different articles around the web and browsing forums like Gearslutz to try and develop some sort of understanding of the general consensus in the field at the moment.

So let me share with you where I stand on this  right now. Now, I am not a very techy person so please feel free to correct me if my assumptions are wrong, and please share your thoughts. Let us continue the discussion in the comments.

 

What Sample Rate to Use?

So what’s the fuss – why wouldn’t you just go as high as your setup allows? The catch is it takes up a lot more resources from your system to go for the higher bit rates such as 88 kHz or 96 kHz. When sample rates double, so do the file sizes on your drive. And not only that, but the CPU gets hit a lot harder as well.

Keeping that in mind, my short answer for the question is try it out and see what your system can take. If you have the CPU and HD resources to spend, go for 88 kHz or 96 kHz. It seems to me like there is little to no sonic benefit for going higher than that.

Even if your audio is originally at 44.1kHz, working at a higher sample rate probably helps some plugins in processing. I keep hearing this is especially the case with plugins that do saturation.

However – and this is my main point - it’s nothing to worry about if you can’t go higher than 44.1 kHz.

I have always worked at 44.1kHz and only this week moved up to 48kHz. From what I know, these are still the sample rates most professional electronic music producers work in. It’s not a big deal – there are a thousand other things that you do in the mix that will matter more to the end result.  I would argue most people will not be able to tell the difference between mixes done at 44.1kHz and 96kHz. But in the end, all other things being equal, higher is better even if the difference in the end result is very small.

There is some controversy around the topic and people often seem to get caught up arguing about things that matter the least (which makes some things look more important than they actually are). My bottom line is that it’s definitely not going to hurt going for 88 or 96kHz if your system can handle it. My 2010 MacBook Pro (2.66 GHz i7, 8 GB RAM) keeps dropping out in the mix with 88 kHz, so I’m perfectly fine and getting great results working at 48kHz at the moment. A smooth workflow is a lot more important to me than the sample rate.

 

What Bit Depth to Use?

Now, the question about bit depth is more simple to answer. When recording and bouncing audio, you should always use a minimum resolution of 24 bits.

24 bit audio gives you a good dynamic range of 144 dB, as opposed to 96 dB with 16 bit audio. More dynamic range means better signal-to-noise ratio, better precision when mixing and less worrying about headroom as you don’t have to run your levels so hot. 32 bit floating point is even better, but the benefits there over 24 bit audio seem to be pretty much indifferent (again, please correct me if you think I’m wrong).

 

What Are Your Thoughts?

Let me know where you stand on this guys and help me (and others) figure this out. Are you getting better results working in higher sample rates? Is it real or placebo? I know there are some very technologically savvy people out there reading this, so please drop a comment with your thoughts.


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  • Bit

    “24 bit audio gives you a good dynamic range of 144 dB”

    Does this really matter in todays (overcompressed) EDM?

    • http://www.resoundsound.com/ Ilpo Karkkainen

      Good question! I would say yes – of course the dynamic range of the final mastered piece of music is nowhere near that. But it is important to have that dynamic range while working on the music, to have resolution in the mix and to be able to push things loud without bringing up the noise floor too much. This especially matters to those who record anything live – vocals etc.

  • http://drzhnn.com/ Denis Druzhinin

    IMO the “higher is always better” principle is only true for live recordings ;)

    I usually work inside the box in 44100 and only switch to 96000 when I need to avoid aliasing when working with curtain plugins or when very high frequency modulation is used, like super fast LFOs, FM, ring modulation. And for extreme pitch shifting as well.

    There’s a couple of things about higher sample rates to keep in mind. First is online and offline rendering. Some plugins can apply advanced techniques during offline mixdown, like higher quality and more CPU intense algorithms, multi-pass or oversampling. For example filters in U-HE Zebra are tuned “by hand” for every major sample rate and the same patch recorded at 44100 and 96000 may sound quite different. Second is while working at 44100 we can always choose higher sample rate for offline project mixdown, without even changing audio driver settings. This can be dangerous though if used carelessly.

    • http://www.resoundsound.com/ Ilpo Karkkainen

      Thanks for the comment Denis. Very interesting. Never thought of working at 44100 and bouncing higher. Makes sense – definitely going to try this out.

  • Jordan

    I made the decision to buy the 16 bit A/I over the 24 bit one for several reasons,

    Price was one of them. I’m still a small studio making NO money, working with NO clients yet, and couldnt justify the price for a box that does the same third, but with the addition of the number ’8′.

    Another reason was seeing how many people, even with the 24 bit A/I, still had to put it in 16 bit to work properly.

    Another reason is because I know how to track proper levels, and have never ever ever run into any issues what so ever with 16 bit. Let me reiterate that, I HAVE NEVER EVER EVER EVER HAD ANY SINGLE CONCEIVABLE ISSUE WITH RECORDING 16 BIT. 96 DB of headroom isnt enough? What monstrous clipping, distortion application are you applying for NINETY-SIX DB to not be enough?

    Maybe if you need 24 bits to track, you need to work on your tracking.

    And of course, the age old tale of the Beatles recording everything in mono to 4 track machines, and making better music than any of us ever will.

    I think waiting for a 24 bit A/I is an excuse to not make music. No mix has ever been made or broken by the addition of 8 bits. IT’s simple inconsequential.

    • http://www.resoundsound.com/ Ilpo Karkkainen

      The question here is not wether you can make good music in 16 bits – surely you can – like you said music is about ideas and not equipment. But we don’t live in the 60′s – what’s ideal for electronic music production right now?

      I have never had a problem because of working with 24 bit audio, what kind of trouble are you referring to that your friends have been experiencing?

      Finally, I really don’t think the price is an issue for most people in electronic music production. Even many of the very cheapest end “semi-professional” audio interfaces come at 24/96 these days. I understand if you need an interface with tons of I/O, this could be different – however there’s no denying 24 bit format is the current industry standard in production and even at consumer level (while CD is 16 bit, DVD and Blu Ray do 24).

  • DrumEd

    I can bounce at 32bit whereas my recording input can only reach 24bit. I was told that bouncing at 32bit gives you more headroom? I work at 44.1 and then bounce my final pre mastered wav at 48hz

  • Rob

    32bit floating point allows you to hit lower frequencies. For me it comes down to what your ear-holes tell you.

    • Rob

      also, big-ups Resound

  • Lasse

    Hi,

    This is an interesting post and something I was looking into myself about a year ago. Some plugins may sound better at higher sample rates – others may do internal supersampling so you will get pretty much the same result with 44.1kHz. You can get some lower latencies with higher sample rates as well.

    What is important for sample rates is the quality of the conversion, if you are using higher sample rates. Take a look at this site and your DAW graph: http://src.infinitewave.ca/

    Back when Reason 6.5 was the latest version I was running it at 96kHz and I had some aliasing issues when exporting songs to a 44.1kHz audio file. If you take a look at Reason 6.5′s conversion graph from that site, it shows terrible aliasing that reaches into the audible band. So if you use high sample rates, make sure you are using quality converters when it’s time to bounce something back into 44.1kHz or 48kHz. Personally I only use 44.1kHz now.

    As for 24bit vs 16bit: 24bits gives more headroom for the working stage. 16bits dithered is well enough headroom for an end result (like a CD), where the gain staging, leveling and dynamics are already done. However, when editing it’s a whole lot easier to have more headroom (more bits) so not all of your recordings need to be recorded as hot as possible without clipping.

    • http://www.resoundsound.com/ Ilpo Karkkainen

      A very cool link, this is great – thank you!

      So basically, the less lines you see in the graph, the better, right?

      Reason 6.5 is definitely looking bright.

      Ableton 9 seems to have some bad stuff going on as well. Very interesting.

      • Lasse

        Yes, the sweep test should produce a single clear line. It is all explained in the help section, which also has some other interesting information on how SRC works.

        • http://www.resoundsound.com/ Ilpo Karkkainen

          Yeah, checked the help and FAQ sections, good info. Looks like I’ve made a solid choice switching to Pro Tools for mixing. But then I again my ears told me that already. ;) Thanks a lot Lasse.

  • Lasse

    So in short (my previous post), higher sample rates actually can be worse in some cases.

    By the way, in these discussions it is quite necessary to separate recording sample rate from the sample rate you are working with in a DAW with plugins and soft synths.

    For recording you could argue, that by the

    Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem 44.1kHz is sufficient for all sources, since you can record frequencies up to 22.05kHz which goes well beyond the human hearing range. However, since A/D converters are not perfect, you might get some distortion in the 20 – 22k range, which is why I understand that the standard for digital film was chosen to be 48kHz to give some room to work around the cutoff point.

    Now if you record some live source at 96kHz, you are recording audio frequencies up to 48kHz, which are inaudible (as no one hears above 20kHz really), but may contain some audio information. If you convert this recording to 44.1kHz with a bad sample rate converter that has aliasing, you will bring all the inaudible supersonic information into the audible range. And in that case you would have gotten a better result recording straight at 44.1kHz, since it would not have picked up anything above 22.05kHz anyway.

    As for DAWs, mixing, plugins, soft synths I think you will find that many people perceive better quality with higher sample rates in online discussions on the topic. So try some higher sample rates and see if they are useful for your setup, but I wouldn’t worry at all if you’re stuck at 44.1kHz. Like said, it gives more CPU headroom and at least for my purposes the results have been exactly the same as with higher rates.

    • http://www.resoundsound.com/ Ilpo Karkkainen

      Thanks for the expert insights Lasse, much appreciated.

  • lambdoid

    z3ta has an oversampling option. I use the 48khz sampling rate in Reaper and when I switch the oversampling on in z3ta, you can clearly hear the difference in the high frequencies. This is great for pads and other sounds with a lot of high frequency content, but basses often sound a bit more grungy at the DAW sampling rate or utilizing z3ta’s undersampling option. You can do this for both online and offline, especially if you have an older CPU that struggles with z3ta’s high demands.

    • http://www.resoundsound.com/ Ilpo Karkkainen

      Interesting! So that means z3ta can work independently for example at 96k when your project is at 48k?

      • lambdoid

        Yes. I think so, although at higher sampling rates it would make less difference.

  • Dj Pushups

    Yet again a very nice read!

    Personally I’ve come to conclusion that a 44.1khz and 24bit is enough in my bedroomstudio. I haven’t really given it even that much thought as to why that is; some producer friend of mine once just told me that it will sound better when I bounce my audiotracks in 24bit. And I suppose it did since I kept with that.

    I suppose that when this subject comes to a more professional level (say, mixing and mastering services for example) the samplerates and bitdepths matter more and more. My analogy here is that when you have better equipment to perceive and manipulate sound the more the quality of the signal matters.

    Thank you for your time!

    Regards, Dj Pushups

    • http://www.resoundsound.com/ Ilpo Karkkainen

      I think there is some truth in that – for instance since I upgraded my monitoring I have definitely started understanding what the fuss is about some plugins that I quite didn’t get before. Hearing more nuances. But yeah – working with 24 bit audio as opposed to 16 is still beneficial regardless of whether you can perceive a difference or not, as mixing/mastering guys can do a better job with it later like you said.

  • Andrew

    48khz for video