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.
Please note: Since writing the original article I have learned a lot – not least from you guys – so thank you very much for your comments and pointing me in the right direction! I have updated this article to reflect my current views on August the 10th 2014.
What Sample Rate to Use?
So what’s the fuss – why wouldn’t you just go as high as your setup allows? First of all 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. The first obvious result is that you won’t be able to run as many plugins.
Second, even if you had the system resources to run high sample rates, it is very questionable if there is anything to achieve by doing that. In fact, it seems running high sample rates could in many cases be worse (as opposed to running a sample rate of 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz).
Instead of going into detail on why that is, I am referring you to this article by Monty at Xiph.org. He explains things much better than I ever could. The article approaches the question from the point of view of music downloads, but the theory behind digital audio is no different when talking about music production. Please make a priority to read this article if you want to get your head around this topic.
Keeping these things in mind, I have come to the conclusion that working in 48 kHz is the best choice for me. Going higher than that doesn’t seem to offer sonic benefits, and is very taxing on the system.
44.1 kHz is also perfectly fine and good, but 48 khz probably has a tiny advantage in the highest end of the spectrum (again, read Monty’s article to understand why).
44.1 kHz and 48 kHz are the sample rates most professional electronic music producers work in.
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 theoretical 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. I know there are some very technologically savvy people out there reading this, so please drop a comment with your thoughts.