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.