Thursday, April 08, 2010

Do we need 24 bit audio for sonic nirvana?

"The noise level in the avarage residence is about 43 decibels" [Harry Ferdinand Olson (1967): Music, physics and engineering], whereas a house in the country can be as quiet as 35 dB. Let's deduct 6 dB from that number as it is quite possible to discern musical content that level-wise lies within and seemingly should be masked by the noise floor.

16 bit audio has a theoretical dynamic range of 96 dB, which, if you add that onto the baseline 29 dB amounts to a peak of 128 dB, slightly below the threshold of pain. It seems to me that that span should suffice to adequately present the finest dynamics inherent in music, especially since the range I usually experience recording very high dynamic range avant-garde music lies at 54 dB, and many real-life concert venues have a noise floor at -60 dB FS. Of course less is highly preferable, but then it is also dependent on the quality of the ambient noise.

Note the use of the word "suffice". Clearly, having a theoretically usable resolution of 144 dB when working with (real) 24 bit audio is even better. It is tantamount when recording music while leaving adequate headroom--with no manual gain riding required and no need to use a compressor while tracking--, and during mixing to avoid introducing distortion while processing.

But once you are done, dithering carefully to 16 bit will be OK.


John Watkinson in Resolution, March-2010 (p. 59): CD "[...] was put together by a skilled group of people who knew what they were doing, and it has stood the test of time. It's not broken and it doesn't need fixing."


Anonymous Sanjay said...

I'd have to agree - the math works out that, barring some funky ears or funky ambient noise, you'll be fine listening to 16-bit audio at home.

I think the last couple of points are the real kickers, though. What you do while recording and mixing in terms of processing and the format you work in, plays a large role in the amount and kind of distortions you'll end up with. Add to that the wide-spread confusion about dithering in the "prosumer" audio world and things can get pretty rough.

15 December, 2009 09:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The data/facts agree with you...

High end formats by all means for music production, but for distribution 16 bit 44.1 kHz is all you need.

29 December, 2009 10:57  

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