There’s lots of bad information online about digital audio. Most people have a 101-level understanding of it and they come to very incorrect conclusions. Even some professionals and educators rely on bad data and reach bad conclusions. I always recommend listening to real experts – people who’s careers are on the line:
Barry Diament, recording and mastering engineer, comments:
” In more practical terms, in a 16-bit recording, one is making the most of all 16 bits when the signal is loudest — at the top 6 dB of the possible levels (6.02 dB for those who want more precision). Now of course, with real music the signal is not always at the top of the level scale. In other words, not every part of the song is at the loudest point. Further, there are things in the background that are lower in level than things in the foreground. Instrumental harmonics (the things that differentiate a Steinway from a Baldwin or a Gibson from a Fender) are considerably lower in level and spatial cues (whether real or studio generated) are lower still.
To put it into numbers, the harmonics might be 20 dB lower in level than the loudest sounds. Spatial cues might be 40 dB lower in level. (I’m just picking the numbers arbitrarily to illustrate the point.) With a 16-bit recording, those harmonics that are 20 dB lower in level will be encoded using about 13 bits, not 16. The spatial cues that are 40 dB lower in level will be encoded using about 10-bits, not 16. This accounts for the coarsening of the sound and thinning of instrumental harmonics many have notices with 16-bit audio since the beginning.
Now let’s look at the resolution of the same items with a 24-bit recording. The harmonics, at -20 would be encoded using about 21 bits. The spatial cues, at -40 would use about 18 bits. Both still exhibiting more resolution than a full level 16-bit recording. So if you make the same recording at 16/44 and at 24/44, you’ll find the complexity of instrumental harmonics much better preserved on the latter. Same with the spatial cues: where the 16-bit version defocuses the space, the 24-bit version makes the room boundaries clear and easy to hear by comparison. “
Also you can follow the money to learn more about what the industry thinks about it:
When Sony Electronics president Phil Molyneux stands up in front of a room full of heavy-hitters from the music industry and start’s talking about taking high-resolution, you get the idea something major is about to happen.
Molyneux said: ‘It’s been more than a decade since the first MP3 digital downloads and music players were introduced to the public. Now is the time to offer high-resolution audio products that bring music enthusiasts closer to their favorite recordings, and allow them to experience those recordings the way the artists, producers and engineers always intended.’
People who careers and reputations depend on getting results, use their ears as the sole arbiter. I don’t know one mastering engineer who says “this way sounds better to my ears, but since there is no existing theory that explains it, I won’t do it that way “.
For example, Paul Stubblebine and Barry Diament both claim that one of the biggest advantages of 24/192 recording over 44.1 or 48 is bass quality.
“Barry has mentioned that he hears a qualitative difference between the 2X rates (88 and 96) and the 4X rates (176 and 192) and I hear it pretty much the way he describes it. As we go up from 16 to 24 bits, and as we go up from the 1X rates to the 2X rates, I hear a number of specific improvements. When we get to the 4X rates done well (and here I agree again with Barry–easier said than done) it’s more of a feeling that we have turned a corner and we are almost dealing with a musical experience rather than a facsimile of a musical experience. And I’ll confirm that Keith Johnson has said something similar in several conversations.
I’ll go further: Those of us who work in digital audio understand the relationships of sample rate to frequency response, and bit depth to dynamic range. Theory says that higher sample rates allow us to record higher frequencies, and in practice that’s true. But here’s something that the theory doesn’t account for: every time we double the sample rate (up to 4X) the bass gets better. Much better. More dimensionality, more texture, more clarity, better decay, lots of things. I’m just trying to make the point that digital audio is more complicated, and more subtle, than the first-level theory that we all learned.” – Paul Stubblebine, Mastering Engineer
“I heard it. It was Pono.” – Neil Young
“I was stunned to hear what I’d never heard before…it made it so, so much better.” – John Hamm
“I heard it full again…I experienced the same feelings as when I committed my life to music.” Elliot Roberts
“It felt like finding a long lost best friend.” – Pedram Abrari
“It was like listening in 3D, pinpointing the instruments and voices across a broad and deep stage with amazing clarity.” – Phil Baker
“Surreal…Music felt as it has from my old albums.” – Gigi Brisson
“For the first time in years, I sat back, and truly listened to the music.” – Franz Krachtus
“I closed my eyes and thought…So this is what it’s supposed to sound like.” – Alex Daly
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6- Team Ear [coming soon]