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What’s bit depth? And how does it impact music?

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If you’ve started to get into audio, you’ve probably seen something called “bit depth.” The thing is. what the hell

is

it? Well, we’re here to help.

Anyway, let’s dive a little deeper. There are several bit depths, as this wonderful diagram shows:

LOOK AT THOSE SWEET BIT DEPTHS!

The most common bit depth is 16-bit, this is the CD-standard and what you’ll find with the majority FLAC files, which are a lossless music format.

What impact does bit depth have on music?

Well, if a bit depth is too low, the quality will suffer. Specifically, you’ll find a fair chunk of the quiet sounds will be lost. On records or files with a high bit depth, you’ll have a far more accurate playback – up to a point. But we’ll get to that shortly.

Something bit depth controls is the dynamic range of a sound. This is the difference between how quiet and loud respective parts of the audio is. And, the higher the bit depth (8-bit, 16-bit, 24-bit, and 32-bit being the most common), the more dynamic range is available.

But. this is where we come to the fork in the road.

Apologies, audio nerds, but it’s incredibly unlikely anyone will hear the different between a 16-bit bit depth and anything higher. There is an argument to be made for

recording

audio with a bit depth above 16-bit (this is mainly just to give the engineer as much flexibility as possible), but for listeners? Those 24-bit FLAC files are rarely worth the space.

Anyway, we’re coming to the end of this piece, so let’s refresh. Fundamentally, bit depth describes how much data is taken per sample in an audio file. Have a look at this to help out:

Now you know how bit depth is related to sampling rate. And, so you’re aware, these figures are based on the CD standards.

And the other thing to remember? Bit depth controls the dynamic range of tracks, which can be understood to be the difference between the quietest and loudest sounds in a piece of audio. Phew, haven’t we learnt some stuff?

Published March 8, 2021 – 10:17 UTC

March 8, 2021 – 10:17 UTC

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Written by restart1

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