Producing complex musical, visual and audio-visual works on your computer is a huge amount of fun – you can get your creative juices flowing, focus on building up musical pressure, and use cutting-edge audio production techniques.
However, it isn’t always this simple – sometimes you have to take care of some boring technical stuff such as choosing an appropriate sample rate and bit depth for your projects.
What does this even mean, and is there a particular way that you should address this issue to optimize your workflow? These are great questions and we’ve got the answers, so read on to find out more!
What Is Sample Rate In Audio?
Before we get started, let’s look at what these terms actually mean, beginning with sample rate. Every audio file that you have ever listened to is built up of samples, and we’re not talking about sampling music for remixes.
You can think of a sample as a tiny grain of a sound recording, with every second of audio comprising of tens of thousands of samples.
It’s pretty much the atoms that make up the digital sound, and the more samples that are present, the more accurately the sound has been recorded.
This ultimately means that audio recorded with a higher sample rate has a higher quality, and the peaks and troughs of the waveform have been recorded better than those recorded with lower sample rates.
Sample Rate is the number of samples (little pieces of audio) played every second. Therefore, audio tracks with a high sample rate are considered more accurate and high quality. The standard sample rates today are 44.1kHz and 48kHz.
What Is Bit Depth?
Another common term that you will come across when producing digital music is bit depth – this is slightly more complicated than sample rate, but it’s actually a pretty similar concept.
You’ve probably heard of bits used to describe binary sequences that are written in zeros and ones, used as machine code to program computers. As we mentioned earlier, every audio file that you have ever heard is comprised of samples, and these samples are stored as bits.
Due to the complexity of audio recording, each sample will require several bits, and as you have probably already guessed, the more bits each sample has available, the higher the quality of the audio.
Bit depth is the number of bits (the most basic unit of information) that each sample has. Therefore, audio tracks with a high bit depth are considered more accurate and high quality. The standard bit depth today are 16 bit for listening and 24bit for mixing and mastering.
Perfect Sample Rate & Bit Depth For Music Production
If you are searching for information regarding the sample rate that you should produce music for, you will come across the value 44,100hz (44.1 kHz) 90% on the time. Why is this value so important?
Well, for many decades 44,100 Hz has been considered the minimum sample rate in order for high fidelity digital audio. It’s the sample rate used for CDs and various other mediums throughout the digital era of music.
The whole reason that this sample rate was settled on many years ago is due to the fact that it finds a great balance between ensuring excellent audio quality whilst preventing the files from being too high in size.
It allows for around 75 minutes of audio to be distributed on a CD, considered ideal for an album.
It may be tempting to increase this sample rate in order to reach higher recording qualities but bear in mind that 20,000 Hz is the highest frequency that humans can generally hear.
Therefore, 44,100 Hz is more than enough, and anything higher quickly becomes unnoticeable. However, as we will explore shortly, there are some uses for higher sample rates.
In terms of Bit Depth, some people will throw around the value of 16 bits as the minimum for music production – it provides a total of 65,536-bit values per sample and is the standard for CD play, so many people think this is sufficient.
However, that simply is not the case for music production, especially not mixing and mastering.
16 bit is fine once the music has actually been rendered, but it’s not enough to compensate for the final processes of music production. So, you should use a bit depth of 24 bits or above, and 16 bits for those final renders.
Generally, it is impossible to notice the difference between 24 and 32-bit audio, but 32 bit will prevent waveforms from losing any data when they clip, so it is worth it for high fidelity productions.
Perfect Sample Rate & Bit Depth for Video Production
Producing audio for video will require some careful consideration – the process of choosing an appropriate sample rate and bit depth is a little different.
Firstly, it should be considered that the industry standard for video formats began with DVD discs, later moving on to Blue-ray.
Of course, these days video tends to be distributed digitally as opposed to on physical disks, but these standards are still used widely. As a result, the audio soundtrack of a DVD will generally have a sampling rate of 48 kHz and a bit depth of 16, both significantly higher than that of CD-quality audio.
Some audio-visual producers actually choose to use 96 kHz or even 192 kHz+ for ultimate compatibility, but this generally will not be necessary for traditional formats. If you are working on some unique video formats then it may be worth considering, so you should judge this through the use of your trustworthy ears.
It’s ultimately a subjective decision, so you should access whether higher sample rates really make a difference when you have ultimately rendered the audio to the video format.
However, be careful – high sample rates such as 192 kHz are likely to come with all sorts of problems such as jitter. Overall, a 48 kHz sample rate and 16 bits will be sufficient, but higher values can be considered carefully for complex video formats.
Perfect Sample Rate & Bit Depth For Exporting Final Productions
We briefly touched on this earlier, but let’s clear some things up. A different sample rate and bit depth will be required for different parts of the music production process.
As a music producer, you can pretty much follow the advice we have provided so far – you should generally aim for a sample rate of 44,100hz for producing music with a bit depth of 24 bits. As a video producer, you should increase this to 48,000hz for your sample rate and a bit depth of 16 bits.
However, you will need to consider first whether you are exporting these files to be released yourself, or if you will be sending the files out for release. If you are exporting the files yourself and are comfortable with how the music sounds with the sample rates and bit depths that we’ve provided, then you’re on to a winner.
With that being said, if you have a professional mixer or masterer who is finalizing and exporting tracks for you, you are likely going to need to aim for something a little bit higher (such as a 32-bit depth for audio or a 192,000hz sample rate for audiovisual works).
The reason for this is that your masterer or mixer will need to work carefully with the dynamic ranges of your music in order to export it professionally for the format.
Therefore, the best piece of advice we can really give you is to communicate with your production team. Find out what final formats they plan to release the music on as if they are working with 8k video or multichannel audio, there is a high chance that they will benefit from having a significantly increased sample rate and bit depth.
You might not be able to tell the difference, but trust us – these extremities in the sample rate and bit depth can make a huge difference when it comes down to using professional sonic monitoring equipment, and if appropriate setups are not used in advance, it could really mess up the process later on.
Always consider what platform you are releasing your media on, and if you’re not releasing the music yourself then discuss this with whoever is in charge – we guarantee it will save you a ton of time later down the line.
We hope that you have learned a lot throughout this article – we must admit that the world of sample rates and bit depths is extremely confusing, but quite frankly it is just one of those necessary evils.
You’ll always hear those magic numbers of 41,000hz and 16 bit being thrown around in the industry, and generally speaking, this is great for most purposes.
However, as a professional music producer, it is your job to ensure that you plan ahead and prepare your music with a sample rate and bit depth that will be appropriate for a project.
It can make a massive difference when it comes to mixing, mastering, and publishing a track, so the last thing you want to do is leave these thoughts to the last minute.