There is kind of a ‘Bit’ race going on where audiophiles are chasing after higher audio resolution and sampling rates. The higher the bit depth the better or is it? Is there a difference between digital music being recorded in 16 Bit to one that is recorded in 24 Bit? We are going to find out and share with you this information.
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What’s Audio Bit Depth?
Unlike analog audio, the digital audio sound wave is broken up into samples and the bit depth will determine the number of amplitude values we can record in each sample. Higher bit depth will provide a higher audio resolution and also reduces digital noise but this doesn’t mean you will get higher audio quality though. Audio with higher bit depths also means higher voltages which can be sent to your speakers.
The number of possible combinations of binary digits in each common audio bit depth is different as well. The higher the bit depth, the more possible values it has. For instance, a 4-bit audio sample has 16 possible values.
What’s 16 Bit Audio?
A 16 Bit depth has possible combinations of 65,536 values which is so much higher than a 4-bit audio sample has. Most of us have been listening to 16-bit audio throughout the decades, thanks to CDs. Inside a CD, it uses 16-bit audio and has been providing us with high-resolution music for many years. And back in the day, it was the benchmark that we used to compare with other lower-res digital audio files. Even now when we listen to music, we would still want the bit depth to be at least 16-bit.
CDs may be losing their charm but 16-bit audio is still here to stay as now we can get our favorite tunes via digital downloads from digital media stores like iTunes. Or you can choose to stream your music from streaming services such as Tidal. Listeners who still want to stick with playing compact discs might want to check out our post about CD transport vs CD player.
What about 24 Bit Audio?
24-bit audio has much higher possible combinations of 16,777,216 which is so much more than 16-bit audio. It has lower noise as well and all these do make 24 Bit depth look better than 16 Bit depth but this is not true when it comes to audio quality. When it comes to audio editing and recording, 24-bit audio is ‘clearly’ a winner in this regard. It gives professionals a higher dynamic range and some even record their music at 24-bit and then convert it to 16-bit.
The usual physical media which supports 24 Bit depth are DVDs and Blu-Rays. Like the CDs, 24-bit audio is moving online as well, and here are some of the choices we can go for, there are HDtracks and Qobuz, just to name a few. For music streaming at 24-bit depth, we highly suggest you check out Apple Music.
The Difference between 16 Bit and 24 Bit
For casual music listening, we can hardly hear any difference, and sticking with 16-bit audio would be more than enough. It is only at loud volume levels we may encounter distortion and this is usually useful for studio editing. Professionals would prefer a 24-bit dynamic range as it gives them more headroom for audio editing and production. Since there are no audible differences, should you just stick with 16-bit audio? We would say yes for cost vs value sake. As listening to music is subjective and depends on the listeners’ moods, for ease of mind, you should go for a higher bit depths and resolution. If you lack the budget then don’t force yourself to get a more expensive DAC with 24/32-bit depths.
This bit race kind of reminds me of the old console wars where the different company keeps boasting about how many ‘Bits’ their console system has. It does make a difference visually back in the day but now, nobody really bothers about the ‘Bits’ capability of their console systems. Still, this is rather different from audio bit depths. What I am trying to say is that you should just enjoy listening to the music no matter how high the bit depth is. There are some who prefer listening to 8-bit music. It is the audio/music content you are listening to which is more important. If you don’t really like the music content, no matter how high the resolution is, you will still dislike them.