The Truth about 24-Bit Audio

The Truth about 24-Bit Audio

Gizmodo recently published a controversial article claiming that the coming of 24-bit audio to iTunes "will be bad for users."  We immediately went to Brian, president of Gramophone, for a response, and here's what he has to say:

"This ain’t so simple. At first glance 16-bit should be more than enough. There are 65,536 gradations of volume (just like gradations of color across the spectrum) possible with 16-bit audio. That’s a whole lot. 16-bit audio (what we currently have) is reported to have a dynamic range of 96 decibels. Once again, that’s a lot. Who can possibly hear that many gradations? No one.

But there’s a dirty little secret to those numbers. 32,500 of the 65,000 gradations are used on the loudest 6 decibels of the 96 decibels of dynamic range. 16,000 are used on the NEXT 6 decibels of range. In other words 75% of the gradations are devoted to the loudest 12% of the range. The other 88% of the range gets 25% of the bits devoted to it. That’s where the problem comes in.

A 24-bit solution increases the number of gradations by over 500 times! That’s especially important in quieter passages. It’s where the difference between a Stradivarius violin and a student violin are found. It’s where the difference between a Stratocaster and a Telecaster are. Now maybe you don’t care, but some of us do.

Sure, 24 bits will take more storage space than 16 bits. Storage space is a commodity that is ALWAYS coming down in price, so who cares? Should the studios charge more for 24 bit? Probably not, especially if they’re already recording in 24 bit.  

When Edison demonstrated the gramophone, he did a live versus recorded test to show that no one could tell the difference between his recorded wax cylinders and a live orchestra. Reportedly no one could tell the difference. Do that today and you would be laughed out of the room.

Video for years was 480i. Then we got 480p and it mattered. Then we got 720p and it mattered. Now we have 1080p and it matters. Soon we’ll have 2160p and having seen it, it matters!

As Bob Dylan wrote years ago, “Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, For the times they are a-changin’ ”

Recordings, audio and video, are a permanent record, an historical document. Should we throw out some of the document to save space on digital storage, or should we treasure all of it and make sure we preserve it at its very best?"


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