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The 24-Bit Delusion?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by caprireds, Jan 13, 2020.

  1. caprireds

    caprireds Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    quote from

    The 24-Bit Delusion

    When digital data is transferred and manipulated, it’s moved in bytes rather than as individual bits. There are 8 bits to a byte, and a byte is known as a digital word. Both 16 bits and 24 bits became a standard because each represented the next digital word.

    Bit depth translates to the number of steps in the amplitude of a digital recording. A 16-bit recording has 65,536 steps, a 20-bit recording has 1,048,576 steps, and a 24-bit recording has 16,777,216 steps.

    Sampling rate is the frequency at which the amplitude of the analog sound wave is sampled. At a 44.1KHz sampling frequency sample the amplitude of the music 44,100 times each second. At a 96KHz sampling frequency the amplitude is sampled 96,000 times each second. At a 192KHz sampling frequency the amplitude is sampled 192,000 times each second.

    The more bits and/or the higher the sampling rate used in quantization, the higher the theoretical resolution. So a 16-bit 44.1KHz Red Book CD has 28,901,376 potential sampling points each second (44,100 x 65,536). And a 20-bit 96KHz recording has 1,006,632,900 potential sampling points each second (96,000 x 1,048,576). This means 20-bit 96KHz recordings have roughly 33 times the resolution of a 16-bit 44.1KHz recording and a 24-bit 192KHz recording has roughly 256 time the resolution of a 16-bit 44.1KHz recording. No small difference.

    According to the experts that manufacture the finest DAC chips, resistors, and power regulators, there is theoretically no way to make electronics that are capable of discerning greater than a 20-bit resolution (120dB dynamic range). Any company that claims greater than 20-bit resolution from their DAC is simply full of ****. Oh they can decode 24-bits, because 24-bits does exist in software, but the output from their DAC has less than 20-bits of resolution and dynamic range.

    In order to reproduce anywhere near the dynamic range these high-res formats offer, you would need amplification with several times the wattage and a fraction of the noise floor of what is currently available to the high-end audiophile.

    Of course that doesn’t even account for the significant amount of distortion added by signal cables, amplification, and speakers, and the background noise in a listening room, all of which would not allow hearing the full resolution and dynamic range of even an 16-bit recording.

    In order to hear the difference in dynamic range between a 16-bit and a 20-bit recording in a normal quiet listening room, you would have to play the music so loud it would cause permanent hearing loss.

    When people claim to hear differences between 16-bit, 20-bit, and 24-bit recordings, it is not the difference between the bit depths that they are hearing, but rather the difference in the quality of the digital mastering. The fact is that even most so-called 24-bit recordings are mastered with less than the 96dB dynamic range of a 16-bit recording (and wisely so).

    So what do they do with commercially marketed so-called 24-bit recordings? They simply fill some of the Most Significant Bits (MSB) with 1s and some of the Least Significant Bits (LSB) with 0s to pad the overall volume up to the target level. They could have released a recording of identical performance in 16-bits, but naive consumers insist on 24-bits, so the record companies trick them by centering 16-bits of dynamic range in a 24-bit frame. How silly.

    Part of why some HD recordings sound sterile has to do with lower dynamic compression that doesn’t allow the subtle low-level detail to rise above the noise floor. When music is sanely dynamically compressed, it allows you to listen at a reasonable volume and still hear all the subtle harmonic cues that reveal the tone, timbre, and room acoustics in the recording.

    Another consideration of higher sampling rates and greater bit depth is system resources. Both require more storage space, more RAM, and faster processors. Though the optimal sampling frequency and bit-depth that are required to reproduce accurate music are a matter of heated debate, there is no doubt that excessive resolution unnecessarily uses up system resources and unnecessarily increases the size and cost of components.

    Of course most recordings are engineered to sound best on a car stereo or portable device as opposed to on a high-end audiophile system. It’s a well-known fact that artists and producers will often listen to tracks on an MP3 player or car stereo before approving the final mix.

    The quality of the recording plays a far more significant role than the format or resolution it is distributed in. But to increase profits, many modern recording studio executives insist that errors be edited out in post-production, significantly compromising the quality of the original master tapes. So no matter what format these recordings are released in, the music will always sound mediocre, since you can never have higher performance than what is on the original masters.

    In contrast, some of my favorite digital recordings were digitally mastered from 1950s analog recordings. Many of these recordings were done as a group of musicians playing in a room with one take per track and a minimum of post-production editing. Though these recordings have a much higher background noise being limited by old-school pre-Dolby 60dB dynamic range master tapes, they retain an organic character that can't be duplicated any other way. When you hear the organic character and coherent in-the-room harmonics, it is clear why so many audiophiles prize these recordings.
  2. Vincent Kars

    Vincent Kars Forum Resident

    Are you sure?
    Matrix Audio X-SABRE Pro MQA: Best Audio DAC in the World?
    insoc123 likes this.
  3. CoolJazz

    CoolJazz Forum Resident

    Eastern Tennessee
  4. rebellovw

    rebellovw Forum Resident

    Prescott, AZ
    Correction "There are 8 bits to a byte, and a byte is known as a digital word"

    No - a Word is two bytes - 16 bits (generally).
  5. CoolJazz

    CoolJazz Forum Resident

    Eastern Tennessee
    The "Delusion" is all on the part of that writer. Take a good high-rez recording and downsample it to redbook and compare...listening at normal volumes. Yes...it is possible to hear the difference!

  6. Stone Turntable

    Stone Turntable Dedicated Listener

    New Mexico USA
    The quality of the recording, mixing, and mastering are the most important factors in overall sound quality. And 24-bit recording is a useful tool to get great results, while 24-bit playback is less crucial to great sound.

    I’m no technical wizard, but these are the basic truths as I understand them. So where’s the “delusion”?

    I deeply dislike the whole X is a “myth,” Y is a “delusion,” high-res audio “makes no sense” genre of digital audio debunking. It’s usually prime derp-lord content IMO.
    wrat, Mo-Tech, Sevoflurane and 12 others like this.
  7. heathen

    heathen Forum Resident

    But if you hear a difference there, is it a result of 24 vs 16, or is it the result of the type of downsampling being used?
  8. BruceS

    BruceS El Sirviente del Gato

    Reading, MA US
    Amen. But now you're messing with all those $$$$ people have spent. Good luck arguing with that!
  9. CoolJazz

    CoolJazz Forum Resident

    Eastern Tennessee
  10. GregM

    GregM No static at all

    Daddyland, CA
    ...and then there's DSD.
    ArneW, jusbe, Artdob and 12 others like this.
  11. CoolJazz

    CoolJazz Forum Resident

    Eastern Tennessee
    I just care that it sounds better. Hearing it as better is the joy that some miss out on. Stopping just short of a real step better all over something read somewhere on-line instead of trying things themselves. And, btw, I've done the down sampling several ways with professional tools. Enough to prove to me that's not the issue.

    Tim 2 and Lonevej like this.
  12. Dennis Metz

    Dennis Metz Born In A Motor City!

    Fonthill, Ontario
    SBurke and mongo like this.
  13. Pastafarian

    Pastafarian Forum Resident

    From the albums I've heard 24 bit does sound better but it's fairly subtle and the bit rate seems more important than sample rate.

    I've also down sampled using iZotope and the same difference is heard.

    As other have said it's very much the recording that's the most important factor.
  14. basie-fan

    basie-fan Forum Resident

    I don’t have the reference handy right now (on mobile) but the experiment you describe was performed in a controlled scientific study published number of years ago. Trained listeners using high quality gear could not reliably distinguish between SACD and SACD downsampled to Redbook (CD) resolution. No better than guessing. The authors concluded that the only benefit of SACD was a slightly lower noise floor when the music was played extremely loud.
  15. BrilliantBob

    BrilliantBob Select, process, CTRL+c, CTRL+z, ALT+v

    Illuminati Confirmed :D :-popcorn:

    2 bytes (16 bits) = a Word
    4 bytes (32 bits) = Double Word
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2020
    klockwerk and rebellovw like this.
  16. BrilliantBob

    BrilliantBob Select, process, CTRL+c, CTRL+z, ALT+v


    Make a simple test: play on a high-end audio system two files, a 44/16 PCM and a 352.8/24 PCM (DXD format) and compare the results! The DXD PCM format is highly compatible with the DSD128 (5.6 MHz) for the both way conversions.
  17. Apesbrain

    Apesbrain Forum Resident

    East Coast, USA
    I had to look at your profile to confirm you own a Schiit DAC. Oh, that's funny!
    ls35a, insoc123, russk and 7 others like this.
  18. unclefred

    unclefred Coastie with the Moastie

    Oregon Coast
    It's so weird to me that the 'everything sounds the same' mantra still exists today. I think the cheapophiles are somewhat responsible as it may be a defense mechanism to thwart the nagging thought that the people who pay more get more.
    Henrik_Swe, RS2099, Paully and 26 others like this.
  19. formu_la

    formu_la A.I.

    Toronto, Canada
    Exactly. Someone doesn't know the difference between a byte and a word, and starts teaching others about digital recordings...
  20. D700

    D700 Just Add Scotch

    This whole hobby is chasing the long end of a very long tail. Disc space and bandwidth get an order of magnitude cheaper each generation, so why not ask for it now?

    From my experimentation with tracks, I can hear differences between 16 and 24 bit but no difference between 44.1, 96K or 192K sample rates. I don't really care whether that difference stems from how the music was mastered for that particular bit rate or the rate itself. My Hi Rez recordings sound great and I'm happy. Matter of fact, my music at most any bit rate makes me happy. I listen to it on an Echo and I'm happy.

    I guess I can objectively separate the pursuit of engineering perfection from the enjoyment of the music. Both aspects of the hobby make me happy.
  21. .crystalised.

    .crystalised. Forum Resident

    So what?
    Play some records and enjoy.

    I got as far as this line and then I stopped reading:
  22. snkcube

    snkcube Forum Resident

    San Francisco, CA
    There are differences between 16 bit and higher bit depths. Our host wrote a comparison between the CD layer and DSD layer of his and Kevin Gray's mastering of Willy and the Poor Boys for Analogue Productions.
    bhazen, insoc123, OldSoul and 7 others like this.
  23. rockphotog

    rockphotog Forum Resident

    Oslo, Norway
    What music needs 120 dB dynamic range? Not my music. Even with the finest classical music in a totally silent room or "perfect" IEMs, get ready for those 111 dB SPL peaks...
    All music needs some (sanely) compression, because "ideal" listening environment is a thing for the few.
  24. Brodnation

    Brodnation The Future Never Dies So Tomorrow Never Knows

    Take a high res track, copy it and then downsample the copy to 44.1/16. Then invert and mix and render. Then play it.

    that’s the detail your missing
    anorak2 likes this.
  25. testikoff

    testikoff Seasoned n00b

    Slightly different take on the statement you quote (spectral graphs can be found here, BTW)... Good luck with the ABX tests, guys, & feel free to post your successful reports (i.e. 9+ successes out of 10 attempts, or better) ;)
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2020
    onlyconnect, basie-fan and albertop like this.

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