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Producer’s Corner: Digital meets Analog – Part 2

Okay peeps time to really dig into the basics of digital technology. The last installment provided some good generalizations but I want you guys to be sharp when somebody asks you about recording technology. After all we’re all representing each other.

A little BIT of sound

It is impossible to purchase digital technology and not hear or read some reference to bit-technology. 16-bits, 24-bits, 32 bits, all the way up to 96 bits and now, even more. So what the hell is a bit anyway?

Bit technology has to do with how accurate your machine can capture the sound being fed into it. The more bits; the better. A good way to think about bit technology is in terms of painting. The more colors; the more accurate the painting. Make sense? In music, this greater definition is called resolution.

It’s only a little bit more, right?

You want to take a guess at how many more “digital colors” a 24 bit recorder has than a 16 bit recorder?

Check this out, an improvement of only one bit means that a recorder will have 2x more resolution. So, a 24 bit recorder actually has 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2 = 256 times more resolution than a 16 bit recorder.
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WOW!

INSIDER TIP – When your music doesn’t fall exactly within the sound scope of your recorder, the machine will make a guess, or approximation to estimate what your music should sound like. This process is called “quantizing.”

Let’s take a look at how this works. The following graph demonstrates how a low resolution recorder operates.

 
In this example the black line represents your music. The gray boxes are how your recorder captures and records your music. Notice the empty spaces between where your music actually is and where the machine records? Because this machine is low resolution, it doesn’t have enough musical “colors” so it chooses the closest option and quantizes your music.

The next example shows what your original signal looked like (black line) to what the recorder was able to capture (blue line).

As you can see, this recorder didn’t exactly capture the signal that was sent to it. For this exact reason many early digital recorders sounded harsh and brittle. As bit technology has increased, digital recordings are sounding better and better.

Let’s look at the next example to see how a higher bit system does a better job of recording.

 

With this system, we see a lot more "digital colors" available. This recorder still has to quantize but the spaces or guesses are greatly minimized. Examine the next example to see the finished product.

This example shows a very close approximation of the original music signal. It is important to note that even with the highest resolution systems, many seasoned engineers still find digital music to be harsh and brittle.

Another important characteristic of a digital recorder is its sampling rate. The sampling rate is defined as how many times per second the recorder actually uses the bits to record sound. Sampling rate is always represented in Kilo hertz" or what is called cycles per second. So when you see that a recorder is rated at 96 KHz, you will know that it takes a musical sample 96,000 times per second. Obviously, higher sampling rates yield better sounding recordings.

Here is something a little weird for you to think about until next time. No matter how high your recorders bit technology and sampling rate, ALL CD’s and CD players can ONLY play material that is 16 bits and recorded at 44.1 KHz. So why would anyone want to use higher bit and sampling rate technologies? E-mail me your answers; I would love to hear your thoughts.

Until next time, nurture the music!

Tommy V!

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