Interestingly, as a Mechanical Engineer major, there are instances and even several classes in which we do dive into the (admittedly rough) topic of electrical. I’m not really someone who is living, breathing and studying Electrical Engineering or the like for various reasons. But it can be interesting. I do like audio and the reproduction of audio, but admittedly, I don’t always understand about the electrical side of things. In one class however, which talks about instrumentation, I came across the topic of sampling, which includes bits, bytes, bitrate, frequency, as well as the specific topic of digital audio. After learning about it, I must admit based on theory alone, after an interesting poll, many in the class don’t agree that hi-res audio is worth the money. There are a few reason as to why.
Human hearing covers about 20Hz to 20kHz. So to cover recording the full spectrum of sound, barely, 16bit 44.1kHz was chosen as the sampling rate. To but that into perspective in bitrate, that is 1411.2kbps (kilo-bit-per-second) with each channel at 705.6kbps to total that number for 2 channel or stereo digital audio. As it does cover the entire audible frequency range, CD quality can be considered as lossless audio. What about “Hi-Res” audio? At 24bit and either 96 or 192kHz, that adds up to about 829.4mbps (1000kbps = 1mbps) at 96kHz and 1.66gbps(1000mbps = 1gbps). Essentially, you can think of the resolution at 96kHz 2x human hearing already, with 192kHz 4x human hearing resolution. Do note these are “bits” not “bytes”. “bits” are binary information, meaning the 1 and 0 stuff. “bytes” are 8 bits in “10110010”s, so the “gb” (gigabit) mentioned here are lower case, but if you’re talking about the data in “GB” (gigabytes) they are typically uppercase.
In theory, you can’t hear the difference between 16bit 44.1kHz and 24bit 96kHz or 192kHz. At least, it’s not that big of an audible resolution jump from MP3 or AAC format, which has a sampling rate at 256kbps. Hence, many would take this information and logically answer that it isn’t that worth it to be paying the double in price only hear the same thing. But, as with theory and reality, there is always an error, or a margin of error with it. With age, our hearing does deteriorate, with typically older people possibly only being able to hear less than the typically stated 20kHz max, or the inability to hear bass. The opposite can be true, because we cannot be 100% certain that everyone only hears that specific frequency. Some may technically be able to hear beyond than the stated frequencies, and the fact that I can discern the different resolutions, even if it’s a relatively small changes, proves the fact that sampling at twice or 4 times human hearing can sound, better. There are certainly benefits with Hi-Res audio, but the worth is ultimately determined by what we value.
I certainly value the quality of my audio playback, and will certainly choose the higher resolution when I can. I personally find my current choices with audio something I am happy with, and that I think is the where the true worth of something lies. That is why, I still want to listen to Hi-Res audio with my rather expensive hand-me-downs, and do the things I do. Even when asked in class if Hi-Res audio is worth it, I was one of the people who actually answered yes. Remember when I said that poll was interesting? Turns out, a good 20-30% actually answered yes, with over 60% answering no, if my memory serves me correctly. This was a class of about 40 or so students. I was not expecting that many people to answer yes, but then again, this was not a representative sample of general population. Anyway, what do you think? Is Hi-Res audio still worth it to you after reading about that information?