Why (Almost) Everything You Thought You Knew About Bit Depth Is Probably Wrong

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A bad way, and a better way to visualize digital audio. Images courtesy Monty Montgomery’s Digital Show and Tell video. (Xiph.org)

A lot of competent audio engineers working in the field today have some real misconceptions and gaps in their knowledge around digital audio.

Not a month goes by that I don’t encounter an otherwise capable music professional who makes simple errors about all sorts of basic digital audio principles – The very kinds of fundamental concepts that today’s 22 year-olds couldn’t graduate college without understanding.

There are a few good reasons for this, and two big ones come to mind immediately:

The first is that you don’t really need to know a lot about science in order to make great-sounding records. It just doesn’t hurt. A lot of people have made good careers in audio by focusing on the aesthetic and interpersonal aspects of studio work, which are arguably the most important.

(Similarly, a race car driver doesn’t need to know everything about how his engine works. But it can help.)

The second is that digital audio is a complex and relatively new field – its roots lie in a theorem set to paper by Harry Nyquist 1928 and further developed by Claude Shannon in 1946 – and quite honestly, we’re still figuring out how to explain it to people properly.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a greater number of people had a decent understanding of Einstein’s theories of relativity, originally published in 1905 and 1916! You’d at least expect to encounter those in a high school science class.

If your education was anything like mine, you’ve probably taken college level courses, seminars, or done some comparable reading in which well-meaning professors or authors tried to describe digital audio with all manner of stair-step diagrams and jagged-looking line drawings.

It’s only recently that we’ve come to discover that such methods have led to almost as much confusion as understanding. In some respects, they are just plain wrong…

Click here to learn the truth about bit depth at SonicScoop

This entry was posted in All Stories, Rants and Raves, September 2013, SonicScoop, Sub-Feature 3, Technology. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
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