The Case Against 24 bit 192kHz Music

Chris Montgomery aka “Monty” wrote an amazing essay on why 24 bit 192kHz downloads are silly and not worth while. Among those lobbying for it include Neil Young. Given Montgomery’s experience with audio encoding (OGG/Vorbis), he’s without question an authority on the topic.

Articles last month revealed that musician Neil Young and Apple’s Steve Jobs discussed offering digital music downloads of ‘uncompromised studio quality’. Much of the press and user commentary was particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of uncompressed 24 bit 192kHz downloads. 24/192 featured prominently in my own conversations with Mr. Young’s group several months ago.

Unfortunately, there is no point to distributing music in 24-bit/192kHz format. Its playback fidelity is slightly inferior to 16/44.1 or 16/48, and it takes up 6 times the space.

There are a few real problems with the audio quality and ‘experience’ of digitally distributed music today. 24/192 solves none of them. While everyone fixates on 24/192 as a magic bullet, we’re not going to see any actual improvement.

Go read the rest. It’s worth while. A couple nice jabs at self proclaimed “audiophiles” are included as well.

19 thoughts on “The Case Against 24 bit 192kHz Music

  1. 24 bit is inferior to 16 bit? What a moron! I was expecting a good reason, but if this is it then this guy simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A 16 bit capture does not capture all the information from an analog sound wave. There are in fact, portions of the analog sound wave not captured by a 24 bit file. But the 24 bit file is a much closer digital representation of a smooth analog sound wave than a blocky 16 bit file. This is like saying a 300 dpi image is inferior to a 72 dpi version of the same image.

    • It’s a pity this person will probably never read this due to being over a year old, but his statement that a “24 bit file” is less blocky than a “16 bit file” has two inaccuracies:
      1. bit depth has nothing at all to do with “blockiness” in reconstructing analog signals from digital data. That’s to do with samples.
      2. Samples don’t make blocky signals because from 20Hz to 20kHz any waveform sampled 44.1 kHz into a digital signal will be reconstructed to a perfect analog copy of the original waveform.

      If anyone tells you that more samples means a less “blocky” signal, ignore that person immediately as he has no idea what he’s talking about.

  2. I also challenge anyone to buy and listen to the 40th anniversary edition of Pet Sounds, comparing the DVD Audio (24/96) to the Cd Audio (16/44.1).

    If you can’t hear the obvious difference in sound quality, I suggest you see a doctor.

    24 bit files contain more information. Period. Just like a 300 dpi image contains more information than a 72 dpi image.

    • Your own example contains a fallacy: most paper bleeds to much for 300 dpi to possibly look good.

      That is what’s called marketing.

      • I don’t know what paper your printing on…but they make coated stocks that don’t allow bleeding. Professional inkjet proofing systems and their approved media are capable of resolutions higher than 300 dpi. They have to be in order to accurately represtn the 2400 dpi TIFF files that willo be used to create the printing plates. (I work in photo/color correction, so I know more about this than I do audio files, though that’s not saying much since I have only an amteur’s understanding of audio files…)

        Regardless, you invented my fallacy, because I never stated anything about paper. The difference between a 72 dpi image and a larger resolution image is generally visible even on screen. (and, no, all screens do not siplay at 72 dpi. Most screens these days do not drop below 96 dpi, and the dpi varies based on the resolution and the size of the display.)

        But let’s change analogies: Would you like to also tell me that Blu-ray/HD video resolutions are inferior to DVD/SD resolutions?

      • I don’t know what paper your printing on…but they make coated stocks that don’t allow bleeding. Professional inkjet proofing systems and their approved media are capable of resolutions higher than 300 dpi. They have to be in order to create color proofs for customers that accurately represent the 2400 dpi TIFF files that will be used to create the printing plates. (I work in photo/color correction, so I know more about this than I do audio files, though that’s not saying much since I have only an amateur’s understanding of audio files…)

        Regardless, you invented my fallacy, because I never stated anything about paper. The difference between a 72 dpi image and a larger resolution image is generally visible even on screen. (And, no, all screens do not display at 72 dpi. Most screens these days do not drop below 96 dpi, and the dpi varies based on the resolution and the size of the display.)

        But let’s change analogies: Would you like to also tell me that Blu-ray/HD video resolutions are inferior to DVD/SD resolutions?

      • You are absolutely correct, in that if you listen to 24b/196khz vs 16b/44.1khz on an alarm clock radio you probably would not hear a difference. However if you were to listen on a more capable system you would.

  3. Just so you know this my source on 24 bit sound: (And from my experience the 24-bit is much more vital than the frequency. Ripping the DVDA of Pet Sounds to 24/96, and then converting ot to both 24/44.1 and 16/44.1, everyone who listened could pick the 24 bit from the 16 bit, but no one could tell any difference in the frequency change.)

    http://blog.bowers-wilkins.com.....-bit-flac/

    • You may want to consider that your source that benefits financially from your point on a product marketing blog.

      I’d recommend going back to good old fashion academic whitepapers if you want real information. Or take it for what it is: an advertisement.

      You’re suggesting decades of medical science is wrong in terms of human hearing, and a marketing division of theirs is correct. While not impossible, it’s highly improbable. Especially considering hearing is one of the most understood senses since it’s the easiest to observe and study.

      • Robert’s comment about financial benefit is incorrect. B&W is a loudspeaker manufacturer. It doesn’t sell CDs or vinyl or indeed any music at scale;its business is just transducers; they make a little hi-res music available because it demonstrates the qualities of their products which resolve the fine details Robert is convinced don’t exist.

        Moreover descending ad hominem to attack the good faith of someone making a point, as Robert does above in relation to Brian’s gently-made observations, is generally reckoned to be an admission that you are beaten on the substance of what is being said. Seems to be the case here.

      • B&W makes a profit selling you something substantially more expensive than the competition under the belief it’s higher quality. Yes, that’s a financial motive. B&W makes high quality products. Does that mean your ear is acutually able to take advantage of it? No. Just like you’re car being able to go over 100 MPH means nothing in terms of shortening your commute in traffic (but that doesn’t stop car companies from advertising on empty roads).

        If you want to discredit medical science, prove via medical journals that all research on the human ear and it’s capabilities are wrong. Pointing to a company’s marketing blog trying to sell a product isn’t acceptable in any academic circle, thus isn’t acceptable here.

        I can produce 100′s of links that suggest dinosaurs and humans coexisted and the earth is only a few thousand years old. Doesn’t mean it’s right.

  4. Monty seems to make the mistake of equating 192kHz sampling rate with 192kHz frequency response…. reread his section regarding IM distortion, that mistake is the lead in… is he too numb to realize that if there is no content recorded above say 20kHz or even 40kHz if you like, that the sampling rate would not produce some that isn’t even produced by a musical instrument, say a guitar? Why does Monty all of the sudden start using the term ‘ultrasonics’? The 192kHz refers to sampling rate of a stereo signal, not the object signal. Sampling rate simply does not produce ultrasonics… It is true that music files are often distributed with less than original resolution due to proprietary and product marketing considerations, file size, etc… The most commonly used sampling rate used in recording is 96kHz, providing 4+ datapoints for representing a 20kHz audio wave cycle, which most of us cannot hear anyway (anyone ever heard of golden ear audiophiles getting their hearing tested?.. ha) Anyway, the missing understanding here is that the the 192kHz sampling rate spec actually represents the 96kHz sampling rate for STEREO… that is 2 channel X 96 = 192… !!! Carefully research and read about ADC/DAC specs if you don’t believe this. Therefore, the 192kHz spec means the music file is most likely at the was full resolution of the original recording. It might not be if the studio used a higher sampling rate…! However, the vast majority of commercially available music files available were recorded at 96kHz resolution.

  5. The bottom line is 192 K sampling allows for 96 KHz frequency. Per Nyquist, the minimum is twice the highest frequency to be reproduced. Minimum… Therefore 192 K sampling keeps everything in the audible range more defined as “connect the dots”. This isn’t marketing but if you expect to hear anything over 20 KHz or rip on 192 K because it allows for it then you have a problem. If you want to drive a dog crazy with a recording of a dog whistle then be my guest. There is also nothing wrong with having a digital copy that resembles closest to the original master recording. There are a few masters I’d love to get my hands on.

  6. I respect all of yours opinions.
    But I listened carefully fron a known hi res music online store 192khz 24 bit tracks from Chet Baker and The
    Eagles burned directly to a DVD-Audio from FLACs and played on an known uk’s hifi manufacturer DVD-Audio player connected to a transformer volume control preamp to a class AB power amps cooper-heavy-wired to 4ohms/soft dome passive speakers the
    difference with 16 bit 44 khz is breathtaking.
    But I respect all yours opinions.

  7. Wow! I KNOW that is just incredibly wrong.

    In my computer are all the tracks from Tomita’s Snowflakes Are Dancing High Performance Audio CD actually BURNED at 24/96 (which is playable on any player, by the way). Sound Studio shows that the Bitrate of each of these files on my hard drive IS INFACT 24 Bits, and the file size of each is THREE TIMES that of the normal Audio CD files. Listening on my Byerdynamic DT990 Pro Headphones the 24/96 Tracks are exceptionally clean, smooth, clear, warm, bright, present, full, and open with no distortion at all … Just beautiful.

    Listening to the 16/44 files of the regular Snowflakes CD reveals all the limitations of 16/44. These files are just not clean and beautiful, and do have obvious distortion.

    I know this discussion is about 24/192 and the guy who made the unbelievable comment against it, but I would love to know why every blog I read says it’s not possible to put 24/96 on a regular Audio CD, when I OWN a 24/96 Audio CD that Does Play on my 2005 Car Stereo and every other CD player I have ever tried it on???!!!!

    Thanks all! Jeff

    • @Jeff8

      Standard CD files can only be recorded at 16/44.1. That is a physical limitation that cannot be superseded.

      Your CD of “Tomita’s Snowflakes Are Dancing High Performance Audio CD” was not “BURNED” at 24/96, it was SAMPLED at that rate and frequency. The remix was then burned onto CD at 16/44.1!

      If you prefer the sound of that remix (which many people don’t), then that is your opinion. But you are still listening to 16/44.1! You do not “OWN a 24/96 Audio CD” because they do not exist!

      But thank you for making us laugh and for highlighting the ignorance of so many people in this whole debate!

  8. In simple terms, if you watch a video at 16 FPS rather than 24 FPS, you’ll end up with strained eyes and a headache. That’s how I feel when listening to 16-bit CD (especially when brick wall limited) CD’s where I end up with ear fatigue. Almost a claustrophobic feeling where irritability and anxiety starts to set in. In essence, the human ear may not “seem” able to pick up on high resolution audio, but I truly believe your brain subconsciously deciphers everything, including the difference between analog and digital. The more the information, the closer to analog.

    Hi Rez 24-bit audio resonates warmly through my house, where all the instruments seem spacial and wide, with plenty of vibrating timber, warmth and distinguished clear mids and highs. Giving a better simulation of a large concert hall.

    Comparing the same album, 16-Bit CD’s don’t have the same capability and ends up sounding like a freeway traffic jam being funneled onto a one way street, muffled bass and drowned out details in the mids and highs where it sounds like it’s all coming from a small room.

    Ears don’t lie! unless you have poor hearing.

    “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” Albert Einstein

  9. Guys, the issue is not 96kHz, or 192kHz or higher, the issue is the convertion from digital into analogue again, so that your earbuds or the speakers can vibrate and so that you can hear the music. The quality of the D/A convertion is what we should focus on. You can have the standard 44.1Khz CD quality wav file, but when played through a cheap D/A converter, you still hear “standard quality CD audio”, but if you play it using a device with an expensive D/A converter, like 1 bit to 1 bit (at least 500 dollars), you hear great audio. So to resume, you need at least 44.1kHz audio, but you also need 1 bit to 1 bit D/A convertion to hear high fidelity music. At least, that is my experience. Regards

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