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Audiophile 101

Your Intro to all things audio.

Chapter 3 - What is Bit rate?

Welcome to Audiophile 101. A  series that has been built as an introduction to all things audio by Pocket Rock It Radio. From the simple to the not so simple we’ll attempt to answer all of your questions in quick and easy to understand terms. Whether you are interested in diving deep into the world of audio, or are just looking for an answer to a specific question we hope Audiophile 101 will help answer your music related to help make you a more educated listener.

In this chapter we will take a look at bit rate, and answer the question. What is bit rate?

Table Of Contents:

Bit rate is a measurement of the dynamic range available for the computer or digital audio player to recreate the song. An audio files bit rate is determined at the time of creation, or when it is compressed. To determine the bit rate of a audio file you take into account the sample rate and the bit depth of the audio file. The two multiplied by each-other gives you the songs bit rate, and lets you know the audio files dynamic range. Thus the higher the bit rate, the better the audio file will sound.

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Bit rate and compression overly simplified:

Let’s pretend classical music is your jam! And your favorite concerts in town. Even better their here for the whole week and you’re hitting all the shows! 

The first night the orchestra is full. Not a missing member the sound pitch and volume they are able to hit impresses even the most cynical classical music snob, and blows you out of your chair.

The next night 25 of the 200 band members are unable to perform in the concert so you go to the same show the next night, and while all of the instruments in the orchestra are present there are just less of them. The concert still sounds impressive, but it’s just missing the something the first night had. 

The next night nearly half the band misses the show, again all instruments present so the concert song still sound the same, but you can really start to tell what’s missing now. 

This example could go on, but the  point we are trying to illustrate with our fake orchestra is that with a greater dynamic range [the more performers / instruments the conductor has to work with] is the deeper your music can sound. Of course this is assuming that the dynamic range [bit depth] is utilized properly.

When a song is lossy compressed  bits of information that are deemed unnecessary for the audio tracks reproduction are deleted**. The question that you have to ask when compressing an audio file is how much information can you remove and still have it sound as good as the original song? In this example each band member would represent a piece of the bit rate, and the compression would be the removal of each member of the orchestra systematically. 

**See chapter 2 for more on compression and how it works.

What is Sample Rate?

Sample Rate is how often a audio ‘sample’ is taken while a digital audio recording is being created. If we think of a digital recording like an old school picture flip book [or stop motion animation], each page of the book or animation frame would equal one (1) sample. So when you’re talking about the ‘sample rate’ of a song you are talking about how often one of these audio samples [digital pictures] are being created every second during recording.

The higher the sample rate equals the opportunity for higher audio quality. We say opportunity because the higher audio quality is a factor of [Sample Rate x Bit Depth], making ‘Bit Depth’ equally if not more important than sample rate alone. 

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What is Bit Depth?

Bit depth is a measurement of how high or how low in audio pitch [dynamic range] each ‘Sample’ may be taken. If you think of sound like the wave that it is ; ‘Bit Depth’ is how tall and how shallow the sound wave is capable of being sampled [recorded] at. Having a greater dynamic range [bit depth] in during recording results in better audio resolution, and greater range of pitch for every ‘Sample’ that is taken during recording. Which is why the higher the Sample Rate combined with the higher ‘Bit Depth’ is what results in a better sounding end product.

So what is bit rate and why does it mater?

The greater your audio files Bit Rate or Bits per second is the greater the dynamic range, and depth your audio file is capable of delivering. Thus having a higher bitrate results in a fuller, more dynamic listening experience, making ‘Bit Rate’ a good measuring tool and a solid indicator to how good of an audio file you are getting, creating, or listening too.

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Chapter Wrap Up:

You should now have a good idea of what Bit Rate is, and understand why it’s important. 

The digital audio is a whole technical can of worms that we will dive deeper into over time. If we missed anything you’d like to add, or you have any other questions feel free to post them in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

 Until next time, Happy Listening.

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