What’s bit depth? And how does it impact music?

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If you’ve started caring about audio, you’ve probably seen something called “bit depth”. The thing is … what the hell is this is he? Well, we are here to help.

First of all, bit depth is one of the two measures involved in measuring the quality of a piece of digital music. The first of these is the sampling rate. We’ve covered what it is here, but for a quick recap, it’s the number of “samples” taken per second from an analog sound wave to turn it into digital.

Think of it like the audio version of a TV’s frame rate: lots of individual dots played one after another to make the sound feel like always smooth. And, if we continue this metaphor, the bit depth is the resolution, in fact the amount of data that there is in any of these points or samples.

Of course, bit depth is not the same as TV resolution, but it’s a useful way to visualize the term.

Anyway, let’s dive a little deeper. There are several bit depths, as this beautiful diagram shows:

the most common bit depths in lossless music