sample-rateI come across a lot of people who are confused when it comes to sample rates. They see a box that goes up to 192 kHz, and they instinctively think it must be better.

Bigger is better, right? Or is it?

First off, a CD is at a 44.1 kHz sample rate, which means it can reproduce up to around 22.05 kHz. Human hearing caps at 20 kHz, and most of us can’t hear much past 16 kHz anyway. So this should be fine, right?

Well now we have interfaces and converters going all the way up to 192 kHz. These can theoretically capture sounds up to 96 kHz.

Can we hear a difference?

That’s the question. I’m not doubting that 192 kHz is a higher resolution, meaning that it captures much more information, but can we hear a difference down in the 20 Hz – 20 kHz range? I’m doubtful.

I think we’re at the point of splitting hairs. There are engineers and scientists out there who are much smarter than I am who can show me on paper how the higher sample rates are theoretically superior. They talk about how there are lower harmonics of the higher frequency content that occur in the audible range, and that these harmonics are necessary for accurately capturing and reproducing sound.

Again, that’s all good, but I have to still ask can we hear a difference?

I’m not going to say definitively that there is no benefit from recording at 192 kHz. I simply want to make the point that when you’re deciding on an audio interface or converter, you shouldn’t place unnecessary importance on whether or not the device goes up to 192 k.

A cheap converter at 192 kHz won’t sound nearly as good as a good converter at 44.1 kHz. The sample rate is just one part of the equation. The analog components of the converter have just as much (if not more) influence on the sound quality as the digital converters themselves.

To top that off, if you’re reading this, then chances are you have a home studio. We home studio folks are focused on making great recordings on a budget. If you focus all your attention on using a high sample rate, then you use a $40 microphone, $50 preamp and $100 speakers…I don’t think that high sample rate is going to help you.

If I had to choose between good analog components – microphones, preamps, acoustic treatment, studio monitors – and a converter that goes up to 192 kHz, I’d go with the analog gear every time.

Why? Because I haven’t heard a remarkable difference at higher samples rates. Perhaps if I had a multi-million-dollar facility I would have the setup to be able to hear the difference, but I don’t. And the people who will be listening to the albums I produce won’t be listening on super high-end equipment either. They’ll be listening to it as an mp3 on their iPod.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t focus on creating great-sounding recordings. I’m simply saying that I don’t think using a super-high sample rate is a prerequisite for making good recordings.

Don’t blindly take my word for it. If you have an interface that does 44.1, 48, 88.1, 96, and 192 kHz, spend an afternoon recording the same thing at the different sample rates. My guess is you won’t be able to hear the difference. If you can, great!

In addition to potentially not being able to hear the differences, you also have to deal with the fact that recording at 192 kHz:

  • takes 4 times the amount of CPU to handle the audio. You can record 4 tracks at 44.1 kHz and use the same amount of CPU that it would take for you to record one track at 192 kHz.
  • takes up 4 times the amount of space on your hard drive. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard enough time with filling up my hard drive too quickly, and I do everything at 44.1 kHz. I can’t imagine filling up my drives 4 times as fast.

What do you think? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let’s hear it. Leave a comment.