One of the questions I’ve been asking myself lately is “should I record in 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz”. However, the conclusion I arrived at may differ from the one you’ll hopefully arrive at by the end of this article. I’ll be taking you to the same process I went through to make my decision.
At the end of the day, I decided that I should be recording in 48 kHz. I based my decision on TWO factors: application and audio latency. You’ll need to ask yourself what purpose your music will be serving. You’ll also need to determine if recording at 44.1 kHz provides the optimal audio latency for your system. Did you know that higher sample rates result in lower audio latency? It’s true, but there’s also a catch… Keep reading to find out more!
- An introduction to sample rates
- Recording in 44.1 kHz (streaming, playback, etc…)
- Recording in 48 kHz (video, film, etc…)
- Increasing your sample rate decreases your audio latency
- Should you record in 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz?
An introduction to sample rates
Before getting started, I think it’s important for us to understand the significance of sample rates. The best way to visualize sample rate is to compare it to frame rate.
The quality of any video production relies on the amount of frames per second (FPS).
The quality of any music production relies on the amount of samples per second.
However, the difference in quality is much less perceivable when it comes to sound. It’s the same when it comes to video because we can’t really perceive anything higher than 60 FPS. Although, there would always “technically” be an improvement.
The threshold for audio is actually much lower than 44.1 kHz.
If you were to record in 20 kHz, it would actually sound perfectly fine!
I’m not going to dive too deep into this, but I simply want to illustrate my point. Although recording at higher sample rates would “technically” result in higher quality recordings, it won’t necessarily be perceivable to the human ear.
However, some people swear that they can hear a difference.
Here’s how I see/hear things:
- 44.1 kHz is comparable to 30 FPS
- 48 kHz is comparable to 60 FPS
- 96 kHz is comparable to 120 FPS
What I mean is that you’ll hear much more of a difference between 44.1 kHz/48 kHz than 48 kHz/96 kHz. However, I still don’t believe that sound quality should be your primary concern because that’s not how we find our optimal sample rate.
The following sections will elaborate on that.
Recording in 44.1 kHz (streaming, playback, etc…)
One of the main reasons you may want to hold back on increasing your sample rate is because you’ll most likely need to downsample your music. Streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and more all stream your music at 44.1 kHz.
That may change in the future, but for now streaming hi-fi music isn’t realistic.
That basically means that you’ll lose the sound quality you were striving for (that no mere human would even notice) and you’ll also be introducing some distortion into your mix.
That phenomenon is referred to as “dithering” if you’re interested in finding out more.
In other words, it would sound worse if you recorded in 96 kHz and then had to downsample to 48 kHz than if you had simply recorded in 48 kHz to begin. However, it’s still not that much of a difference, so you shouldn’t really worry about any of that.
If the primary purpose of your music is streaming/playback, stay at 44.1 kHz.
Keep in mind that projects with higher sample rates take more space. Recording and mixing at higher sample rates also takes up more CPU resources.
Is it really worth it?
That’s up to you to decide!
Recording in 48 kHz (video, film, etc…)
The reason I personally set my projects to 48 kHz (as of now) is because I intend to have my music placed in TV/Film. The current industry standard for picture is 48 kHz, so you’re better off recording in 48 kHz. Right?
It’ll still depend on some other factors, but generally, YES.
However, you can still export projects at 44.1 kHz as 48 kHz. There’s no reason to panic, but if you’re anything like me, you may want to start setting your projects to 48 kHz.
The difference in CPU load isn’t that drastic, but it depends on your computer’s overall performance to begin with. If you’re already struggling, you may want to hold back. There’s nothing wrong with recording at 44.1 kHz even for TV/Film.
Just keep in mind that you’ll usually be asked for files at 48 kHz.
If you’ve ever uploaded to music libraries like Pond5, you know the drill.
The only thing you’ll want to be careful with is converting pre-existing projects into 48 kHz. It may completely ruin your project, so I don’t recommend doing this.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Increasing your sample rate decreases your audio latency
One of the discoveries that surprised me the most is that increasing your sample rate actually decreases your audio latency. However, the catch is that it increases the load on your CPU.
For most of us though, going up to 48 kHz isn’t that much of a stretch.
I think that little move is completely worth it to slightly reduce your audio latency.
In other words, if your CPU can handle it and you’re planning to get your music placed in TV/Film, you may want to consider making the switch to 48 kHz. You’ll definitely want to make sure that your plugins are compatible, but most of them are!
96 kHz/192 kHz would require more preparation.
Either way, I simply saw the process of switching to 48 kHz as a balancing act. I’m not using anything top of the line, so I definitely benefited from the lower audio latency. I feel like I’m making the most out of my audio interface!
If you’re using a high-performance computer though, I would recommend going up to 48 kHz.
Regardless of the application, you’ll actually be increasing your audio latency by staying at 44.1 kHz which defeats the purpose of faster CPU performance.
Make some tests, see what works best for you!
Should you record in 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz?
I hope you’re finally ready to make one of the least important decisions in your music career! Seriously, it really doesn’t matter which sample rate you record at because you could easily export any project at any sample rate.
When in doubt, I’d stay with 48 kHz.
I wouldn’t advise going any higher than that UNLESS you’re making hi-fi music. For example, marketplaces such as HDTracks offer music at higher sample rates.
However, you still need to listen for yourself and determine if this actually makes a difference.
Just remember, human beings can only hear up to 20 kHz.
So, what’s the point of sampling any higher than that?
The answer to that question is VERY long and might surprise you. If you’re interested, I highly recommend checking out this video made by FabFilter. They explain it much better than I ever could, but it’s one of the sources that led me to my conclusion.
Which sample rate will YOU record at? Let us know in the comments!
Should I record in 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz? I personally chose 48 kHz because my music serves the TV/Film licensing industry and because it slightly lowered my audio latency. However, I’ve been recording in 44.1 kHz prior to this with no issues. I personally don’t hear any difference in terms of sound quality, but who knows, someone might! If you enjoyed this article, consider browsing some of my other content. Thanks for reading, now go make some music!