Tutorial Tuesday: What is Bitrate and why is it Important?

If you have exported any audio on a DAW, you have been asked what Bitrate you would like to export to.  What is that and what is the difference?

Bitrate refers to the number of bits—or the amount of data—that are processed over a certain amount of time. In audio, this usually means kilobits per second. For example, the music you buy on iTunes is 256 kilobits per second, meaning there are 256 kilobits of data stored in every second of a song.

How does this effect your final product?  It’s much like a photo’s resolution.  The larger the resolution the more detail you will see, but the more space it takes up on your computer.  The important thing to remember is, that our ears, like our eyes can only accept so much data at once.  So using the highest bitrate, or resolution in case of photos, is not really necessary.  In the digital age, we are trying to save computer space and make it easier to share files, but this is where Lossless or “Lossy” audio occurs.  Think of a pixalated image, if you save it as a lower resolution, you can never get those pixals back.

If you’re listening to your music with a pair of crappy earbuds on your iPod, however, you probably aren’t going to notice a difference between a 128 kbps file and a 320 kbps file, let alone a 320 kbps file and a 1,411 kbps file.  Your earbuds are like the shrunken-down version of the image: they’re going to make those imperfections much harder to notice, since they won’t put out as big a range of sound.

This is why iTunes makes their bitrate 256 kbps.  You can’t tell the difference and it saves more room for you.

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