44.1kHz vs 48kHz Audio – Which Is Better?

When working on your audio project, Pro Tools and other DAWs allow you to select a sample rate. With Pro Tools 12, you can choose from 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, and 96 kHz.

44.1 kHz and 48 kHz are the two most-used options but which one should you choose? The answer may depend on the format.

What Is the Difference Between 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz Audio?

These sample rates are measured in kilohertz (kHz) and reference the number of samples played in one second of audio. However, these sample rates really capture audio at half the frequency listed.

For example, when recording 44.1 kHz audio, you are capturing frequencies up to the 22 kHz range. When sampling at 48 kHz, you are really capturing frequencies up to 24 kHz.

The difference between 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz is miniscule when you consider that one second is an incredibly short span of time. However, some people prefer to record at a higher sample rate.

Is there any advantage to recording at 48 kHz? Recording at a higher sample rate offers a combination of pros and cons, depending on the output format.

Can You Hear the Difference Between 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz?

It is important to note that humans cannot hear the difference between 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz audio.

While some people claim that they notice a slight improvement in audio quality when selecting the higher audio rate, research indicates that 20 kHz is the limit to human hearing.

When audio CDs were first released, engineers used Nyquist’s Theorem. This theorem stated that the sample rate needs to be double the highest frequency that you want to reproduce.

To ensure that the audio CD covered the entire frequency spectrum that is audible to humans, engineers used the 44.1 kHz sample rate.

Pros and Cons of Using a 44.1 kHz Sample Rate

The main benefit of sticking with a 44.1 kHz sample rate is that the lower sample rate puts less demand on your computer. You do not need to utilize as much RAM and CPU power when using a lower sample rate.

The file sizes also tend to be smaller, which may be a factor when sharing audio files with collaborators over the Internet or saving space on your hard drive.

As humans cannot hear the difference between 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz audio, there is also less need to use the higher sample rate.

You should also consider the format that you plan to use when delivering your final mix. The standard format for audio CDs is 16-bit/44.1 kHz. If you record at a higher sample rate, the sample rate needs to be converted to 44.1 kHz.

Older conversion software would produce distortion or a loss of quality when converting integers. These same issues do not apply when converting 88.2 kHz to 44.1 kHz or 96 kHz to 48 kHz.

However, when converting from 48 kHz to 44.1 kHz, your mix may not sound as good. Basically, if you are planning to burn your music to CD, 44.1 kHz remains your best option.

Pros and Cons of Using a 48 kHz Sample Rate

While you cannot hear the difference between 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz sample rates, there are a few minor differences when it comes to editing the master.

Using a 48 kHz sample rate offers slightly more headroom for tweaking your mix. If you decide to go back and edit the master, the 48 kHz sample rate offers more flexibility, especially when working with high frequencies such as the sounds produced by cymbals and high hats.

A higher sample rate also reduces the risk of aliasing. Aliasing occurs when the different frequencies become less distinguishable due to artifacts not getting filtered out. You also get lower latency rates with higher sample rates.

Basically, a higher sample rate helps to produce a cleaner sound. However, the difference will not be noticeable in the final output.

You may also use a higher sample rate for burning audio to CDs without using 48 kHz. For example, 88.2 kHz offers twice the frequency range compared to 44.1 kHz, allowing you to reduce the risk of aliasing and higher latency rates.

Down-sampling from 88.2 kHz to 44.1 kHz is also less likely to produce distortion when using older conversion software. However, the latest conversion methods have helped to eliminate this problem. There is now no difference between down-sampling 48 kHz or 88.2 kHz to 44.1 kHz.

What Audio Sample Rate Should You Use?

Choosing the sample rate for your audio depends on several factors. For the typical producer, band, or solo artist, a 44.1 kHz sample rate should meet your needs.

88.2 kHz may offer more headroom for higher frequencies and can be down-sampled without loss or aliasing. However, it also increases the demands on your computer and the risk of Pro Tools crashing on an older computer.

48 kHz, 96 kHz, and 192 kHz are recommended for digital formats, DVDs, and audio to be used in a video. 48 kHz is the standard sample rate for these formats.

What Bit Depth Should You Use for Your Audio?

Besides the sample rate, you also need to consider the bit depth for your audio. A higher bit depth offers more dynamic range. Audio CDs allow 16-bit audio while DVDs and some digital formats allow 24-bit audio.

In most cases, it is best to stick with 24-bit audio. It is becoming the standard and is used by most modern formats.

With sample rates, you can down-sample to convert to a lower sample rate. With the bit depth, you can truncate the audio or use dithering. Truncation can create distortion while dithering allows you to create 16-bit audio from 24-bit tracks without any noticeable loss.

Last Thoughts on 44.1 kHz Versus 48 kHz Audio

In the end, 44.1 kHz, 88.2 kHz, and 176.4 kHz sample rates remain the preferred options for studio recording when outputting to a CD. However, if your audio is to be used in a video or delivered on a digital format, 48 kHz and its derivatives may provide the better option.

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