MP3 Bit Depth - 8 or 16



MP3 file software often talks about being able to make a MP3 file of 8-bit or 16-bit depth. What are the differences between bit depth in a MP3 file?

A bit is a basic unit of file storage on any computer system. Computers use binary notation to store all information. That is, they have a combination of 0 and 1 to make up their data. In binary notation, the first place can only be 0 or 1, standing for 0 or 1 of course. The second place then is for 2. The third place is for 4. So here are some regular numbers expressed in binary notation

00001 binary = 00001 decimal
00010 binary = 00002 decimal
00011 binary = 00003 decimal
00100 binary = 00004 decimal
00101 binary = 00005 decimal

and so on. If you have a binary number with 8 bits, or 8 places, you can therefore represent any number from 1 to 256. This is a very low number of possibilities for a range of musical information.

If you increase the storage size from 8 bits to 16 bits, you now can represent numbers up to 65,536. 65,536 is FAR more than just double 256 (i.e. 512). The huge increase in range results in a gigantic increase in quality of sound represented.

Therefore, it is always best to use the 16 bit storage option when saving audio files on your computer. It might seem worth it to "save half the space" - but you are losing FAR more than half the sound as a result. You are in essence losing over 100 times the sound quality, and it is just not a good tradeoff.

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