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24 vs 32-bit sound

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by Vilhelm, Aug 22, 2018.
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  1. Vilhelm
    Would there be a potential improvement in using 32-bit playback for details in sound which could improve gaming/music experience? I've got one 32-bit device already and looking to get a soundcard that happens to be 32-bit as well, just wondering if the 32-bit part is mostly marketing gimmicks or the future in SQ.

    Also wondering what happens to the sound when your DAP is 32-bit and you connect it to a 24-bit AMP/DAC?
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2018
  2. Vilhelm
    Creative Labs' Sound BlasterX AE-5 has a message for PC gamers: The sound card isn't dead. Unveiled on Monday morning, this is the company's first discrete product in more than five years, made especially for the audio needs of the gaming community.

    The PCIe sound card brings new features and a new level of specsmanship. The most attention-grabbing part is the 32-bit, 384KHz ESS ES9016K2M Sabre 32 Ultra DAC (digital audio converter). Looking at ESS' lineup, it's basically just a notch down from the DACs used for professional studio equipment. It's certainly a big step up from all previous consumer sound cards' 24-bit/192KHz DACs, and it's likely the first (consumer card, anyway) with a 32-bit DAC.

    32-bit: Better than a five-blade razer!
    Of course, there's a healthy debate in audio circles as to the merits of 32-bit. One side cynically says it's a waste of money and space, and well beyond what humans can hear. The other side argues what are ye, deaf?

    There is a clear difference, especially when lower-resolution audio is upsampled and resampled. CreativeLabs , in fact, says the 32-bit DAC gives the AE-5 "extra headroom" for upsampling and resampling multi-channel audio sources in gaming.

    The AE-5 supports 5.1 analog surround audio, but Creative Labs knows the vast majority of gamers use headphones these days. It built a new Xamp just for big-can use.

    Besides being able to drive up to 600-Ohm headphones, the Xamp uses a dual amp to drive each of the channels of the headphone.

  3. dwinnert
    I am not a pro at this, but from what I read, most audio equipment can't resolve greater than 20bit and usually max around 18bit. So the extra resolution is lost on the amp/headphone/speaker. Kinda like having a poor resolving lens on a 50MP camera sensor.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2018
  4. Speedskater
    At the DAC and ADC ends of things they struggle to get 21 bit resolution. But for advanced digital processing (inside the machine) 32 bit can be a good thing.
    colonelkernel8 and Vilhelm like this.
  5. JaeYoon
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2018
  6. dwinnert
    Yeah, listening and mixing are different animals..... :)
    JaeYoon likes this.
  7. PointyFox
    Most music has no where near 16 bits of dynamic range. 16 bit 44.1kHz sample rate is theoretically the point after which there is no improvement.
  8. 71 dB
    1. Absolutely not. Even 24 bit playback doesn't give improvement in consumer audio. 16 bit audio provides more than enough dynamic range (and detail). Optimally used 13 bits is enough for even the most demanding listening.

    2. It's completely marketing gimmicks. More is better to a certain point and that point is already reached in consumer audio with 16 bit audio. 16 bits is (much) better than 8 bits. That's it. We are done. Beyond that it's waste of bits.
    Vilhelm, JaeYoon and PointyFox like this.
  9. Kammerat Rebekka
    Vilhelm likes this.
  10. castleofargh Contributor
    a 32bit device can mostly mean 2 things while not being a total lie:
    - the device can read a 32bit file. meaning if you set your computer to output 32bit, the DAC will accept that 32bit signal and play some music. and that's about as far as the promise goes. the output signal will still be of very typical resolution. it's similar to listing an accepted input, like saying a DAC can natively play MP3 or that it has an optical input. the sound blaster mentioned is such a card, it can receive signals up to 32/384 and still play music, nothing more.
    - they have about 8bit fully dedicated to volume control, plus a classic so called 24bit system(again, can read 24bit but doesn't actually achieve 24bit of resolution even if the volume control part is at the nominal position). so they call it 32bit for the lolz. that kind might not even be able to read 32bit signal, in which case only the DAC chipset is calling itself 32bit while the DAC is a 24bit DAC.

    I think that's pretty much the current situation. did I miss something?
    Vilhelm likes this.
  11. gregorio
    1. It's not "mostly" a marketing gimmick, it's ENTIRELY a marketing gimmick! (see 3 below).
    2. No one knows in practice, because there are no 24bit AMPs/DACs. As mentioned by others, about 20bit is the maximum. In reality, the data beyond 20bits in the audio file you are reproducing is almost certainly nothing but noise and even if there were a tiny bit of useful data above the noise, it would be below the noise floor of the DAC itself. All of this is irrelevant though because even 18bits of useful data is almost certainly below the noise floor of your HPs or speakers anyway.

    3. This is a lie! There might be an unhealthy debate in audiophile circles but there is NO debate in audio circles, particularly in pro audio circles. Let's be absolutely clear here, 32bit is 24bit!! When you hear about 32bit, they're talking about 32bit float. A 32bit float word essentially comprises of 8bits reserved for the exponent and the remaining 24bits is the mantissa, where the actual audio data is stored. A 24bit fixed word does not have any bits reserved for an exponent and it's all effectively audio data. Therefore, both the 32bit float format and the 24bit fixed format contain 24bits of audio data (although again, at least the last 4+bits are just going to be noise anyway)! The ONLY potential merit of 32bit float is that if an audio clip occurs (0dBFS is exceeded) it can be recovered with 32bit float, whereas it cannot be with 24bit fixed.
    3a. It's got nothing to do with what humans can hear. 32bit float and 24bit fixed are in effect exactly the same thing and we can't reproduce anything beyond about 18bits anyway.
    3b. As 32bit float and 24bit fixed are effectively the exact same thing, there is no rational alternative but to argue "what are ye, completely gullible and deluded?"!!

    4. Marketing BS which takes advantage of common misunderstanding. (see next response).

    We have to be very careful here! We have to be careful to separate the processing environment from the audio file format, they are entirely separate and different things. This fact appears to be deliberately overlooked/confused by audiophile marketing. Let's use a 16bit example to look at what the marketing is implying: At it's maximum, 16bit gives us about 94dB of dynamic range. If we apply some processing to this 16bit file we are going to get some error, which in effect is going to be noise down at the -94dB level, which is no problem. However, if we apply lots of different processes, say 10 or so, we'll have far more error/noise, which will probably be audible. With 24bit (or 32bit) the error/noise starts at about -140dB and even the accumulated noise (error) from say 10 processors will still end up being well below the noise floor of any DAC and therefore be inaudible. So, 24 or 32bit would be obviously better in the case of several successive digital processing steps. ... Err "NO", this is NOT how it works in practice, this is not how it has ever worked!

    In practice, we have what is called a "mix environment". By the mid/late 1990's all commercial DAWs, audio editors and digital mixers had an internal mix environment of either 32bit float or 48bit fixed. Our 16bit file is loaded (or "played") into this mix environment and all processing occurs within this mix environment. The level of error/noise is therefore defined by the least significant bit of the mix environment, NOT the file format and in the case of say 48bit fixed, that's somewhere down around the -280dB level! So even the accumulated error/noise from dozens of successive processing steps remains way below audibility. In effect then, regardless of how many processing steps we have in the mix environment, what we end up with is just one processing step at 16bit, the step of coming out of the mix environment and into the 16bit file format ("bouncing the mix down"). Furthermore, it's standard practice to achieve this final step with noise shaped dither, which results in that error/noise being down at around -120dB.

    BTW, from the late 1980's to the mid 1990's digital mix environments were 20bit, which was still sufficient in some cases but almost all commercial mixing was done in the analogue domain during this period (and earlier). Today, commercial mix environment are virtually all 64bit float, which theoretically allows thousands of processing steps before the error/noise reaches the noise floor of even the best DACs. Obviously that's a bit ridiculous but there are some workflows which might require hundreds of processing steps (film/TV rather than music production) and therefore a 64bit mix environment *might*, in certain very rare circumstances, have some benefit.

    @Vilhelm taking all the above into account, there might be some advantage in the SoundBlaster card creating a 32bit float mix environment for performing processing (they mentioned resampling for example) but there is none whatsoever in the DAC chip itself being 32bit and no benefit in a 32bit file format.

    Last edited: Aug 23, 2018
  12. TheSonicTruth
    24 or 32bit for gaming or playback?

    Splitting hairs.
  13. Vilhelm
    For both gaming and music playback
  14. TheSonicTruth
    That's what I said.
  15. sonitus mirus
    It was confusing the way you stated your question, even if it might have been rhetorical. :ksc75smile:
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