Why High Sample Rates Help with Stereo Imaging - B(L)og 012

Updated: Dec 27, 2021

It’s 2021 and a true blue sampler that adheres to the antiquated AD/DA conversion methods that classic samplers used are nonexistent. In order to really have a sampler behave like the ones of old we have to actually use those old classics.

We do pay a lot of attention and care in pursuing lower sample rates. Yep I know but; Why haven’t we really explored the benefits of higher sample rates? Has digital audio reached its apex? Is there nothing above 48khz that’s worth paying attention to? That is what we’re going to look at in this 12th B(L)og.

What Do We Typically Think of Digital Audio

On average we tend to break down digital audio into two possible constituents. Bit Depth and Sample Rate. The bonded twins that by far are the most known elements pertaining to the creation of digital audio.

Broadly we perceive the responsibilities of each as the following:

Bit depth = Dynamic Range (Volume and subsequently the perception of audio compression)

Sample Rate = Audio Frequency Spectrum (Bass - Treble and subsequently the perception of audio resolution)

This has essentially caused us en masse to look to each for these aspects exclusively.

Bit depth we can discuss another day but as for sample rate; Is there anything more that we can gain other than a frequency response above human hearing range? I think there is. I arrived at this decision by complete happenstance so don’t take my word as law but feel free to read on if you want to know my reasoning.

So here goes. Sample rates dictate the actual rate/frequency that a digital system will audit an incoming analog audio signal. A lower sample rate will visit the original analog signal less frequently, and a higher one will visit a whole lot more.

By visiting more frequently a digital system gets to see a whole lot more about what’s going on with the analog signal. Have you ever had a nosey guest visit your home? Could you imagine that they had the gall to comment on every item in your home that they noticed?

The conversation would go something like this:

“Hey I noticed your brand new blender in your kitchen cupboard. Nice colour!

You’d be like:

“How’d you even see that? I think it’s time for you to leave!”

That’s exactly what high sample rates do. They see a lot more than lower sample rates. And they remember it too! Sample rates document everything that happens within their allotted frequency range in detail. That means more than “Low Bass & Hi Treble” it also means that it documents the localization of the sampled audio at every possible moment within the stereo field! That’s a major thing! One of the main distinguishing factors noted between analog and digital audio is the limited perception of width and depth. Analog audio just naturally sounds wide and inviting. Left is way left and Right is way right and everything in-between is just beautifully placed. With digital audio things still can seem pretty flat, jagged and at its worst smeared.

While stable clocking does play its part, here’s where high sample rates can help you also. I think in order to better capture localize and reproduce moving audio in the stereo field, high resolution audio is needed.

What’s moving audio and why would it move within the stereo field? Great question! The easiest example I could give is good ole reverb! Reverb is never still. It’s hard to pin down. It’s a multi-clustered event that spreads and proliferates between your speakers. It’s really unpredictable and you need a really high sample rate to document its many movements. Because if you don’t it sounds disjointed. And disjointedness is a classic tell of poor quality digital audio. It typically prohibits the listener from believing that they’re listening to natural sounding audio. What’s the governing standard for natural audio? Analog acoustic audio!

If you find yourself recording digital audio that does have a lot spatial activity like reverb, or erratic music that flies around the stereo spectrum, I’d really recommend recording at a sample rate of 96khz or higher.

Sample rates capture a wide frequency spectrum well beyond the human hearing range but they can also pin down the location of audio within the stereo field.

Overall sample rates not only contribute to the frequency spectrum but the width and depth of audio within the stereo field. As I mentioned earlier I stumbled on this by recording my samplers over the years. Every time I would track out a beat it would never sound quite like it did going through my mixer. I decided to up my sample rate to 96khz. Same audio interface. Same setup. What I got was a more realistic depiction of the audio that was originally coming out my speakers. Even though I was recording digital samplers converted to analog and then captured by a digital DAW the resulting audio was more width and generally easier to listen to.

Now you can try it for yourself or just write it off as crazy talk. Either way it’s worth a try and at the very least you now have another theoretical trick to file away in your creative arsenal. It may be useful one day.

Thanks for reading!



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