16 bit vs 32 bit audio. What’s the big fuss?
As sound mixer, producer and video editor I’ve been responsible for many, many hours of production audio and making it work in film and TV and I’ve never been in a situation where I thought 32 bit audio was necessary. There is no appreciable difference for the finished film of using a properly recorded 24 bit recording over a 32 bit recording.
Never in over 20 years of experience have I encountered a situation where 32 bit audio would have fixed anything. Are there situations where 32 bit audio can help? Of course there are but most are not important for your average person creating content for film, television or the web.
When is 32 useful for recording audio?
32 bit audio has the ability to create more headroom for audio capture. This is useful when capturing sound effects with a large variability of loudness. Something like a canon, a gunshot or maybe a race car. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to use 32 bit for this as I’ve captured lots of gunshots and cars without the benefit of 32 bit and had my audio used on national broadcasts. Properly gain staging these noises and using high-quality limiters engaged correctly will yield similar results.
Another use for 32 bit audio might be when no one is monitoring an audio recording and there’s potential for the audio to get too soft or too loud. I’ve done many “bag drops” where I leave a recorder recording in a vehicle while actors or interviewers do their bit without anyone monitoring levels with zero issues. However, 32 bit can provide that safety net for an inexperienced professional or someone just learning their craft.
Why not use 32 bit audio recording?
99% of the time the video editor and the sound editor will have to do more work dealing with non-standard audio files. So unless 32 bit audio files are specifically requested by post (not the line producer), they probably shouldn’t be used.
Most professional equipment does not create 32 bit files. For most of us that work day to day in film and television would need to bring additional specialized equipment to record in 32 bit. Currently 32 bit is offered on prosumer level equipment like the Sound Devices Mix Pre Series and the Zoom F series. These are both quality recording devices but not always suitable for professional jobs like television news production or work on a movie set where multiple inputs and outputs needed including things like interruptible fold back and team communications. For example it’s not uncommon for me to need to feed 6 or more outputs on a single production in addition needing to input 10 or more sources.
Do I need a 32 Bit Audio Recorder?
Unless you’re recording sound effects the answer is probably not. And even if you’re recording sound effects it’s still probably no. Would it be helpful for you to have a 32 audio recorder? If you’re doing one man band production it may be helpful to have a bit of a safety net regarding your audio levels. If you do use 32 Bit recording be sure to allow for the extra time in post production to deal with the files just as you would with RAW video files.
32 bit audio recording can be a useful tool in some cases but for the time being will not be the standard as it doesn’t currently fit standard TV and Film post workflows. As competing power increases and software and production gear evolves this may change.Posted on: March 17, 2023, by : Jimmy Gilmore