Sample Rates & Master Clocks

Firstly, before I forget, I just sent out my first tweet moments ago.  Please follow me or @adam_harley

“Truth Be Told” Recording Session at Production Deluxe in Larchmont NY

I have spent the past couple of days in Westchester NY tracking a mixture of traditional spiritual music and contemporary original music for Dana Holness’s upcoming record “Truth Be Told”.  The sessions went very well due to a proper amount of preproduction work, hiring the right professional musicians for the style of music and a well prepared studio:

Clocked in at 88.2K

When beginning a record there are many technical decisions that the engineer and producer have to make.  Which live rooms to use, separation or bleed, preamp/microphone combinations, should we compress to tape? One choice that I usually don’t think about too often is what sample rate I choose to track with.  Humans can generally hear between 20Hz and 20KHz.  44.1k CD quality audio captures that spectrum very well.  Most professional studios have the capability of recording at 192k which captures 4x more frequencies over 20KHz than CD quality audio. So you might ask, “why would we want to capture frequencies on a recording that are high above the abilities of human hearing?” What a great question!!!!! The simple answer is that just because we can’t hear something, dosen’t mean we can’t feel it.  Sound engineers don’t use the highest sample rate possible on every project because there are a few downsides.  Quality comes at a cost and in this case the cost is resources.  Higher fidelity files take up more disk space and in turn requires more processing power from everything including plug-ins needing more power from the DSP chips (Protools HD) and CPU.  For Dana’s record I decided to track at 88.2 – capturing twice the fidelity of CD quality audio.  So, I dialed in 88.2 on my Apogee Big Ben master clock.  A master clock is a device that syncs multiple (In my case 4) audio interfaces.  The result?  It sounds and feels spectacular 🙂

Here are my very, very general guidelines for sample rates.

1) Never work with anything below 44.1 unless you are going for an effect.

2)At the end of a session I have never kicked my self for choosing a higher sample rate than 44.1.  You can’t go wrong with 44.1.  Most people are unable to tell the difference between 44.1 and higher sample rates.

3)48k is standard for film.  With few exceptions, any 2.0 standard mix or 5.1 surround sound mix I perform is done in 48k.

4)88.2k is the next step up from 44.1k.  You might think that I forgot about 48k, but I didn’t.  IMHO 48k is pretty useless for music.  You don’t gain much frequency bandwith and it doesn’t convert down to 44.1 (most music projects end up at 44.1 at the end of the day) well.  I personally like tracking with 88.2 when I have live musicians playing together.  Usually music that people refer to as “jazzy” is what I use 88.2 for.  I feel like it captures something 44.1 leaves behind.

5)96k is the next step up for film from 48k.  I feel like with Blu-ray players and file based media it will soon be standard to mix all tv and film at 96.

6)176.4k – You can bet that the next classical record I work on will be at 176.4

4)192k – Honestly – I wouldn’t even know what to do with 192.  Any suggestions? (Obviously it should have to do with film…right?)

About Adam Harley

Veteran media content producer Adam Harley is always thrilled to be making compelling videos and great music for and with his amazing clients.
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