Blame it on video

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Blame it on video

One of the more interesting irritants in the recording and playback of digital audio is the great divide between pro and consumer.

The crux of it is this. The pros making the recordings we listen to use sample rates based on an old standard of 48kHz. The consumers playing their work back (you and me) use sample rates based on an equally old standard of 44.1kHz.

The two sample rates are not compatible.

To make a CD, or an SACD, the original recording by a "pro" must be converted by a sample rate converter from its origin of a 48kHz rate (or its multiples of 96kHz, or 192kHz) to the new (and mathematically challenging and non-divisible) consumer rate of 44.1kHz (for CD) or 2,822,400 for an SACD (the direct conversion from the original recording to DSD would be 3,072,000).

Because, at Octave Records, we are proudly not pros, we record and master everything without this stupid conversion fiasco. Everything we do, from the original DSD256 (FYI: 256 means 256 times higher sample rate than the base sample rate of CD's 44.1kHz), to our easily divisible offerings of 44.1kHz, 88.2kHz, 176.4kHz, 352.8kHz, and DSDs 64, 128, and 256.

How did these two incompatible standards get to be this way?

Blame it on video.

For us consumers of media, the choice of 44.1 kHz for CDs was a result of technological limitations and design decisions made in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Philips and Sony chose 44.1 kHz to allow for the reuse of existing analog video equipment for digital audio recording and processing. The equipment used in these processes was based on the NTSC video standard, where the master clock of 44.1 kHz could be derived from dividing down the 3.58 MHz NTSC color subcarrier frequency. 

For the creators of our media, 48 kHz works well with both NTSC (US) and PAL (European) video systems, allowing for easy synchronization between audio and video. It is also easily divisible into common frame rates used in video, making it more straightforward for audio-video synchronization in post-production.

So the vast majority of everything you listen to was captured by the pros at a sample rate that makes video happy, and then begrudgingly converted to something the folks that it was actually intended for can use.

Lastly, with modern recording equipment used by 100% of every pro studio in the world, what would it take to change that behavior? What would be required when making an album to use the correct sample rate?

Two things: a new mindset focused on quality, and the click of a mouse.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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