The 16th bit

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The 16th bit
We should feel sorry for the 16th bit. You know, the last little guy in the digital word of a CD, the ending of the ubiquitous 44.1/16. The technical term for the 16th bit in the digital word is "least significant". Imagine if you were the last child in the family and your parents referred to you as the least significant child. (Of course, if you had the devil in you as I did you'd likely have gotten away with plenty more as no one would notice you). If it weren't bad enough to be the least significant in the family, my friends Robert Becker, Dave Fletcher, "Prof." Keith O. Johnson and Michael "Pflash" Pflaumer, were guilty of doing away with number 16 altogether when they launched HDCD. Number 16 was ruthlessly stripped of even its insignificant role as tiny musical data supplier and relegated to that of a mere toggle for greater bit depth in downstream gear. Instead of adding its tiny contribution to actual information, HDCD now condemned it to a mere switch: sitting idly by or just dithering around. And if you've not yet mustered any pity for the 16th bit, just think of how badly it must feel when it lost its last-place least significant status to higher bit rate formats of 20 and 24 bits. At least last place had some distinctive merit. No, it's really quite the shame. The 16th bit just can't win for losing.
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Paul McGowan

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