This guest post comes from Barry Gardner, mastering engineer at SafeandSound online mastering
The 24 bit advantage
These days almost all digital audio workstations have the option to record and operate at 24 bit resolution. In fact it is highly likely that the vast majority of musicians and engineers are already setting their DAW’s up to work at 24 bit. 24 has a number of advantages over operating at 16 bit. I am going to explain a very important advantage which may not be as obvious. It relates to mixing reference levels on your stereo master output bus. Firstly we have to look at record levels because this is where the initial advantages occur. When you record at 24 bit resolution you have a much greater theoretical dynamic range. This means that the noise floor of the recording in the digital realm is much lower than recording at 16 bit. It is theoretically 48 dB lower than at 16 bit. So as a consequence there is no need to record anywhere as hot as when using 16 bit. In fact, a suggested recording level for 24 bit would be to have an average signal level of -18dBFS. You could even have peak signals at this level without detriment to audio fidelity. With peaks at -18dBFS at 24 bit your noise floor is still theoretically 30dB better than that at 16bit. An additional bonus effect is that to obtain peak levels of -18dBFS your mic preamps, compressors and mixer channels will be operating at a lower electrical level which means a cleaner and clearer recording.