Is Recording at 1-Bit Better than 24-Bit?


The world of pro audio is filled with confusing nomenclature and contradictions. For example, turning on a low pass filter will cut high frequencies, and recording at 1 bit with the Korg MR-2 portable field recorder can yield better results than using higher bit rates. Check out this post to learn more about the MR-2's powerful 1-bit DSD technology, and how it may be the best sounding hand-sized recorder out there.

The unusual 1-bit recording capability in the Korg MR-2 is called Direct Stream Digital (DSD). It's the same format used in Super Audio Compact Discs (SACD), which makes the Korg MR-2 worthy of an audiophile's critical ear. Explaining the basic process of DSD sound capture starts to sound like rocket science in no time. For example, DSD recreates audio signals using pulse-density modulation encoding, and stores the signal as delta-sigma modulated digital audio. Does that mean anything to you? It sure doesn't mean anything to me.

In layman's terms, when you use the DSD technology in the Korg MR-2, you will be capturing sound at 64 times the sampling rate of a standard compact disc. Instead of a CD's 44.1 kHz sampling rate, your audio will be recording at 2.8224 MHz, which gives you a fidelity that cannot be achieved with a standard 24-bit recording device. That's pretty impressive stuff for a little battery-powered gadget that fits in your pocket! What's nice is that when you don't need to make the world's finest recordings, you can set the MR-2 to record at mere mortal formats, such as good old 48 kHz 24-bit WAV, compressed MP3, 192 kHz 24-bit, etc. You have lots of file quality options with the Korg MR-2.

So, to answer the question of whether you should record audio at 1-bit or 24-bit, it depends entirely on your equipment. If you have a recorder like the Korg MR-2, and you want to capture the best sound quality possible, then you should definitely use 1-bit DSD. If you're using a standard digital audio recorder, then I recommend using a higher bit rate.  As compelling as 1-bit DSD recording technology is, you shouldn't underestimate the importance of bit depth in digital recording. Standard compact discs use 16-bit audio. I don't own a Korg recorder with DSD technology, so when I record I always set my equipment to capture sound at 24 bit. Generally speaking, the higher you set the bit depth, the better your recordings will sound. DSD audio is a completely different digital protocol, and I don't want its 1-bit architecture to confuse you.

The Korg MR-2 has two tripod mounts, at the bottom and on the back

When you make a DSD recording with the Korg MR-2, you can play it back from the device itself while the sound file is in this format. Once you transfer the file to a computer through its USB 2.0 port (the MR-2 records to SD and SDHD cards), you can change the format of the audio file from 1-bit DSD to any kind of audio file you need with the included AudioGate audio format conversion software. This is what's really nice about using the DSD format. Since you can use the AudioGate software to change your original into any kind of audio file you need, your recordings will be "future proof." This makes it a great option for archival purposes.

The included AudioGate software allows you convert 1-bit recordings to any audio file type you need.

A recording is only as good as the microphone that's used, which is why the Korg MR-2 features an excellent sounding stereo electret condenser mic. The stereo microphones are mounted in a perfect X-Y configuration, and you can rotate them 210 degrees to find the sweet spot for a recording. There's a stereo mini-plug input for an external microphone, a stereo mini-plug input for a line-level signal, and a stereo mini-plug headphone output. Musicians will appreciate the built-in chromatic guitar tuner. The Korg MR-2 runs on 2 AA batteries, or on USB bus power when connected to a computer (it's Mac and Windows compatible).

If you're intrigued by this 1-bit technology but you don't happen to need it in a hand-held recorder, DSD recording is also available in the Korg MR-2000s (a rack-mountable version with XLR inputs and a built-in 80GB hard drive), and the Korg MR-1000 (a battery-powered field recorder with XLR inputs and a built-in 40GB hard drive).

If you have any questions about these recorders, we encourage you to post them in the Comments section!

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Good article, but I don't understand how the fact that a low-pass filter cuts the highs is confusing. Low pass - the low frequencies pass, the high ones don't. Pretty clear cut to me. 

1-bit files are more data consumptive than most of the standard recording formats:

The 1-bit file formats are on the right side of the table:

DSDIFF a 1-bit format used in the production of Super Audio CDs (SACD)

DSF a 1-bit format used in some PC's (such as Sony Vaio's)

WSD is a 1-bit format that was defined by the "1-Bit Audio Consortium"

As you can see, all 3 of the 1-bit formats require 1GB to record 22 minutes of audio. The Korg MR-2 is compatible with 32 GB SDHC cards, which would give you over 11 hours of recording time.

Korg is the only brand that I'm aware of that's currently adopting the DSD format into their recorders. I suppose it's a bit of a gamble because DSD isn't a widely used format. However, since the MR-2 can also record in standard WAV and MP3 formats, you aren't really risking much. The whole point of this device is to give you the powerful option to select the highest recording resolution possible, in the event that you need it. I know if life ever presented me with a once-in-a-lifetime recording opportunity, I'd be grateful to have the option of capturing a 1-bit 2.8 MHz recording of it.

How much bigger are raw 1-bit files than their 24-bit "mortal" counterparts? I'm intrigued by 1-bit technology but skeptical that other parts of my workflow - like storage devices and upload/download bandwidth - could handle a massive increase in file sizes.

Also, is AudioGate proprietary? Are there any other brands than Korg moving towards a 1-bit system?