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Correctly setting the audio sample rate for best audio quality (44.1kHz, 48kHz, 96kHz or 192kHz)

This page is a work in progress and could have significant changes. It is published at an early stage to group and facilitate discussion regarding this topic.

Both upsampling (44.1kHz file played at 48kHz or higher sample rate settings) and downsampling (48kHz or higher files played at 44.1kHz sample rate settings) affect the sound output, let's find out which setting is better.


Contents

  1. Intro
  2. At which sample rate the most media is
  3. Whether there is a benefit for the listener to have audio files with sample rate of 48kHz or higher
  4. Audio tests. What objective audio analysis says.
  5. Conclusion
Page updates

  • 01 Apr 2021: A work in progress version of the article was published
2. At which sample rate the most media is

Lets break which sample rate it's being used by the different media:

  • Music is mostly sampled at 44.1kHz. There are a few exceptions with hi-res music being sometimes at 48 kHz.
  • Videos:
    • DVD's use 48 kHz
    • Blu-ray movie disks use 48kHz and sometimes 96kHz and192kHz
    • Netflix video streams have audio sampled at 48kHz
    • Youtube 44.1 or 48 kHz depending on quality settings and the source material
  • Games are either 44.1kHz or 48kHz. It's hard to tell the sample rate of audio files in modern games because they are packed in more or less protected containers

Generally speaking, music quality is more important than audio quality of movies or games. Of course, one could have other priorities.

3. Whether there is a benefit for the listener to have audio files with sample rate of 48kHz or higher

For it to benefit for the listener to have audio files with sample rate of 48kHz, one has to have be able to hear frequencies up to 24kHz as a file sampled at 48kHz can contain frequencies up to 24kHz (48 divided by 2) and above 22.05kHz(44.1 divided by 2). Most adult humans don't come even close to this. You can test your hearing performance with the sample files from here. Mind you, the Windows and audio card settings have to be set to 48kHz for testing at that range.

4. Audio tests. What objective audio analysis says.

So both from the content and listener perspective having setting sample rate settings above 44.1kHz does not make much sense, the main question that remains if setting your sample rate settings one way or another is better for the outputted audio quality.

4.1. RMAA tests
2014 results

In the past I've done a couple of tests with RightMark Audio Analyzer (RMAA), checking the impact of different sound card and Windows playback sample rates settings it has on 44.1kHz and 48kHz sampled files. A particular set of tests that I have saved are from 2014 and from the looks of it they where done with RMAA 6.2.3 showed that for 44.1kHz files, setting card and Windows sample rates to 48kHz or above degraded the output.

2021-03-13 results

Redoing these tests in 2021 with RMAA 6.4.5, to my surprise the results look different as they show improved scores if sound card and Windows playback sample rates are set to 48kHz even for files sampled at 44.1kHz. At the moment I don't know what to make of these tests, if these tests that show improved scores are correct.

The 2021-03-13 RMAA 44.1 vs 48 vs 96 results can be downloaded from here.

4.2. FFT analyst ( to be done later)

The FFT of recording of media played with different sample rate settings and comparing each of them with the original recording should settle which setting is the best. 44.1 and 48kHz sample rate. This is a very time consuming and demanding process and I will do this at a later time.

 

Conclusion (to be done later)

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Useful for sound cards like:

  • ASUS Xonar DG, Xonar DGX, Xonar DG SI, Xonar DS, Xonar DSX, Xonar D1, Xonar D2, Xonar DX, Xonar D2X, Xonar HDAV, Xonar HDAV Slim, Xonar Essence ST, Xonar Essence STX, Xonar Essence STX II, Xonar Xense, Xonar U1, Xonar U3, Xonar U5, Xonar U7, Xonar AE 7.1, Xonar SE, Xonar EssenceOne, Xonar Essence STU, ROG Xonar Phoebus, ROG Thunderbolt and Xonar D-Kara
  • C-Media CMI8786, CMI8787 and CMI8788 audio chip based cards: Auzentech X-Meridian & X-Meridian 2G; HT Omega Claro, Claro Plus, Claro II, Claro Halo, eClaro; Razer Barracuda AC-1; AIM Audio SC8000
  • ASUS Strix Raid and Strix Soar; ASUS SupremeFX;
  • Creative Sound Blaster Z, Sound Blaster Zx, Sound Blaster ZxR, Sound BlasterX AE-5, Sound BlasterX AE-9, Sound BlasterX G5, Sound BlasterX G6, SXFI AMP and Sound Blaster Audigy.
  • Realtek ALC1220, ALC1150, ALC880, ALC882, ALC883, ALC885, ALC886, ALC887, ALC888, ALC889, ALC892, ALC898, ALC899
  • EVGA NU Audio
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