Dithering is one of those topics that music producers and sound engineers love to share their opinions on.
You probably have come across this term once or twice in your music production research, but what is dithering?
It is a music production technique that has something to do with the fundamentals of digital audio production.
It may sound a little complicated at first, but I will try my best to help you understand.
I hope you will learn what dithering is and when to use it after reading this guide.
What Exactly is Dithering?
The process of dithering is adding dither to a track.
Dither is a low-level noise that engineers add to their audio tracks to reduce errors when changing the bit depth.
You’ll probably think adding noise will only make the track sound messy and the other way around.
Dither may be a noise, but it is too low and unnoticeable.
It is more like a random vibration, and the term itself means nervous vibration.
The noise that dithering produces helps increase the accuracy of digital audio.
When Should I Use Dithering?
It is not always the best practice to dither all of your tracks.
Here is a helpful guide to know when the best time is to use dithering:
Using dithering is best to keep the accuracy of digital audio when changing file types.
However, if you do not have to change a 24-bit/ 44.1KHz audio track, you won't need to use dithering.
It means less work for you if you just keep your digital audio files in that bit depth.
If you have to change it for some reason, feel free to use dither to maintain quality when downsampling.
If a track is in 32-bit, you do not need to add dither. In some DAWs, the option of adding dither would be grayed out as it is not necessary.
If you are sending 32-bit digital audio files, you can save yourself from work.
To make the job easier for you, you can leave the dithering to the person you hired to master your tracks.
Within your DAW, you do not have to dither the files.
However, if you are exporting your data, or render the audio, add dither for a more accurate sound out of your DAW.
Exporting can change the level of accuracy of the track you created, so it is best to add dither in this case.
Here is some extra insight for those who are new to the subject:
What is Digital Audio?
Digital audio is the audio file that is created on your computer.
When you are listening to the playback in your DAW, the soundcard or audio interface is translating the digital audio into an analog signal.
Some people even purchase a DAC or digital-analog converter for more accurate digital audio conversion when monitoring.
Sample Rate or Bit-depth
Whenever you start a project with your DAW, you are given the option to choose the preferred bit depth.
Selecting a bit depth is actually selecting the accuracy of files you create for the project.
Each additional bit will increase the resolution measured by your audio interface.
The best bit depth is 24-bit.
It makes it easy for mastering since there is enough headroom for adding effects and editing.
Dithering Can Reduce The Possibility of Audio Error
It is best to stick with the bit depth you selected when you started the project.
Reducing the sample rate can cause a digital error and might ruin your work.
But since you might have to lower the bit depth at some point during your recording process, it is best to learn how to do it correctly without any errors.
When your files leave your DAW, it may cause audio mistakes that will add distortion and harsh noise to your tracks.
The proper use of dithering will fix these said errors.
How Dithering Works
From your DAW, the audio you create and record is at full resolution.
Exporting or bouncing the track into one audio file can cause error or distortion because it is compressing all your tracks to a small file.
The tracks are dramatically reduced in depth, making the track unrecognizable.
Once you add dither when exporting the track, it can retain the resolution of the tracks even if the sample rate is reduced.
- Where can I find the Dithering option on my DAW?
When you are about to render, export, or bounce the project into an MP3, AAC, AIFF, or Wav file, you will find it in the options before pressing export.
Most DAWs such as Ableton will gray out the dithering option when it is not necessary.
However, if your bit depth is around 24-bits, you will need to add dither to reduce error.
- What is rounding and truncating?
These terms mean shaving off some information off a digital audio file but getting the least damage.
Let's say a 24-bit audio track and make them 16-bit without affecting the quality that much.
Truncation may be the least accurate way of the two choices because it rounds off a number in half that leads to error.
Adding dither or random vibration helps when deciding when to round up or round down.
By adding dither, the distortion caused by truncation is reduced, ultimately fixing a track.
Dithering might seem complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, the quality of your tracks will get better, especially when recording analog audio from an audio interface.
Becoming a sound engineer requires you to know what these terms mean.
After reading this article, I hope that you have a better understanding of the role of bit depth and dither is when recording audio.
Adding dither is very easy, it pops up every time you export your audio from a DAW.
The challenging part is when to use dithering.
After reading this article, maybe you can try creating a project and try to use dither when exporting the finished project and see the difference with or without it.