Bit-Crushing: Distorting Digital Audio On Purpose

Updated On
06-Aug-2013
By
Ken

Usually when I talk about digital audio and things like bit-depth (see our post - 16-Bit Audio Recording – What The Heck Does It Mean?) and Sampling Frequency (see our post - What Is Sampling Frequency?), The presumed goal is that you want your audio to be as clear and clean (free from noise) as possible. But believe it or not, there are times, especially in modern electronic dance music (EDM) when you may WANT to do the opposite. That is, you want a nasty, distorted audio sound as an effect.

In the analog days, distortion was created when physical devices, like amps, tubes, or other components in the signal, were overloaded. This is how you get that rock and roll "power chord" sound. You did it on purpose. In the digital world, things are a bit (ha!) different. You can get distortion by lowering (when to get "good audio," you'd think "higher is better") things like bit-depth and sampling frequency. By doing that, you are changing the shape of the audio wave form from typically curvy, to "squared off" of jagged. It's more to do with digital audio conversion than physical gear.

That digital audio distortion and "lo-fi" sound is often sought in electronic music, and one of the common methods is called "bit-crushing." That basically means, for example, taking something down from 16-bit to 8-bit. Here is an article that explains that in a bit more detail:

http://www.musicradar.com/us/tuition/tech/distortion-saturation-and-bitcrushing-explained-549516

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