Bitrate – Tips for DJs
Bitrate is something that every DJ needs to know about yet a lot of beginners don’t. Every new DJ needs to know from the start of their journey what bitrate is and what it means otherwise there could be a lot of wasted time further down the road.
So what is bitrate?
Bitrate is a unit of measurement. In basic terms it is how many ‘bits’ of data are processed every second in a piece of audio. The higher the bitrate, the better the quality!
Yes, but before we move on, lets geek out for a second. Get the nerd goggles on and listen carefully. I hear you asking why are there different bitrates? Why isn’t all music high quality? Who would want low quality music to listen to?
When any piece of music or audio is made it has to be saved from its original recording into a universal format, something that can be played on the radio, online, on iTunes, in the clubs etc. For this to happen the producer or artist has to save the music into a listenable music file.
Music File Formats
Here are the main music file formats you will come across as a DJ and what they mean. All these formats will have different bitrates depending on how they have been saved.
This is an uncompressed music file. This means either none or very little data has been lost while saving the piece of music. Its file size is quite large but it is full quality, we will see that this file has a large bitrate!
This is a compressed file, a piece of music that has been squished into a much smaller file yet retaining a good level of quality. This means it takes up much less space on your computer than .wav files however still provides good quality, as long as the bitrate is high!
Developed by Apple. This is their version of a WAV file. Uncompressed and full in sound quality, still with a much bigger file size than and MP3 or AAC.
This is considered the new mp3. Better sound quality is achieved at similar bitrates to mp3. If we buy any song from iTunes, this is the file format it will be in. It is also much smaller in file size to the WAV & AIFF.
What to look out for.
Now you know this we can talk about what to look our for as a DJ downloading new music.
MP3s are usually the most common file to download. The quality of these can vary so here is what we need to look out for!
The key number is 320.
This is the bitrate!
We can also commonly get MP3s with a bitrate of 256, 192 & 128Kbps. The lower the bitrate, the lower the quality.
All of these bitrates mentioned will sound great on your laptop speakers or iPod headphones, which is why a lot of new DJs don’t realize its importance.
If we take a track with a bitrate or 128Kbps and play it on a large club/bar sound system however, the amplified volume makes the track sound worse in quality compared to a 320Kbps track. The bigger and better the sound system, the more obvious the lack of quality becomes, and as a DJ we want to make sure we sound the best we can. If the song is a low bitrate it sounds almost like the track is being played under water.
How do I find out what the Bitrate is?
Here are some pointers:
Music purchased from the iTunes store is 256Kbps. (Nearly full quality and normally sounds fine in a club)
Music downloaded from record stores online such as Beatport is either 320Kbps MP3 files or uncompressed WAV files depending on which option you select.
To view the bitrate on various DJ and music programs such as iTunes, Serato DJ, Traktor and RekordBox simply right click on the title bar (where is says track, artist, album etc) and select bitrate.
Now you can see the bitrate and check that your music files are good quality before playing them out in clubs!
The main rule of thumb is try not to play anything under 256Kbps, however 320Kbps is what to look for when downloading!
Uncompressed files such as .WAV & .AIFF will be 1411Kbps, 2304Kbps and so on. Obviously these are large files but also perfect quality.
Now go have some fun downloading good quality music!