Bit Rates for Home Recordings - dummies

By Jeff Strong

The bit rate determines the quality of your encoded music. When you encode your home recording, you have to choose your file’s bit rate. Bit rates range from 20 to 320 kilobits per second (Kbps). The higher the bit rate, the better the sound quality. The downside is that higher bit rates create larger files. When you convert your music to MP3 format, you’re constantly balancing quality with file size.

The bit rate that you ultimately choose depends on how you plan to use your MP3 or AAC file. For example, if you want to put your music on a downloadable music host site (a website that makes people’s MP3 or AAC music available for download), you most likely need to choose the 128 Kbps rate because this is what many host sites require for download.

For Hi-Fi mode you may choose 192 Kbps or even 256 Kbps, depending on the provider. On the other hand, if you want to stream audio on the web, and you want anyone (regardless of connection speed) to hear it, you’re better off choosing a lower rate, such as 96 Kbps or even lower, depending on your host’s requirements.

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Variable bit rate (VBR) is an option that many MP3 encoders offer. VBR allows the encoder to change the bit rate as it compresses the file. The advantage of this approach is that sections with fewer instruments or less data can be compressed further than sections with more critical information.

The result is often a better-sounding MP3 file that takes up less space. The only drawback — and it’s a big one — is that not all MP3 players can read a file created with VBR. So, you’re probably better off not using this approach for your web-based files.

If you’re making MP3s to listen to through your own player and it supports VBR playback, using VBR keeps your files smaller. If you do choose VBR, you’re prompted to choose an average bit rate or a minimum and maximum bit rate. Try them both and choose the one that sounds best to you.