What is Bitrate and why does it matter?

Aah, music! One of the best ways to plug out from the world and enjoy life. Digital music is the norm now, and one of the most commonly thrown around terms when it comes to the same. However, do all of us know what it means? We’ve probably seen the term “bitrate” or files that have “kbps” right at the end. 

If you’re someone who listens to a lot of music digitally, then knowing these terms can give you an idea of how much data you’re using. In simpler words, the bitrate can be defined as the amount of data a music file produces every second.

For example, something like “320 kbps” means 320 kilobits per second. This is an indicator of the amount of data that is being produced. In order to simplify things, we’ve broken down how bitrate impacts music.


Bitrate and its effect on music:

You might see bitrates attached to lossy files, such as OGG, Vorbis, AAC, or MP3. The key factor to remember is that lossy files are compressed in such a way that certain information can get lost. Lossless files such as WAV and FLAC generally retain audio information as well.

Lossless files are described with the bit depth and sampling rate, but those aren’t things to worry about.

Bitrate can be attached to any type of music file, but it is used more for lossy files such as MP3. With this as an example, the highest possible bitrate is 320 KBPS. A CD, for example, gives a bitrate of 1,411 kbps, which is 4.5x that of the highest MP3.

Music quality and bitrate have a direct relationship, but things can get a little bit more complicated.

How do MP3 and bitrate work?

MP3 is lossy files, which means they’ve been compressed so that some bits of audio can be lost. However, this is done intelligently, by taking advantage of principles such as simultaneous masking and temporal masking.

This means that while MP3s have a lower bitrate than lossless files, it doesn’t really sound that way. For example, a 320 kbps MP3 file won’t sound 4.5 times worse than a CD track.

At around 128 kbps, you might hear trebly registers such as hi-hats that might sound awkward. The higher the bitrate of a lossy file, the lesser difference you’ll hear from a file. 

To summarize, bitrate is an expression of the data an audio file can produce in one second. The higher the bitrate, the higher the music quality is – to a point.