Music Production Know-How: Dithering Demystified

When you need to render or mix down your project to a stereo file in your DAW, going from 24-bit to 16-bit, you'll come across dithering options. Matt Vanacoro explains what it is and when to use it.  

Dithering. We all see it as an option at the export level of every DAW, or as a plug-in available for mastering. It's a scary term, mostly because it's something that we KNOW we should be doing, but can't really hear the effects of. Many folks in the audio world don't precisely remember when and why we have to dither'"thus its relegation to 'not sure what this does, but I usually click it'

Matt Vanacoro is one of New York's premier musicans. Matt has collaborated as a keyboardist in studio and on stage with artists such as Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Mark Wood (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Mark Rivera (Billy Joel Band), Aaron Carter, Amy Regan, Jay Azzolina, Marcus Ratzenboeck (Tantric), KeKe Palmer, C-Note, Jordan Knig... Read More

Discussion

Sharon Kathleen Johnson
Stop dithering around and dither.
Rexinator
Matt,
Thanks for the clear explanation on dithering. You mentioned that some programs impart this on the fly. I believe that's true, but it has caused me a lot of confusion about when that happens in the background. For example, I record all my songs in 24-bit and apply no dithering during mixing or bouncing to a final 24-bit file. I then pull these 24-bit (non-dithered) files into Waveburner to set up my CD format. When that's completed, I simply perform a bounce of all songs in Waveburner and then use the Burn button in WB to burn to a disc. I've been assuming that dithering is done automatically when WB burns the disk, but there is no prompt for dithering and no step to select the dithering algorithm. Have I actually dithered? I know it's undesirable to dither twice, so I'd really like to understand this. Thanks!
Matt Vanacoro
Hi, Rex! I believe you have to have dithering 'checked off' in order for it to be applied. I can't be sure of Waveburner, Apple took it out of the Logic suite a few years back so I no longer have it - but I would hope that a pro audio program wouldn't do things to your audio upon finalization that you're not explicitly aware of!
Rexinator
Thanks Matt. I googled a bit and answered my own question. In Waveburner, dithering is an option to be applied during the 'amalgamated bounce' of all songs into a single audio file. The dithering options are the same as the basic ones in Logic and can be selected under WB's Preferences / Bounce tab. For anyone using WB who has previously applied dithering to their songs (e.g., during mastering), dithering can be turned off in this same W Preferences window.

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