I have an Ardour project with n stereo audio tracks, each at 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
I would like to export the highest quality final .wav file.
Which of these Ardour export options do you recommend?
stay at 44.1 kHz/ 16 bit
set to: 44.1 kHz / 24 bit
set to: 48 kHz /24 bit
I don’t know if options 2 and 3 are advisable, useless or even to be avoided.
tl;dr: pick 1. stay at 44.1 kHz/ 16 bit
The bit-depth defines the signal/noise ratio. 16 bit offers at least 96dB, and even the most dynamic songs do not exceed 30dB. It is more than sufficient for any deliverable.
The reason to use 24bit during recording and production is convenience. You do not have to worry about carefully setting the signal level, can just record quietly without any consequences, and later bring the level up as needed.
As fun fact: The thermal noise-floor at room-temperature is at about -127dBm (@ 48kHz bandwidth), so you get at best around 20 bits valid data from any analog sound-source.
There is a nice article (from the team behind FLAC, Opus and vorbis codecs) that is well worth reading: 24/192 Music Downloads are Very Silly Indeed which has the following quote:
The effective dynamic range of 16 bit audio […] is greater than the difference between a mosquito somewhere in the same room and a jackhammer a foot away… or the difference between a deserted ‘soundproof’ room and a sound loud enough to cause hearing damage in seconds.
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