When you down sample audio (taking audio samples of 48kHz and 24-bit, and and exporting them to 44.1kHz and 16-bit) you run the risk of truncation, as well as Quantization Distortion Errors, adding noise and audible glitches to your audio. This is where Dithering comes in.
Sample Rates help recreate an analog signal digitally, while Bit Depth deals with audio resolution. This audio resolution can get affected severely when down-sampling.
Dithering adds low-level noise to your audio signal to ‘smoothen’ the larger digital steps in lower Bit Depths. This may result in low-quality audio ‘hiss’ but is better than having an unusable audio file.
There are 2 different ways you can dither in Ableton Live:
- Through Ableton’s export menu dithering options – this is fast, safe and accurate
- Through 3rd party plug-ins – you may get more features in noise-shaping
Dithering Though Ableton Live Export Options
Here is how you dither in Ableton’s Export settings:
Step 1: Open Ableton’s export menu in the File Browser and select Export Audio/Video with the Cmd + Shift + R on Mac, or Ctrl + Shift + R on Windows
Step 2: down-sample your audio settings. Originally, Ableton is set to a 48kHz Sample Rate, and 24-bit Bit Depth.
You will notice that Bit Depth changes only affect lossless PCM audio encoding formats. MP3 is affected by Bit Rates. More about MP3 encoding options in my articles on how to import & export MP3 in Ableton Live.
Step 3: Choose whether to activate dithering and which dithering options you prefer
Ableton Live Dithering Options
This is what the dithering algorithm options are, and what they mean:
- No Dithering: this deactivates dithering
- Rectangular: This algorithm distributes harmonic noise evenly, but is prone to quantization errors
- Triangular: this dithering algorithm is Ableton’s default dithering option as it is safe and guaranteed to deal with quantization error distortion
- POW-r 1: This algorithm is best for quiet audio samples like acoustic instruments, vocals, and other ambient audio samples
- POW-r 2: This algorithm is best for not-too-quiet and not-too-loud audio samples
- POW-r 3: this dithering option is best for loud audio samples like rock songs and EDM. This algorithm is heavily genre specific
Dithering With Plug-ins
You can also dither using 3rd party plug-ins. They sometimes offer more utility in noise-shaping and other dithering options.
IK-Multimedia – Tracks 5 Stealth Limiter
This limiter allows you to dither when down-sampling to 16-bit and 24- bit audio. It is transparent and multipurpose, similar to the Triangular dithering option in Ableton Live.
iZotope – Ozone 10 Maximizer
iZotope’s Ozone 10 Maximizer allows for dithering. Maximizer behaves similarly to a limiter and affords you more dithering options. Depending on how much you are down-sampling, you can change the dither amount, and the noise-shaping options from Lowest to Highest behave similarly to the dithering options available in Ableton Live’s export menu. Maximizer’s noise-shaping options do not explicitly state the type of noise-addition LFO algorithm I. E. Triangular, Rectangular etc.
When To Dither
Dithering should be the last step in the mix-and-master process. Multiple sources state that you should leave this to your mastering engineer.
Dither After Mastering
Once you have your master track completed, you will find yourself exporting your master for distribution platforms and file-sharing purposes. Sometimes, you will down-sample from 32-bit float to 16-bit audio because this is the standard requested by your client or the distribution platform.
Dither for File Sharing
You will find yourself exporting audio to share with the client as a demo, or a recording reference since this is not for commercial use. You will not need to send the highest quality audio to protect against illegal distribution or file size conservation purposes. Some file-sharing platforms have a data cap on files being shared on their media. You will need to downsample to minimize the file size in these instances, and therefore dithering is useful.
I have covered the different dithering methods in Ableton and dithering options. Dithering has an important role to play in audio mixing, mastering, encoding and sharing. Keep these steps and reasons to dither when exporting audio in Ableton. Have Fun!