Introduction to Digital Audio

Last updated: July 7, 2022


Making music, publishing podcasts and producing digital audio is more accessible then ever before. Check out the online tutorials and information below to learn more about the basics of digital audio production in the Odegaard Library Sound Studio.


Sound Studio Overview

Welcome to the online curriculum for the Odegaard Sound Studio Overview. Located in the Odegaard Undergraduate Library on the second floor, the Sound Studio is a workstation available to all students and faculty at the UW. In this reference guide, we will introduce the equipment is available for use as well as cover the basics of working in the Sound Studio.

Booking the Sound Studio

To use the Sound Studio, you must first reserve the room either

      • In person, by visiting the 2nd floor desk at the Odegaard Library
      • Or online, through the UW Libraries Web site.

A user can reserve the Sound Studio up to twice a day and a single reservation can be up to two hours. Successive reservations are not allowed. Remember to be on time for your reservation as being more than ten minutes late can result in a forfeiture of your reserved time. Prior to your reservation, you can pick up the Sound Studio key and audio suitcase (containing microphones and other peripherals) from the front desk of the Odegaard Library.

Logging In

The Sound Studio is equipped with a state of the art Mac Pro to eliminate any hiccups or errors that might occur due to an underpowered system. Logging on to the computer is easy, all you have to do is use your UW NetID and password. At times, an alert may pop up warning you that networked accounts are not available, but logging in should still work. If you have trouble accessing the computer in the Sound Studio, someone at the Odegaard Help Desk can be of further assistance.

Available Software

The Odegaard Sound Studio has several powerful digital audio software suites available for use. Though features are similar between programs, workflow can be dramatically different. Thus, though each software can accomplish similar things, some are more tailored to certain tasks than others. The programs available can be divided (sort of) into several categories.

Basic Audio Recording and Editing

      • Audacity


      • Avid Pro Tools
      • Apple Logic Pro

Beatmaking/Music Production

      • Propellerhead Reason
      • Ableton Live

Again, all of these pieces of software can accomplish similar things, it’s merely a matter of what exactly you’re trying to accomplish and the workflow you prefer that dictates the software you use.

Final Notes

Out of respect for all the people that use the sound studio, please make sure you clean up after yourself. The sound studio is a small space and gets dirty easily, and we like to avoid having a messy space. Additionally, please do not remove or re-route any connections already made in the sound studio. All software should be automatically configured to work with the hardware in the Sound Studio, so changing physical connections could jeopardize the functionality of the space for another user. If you have a problem, consult the sound studio software troubleshooting guide or talk to a help desk employee as they are well qualified and happy to help.

Digital Audio Basics

In the digital age, recording and editing audio has never been easier. With a couple of keystrokes and the click of a mouse button, you can record yourself, apply effects, and create a studio quality finished product within the comfort of your own home. Unsurprisingly, a fair amount of technology is involved in this process. To save ourselves from too much confusion, we focus on the two fundamental components of digital audio: sample rate and bit depth.

Sample Rate

Sample rate is measured in kilohertz (kHz) and refers to the number of times per second a sample of audio is taken. For example, a sample rate of 44.1 kHz (the CD standard) means that during one second of recording, 44,100 samples of audio are taken. For more information on sample rate, including a list of standard sample rates on certain destination formats check out the Wikipedia page here.

Bit Depth

The bit depth of digital audio refers to the resolution of a single sample. A bit is a single binary value, a zero or a one. The more bits in the bit depth, the higher resolution the audio file. The CD standard is 16 bits, but during the production process, it is advised to work in 24 bits and dither down to a lower bit depth before distribution. For more information on digital audio bit depth, including a technical description, check out the Wikipedia page here.

Ideal Settings

When working in any Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), these are the standard options you will see for recording digital audio. These settings are largely dependent on your desired final medium. For everyday digital audio work, having your settings at a 44.1 or 48 kHz sample rate with a bit depth of 24 bits is ideal.

Digital Audio Formats

There are several common digital audio file types you’ve probably heard of, the most ubiquitous perhaps being .mp3. There is a necessary distinction that must be made before working with digital audio as certain file types actually cause purposeful degradation of the audio file. A compressed file type is one that is algorithmically reduced in size. There are two types of compressed audio, “lossy” and “lossless.” Lossy compressed audio is audio from which data is irrecoverably removed, thus resulting in a very small file. Some very popular formats including .mp3 and .wma are both examples of lossy compression. Lossless compressed audio is somewhat less common, as it compresses the audio file while still maintaining all sonic qualities exactly. Lossless compression is popular among audiophiles, or those who prefer exact digital duplicates while keeping a reasonable file size. When working with digital audio in a recording setting, we prefer uncompressed, lossless audio files, typically in .wav or .aiff format. Uncompressed audio files are the largest in size, but they do not need to be converted or extracted in order to be played in your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), so they have become the standard in digital audio production. For more information on digital audio formats check out the Wikipedia page here.

Final Notes

Working with digital audio can be fun and rewarding. Knowing optimal settings for the files you work with is fundamental to ensuring best results. Every DAW has options to change these settings to guarantee that you are fully satisfied with the finished product.