A simple demonstration of what noise shaping sounds like and why you should use it.
Audacity will by default apply “dither” whenever you reduce the bit depth of some audio. The reason for this is that when you reduce the bit depth, the number of available amplitude values that a sample can take is reduced, which will inevitably cause “rounding off” errors when the new sample values are calculated. These errors are not really noticeable on most of the audio, but will cause some unpleasantness for very low level sounds,
(A more detailed explanation can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dither )
For this experiment I generated a low level 440Hz tone (-80dB) as a 32bit mono track. When listening through a reasonable sound system, this tone quiet, but clearly audible.
I then changed the bit depth down to 16 bit.
I repeated this with 4 identical samples, but each time with different settings in Preferences for “Dither”.
The results are:
Shaped dither: quite a lot of high frequency noise, but the original tone still clear.
Triangle dither: the noise is more broadband, but still biased toward higher frequencies and the tone is still clear.
Rectangle dither: the noise has become yet more broadband but the tone is still clear.
No dither: As expected, there is no dither noise, but the tone now sounds horribly distorted.
When playing at normal volume, the dither noise is just about audible with each type of dither (providing that the audio equipment and hearing are good enough), but the higher frequencies of the shaped dither seemed less obtrusive. Triangle dither seemed to be a lot more noisy even though the peak amplitude of the noise was substantially lower than the shaped noise. The Rectangle dither noise sounder just a little louder than the triangle dither.
The attached file has 2 second sample of each setting (shaped, then triangle, then rectangle, then none) but has been amplified by 50dB to make it easier to hear.
dither-noise.wav.zip (332 KB)