Day 3: Podcast Bitrate – Should You Increase [How To]

This is part of the 31 Days to Better Podcasting series by How to Record Podcasts. Find out more and get on the list

I remember back in 2005 it was tough to put out a podcast. Not only did you still have people on dial-up modems and couldn’t download 20 MB files, but we also paid a lot of money for hosting. Add to that the bandwidth limits – 10,000 downloads of 20 MB files added up.

Today, downloading is different. Hosting plans and bandwidth are cheaper. People have 3G and 4G phones, with cable modems. Speeds are to the point where we can encode our podcasts in better quality.

You might have started your podcast with a coach suggesting you encode in 64 kbps (kilobits per second). So now with better internet connections and 4G, should you re-encode to a higher rate?

Encoding Your Podcast – Bitrates

Bitrates

Bitrates

These are the standard bit rates you may encounter podcasts to be. We’ll calculate the bitrate and show you how big a  20 minute podcast would be.

  • 32 kbps – lowest quality bit rate for vocal podcast. Phone quality (4.5 MB)
  • 64 kbps – FM quality audio – vocal podcast. (9.1 MB)
  • 96 kbps – Near-CD quality. Podcasts with music. Some older MP3 players will get confused of this data rate and would speed up the audio (13.7 MB)
  • 128 kbps – CD quality. Majority of podcasts with music post to this bitrate (18.3 MB)
  • 192 kbps – higher than CD. Audiophiles podcast (27.4 MB)
  • 256 kbps – iTunes added 256 in 2012. Closer to a WAV audio file. (36.6 MB)
  • 320 kbps – Newest bitrate – older MP3 players won’t be able to play this rate (45.7 MB)

What is Your Podcast About?

Changing a bitrate of your show really depends on the content. If you are talking into a mic with no music and your audience cares more about the content over quality, then stick with the bitrate you are on. You might even be able to move down the bitrate scale for faster downloads and maybe more listeners.

Bitrates of Internet Radio – Talkshoe, BlogTalkRadio

Talkshoe

Talkshoe

I have a friend that listens to sports talk on AM (insert number here). There is an FM sports radio station, but he likes the sound of AM radio. I personally thought it to be nasal and annoying.

If you ever recorded a podcast from internet radio such as Blog Talk Radio or Talkshoe, you would be encoding in 32 kbps, similar to AM radio or phone quality recordings. Once again, some people like that sound so it really depends on who you cater to.

The Internet Radio Re-Streaming issue – Stitcher Internet Radio

Stitcher Internet Radio

Stitcher Internet Radio

Here is a slight curve in the bit rate issue. Services like Stitcher internet radio are great for getting your podcast across, but they also adhere to bitrate standards. If your podcast is listened to on Stitcher, your bitrate is lowered to 56 kbps.

If you want to hear the difference, here is my Day in Tech History audio in 128 kbps and recorded from Stitcher at 56:

Listen to bitrate difference 128 and 56 kbps – howtorecordpodcasts

The Increase of 3G Download

waveform

waveform

Ever since iPhone came out with 2G (EDGE) service, Apple had put a cap on downloads to 20 MB – perfect for a 64 kbps 20 minute podcast. Everyone else would have to connect via WiFi to download. That is, until March 2012, when the introduction of apps using Retina display came out. Apple then updated the download limit to 50 MB. Therefore, any 20 minute podcast (even the 320 kbps one) will be downloadable on 3G or LTE service.

Microsoft also embraced a 50 MB cap on downloads through 3G and LTE. Blackberry has a 25 MB limit. Android also increased to 50 MB in March of 2012, but it also depended where you downloaded files from.

If you have an hour long audio podcast with limited music – 96 kbps will be a safe bet around the 40 MB mark.

What Your Audience Wants

Increasing the bandwidth on your podcast can really help. If your shows are at 64 kbps and the audience agrees, then updating will be a great advantage for you. Some downfalls include longer download times and more storage space. It’s all about what you want to give to your audience.

One last thought – if your audio is horrible then increasing the bit rate is not going to do much. I am reminded of the old saying – a polished turd is still a turd.

Increase Podcast Bitrate

Increase Podcast Bitrate

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  • Andrew Hellmich

    Thanks for the article – helpful for me as a new podcaster.

    I’ve been recording at 64kbps but just changed to 96kbps after a little research.

    To be honest, I can’t hear the difference? Should I be the judge or should I be asking my audience or just go back to 64kbps for the smaller file size?

    Keen to hear your thoughts.

    • Best thing to do is encode in 96 and 64. Then put the two side by side to listen. That might help.

      • Andrew Hellmich

        Ok, thanks – I’ll give it a try.

  • There is another thing to consider. I do a spoken word podcast with very little music and none that’s in stereo to begin with. So, while I use iTunes to encode at 128kbps the original WAV file I encode is converted to mono before I encode to mp3. This actually results in a 64kbps mp3 file that is smaller by half than those in the calculations in the article. For my content, the sound is not impacted by going mono. No matter what bitrate you choose, consider your content and determine if mono might be an option to allow for smaller files with higher quality.

    • Mono is nice but it’s just like using an off-bitrate. Older devices might have an issue playing the media. Some flash players will get confused.