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Are iPods killing music perception?

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March 18, 2009

Young people actually prefer the “sizzle” sound of MP3’s

Young people actually prefer the “sizzle” sound of MP3’s

March 18, 2009 It seems that most people are content with the performance they get from their white iPod earbuds (and let's face it, most standard issue headphones that come with portable music players) – subpar audio in a convenient package. Has the performance of a humble set of headphones been forgotten in favor of something more compact, and to some more fashionable? Yes is the answer according to an informal study by Stanford Professor of Music, Jonathan Berger, and apparently it doesn't end there - young people actually prefer the “sizzle” sound of MP3’s.

Berger runs an informal test of his students each year by playing a range of different music in a number of different formats. Students were asked to judge the quality of a variety of songs using different compression methods mixed in randomly with uncompressed 44.1 KHz/16 bit audio. The examples included both orchestral, jazz and rock music.

Initially, Professor Berger was expecting to see a preference for uncompressed audio and expected to see the MP3 format (at 128, 160 and 192k bit rates) preferred well below other compression methods (including a proprietary wavelet-based approach and the AAC format.)

To his surprise, in the rock examples he played, MP3 at 128 kb/s was preferred! Repeating the experiment over a six year period, he found the preference for MP3, particularly with high energy music (cymbals, brass hits and the like) is rising over time.

So it seems younger people haven’t just grown more tolerant of thin, clinical sounding compressed versions of their favorite tunes, they actually like them! Despite it being one of the first, MP3 is not the best compression method around, and 128 and even 96kb/s versions are very common. Professor Berger is quoted as saying it’s the "sizzle sounds" that young people love because it's what they're comfortable with.

The research is of course very limited, bven this informal study raises some interesting food for thought. The technology is here to stay and as the iPod generation gets older it could be that quality audio reproduction wont be the highly sought after commodity it's seen as today. Formats like SACD and DVD Audio (and even the humble CD) shrink further into obscurity, but sadly not because they’re considered too bulky and inconvenient but simply because they just sound too true to life. Scary!

Tim LeFevre

Via Gizmodo via O'reilly Radar.

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4 Comments

Or, kids who blast loud music directly into their eardrums all day long might be losing the top end frequencies of their hearing, and preferring the tinny MP3 tracks that best compensate for that...?

Loz
18th March, 2009 @ 09:36 pm PDT

This is appalling. Kids are actually preferring scratchy MP3 tracks now? It's a sign of the times, but not a good one.

One assumption of this study is that the participants were actually able to discern between an MP3, an AAC, and uncompressed WAV. One may argue that many people don't have the ear training to notice subtle differences, and also have been damaging their hearing so long with loud music that they can't even hear the upper frequencies where the differences are most apparent. Loz could be on to something here...

Bruce Balensiefer
19th March, 2009 @ 06:40 pm PDT

Before we get too bent out of shape, remember that this is an informal test, after all. I wouldn't put much stock in it until we have double-blind tests with properly calibrated equipment.

As for the venerable "truest to life" statement, we really should remember that no recorded music is true to life. Long before it's committed to CD, it's tweaked, modified and enhanced by sound engineers operating massive mixing boards. "True to life" music would be thin and tinny, as anyone who has ever attended any unamplified concert can attest.

Gadgeteer
19th March, 2009 @ 09:51 pm PDT

look, as the music industry kills music, and children become dumber and dumber and know less and less about music, they care less about it. Sure, they may "love" the new Taylor Swift or Avenged Sevenfold album, but its a passing phase, and they aren't really paying attention to it. Its their sheer stupidity that leads to this phenomenon.

I say this as an 18 year old audiophile. And for the rest of us, listen to James McMurtry's "Ruins of the Realm" off of the "Just Us Kids" album, the mixing is pornographic.

Facebook User
2nd January, 2010 @ 02:20 am PST
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