Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Kids Are Alright (With Low-Quality Audio Files)

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2009 at 12:26 PM

click to enlarge He's listening to The Ting Tings.
  • He's listening to The Ting Tings.

According to Stanford professor of music Jonathan Berger, young music listeners prefer (vastly prefer, according to his informal findings) MP3s over audio files of higher quality. And not just due to convenience or file size. In a presentation at a meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Berger claimed that after giving incoming students "blind" tests, it became clear that they are more comfortable with the compressed, hissing sounds of an MP3 than those of crisper, uncompressed files (like WAV or AIFF, for instance). From Dale Dougherty of the O'Reilly Radar (not to be confused with Radar O'Reilly of M*A*S*H acclaim):

Berger then said that he tests his incoming students each year in a similar way. He has them listen to a variety of recordings which use different formats from MP3 to ones of much higher quality. He described the results with some disappointment and frustration, as a music lover might, that each year the preference for music in MP3 format rises. In other words, students prefer the quality of that kind of sound over the sound of music of much higher quality. He said that they seemed to prefer "sizzle sounds" that MP3s bring to music. It is a sound they are familiar with.

Dougherty goes on to opine that, like the taste of a hot dog at a ball game v. the taste of a hot dog anywhere else, preference of audio files is a contextual thing. He notes that folks who came up listening to a lot of vinyl prefer the warm crackle of an LP because it's what they're accustomed to.

Personally, I can certainly handle the compressed, subtly muffled sounds of an MP3 most times simply because it makes storage and exchange of files that much simpler and faster. But Professor Stanford Pants here is telling me that most folks of roughly my generation actually prefer the sound of an MP3 over that of even pure, unadulterated needle-to-groove bliss? That's truly wack, and I fear for my grandchildren's listening habits. There's no way they'll be able to make out the rich low-end of the latest Hank Williams V album on their Uber-Nanos, zooming along on hoverboards en route to the Space Olympics. We're doomed.

Thanks to the one-and-only D. Striker for sending us the link.

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